Sheriff Enrique”Kiki” Vigil, the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with District Attorney Mark D’Antonio and the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Treasury Department, have launched a formal investigation into allegations of identity theft, forgery and fraud by several individuals, including low-level employees at the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office, who were allegedly collecting and cashing fraudulent tax return checks in exchange for a kickback and/or a percentage of the check.
In a statement issued this afternoon District Attorney Mark D’Antonio said, “What is significant about this case is that it is one of the largest identity theft investigations in the southwest and maybe the country. This investigation is the first case involving the White Collar Crime Task Force created by a joint agreement between the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office. The sheriff and I agree that it was time to take a more aggressive stance on white collar crime as well as public corruption. These types of investigations will be more frequent in the future and will solicit the cooperation of both federal and state law enforcement. I want to commend the hard work of Sheriff Vigil and the sheriff’s department, especially Ken Roberts who was the lead investigator in this matter, as well as my own Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Clark. In addition, the assistance of the treasury department and the United States Attorney’s Office was extremely valuable. I want to remind the press and the public that this current investigation is based on allegations and all of the accused, of course, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”
The investigation began in mid-May after information was given to the sheriff’s department that a woman at the clerk’s office had approached another employee with an offer to make some extra money if that employee agreed to deposit tax return checks into a personal bank account in exchange for cash and a portion of the check.
The initial exchange was for three checks that totaled just under $12,000.
Federal agencies were notified of the investigation, after which it was discovered that similar investigations were ongoing elsewhere within the United States.
Search warrants were then obtained, resulting in four arrests that were made Friday, May 29. Maria Ceniceros, 42, was taken into custody, along with her husband, Francisco Ceniceros, 47, and their daughter, 24-year-old Denise Ceniceros. Maria Ceniceros is employed as a document technician at the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office.
The Ceniceros family subsequently posted bond and all three have since been released. Maria Ceniceros is charged with 113 counts of identity theft, forgery, fraud, conspiracy to commit forgery and conspiracy to commit fraud. Denise Ceniceros and Francisco Ceniceros are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud.
Armando Gutierrez Torrez was also taken into custody Friday. He is charged with conspiracy to commit identity theft, conspiracy to commit forgery and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Authorities believe Torrez’s role in the scheme was to deliver checks to Maria Ceniceros that were gleaned from identities used to create the fraudulent tax returns that eventually resulted in tax-refund checks.
Monday morning, three additional employees were arrested at the clerk’s office: Emilia Gomez, 51, Nadia Martinez, 38, and Reena Rodriguez, 32. All three have been charged with conspiracy to commit forgery and violation of notary requirements. Gomez, Martinez and Rodriguez are all employed as document technicians at the clerk’s office and are accused of knowingly notarizing falsified documents.
Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins and Chief Deputy Clerk Scott Krahling were briefed Monday morning about the investigation, and both are cooperating fully with authorities. There is no information that suggests either Ellins or Krahling knew about the alleged activity before Monday. After a brief delay early in the day, the clerk’s office was open for business.
This investigation is part of a newly-formed White-Collar Crime/Public Corruption Task Force spearheaded by Doña Ana County Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil and Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D’Antonio.