RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – In what they're calling a "chilling indictment", federal prosecutors hope to wipe out a dangerous Mexican cartel alleged to be making fake ID's in Richmond and elsewhere.
Federal authorities say little pieces of plastic and paper were never so profitable to 22 men from Mexico...guys with nicknames like "Jesus", "Negrito", and "El Muerto" (the dead one).
"This was not a Mom and Pop organization, but rather organized crime on a grand scale," said John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It's alleged that the men were part of a cartel, based in Mexico...reaching into 11 eastern states, including Virginia. Driver's licenses, social security, and green cards were sold to illegal immigrants.
An address on Melmark Rd. in South Richmond was listed at the local cell's base of operations. According to an indictment, people working out of the residence could sometimes get up to $200 for the fake ID's, often sold as a package deal.
Over time, the feds say a million dollars in profits were wired back to Mexico...a lucrative market the men were desperate to protect.
"The document cartel allegedly targeted competitors through murders, kidnapping, and beatings," said U.S. Attorney Neil McBride.
In 2009, that included a formerly abandoned house on Folkstone Dr. in Chesterfield. It was there, feds say, that members of the cartel tried to snuff out their competition by beating them with a baseball bat or cutting them with a knife.
"This case was all about intimidation and violence, all about maintaining control and discipline within the organization and running rivals off," Morton said.
The ring was broken up following a two-year investigation, and most of the men were arrested late last year.
"This was essentially a big, fat, fraud," Morton said.
Now, this week, the men were named in a 12-count indictment...50-plus pages; nothing fake about it.
Feds say the members of the cartel were also brutal to each other; they would have to wear weights, or, even worse, get beat up or have their eyebrows shaved if they broke the rules, according to a news release.
The 22 men face a variety of charges including racketeering, which can mean life in prison upon conviction.