Raid nets 20 suspected illegals
By Nathaniel Lukefahr
Published July 19, 2008
CLUTE — Twenty men were in the Clute jail Friday awaiting deportation to Mexico after police say they were using the identities of others to gain employment in the United States.
A team of Clute, Freeport and Angleton police officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers walked into a hotel in the 1100 block of Highway 332 with search warrants in hand at 6 a.m., Clute Detective Scotty Harris said. They then visited a meeting room where 43 employees of Quantum Geophysical Inc. were discussing the day’s work and asked for all applications and documents showing proof of citizenship, Harris said.
“They were illegal, using other people’s names, Social Securities, date of births,” Harris said. “We left them in the room and just started IDing everyone based on their application with their physical ID. A lot of them admitted that the ID they were using was fake. That made it easier.”
The men identified themselves to police as Jose Zavala, 27; Oscar Yanez, 35; Mario Yanez, 32; Ramiro Cacho, 41; Martin Acesta, 41; Jose Juan, 19; Juan Velasquez, 25; Mario Rodriguez, 30; Benito Lopez, 50; Hugo Acosta, 39; Garica Herrera, no known age; Carizales Velasquez, 20; Isiero Velasquez, no known age; Martin Arreage, 29; Mario Cerquega, 29; Jelso Bmella, 20; Arriaga Oviedo, 29; Juan Gonzalez, 25; Sael Zanualla, 21; and Harindo Yanez, 25.
“I’m not even really sure those are their real names,” Harris said. “The only way we’ll find out is once the fingerprints are sent to the FBI and ran there and in INS, that’s when we’ll find out who they really are.”
Harris said the men came from the Houston area, Indiana, Miami and Michigan.
Clute police charged the men with felony fraudulent use and possession of identifying information, which holds a penalty of two to 10 years in prison or and a $5,000 fine, Harris said
“Once we arrest them on state charges, ICE placed detainers on them so they can’t bond out,” Harris said. “So when they are done with our charges, they’ll go to the feds.”
Harris couldn’t say whether the company knowingly was hiring undocumented workers. Supervisors were in the room at the time of the raid but weren’t charged.
“I can just tell you that the investigation is ongoing and we are pursuing several different avenues to look into filing more charges,” Harris said.
Messages left at the company’s Houston office weren’t returned.
Harris said some of the men could have been deported previously and fingerprint exams that will show their identities could determine if any are repeat offenders. If an illegal immigrant previously has been deported and is arrested in the United States a second time, they are to serve a term in a federal detention center.
The raid stemmed from the Tuesday arrests of two pairs of brothers at the same hotel, all of whom worked for Quantum Geophysical. Officers charged the four with felony fraudulent use and possession of identifying information.
“Basically, this stemmed from the previous case with the four illegal immigrants,” Harris said. “As I told you then, we were going to continue investigating it.”
During Tuesday’s arrests, Harris spoke with four employees and arrested all of them for being undocumented workers.
“I figured I interviewed four and all four were using other people’s information, so I was batting 100 percent,” Harris said. “So it was reasonable to suspect that were would be more.”
Harris said officers were hoping to interview 64 employees but some didn’t show up for work.
“We’re still looking for 21 other employees,” he said. “They were short.”
Harris said police have yet to sort out and contact the people whose identities were being used by the illegal workers.
“The harm is going to be the taxes that the real people are going to have to pay because of these illegals using the information,” Harris said.
Police also have yet to figure out how many more dollars the men caused the victims to pay, Harris said.
“I haven’t even gotten them all booked in yet,” he said. “Next week I’ll have better figures.”
Harris said identity theft is very common among undocumented workers because it’s very easy to steal someone’s information.
“If they find an insurance card on the ground, a driver’s license card on the ground, Social Security card on the ground, they will become that person,” Harris said. “They’ll use that ID and go to a flea market or go to Houston or somewhere and buy a fake Social Security card. You can get them all over.”
He said other companies in the area also could be employing documented workers.
“We’ll look into other businesses as well,” Harris said. “Anybody that enters plants, just anybody. Nobody should have to pay for something they didn’t do. We’re just trying to exhaust all avenues to catch these people.”
In all, 15 officers performed the raid, Harris said. Angleton police assisted by sending Spanish-speaking officers, Sgt. Quenton Rush said. Freeport police sent seven criminal investigations officers to back up the Clute officers, Police Chief Jeff Pynes said.
Nathaniel Lukefahr covers The Facts. Contact him at (979) 237-0151.