An elderly Mexican man who lived illegally in the United States for decades has been arrested in an ID theft scheme that prosecutors say was so clever, "a court unwittingly changed the name of the U.S. citizen whose identity he assumed to his own real name."
In a 33-count indictment, 81-year-old Ramon Perez-Rivera is charged with assuming a false identity to obtain food stamps and Medicaid, as well as registering to vote and getting a U.S. passport and a driver's license. The case is one of the most unusual identity theft cases on record.
Unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Wichita, the indictment against Perez-Rivera and his 82-year-old wife, Antonia Vargas-Ortega, outlines a sporadic history of unlawful entry into the United States that dates as far back as the 1950s. It offers a glimpse at an immigrant family's life in the shadows that spanned decades — and left in tatters the identity of the 86-year-old Arizona man whose identity was hijacked. The government contends Perez-Rivera succeeded in fooling scores of state and federal agencies — with the exception of the times he tried to get Supplemental Social Security Income benefits from the Social Security Administration, where the scam finally unraveled.
Perez-Rivera faces a court appearance Wednesday on charges of aggravated identity theft as well as counts related to making false statements in order to obtain a passport, food stamps and Medicaid benefits as well as register to vote; lying to a federal agent; misusing a Social Security number to obtain a Kansas driver's license; and fraudulently attempting to get Social Security income benefits. His wife, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, also faces charges that include aggravated identity theft, making a false statement to the Social Security Administration and harboring a person unlawfully in the United States. Court records do not indicate whether they have attorneys.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson has prosecuted hundreds of immigration-related cases, and says he has never seen one in which a defendant changed the identity theft victim's name to his own name.