14 charged in Kansas City in immigration scam

Thursday, January 12, 2012 | 10:43 a.m. CST; updated 4:38 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 12, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. ) — Fourteen people have been charged in a $5 million conspiracy to provide thousands of Missouri identification documents to undocumented immigrants through a St. Joseph fee office, authorities said.

U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips announced the indictments Wednesday and said 13 of the defendants are in custody. The indictment was unsealed Wednesday after several of the defendants appeared in court.

The indictment said the scheme started in November 2009 and involved more than 3,500 identification documents issued to undocumented immigrants from across the country.

Prosecutors said three defendants who live in San Antonio purchased state-issued birth certificates and Social Security numbers from Texas residents, then sent them to Missouri. The indictment alleges other defendants went with the undocumented immigrants to the license office to act as interpreters, using the Texas documents to get driver's licenses or a non-driver's license form of identification.

The undocumented immigrants were coached to memorize information on the birth certificates and Social Security cards.

The indictment said the conspirators sometimes provided transportation for the immigrants. One defendant is accused of transporting undocumented immigrants back and forth between North Carolina and Missouri. Another defendant is accused of transporting undocumented immigrants back and forth between Carthage and St. Joseph.

Prosecutors said the undocumented immigrants paid $1,500 to $1,600 for the licenses, which allowed them to remain unlawfully in the United States and obtain employment.

"St. Joseph was the hub of a criminal conspiracy for thousands of illegal aliens who traveled to Missouri from across the country," Phillips said in a written statement. "Conspirators operated a vast black market where identities were bought and sold. It's crucial for business and public safety that we maintain the integrity of government-issued IDs. Those who profited from this illegal scheme will be held accountable."

The indictment doesn't accuse the fee office or anyone who worked there of being complicit in the scheme.