By the numbers
A Daily News review of Collier and Lee arrests, 53 in each county under the Florida statute for possession, manufacturing, and sale of fraudulent photo IDs, revealed that since Jan. 1, 2011, Collier deputies caught:
■ 4 fake ID dealers and 49 fake ID users
■ 10 people who presented fake IDs at government offices, primarily to obtain driver licenses
■ 3 men accused of showing false documentation while working for a county contractor
■ 5 men initially stopped for riding their bikes without a light after dark
■ 3 people under 21 years old with fake IDs that showed they were of legal drinking age
In the same period, Lee deputies arrested:
■ 3 fake ID dealers running one operation, and 50 fake ID users
■ 15 people engaging in other major crimes, like credit card fraud
■ 11 people under 21 years old with fake IDs that showed they were of legal drinking age
■ 1 man who couldn’t collect unemployment when his identity was stolen and used by another man to work
NAPLES — Until he was caught, an East Naples man ran a solid — if illegal — business, Collier sheriff's investigators say.
When customers approached Hermilo Solis-Fernandez looking for a fake ID, he asked them to text him a passport-type photo, and in return for $150, they would get a Permanent Resident Card and a Social Security card, his arrest report shows.
Such business models don't factor in sales to undercover detectives, however; after months of police surveillance, the 29-year-old Mexico native landed in the Collier County jail on Aug. 16, charged with selling fraudulent ID cards.
A review by the Daily News of Collier and Lee county arrest records since Jan. 1, 2011, shows that the people purchasing IDs like the ones Solis-Fernandez is accused of producing are 15 times more likely to be arrested than the documents' purveyors.
In a crime where both the buyer and seller can be arrested for a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison upon conviction, unraveling cases and catching manufacturers is a challenge to law enforcement.
In the 106 arrests since January 2011 under the state law regarding making, selling, and using fake photo IDs, the majority of the individuals arrested were foreign-born, and in some cases, undocumented.
"What happens is, unfortunately, a lot of these guys are just trying to get a job, or work, or get a driver license. They break a whole host of laws" along the way, said Detective Jose Rosario of the Collier County Sheriff's Office.
Like most businesses, fake ID sales are subject to market fluctuations and changes in clientele.
"(It) depends on supply and demand," said Lt. Shawn Ramsey of the Lee County Sheriff's Office. "Back in 2003, 2002 when construction was booming, it was much more lucrative than what it is today," he added, suggesting a higher rate of foreign-born laborers years ago fostered better business for fake papers.
The falsified documents that deputies confiscated in both counties included driver licenses and identification cards from Florida, foreign passports and visas. The quality can range from tattered edges and misspellings, to fakes good enough to pass the naked eye test, but failing more subtle security features.
In Lee County, the leading reason for fake ID use wasn't to work or drive. In 15 cases, detectives found fraudulent photo IDs in conjunction with major economic crimes, like scores of cloned credit cards.
"There's usually another crime attached to it," Ramsey said. "Nine times out of 10, it's for financial gain."
The stakes can be high for owning a fake ID. In Immokalee, sheriff's reports show one Collier deputy arrested five men in early 2011 for riding their bikes without lights after dark, only to find they had fake IDs with them. Four ultimately were deported — one who left voluntarily.
Fake documents can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, especially when a person is arrested. In the case of a man arrested on Marco Island in early August, accused of sexual assault, he had two sets of documents with different names. He had been deported under one name, and assumed another after purchasing a set of fake IDs from a man in Collier County earlier this year, he told deputies following his arrest.
According to Rosario, a Collier detective who works on organized crimes, going after fake ID producers and sellers is key to curbing fake ID use, not arresting individuals for possession.
"We didn't think that would be the way to solve the problem," he said of targeting users.
Local fake ID producers run small operations, with no more than three or four people making, selling, and distributing the cards, according to arrest reports. Getting the laminating machines and printers out of circulation is a priority, Rosario said.
"We want to avoid somebody else finding the machinery and cranking them out," Rosario said.
The equipment can be inherited. Juan Martinez, 28, took over the business from a family member in 2007, he and his colleagues told investigators, according to an arrest report. His 57-year-old uncle worked for him as a document courier.
In the undercover sting involving the U.S. Secret Service and Lee County Sheriff's Office, the two men were arrested in March 2011 along with another man.
The same day as Solis-Fernandez's arrest on the charge of selling fake IDs, the Collier County Sheriff's Office sounded the alarm on another suspect.
Anyone with information regarding the identity of "Alex Martinez," the man sought by Collier investigators regarding fraud outside the driver license office, is asked to call the Collier County Sheriff's Office at 239-252-9300, or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-8477 (TIPS).
Going by the name Alex Martinez, perhaps presenting himself as a Cuban, a man in January met with several undocumented immigrants at an East Naples Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office to help them obtain fraudulent driver licenses, according to Collier detectives.
He asked for their money before driving away in a dark blue Ford Expedition. Rosario said he made off with at least $5,000 and kept the alleged victims' passports.
"The victims themselves were breaking the law, and that's why a lot of them don't want to come forward," according to Rosario.
Although "Alex Martinez" remains at large, on Aug. 31 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested three more people in Collier County on federal criminal document fraud allegations, with a fourth person arrested in a related case in Kissimmee, according to agency spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell. No further information was available from ICE about the arrests.
As long as credit card fraud exists, teens want to go to bars, and undocumented individuals try to work, there will be an entrepreneurial potential felon trying his or her luck with a home printer and a laminating machine.
"There's always going to be a demand for counterfeit documents," Rosario said.
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