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In Court: 44 plead not guilty to ID theft

Officials will determine if suspects are illegal immigrants

Posted: February 10, 2009 1:29 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2009 12:58 p.m.
Judge Graciela Freixes arraigned 44 people Monday in connection with a Valencia identity theft raid. Each person pleaded not guilty and will return to court Feb. 19 for early disposition hearing, Freixes said.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged 18 people with one count each of ID theft, false personation and using false documentation. The 18 allegedly used stolen Social Security numbers and false Green Cards to gain employment at L&M Optical West in the Valencia Industrial Complex.

The D.A. charged 33 defendants with one count of using each of using false documents and false personation for allegedly using phony Social Security numbers and phony Green Cards. Three defendants were charged with one count of using of false documents.

The arraignment follows the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Deputies Thursday-morning raid of L&M that netted 55 suspects.

The D.A. dropped the charges against one of the 55 suspects, spokeswoman Jane Robison said.

Of the 54 people charged, 44 were in Santa Clarita Superior Court for arraignment Monday. Arraignment dates for 10 suspects who bonded out of custody will be announced later, Robison said.

Ralph Munoz, 62 of West Covina, filled out bail applications for families trying to post the $50,000 bond.

The couple owns Rosa Munoz Bail Bonds and bonded more than 20 suspects by 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Ralph Munoz spent 34 years in law enforcement including 10 years as a sheriff's deputy.

"I've never seen a raid this size during my time at the sheriff's department," he said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents usually raid businesses where people are using fake Social Security numbers, Ralph Munoz said. He also questioned whether the raid aimed at thwarting identity theft nabbed people truly intent on stealing identities.

"(The Social Security cards) were for their own employment. No one is depriving anyone else or intends to hurt anyone else. They just want to work," he said.

Proving that the suspects committed identity theft will be difficult, Munoz said.

"The suspects have to deprive someone of something," he said.

This is not a victimless crime, said Lt. Brenda Cambra of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.

"There are victims in the Santa Clarita Valley whose Social Security numbers were compromised," she said.

The arrest came on the heels of a three-month investigation, Det. Steve Low said.

The Social Security Administration informed the identity theft victims who in turn told the sheriff's deputies, Cambra said.

Rosa Munoz, Ralph Munoz's wife, doesn't know whether the people she bonded are United States citizens or in the country legally.

Cambra doesn't know whether the suspects will be turned over to ICE.

"The L.A. County Sheriff's (Department) interrogates the suspects to determine who is deportable," ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. "Then a detainer is filed to assure that no one who is deportable ends up back on the street."

After the Feb. 19 early disposition hearing, a preliminary hearing will be held on Feb. 20, 23 and 24 for all 54 suspects.


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