Duo accused of selling citizenship docs sentenced

Two people accused of promising citizenship and other “sensitive” documents in exchange for money were handed down lengthy prison sentences Wednesday, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Francisco Santiago Rodriguez Nuñez and Beatriz Adriana Rodriguez to 75 months and 41 months in prison, respectively, according to court records.

Read the complaint here.

The pair each pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges last November, avoiding trial proceedings that were set to begin in early December, court records show.

Rodriguez, 40, of McAllen, pleaded guilty to attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, while Rodriguez Nuñez, 34, of Mexico, separately pleaded guilty to the same charge and to the 48th count of the indictment, unauthorized fees for inspection of vessels, according to record.

Rodriguez Nuñez was originally indicted on more than 50 federal charges, including fraud by wire, frauds and swindles, and an immigration re-entry charge, to name a few.

They committed fraud against multiple people, seeking immigration documentation and other similarly sensitive documentation, government prosecutors alleged in the 50-plus-count indictment filed in July.

According to that indictment, for nearly three years, the pair made “fraudulent” postings on Facebook claiming to be able to “obtain, generate, or provide individuals with immigration status, including citizenship, to remain in the United States or driver’s licenses” in exchange for money, court records show.

The pair did this by claiming to work for various entities that would be able to provide the sensitive materials, including the Social Security Administration, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

Victims would call a number posted on the website, where Rodriguez and Rodriguez Nuñez would pretend to be employed at one of the aforementioned entities and would “fraudulently represent to the caller that he/she could obtain immigration status and/or driver’s license for the caller in exchange for compensation,” the record shows.

“Co-conspirators often sent victims text messages or multimedia messages providing fraudulent government credentials in an attempt to support their status as an employee or agent of a governmental agency,” the indictment states.

The pair would then instruct the victims to send the money through money orders or through the mail — at least on one instance they asked for $10,000 from one victim, and as low as $500 from another victim.

But even after they would receive the money, the duo would contact victims again, stating there were issues with their application, and demanded more money to resolve the issue.

“A co-conspirator would also call the victim and claim that if they didn’t continue to pay by a certain date that the victim may be arrested and/or deported,” the filing states.

When victims failed to pay, one of the two defendants would call the victims pretending to leave an automated message on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, stating that if they did not make contact with Homeland Security by a certain date, they would be arrested or deported.

In addition, after receiving money from their victims, the defendants would make money wire transfers.

As part of the punishment, the couple is ordered to pay $174,010 in restitution.

Rodriguez Nuñez and Rodriguez were also ordered to forfeit $68,900 and $74,200, respectively.

The government claims the pair took more than 45 wire payments from victims between November 2015 and July 2018, for in excess of $100,000, the documents show.

The court noted that most of the victims were merely looking for a way to obtain legal status for work, while others paid excessive fees to be able to be with their children.

Alvarez made note of the “substantial financial hardship placed on most, if not all of the victims,” according to the release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas.

In exchange for their guilty pleas, the government has agreed to dismiss the remaining charges against them, the record states.