Monday, September 22, 2008

Feds bust 21 in visa fraud sweep - - 20 Sep 2008

Federal officials arrested 21 people in the Little Village neighborhood in a second sweep of an alleged illegal visa fraud operation since last year.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began arresting people Thursday who were allegedly involved in a multi-million-dollar phony document scheme. Fifteen of them appeared in federal court Friday.

Last year, agents swept through the Little Village Discount Mall in a controversial confrontation between federal law enforcement and immigrants who say they were unfairly targeted.

At the time, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the arrests had nothing to do with the immigration debate but involved a breakup of the "Albany Crew," a dangerous visa manufacturer and trafficker.

Federal officials say that just four days after breaking up the Albany Crew, competitors sought to not only increase operations, but increase prices because of a lack of competition.

The "St. Louis crew" allegedly operated in the area of 26th Street and St. Louis Avenue from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Authorities say the crew used 8 to 10 "miqueros," or hawkers, who stood on corners to find customers. A miquero set up the price of the documents -- usually up to about $150 -- and directed customers to photography shops, including Foto Studio Reyes or Foto Davila Inc., officials say.

Among those arrested and charged in two criminal complaints unsealed Friday morning were the alleged current leader of the St. Louis crew, Manuel Estrada, and Jamie Solis, 30, both of Chicago. Solis allegedly reported directly to Estrada.

The raids once again drew the ire of the neighborhood.

The Rev. Jose Landaverde of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission said he was detained for some time until he showed his U.S. passport to ICE agents.

"We are asking Sen. Obama and Sen. Durbin to stop these raids of terror here in Illinois," Landaverde said.


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