San Diego Union Tribune

February 18, 2007

Prisoners' sale of ID papers to immigrants investigated



WASHINGTON – Jose Esteban Aleman was among more than 1,000 undocumented workers arrested in December during highly publicized immigration raids at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants around the country.

Like many of those arrested, Aleman wasn't cited on immigration charges. He was arrested for carrying fake documents that identified him as a U.S. citizen.




Most of the fake identification confiscated during the raids was traced to taxpaying Americans whose Social Security numbers had been stolen, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Aleman's case was different. His ID was traced to a murder suspect in Chicago who might have sold his identification papers while in custody years earlier, authorities said.

“There are some people in prisons and homeless and others who are selling their identities to be used by (illegal immigrants),” said Julie Myers, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “We are just beginning to see this.”

Myers declined to comment on the Aleman case, saying it is under investigation. She would not discuss other inquiries.

Other authorities were puzzled why anyone would assume the identity of an inmate, but speculated that it could happen if a buyer were unaware he was buying a prisoner's identity or if he were desperate.

“Why in the world would anyone assume the identity of somebody in prison? It's like buying a car that's been in 300 wrecks,” said Arizona Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katie Decker.

Officials said Aleman, 21, of El Salvador, apparently obtained the Social Security number and birth certificate of Christopher Padilla, 20, a jail inmate in Chicago.

Court records show that Aleman purchased the documents in 2003 for $1,000 through an intermediary in Utah who was identified in court documents only as Chaparra, according to records filed in the Swift prosecution in Utah.

The person named Chaparra was not apprehended.

Selling one's ID may or may not be a crime, “depending on the facts and what one knows when they transfer the identity,” said Jamie Zwiebeck, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Zwiebeck declined to comment on the Aleman case and suggested further review would be necessary.

The 1998 Identity Theft and Assumption Deterence Act, which covers many identity theft regulations, prohibits anyone from “knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity.”

Aleman might not have known that the ID he obtained originally had been traced to the inmate, officials said. Aleman has pleaded guilty to charges linked to being an illegal immigrant in the United States and is in the process of being deported, immigration officials said.

Over the past few years, Aleman went by Christopher Padilla's name – but Padilla was in a different world.

Christopher Padilla was a teenager who was arrested on drug charges in Texas when Aleman first used his identification in 2003. Padilla was in a Texas prison on the charges from August 2002 to March 2003.

Aleman continued to use Padilla's identification, unaware that Padilla had gotten deeper into trouble.

In November 2004, Padilla was accused of killing a 15-month-old boy in Chicago by violently shaking him. Padilla, who is in the Cook County jail, has pleaded not guilty, said his attorney, Steve Stach.

When asked whether Padilla sold his identity while in custody, Stach said he could not comment, citing “privacy concerns.”

The investigation into the Swift Co. meatpacking plants began in February 2006, when agency officials learned that a large number of illegal immigrants might have used U.S. citizens' Social Security numbers to get hired.

Aleman's brother also was arrested in the raids as an undocumented immigrant who allegedly used a false ID.

That ID was linked to a U.S. citizen who was not in jail, officials said.

Joe Cantlupe: (202) 737-7687;
David Hasemyer: (619) 542-4583;

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