A violent gang that profited by selling fake documents and sending money back to Mexico has been disrupted in Cincinnati, FOX19 News has learned.
Mexican crime bosses planted men in Cincinnati and 18 other U.S. cities, producing "an unparalleled 30,000 fraudulent documents" during a two-year reign and "sent approximately $1,000,000 in illegal profits back to Mexico," according to federal documents turned over to FOX19 by the U.S. Attorney's Office in eastern Virginia, where the case has gone to court.
The gang was a threat to national security, say federal prosecutors. After all, they point out, some of the 9/11 hijackers used fake documents from other sources.
But Butler County, Ohio Sheriff Richard Jones believes it's also a threat to neighborhood safety.
"If you bump into one of these people or you accidentally knock on their door – you're at the wrong address – and, hey, they don't know that you're not the police," he said.
Details of the year-long investigation by Homeland Security and immigration authorities were first reported by our sister station, WWBT-TV in Richmond, Virginia.
Among the revelations:
A 17-year-old was killed in Little Rock, Arkansas after being lured inside a trailer because the gang suspected he was trying to take over their turf.
The crime scene was so bloody even a federal judge was shocked.
"The most god awful, horrific, brutal homicide he'd ever seen," as U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride recalls him saying. "This from a judge who's been in law enforcement for 30 years."
The gang's national leader, "El Muerto," wanted his cell in Cincinnati and throughout the country to listen as a fellow gang member suspected of stealing from the group was tortured. Federal documents say the man was beaten, his feet put in water, jumper cables attached to his bare chest.
You can hear the man screaming in the secret recording made by federal agents.
They were listening to this macabre conference call live and risked their case by calling in local police to save the man's life.
"There was a swift response and ultimately the individual was able to make it out of there safe," said Homeland Security Special Agent Michael Lamonea.
The man ended-up in the trauma unit of a hospital with severe cuts and two cracked vertebrae.
Meanwhile, FOX19 News has learned, a similar violent attack was planned against competitors just across the river from Cincinnati in Convington, Kentucky.
We've also confirmed the leader of the U.S. operation, "El Muerto" – whose real name is Israel Cruz Millan – was in Cincinnati in 2009.
Federal court documents FOX19 obtained show the Cincinnati cell leader had been attacked by rival fake document makers and "El Muerto" wanted revenge.
But one of the gang members told the feds that he was never able to find his rivals.
Money was really what the gang was interested in. And over two years, they sent a million dollars back to Mexico.
FOX19 is able to show you – for the first time – details of a Western Union transaction between gang members that originated in Cincinnati.
We called the phone number with the 513 area code. It goes to an unidentified voicemail box.
When the feds moved-in in Cincinnati on November 18, 2010, court documents say they found cell members "in possession of fraudulent documents, as well as items related to the production of fraudulent identifications."
What worries federal authorities and Sheriff Jones, who's busted fake document rings in Butler County, is how good these documents look. It's very hard to tell the fakes from real U.S. documents.
"That's how good they are," said Sheriff Jones. "Police officers can't tell…And the police officers are the first ones that stop these people that are here illegally. They can't tell. No one can tell – other than if you're a federal agent and you're trained in this."
U.S. Attorney MacBride points out that these fake documents are for people in this country illegally who may have committed a crime or are planning one.
Federal prosecutors have now convicted 30 people for crimes related to this case.