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Fake government-document operation broken up, officials say [Updated]

November 3, 2011 |  1:34 pm

Federal and local authorities on Thursday arrested 21 people and searched 17 homes and businesses in connection with a group that allegedly sold machines to manufacture fraudulent government cards.

Alejandro Morales-Serrano, 45, of Los Angeles, is accused of being the ringleader of a group based primarily near MacArthur Park that sold document-making machines to groups in Northern California; Houston; Aurora, a suburb of Chicago, and elsewhere across the country, according to a federal indictment.

Seven others have been indicted in the case but have not been named as they are still at large, said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles office of the FBI.

Agents also seized plastic-lamination machines, computers and fraudulent documents, she said.

The machines were allegedly sold to people who would make phony driver's licenses -– from Mexico and 40 U.S. states -– Social Security cards, work visas and immigration documents, both U.S. and Mexican, Eimiller said.

"This scheme produced thousands of documents and supported additional criminal activity, including tax fraud, bank fraud, identity theft and pharmaceutical diversion schemes," she said.

Authorities said they are unsure how long the alleged network had been operating, but Eimiller said Morales-Serrano "was heard over a wiretap describing that he's been doing this for over a decade."

She said agents were still trying to determine Morales-Serrano's immigration status, but that several of the others involved in the case were illegal immigrants.

[Updated at 5:32 p.m.: FBI offials say Morales-Serrano is an illegal immigrant who has already been deported, and is being charged with that.]

The arrests and seizure was a cooperative effort between the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said.

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-- Sam Quinones
Twitter.com/samquinones7

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