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Mexico’s Top Crime Family Trafficking in U.S. Identities

April-28-07

Maybe you’ve never heard of the Castorena family but they make it their business to know plenty about you. The Castorena Family Organization is Mexico’s top crime family and they have made a fortune selling US identities.

According to court documents filed by the US government, the family operates a criminal organization with more than 100 key members overseeing thousands of individuals selling identity documents on the streets of cities across America. Several of the senior leaders of the organization are believed to be based in Mexico but frequently to oversee the operations of their lieutenants.

The organization is alleged to be involved in the manufacture and distribution of high-quality counterfeit identity documents, including social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, US and Mexican driver licenses, Matricula Consular ID cards, resident alien cards, work authorization documents, proof of vehicle insurance cards, temporary vehicle registration documents, and utility bills (many states require driver license applicants to show utility bills as proof of residence).

Law enforcement officials believe the Mexican crime family started out in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, primarily manufacturing and selling counterfeit alien registration and social security cards. The organization has since expanded its counterfeit document operations to other cities across the United States, including New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, Denver, Atlanta, Albuquerque, and other cities.

According to court documents, the CFO has been managed over the past ten years by six Castorena-Ibarra siblings: Pedro, Alfonso, Jose, Maria, Francisco Javier, and Raquel. During the last several years, three of these siblings, Pedro, Maria and Francisco Javier, have maintained direct involvement in the counterfeiting operations of the CFO in Denver and elsewhere. In recent years, several of these siblings have been arrested and prosecuted in the United States. Others have fled to Mexico to avoid US prosecution. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations of the CFO in Los Angeles in the late 1990s resulted in the seizure of millions of counterfeit documents with an estimated street value of $20 million. The documents led to more than 400 investigations and seizures in more than 50 cities in 33 states. The American Express Corporation attributed more than $2 million in losses to counterfeit identification documents that were traced to the Los Angeles CFO bust. 

The organization has been the target of federal investigations in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Denver, Lincoln, NE, and Des Moines, IA. 

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ICE investigations into the CFO in Denver have resulted in the criminal prosecution of more than 50 individuals. Dozens more of the organizations members have been arrested in Denver and deported to Mexico, Colombia, and El Salvador. ICE agents in Denver seized at least 20 computerized laboratories affiliated that were used to manufacture high-quality counterfeit identity documents. Agents also seized 21 computers, 21 silk screen printing templates used to produce counterfeit documents, and nine handguns.

 The organization led by Pedro Castorena-Ibarra was previously targeted during a 1994 San Antonio, Texas investigation. That investigation focused on Castorena-Ibarra and several of his family members, including his brothers Alfonso and Francisco Javier Castorena-Ibarra. The 1994 investigation identified the Castorena-Ibarra brothers as the leaders of a criminal organization that manufactured and distributed counterfeit alien registration cards and social security cards throughout the United States.

The three Castorena-Ibarra brothers were indicted in May 1995 in the Northern District of Texas, along with 16 other co-defendants. Alfonso and Francisco Javier Castorena-Ibarra were subsequently arrested in Los Angeles, California pursuant to the Northern District of Texas indictment. Each subsequently pled guilty to a felony offense, served a short prison sentence and was eventually deported from the United States to Mexico. Pedro Castorena-Ibarra avoided arrest and prosecution in that case by fleeing to Mexico.  Charges related to this 1995 Texas indictment against Pedro Castorena were dismissed last Oct.

 According to a recent report by Jim Kouri, vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police  the CFO cells in various US cities are exceptionally well organized and tightly controlled. CFO cell leaders typically keep schedules with the names of each counterfeit document vendor and the times they are to report to a designated area to sell fake documents. The local cell leaders also record the number and type of false documents sold by vendors during their "shifts," as well the funds collected for each transaction.

Court documents indicate the vendors are allowed to keep a portion of the proceeds, with the remainder passed to the local cell leader. Cell leaders, in turn, pass on a portion of the proceeds to the senior leaders of the CFO. Senior CFO Leaders charge a "rent" or "franchise" fee of as much as $15,000 per month for cell leaders to operate in a particular US city.

 “These funds and other proceeds of counterfeit document sales are funneled to Mexico and other locations for those overseeing the CFO,” Kouri said. 

The organization moves its funds through three primary methods. Often, funds are wire transferred via money transmitter businesses. In other cases, bulk cash and checks are moved through express parcel services. In addition, the organization often employs couriers who physically transport U.S. currency across U.S. borders and between U.S. cities.

To understand how criminals access your information please read:

How does identity theft occur?


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