YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Cliffside Park man today formally became the lynchpin in a federal case against a sophisticated identify theft ring when he admitted conspiring to produce counterfeit Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and passports for Korean immigrants in exchange for hefty fees.
Authorities tagged Yu-Je Jo, 37, as a broker in the Palisades Park-based enterprise, which investigators said made millions of dollars by selling identities stolen from Chinese immigrants.
As part of his plea agreement, he agreed today to forfeit $558,635, representing the proceeds of his participation in the ring.
Jo was arrested on Sept. 16, 2010, in a coordinated law enforcement takedown of 53 people connected to the operation. The FBI led the charge, which include hundreds of local and state law enforcement officers.
Detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office got onto the trail after arresting Kang-Hyok Choi and charging him with killing an associate and two of the victim‘s family members in Tenafly in 2008. The men apparently had been arguing over how to split profits from the illicit enterprise.
During the investigation, prosecutor’s investigators seized a computer that led them directly to the operation.
Park and company got their hands on genuine United States Social Security cards issued to Chinese nationals who worked in American territories, including Guam and Saipan, authorities said.
They then apparently sold the cards for $5,000 to $7,000, while obtaining other identification — real and counterfeit — for their customers.
It didn’t end there, however.
Park’s crew helped build up the customers’ credit scores and had them obtain bank accounts and obtain lines of credit, as well as federally-insured loans, according to a complaint filed by the FBI with U.S. District Court in Newark.
The ring used the credit to buy booze, designer clothing and other merchandise that was easy to sell on the black market, federal authorities said. Or they leased pricey cars — by Lexus and Mercedes, among others — then sold the vehicles after making one payment.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman called the scope of the fraud “pretty remarkable.”
Investigators plucked an unidentified co-conspirator — identified in the complaint as J.N.K. — who worked with Jo in brokering the documents.
One of their customers — who bought a genuinely issued United States Social Security card and a counterfeit Korean passport — was a confidential informant working for the government.
Jo instructed the customer in how to use the documents to get a driver’s license and to defraud banks, the complaint says.
Jo admitted in federal court in Newark today that he took $4,000 up front from the CI, and an additional $3,000 later — all in cash. The government’s initial complaint says his total fee was $14,000.
There was plenty of praise to go around today, as Fishman hailed agents from the FBI and IRS, as well as those from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, whose detectives‘ work made the case possible.
Representing the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara R. Llanes of the U.S.
Attorney’s Office Criminal Division and Anthony Moscato of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Organized Crime/Gangs Unit, both in Newark.
Jo is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 17.
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