A Salisbury man was arrested Wednesday as part of a nationwide, coordinated seizure of 50 individuals prosecutors say are involved in a Puerto Rico-based identity-trafficking ring, according to the federal immigration agency.

Darcia Ramirez-Segura, 43, has been charged with conspiracy to commit identification fraud, according to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, relating to the alleged trafficking of the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and their identity documents. The single-count federal indictment covering all 50 defendants was returned by a grand jury on Dec. 29 and made public Thursday.

"The indictment … alleges that from April 2009 to December 2011, the defendants operated an extensive black-market identity fraud ring," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "The alleged conspiracy stretched across the United States and Puerto Rico, using suppliers, identity brokers, and mail and money runners to fill and deliver orders for the personal identifying information and government-issued identity documents of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens."

According to the indictment, Ramirez-Segura operated as an "identity broker," a person who solicited customers locally, quoted a price — usually between $700 and $2,500 for a set of unlawful documents — then collected payment and placed orders for identity documents. The orders were placed through coded telephone conversations with an outfit in Puerto Rico.

The brokers then received the identity cards, birth certificates and Social Security cards through the U.S. Postal Service and delivered them to the customers, whereupon they would typically receive a second payment that the broker kept as profit, the indictment said.

The scheme went on from at least April 2009 until December 2011, according to officials, who say that stolen identities are frequently used to apply for coveted U.S. travel documents, including passports and visas, and therefore pose a security threat.

The ring was primarily active in Midwestern states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, and Mid-Atlantic states including Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the indictment said. The alleged traffickers operated in 15 states and Puerto Rico.

"The conspiracy alleged to be perpetrated by those charged undermines the integrity of our national immigration system," said ICE Director John Morton. "We will continue working with our federal partners to protect our homeland from criminals who have no regard for our nation's safety and security."

If convicted, each defendant could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison. The ICE plans to establish a website for potential victims to learn about the trafficking ring, the agency said.

Anyone who believes their identity may have been stolen by the defendants is encouraged to contact ICE by calling 866-DHS-2ICE.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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