July 16, 2008

Former CPB Officer And Another Laredo Man Plead Guilty To Travel Permit Scheme

Wednesday , July 16, 2008 Posted: 09:18 AM

LAREDO, Texas Juan Esteban Velasquez, 52, and former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer Ramiro Villarreal Jr., 27, both of Laredo, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to fraudulently produce official travel documents in a scheme that brokered official travel documents to foreigners wishing entry into and travel through the U.S., United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced today.

Pursuant to a plea agreement, Villarreal and Velasquez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to fraudulently produce Department of Homeland Security CBP Arrival-Departure Records, (Form I-94) from Feb. 1, 2007, until Villarreal's arrest on May 1, 2008. Form I-94 permits are utilized by foreign nationals in conjunction with an entry document, such as a passport or a DSP-150 B1/B2 visa (commonly known as a border crossing card or laser visa), to travel beyond border immigration checkpoints into the interior of the United States. When entering by land through an international bridge, an applicant for a Form I-94 permit applies in person and presents his/her passport or border crossing card. A CBP officer then reviews the travel permit application and inspects the applicant for admission. If granted the permit, the CBP officer will issue it under the officer's stamp. CBP uses Form I-94 to document a non-immigrant alien's legal admission into the United States and the period of authorized stay in the country.

During today's guilty plea hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Adrian Arce-Flores, Villareal and Velasquez admitted to exchanging cash for Forms I-94 that Villarreal created and issued while working his assigned duties as a CBP officer at one of the land ports of entry in Laredo, Texas. Villarreal admitted he fraudulently produced the permits for aliens who did not present themselves in person for inspection nor submit their application for the permit in person, in violation of immigration laws and regulations. The investigation disclosed that approximately 229 fraudulent permits were produced during the scheme. At the sentencing hearing set for Oct. 2, 2008, the U.S. District Court judge will determine the number of documents for which each defendant is accountable.

Each defendant faces up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The defendants were allowed to remain on bond pending their sentencing hearing.

The prosecution is the result of an investigation conducted by the Laredo office of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, with the assistance of CBP. Assistant United States Attorney Diana Song is prosecuting the case.

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Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?