RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia man pleaded guilty Friday to participating in a sophisticated multistate fake identification ring and plotting to steal a rival document-maker's equipment.
Manuel Garcia-Rojas, 28, of Richmond, pleaded guilty to racketeering and attempted robbery in U.S. District Court. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count when he is sentenced July 31. Three charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Nine other defendants who were indicted along with Garcia-Rojas late last year are scheduled for trial June 2.
According to prosecutors, Garcia-Rojas was a runner for the Richmond cell of a fake ID enterprise based in Mexico that also had operations in Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. A runner's job was to solicit illegal immigrants as customers for phony documents, including Social Security cards and green cards. The high-quality, bogus documents typically sold for $120 to $250 a set.
The indictment says the ring's U.S. operations were overseen by Hidalgo Flores, who instructed cell managers to wire the proceeds to upper management in Mexico. Financial records show that from January 2012 through October 2013, more than $300,000 was transferred.
The government says ring members used violence to maintain the enterprise. Garcia-Rojas and three co-defendants were accused of trying to assault a rival fake ID maker in Richmond and steal his equipment. Prosecutors say a police traffic stop thwarted the scheme.
In court, Garcia-Rojas balked when U.S. Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck asked if he was pleading guilty because he was, indeed, guilty. Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Garcia-Rojas told the judge: "Like I said to my lawyer, I am guilty of conspiracy but not of attempted robbery."
After a brief consultation with his attorney, Garcia-Rojas was asked again if he was guilty of both counts. He replied, "Si."
The indictment says the enterprise began in 2008. Court papers in previous cases show that the ring wired more than $1 million to Mexico before it was dismantled in late 2010. Twenty-six people pleaded guilty, and one was convicted at trial in the slaying of a rival fake ID seller in Arkansas and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
Within two years, prosecutors say, the enterprise restarted under the same leadership in Mexico but with different participants in Richmond; Springdale, Arkansas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Pawtucket, Rhode Island; Cincinnati and Boston.