A state Registry of Motor Vehicles clerk allegedly told authorities that she knowingly handed out at least 15 phony licenses to people using Puerto Rican documents of people other than themselves, and that she was paid $200 each time.
She was part of a scheme, according to court documents, in which fake Massachusetts licenses were sold for about $4,000.
Vanessa Peguero, 27, of Leominster, was charged in US District Court in Boston Wednesday with producing a false identification document. She faces up to 15 years in federal prison, and a $250,000 fine.
Peguero made a brief, initial appearance in court Wednesday. She was released on $10,000 unsecured bond. She is due to return to court for a probable cause hearing on Aug. 8. Her court-appointed lawyer, Miriam Conrad, would not comment on the allegations Wednesday.
Registrar Rachel Kaprielian said in a statement that, “The Registry works hard to safeguard our customers against identification fraud. In this case, we were aware of the investigation and we cooperated with our law enforcement partners.”
The statement said that Peguero began working with the RMV in November 2007, and that authorities are working to “identify the proper discipline based on the arrest.”
Peguero was arrested as part of a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations probe that began around the winter of 2010, according to court records. Anthony Cicerone, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said in an affidavit that a confidential informant provided information that two individuals in New York had the ability to obtain fake Massachusetts licenses for a $4,000 fee. The individuals, the informant said, apparently had a contact within the Registry.
The informant referred authorities to a specific license for a man who was arrested in New York for illegal reentry of the country, after previously being deported.
An investigation showed that the license had been issued by Peguero, who worked at the Registry’s Leominster branch.
According to court records, Peguero later admitted to authorities that she handed out about 15 fake licenses, and that she was paid $200 each time. She said she was first approached about two years ago by a man she knew as “Leo,” who had flirted with her and asked for her phone number while conducting a regular Registry transaction at her counter.
According to Cicerone’s affidavit, she told authorities that Leo – she does not know his full name, she said – eventually confessed to her that the Puerto Rican documents he used to obtain a Massachusetts license were fraudulently obtained. He then asked if she would be willing to conduct similar transactions at the $200 fee. Peguero allegedly agreed.
According to the affidavit, Peguero did not know Leo’s clients. He would call her before bringing someone in, and she would tell him which station she was working.
“She stated that she knew Leo’s clients were not the people they were claiming to be with the identity documents they presented to her,” Cicerone said.
Peguero said she last heard from Leo around early June. Authorities did not say Wednesday if they have identified him in the investigation.
“Fraudulent documents give people the appearance of lawful immigration statuses and provides them with countless opportunities to which they are not entitled,” said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston. “Anyone who fraudulently obtains a genuine government ID may pose a threat to public safety. ... Homeland Security Investigations, along with our law enforcement partners in Massachusetts, will continue to aggressively target those participating in or facilitating these types of crimes.”