More than $1.6 million in fake identification papers were sold in Southeast Baltimore's Upper Fells Point neighborhood over the past three years, according to a federal indictment made public Tuesday.
For $80 each, an order for a set of false documents could be placed with men nicknamed Elmer, Piza and Rana, who the Maryland U.S. attorney's office says controlled the Fells Point market for falsified immigration papers.
Five others helped solicit business, took deposits and collected photos and personal information from buyers, authorities said. The indictment charges that the group distributed thousands of fraudulent identification documents from a home base a block east of the Perkins Homes public housing project.
Although some orders were taken by phone, officials said, all documents were delivered in Maryland.
Kim Propeack, policy director for Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, said that neither the organization's headquarters nor its Baltimore office was aware of the operation until told about it Tuesday by a reporter.
But Propeack was not surprised. "There's a documented problem of operators of this type targeting immigrant communities," she said.
Propeack said that legislation passed in 2005 allowing Maryland "to become one of the few states to provide consumer protection to those defrauded by false immigration services" helped alleviate the problem some.
She said of the suspects, "We have not had anyone report that they've been involved with these folks."
The indictment charges Ivan Altamirano-Perez, 30; Roberto Morales-Perez, 25; and Adrian Badillo-Carrasco, 34, with running "Broadway Mill Operators."
Their salesmen, according to the indictment, were Miguel Reyes-Ontiveros, 41; Cristian Fuentes-Valle, 30; Juan Merlin-Gonzalez, 34; Alejandrino Candia-Jalindo, age unknown; and one other man who is only known to authorities by the nicknames Chino, Morro and Doblon.
All eight are Maryland residents, prosecutors said, and are not in the U.S. legally. Six of the men made their initial appearances Tuesday and consented to immigration detention, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office. Merlin-Gonzalez will have a detention hearing Wednesday, she said.
The indictment alleges that the suspects conspired to sell fake papers, including Social Security cards and green cards, in the neighborhood around 200 S. Broadway in Upper Fells Point, where many Hispanic immigrants have settled.
A federal grand jury handed down the indictment on July 27 and law enforcement authorities began making arrests. The defendant whose name is unknown to authorities has not been arrested, Murphy said. The charges include manufacturing and selling fake ID cards. Each defendant could face up to 15 years in prison.