Friday, October 10, 2008

Four charged with illegal immigrant smuggling (Richmond Times Dispatch)

Four charged with illegal immigrant smuggling

Thursday, Oct 09, 2008 - 09:48 PM


Four Richmond-area men have been charged with smuggling illegal immigrants into the U.S. to work as laborers for a commercial janitorial service.

Authorities identified them as: Richard Mok Lee, 48; Edwin Velez, 40; Guillermo Barreras Poncé, 32; and Fermin Bolanas Garcia, 39. They were indicted yesterday on charges of transporting illegal aliens and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Lee and Velez also were charged with promotional money laundering and harboring illegal aliens. The charges are the result of an investigation led by the FBI and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the illegal immigrants were smuggled into the country from Mexico to work at the Lee/Lee Janitorial Service owned by Lee.

Several illegal immigrants told FBI agents that they crossed the Arizona border with the help of a "coyote" or smuggler, and that they paid the coyote back by working for Lee. Some of those smuggled had their identification documents taken from them when they arrived in the Richmond area, authorities said.

A criminal complaint filed on Sept. 22 alleges that "typically the workers' documents were returned to them only after they have satisfied their debt for expenses associated with the process of smuggling them into the United States."

On Sept. 23, federal investigators, the Virginia State Police and the Henrico County Police Department executed search warrants at several homes and apartments owned or rented by Lee and Velez.

During the search, investigators identified 17 suspected illegal immigrants being housed by the defendants and seized allegedly counterfeit identification. Lee, Velez and Poncé were arrested the same day on criminal complaints. Garcia is still at large.

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