Taking benefits away from hard working Americans.
Via San Diego Union Tribune:
It started as a rather straightforward Social Security fraud investigation — a man receiving disability benefits pretending to live in the United States when in fact he lived in Tijuana.
What authorities uncovered was a 37-year identity theft scheme by an unauthorized immigrant and repeat felon who bilked federal, state and local governments out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits, according to a plea agreement entered in San Diego federal court this week.
Andres Avelino Anduaga — if that’s even his real name — admitted to assuming the identity of a U.S. citizen in 1980. Armed with a fake birth certificate, he developed a seemingly legitimate persona by applying for a California driver’s license, Social Security number and U.S. passport.
The official documents identified him as Abraham Riojos, born in Alpine, Texas, in 1958.
The documents allowed him to move freely between Mexico and the U.S., and also to receive nearly $361,000 in government benefits over the years.
On Thursday, Anduaga, 66, pleaded guilty to theft of public property and being a previously removed unauthorized immigrant in the U.S.
He has agreed to pay back to several government agencies what he stole but could face additional fines as well as up to 12 years in prison when sentenced.
The investigation started in 2014 with a mailbox, and then unfolded clue by clue, according to the complaint. The Social Security office in Chula Vista alerted its Office of the Inspector General that private mailboxes near the U.S.-Mexico border may be linked to residency fraud.
Only U.S. citizens or valid visa holders can receive Social Security disability benefits, and they must reside in the United States.
In April 2015, during a standard review to determine whether he was still eligible for benefits, the man who called himself Riojos gave an address on San Ysidro Boulevard — to a mailbox rental facility. When he was summoned to the Chula Vista office for an interview, he presented a state ID card identifying himself as Riojos and claimed to be renting a room from a man on I Street in Chula Vista.
During the interview, an investigator with the California Department of Health Care Services called the man, who confirmed the living arrangement.
But when investigators visited the home in January 2016, the man admitted Riojos never lived there, but instead lived in Mexico, the complaint states.
Investigators turned to the border crossing records, finding frequent travels indicating Riojos had likely been living in Mexico since at least 2014.
They then learned that another person had tried to sign up for disability benefits in Oceanside under the same Riojos name, using a fake birth certificate with the same date and place of birth, according to the complaint.
The investigators went to the criminal records, finding the initial man claiming to be Riojos had a rap sheet that included 21 different names and six dates of birth, dating back to 1974. They included a firearms violation, forgery, cocaine possession and multiple DUIs, according to prosecutors.
Immigration records rounded out the picture. He’d been deported twice, once in 1994 and again in 2000. During the last deportation, he had given authorities his real name: Jose Reyes. Or so they thought.
Investigators tracked down the real Abraham Riojos to Immokalee, Fla., a rural town south of Fort Myers. He told the special agents who visited him that he had no idea his identity had been used all these years.
He went by a different name now himself, Abram Riojas, a switch he said he made in the 1980s after his father started going by that name. He had a legal Social Security number separate from the fraudulent one Anduaga had applied for and received, which is probably why he hadn’t yet run into cross-identity problems, authorities said. The real Riojos also hadn’t applied for any Social Security benefits yet, another reason he might not have known something was awry.