Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Illegal ID ring nabbed in Ky., Chandler says

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FRANKFORT - A routine traffic stop in Boone County led to the breakup of the largest identity theft ring ever uncovered in Kentucky, Attorney General Ben Chandler said Monday.

Twenty-one people, all citizens of Mexico or other Latin American countries, are being detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. All are being held on various state and federal charges ranging from identity theft to drug possession.

Operating in parts of Boone County and the Lexington area, the suspects stole people's identities to make counterfeit Social Security cards, driver's licenses, birth certificates and immigration cards, said Maj. Jack Banks, spokesman for the Boone County Sheriff's Department. The ring then sold the bogus identification cards to illegal immigrants for $90 to $200.

"We targeted the manufacturers of these illegal IDs," said Sgt. Pat Murray of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Police Department. "We seized a lot of blank identification cards and papers, including driver's licenses from Ohio."

Licenses were also duplicated from Kentucky, Utah, Colorado and Mexico.

The four-month investigation involved the Boone County sheriff, FBI, Secret Service, Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Kentucky police agencies and two U.S. attorneys'offices.

Six arrests were made in Boone County in December. The other arrests were made in the Lexington area.

The ring catered to mostly Hispanic clientele seeking work in Boone and Fayette counties.

Boone County, with a 2 percent Hispanic population according to the 2000 Census, has the highest level of Hispanic residents in Northern Kentucky.

Fayette with 9,164 Hispanic residents, or 3.5 percent of its total population in the 2000 Census, has the second-highest Hispanic population of any county in Kentucky, with Jefferson County ranking first.

Officials were not aware of any victims of identity theft in the Northern Kentucky area.

Murray said Social Security numbers were randomly chosen and just happened to have already been legitimately assigned to American citizens somewhere else.

E-mail jhannah@enqirer.com

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