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California man gets 26 months federal time in Bergen-based illegal driver’s license scam

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A former contract employee for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was sentenced in federal court today to 26 months in prison for stealing and providing thousands of immigration forms for a Bergen County-based ring that fraudulently obtained driver’s licenses for illegal aliens and others.

[ NOTE: Federal authorities this afternoon initially reported the sentence as 46 months and then quickly corrected the number.]

Jurors in January convicted 47-year-old Martin Trejo of Rialto, Calif. of conspiracy to steal government property and transport it in interstate commerce and transportation of stolen goods in interstate commerce.

Trejo’s arrest was part of a federal sweep in six states that blossomed into a June 2012 roundup by State Police of 93 accused customers – more than two dozen from Bergen County – who bought driver’s licenses and U.S. visas from the ring.

Some of those charged at the federal level live in eastern Bergen — Cliffside Park, Palisades Park, Fort Lee and Ridgefield — and in Tenafly.

Federal agents quickly zeroed in on Trejo, who worked at the USCIS’ Western Forms Center in Montclair, Calif. – the United States’ largest warehouse storage facility for these forms.

The ringleader, federal authorities said, was Young-Kyu Park, who used to live in Fort Lee and later moved to Los Angeles. Park recruited and served customers in Palisades Park and Fort Lee, many of whom were rounded up by State Police in the second wave of arrests, dubbed “Operation Robin Hood,” authorities said.

Park’s enterprise illegally obtained driver’s licenses genuinely issued by New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Nevada, and elsewhere, Fishman said. To do so, it acquired, created, and counterfeited a variety of documents for sale to customers, he said.

Ring members also escorted customers to various state motor vehicle agencies and coached them through obtaining the licenses, federal authorities allege.

In return, customers reportedly paid $3,000 to $4,500 each.

By “shepherding illegal aliens through the application process and providing them with counterfeit documentation, the defendants enabled their customers to gain access to all the credibility that a driver’s license affords,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said. “Strong immigration enforcement includes guarding against those who subvert the safeguards designed to keep us secure.”

The bust was made possible by another high-profile case brought to federal authorities by Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli.

One of the defendants in that investigation was arrested in Fort Lee while driving a vehicle registered to his wife. Police found several counterfeit IDs in various people’s names, some of which were used to open bogus bank accounts.

This led them to a Bergen County-based “crime superstore” that involved dozens of people who stole identities from their counterparts in Asia to get credit cards and bank loans that were used to buy fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes.

At least one of those caught in that case became a federal informant, infiltrating the organization, getting close to Park, and secretly recording conversations between him and co-conspirators.

Authorities said Trejo provided genuine I-797 forms for customers to use to get driver’s licenses. An I-797 form is used by the federal government – including USCIS, a division of the Department of Homeland Security – to communicate with others or convey an immigration benefit.

State agencies that issue driver’s licenses rely on these forms to verify the authenticity of an applicant’s foreign passport and to verify the applicant’s lawful presence in the United States. One version of this form can be used to show eligibility for in-state college tuition.

Park ordered the forms from an intermediary, who then contacted Trejo, federal authorities said.

For example, on Feb. 2, 2012, they said, Park called a cell phone used by the intermediary – and she, in turn, sent a text to cellphone used by Trejo, stating, “Need 200 (A) call me asap, please, valentines is coming,” – an alleged reference to the purchase of approximately 200 I-797A forms.

Park then used a computer to print customers’ information onto the blank, stolen forms, the government said.

Fishman praised the work of the FBI, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations; the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General; and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

He also cited “invaluable work” by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and praised the work of Molinelli’s office “for providing the manpower for a vital investigative role throughout.”

Fishman also thanked the New Jersey State Police and cited the FBI field offices in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Atlanta, and Richmond, Va., as well as U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the District of Nevada and the Central District of California.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Faith Hochberg sentenced Trejo to two years of supervised release and fined him $4,000.

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