Portales woman pleads guilty to fraud

Staff and wire reports

A former public notary from Portales has pleaded guilty Monday to fraudulently obtaining hundreds of New Mexico driver’s licenses for people living outside the country.

She is the fifth defendant to plead guilty in what state officials termed at the time the case broke as “one of the largest driver’s license frauds uncovered to date.”

Federal prosecutors say Veronica Diaz, 38, pleaded guilty to 12 counts of forgery, 32 counts of conspiracy to alteration or forgery of a driver’s license and three counts of false evidence of title or registration. Diaz’ attorney, Eric Dixon, said his client entered an Alford plea, where a defendant maintains innocence but concedes the prosecution has enough evidence for a conviction.

A judge suspended her 70-year prison sentence and placed her on five years of supervised probation. Diaz and the other four defendants who have pleaded guilty agreed to testify against the alleged leaders of the driver’s license fraud ring.

Authorities say the $30,000 per month operation also included human traffickers and mail collectors.

They say Diaz signed false affidavits to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses for foreign nationals from Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala, Uruguay and Honduras.

In all, nine people were charged in June 2012 with conspiracy, forgery and other felony charges for fraudulently using residential addresses in Portales and Clovis and falsifying other documents to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses for foreign nationals living outside of the state, according to a press release from 9th Judicial District Attorney Matthew Chandler’s office.

Luis Raul Collazo-Medrano, 52, an undocumented foreign national from Mexico, and his wife and daughter are accused of running the ring.

All three remain at-large, according to Chandler.

“The long-term effects of an illegal operation such as this are difficult to measure because the state will never be able to truly identify who illegally obtained a New Mexico driver’s license or what they plan on doing with the fraudulent driver’s license,” Chandler stated in a press release issued by the New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department. “Now our focus is on locating the ring leader of this operation and bringing him back to New Mexico to face his charges. As a result of convicting and turning each co-defendant, the state is going to be able to make a very strong case against Collazo-Medrano.”

The criminal complaint said Diaz signed false affidavits notarizing rental agreements and other documents. Diaz is also accused of buying vehicle titles to establish residency for foreign nationals.

Diaz also told investigators that before the state implemented an appointment process in the summer of 2010 for foreign nationals to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses, Collazo-Medrano would bring in van loads of foreign nationals to Clovis and Portales for their driver’s licenses. She admitted that her living room would, at times, be full of foreign nationals waiting for her to sign their affidavits. Eleven foreign nationals used Diaz’ residential address as their own, but none live there.

The following defendants have also pleaded guilty in this case:

  • Veronica Rivera (AKA Veronica Vicuna), 25, of Portales: Pleaded guilty to 23 counts of conspiracy to commit altered, forged or fictitious license, and was sentenced to 42 years in prison, all suspended in favor of supervised probation, and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
  • Maria Rivas, 42, of Portales and Midland, Texas: Pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to commit altered, forged or fictitious license, and three counts of false evidence title and registration. She was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison, all suspended in favor of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
  • Brenda Vicuna, 21, of Portales: Pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit altered, forged or fictitious license, and was sentenced to three years of probation.
  • Luis Tirado, 34, of Portales: Pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit altered, forged or fictitious license, and was sentenced to 18 month of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

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