By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Two suspects who allegedly trafficked in counterfeit green cards aimed at the immigrant community in Sunset Park have been indicted by a grand jury, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes announced on Nov. 8.
The suspects, Jose Mateo Castro, 56, and Leonel Escamiilo, 43, also dealt in bogus Social Security cards and driver’s licenses, according to Hynes, who said the indictments resulted from a 12-month investigation into the men’s activities by detectives from his office and by agents from the US Department of Homeland Security.
“Trafficking of forged federal identification cards is not a victimless crime,” Hynes said.
Forged ID cards “are used for many illicit purposes, including identity theft, obtaining access to workplaces and other private areas,” the district attorney said.
“Because of the potentially grave dangers they pose, my office is committed to working with local and federal authorities, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to vigorously investigate, and prosecute those manufacturing and trafficking counterfeit documentation,” Hynes said.
The investigation began in July 2011, when Dept. of Homeland Security agents received a tip that an individual known as “Pancho” was selling forged green cards and Social Security cards to undocumented immigrants out of Las Conchitas Bakery, 4811 Fifth Ave., in Sunset Park, Hynes said. “Pancho,” who worked at the bakery, was later revealed to be Jose Mateo Castro, Hynes said.
The indictment charges that Castro, on multiple occasions, sold fake green cards and Social Security Cards to an individual in exchange for $130.
The charges allege that over the next few months, a person known to the investigators met with Castro and gave him money, passport photos, and the information to be used on the IDs. Castro would provide that individual with forged green cards and Social Security Cards bearing the names and photographs that the individual had provided to Castro previously, according to the indictment. Castro provided identification cards in the names of at least six different people, Hynes said.
The forgeries were so sophisticated that one without the training in identifying counterfeits could easily be fooled, according to experts who examined the IDs.
On Aug.14, 2012, a surveillance team saw Castro hand an envelope to a man identified as Leonel Escamiilo, Hynes said. Escamiilo took the envelope and went to a building located at 367 49th St. in Sunset Park. About an hour later, Escamiilo exited the building with a bag, which he gave to Castro, Hynes said.
The indictment charges that in September, investigators observed Castro dropping photos off at that 49th Street address, and return later to meet Escamiilo outside the building. Escamiilo then handed him a forged green card and a forged social security card, according to the indictment.
The investigation revealed that Escamiilo lived in a room located in the basement of 367 49th St. Investigators obtained a search warrant and recovered supplies used to manufacture various forms of government-issued identification cards, including blank cards, holograms, laminates, a paper-cutter, a computer and a printer, easily available online for about $1300, specifically used for making double-sided ID cards, Hynes said.
A forensic examination of the computer revealed that it was used to create the identifications purchased as from Castro, Hynes said.
Castro is charged with 14 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the Second Degree and 14 counts of forgery in the second degree. Escamiilo is charged with 13 counts each of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree and Forgery in the second degree and six counts of criminal possession of forgery devices.
The suspects, who are both Mexican, could face up to seven years in prison and deportation to Mexico if convicted.