MARION, OH (The Marion Star) – A Mexican national who ran a document mill out of Marion has been sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison for forging hundreds of identification documents.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Martha Buendia-Chavarria, 44, falsified over 1,000 documents between July 2016 and October 2017 from her home in Marion, operating “one of the largest false document mills uncovered in this region of the country,” according to a memorandum filed with the court last week.
In June, Buendia-Chavarria entered a guilty plea to all four charges filed against her in a December indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Court papers allege she would meet middlemen at either the Papa John’s or Domino’s pizza places near her home in Marion to give them the fake driver’s licenses, ID cards, social security cards and green cards that they would then deliver to customers.
Her case was the beginning of a larger probe that resulted in the arrests of dozens of agricultural workers in Erie County.
Mike Tobin, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, confirmed to the Toledo Blade that federal agents traced counterfeit documents produced by Buendia-Chavarria to Corso’s Flower and Garden Centers, where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted raids in June, arresting more than 100 workers.
According to the memorandum filed last week, Buendia-Chavarria kept handwritten ledgers of the identities she had sold and in some cases, to whom the identities were sold and who the middlemen were.
In addition, investigators were able to identify people who had purchased false identity documents through text messages between Buendia-Chavarria and the middlemen, found during searches of their phones, according to the memorandum.
In October 2017, law enforcement carried out a search warrant at Buendia-Chavarria’s home in Marion, where they found the ledgers, nine laptops or tablets, card printers, gold and silver printer ribbons imprinted with document security features, holographic overlays, 300 blank PVC cards and other evidence of document manufacturing, according to the memorandum.
Buendia-Chavarria said she was paid $20 per identification card, according to a transcript of her June plea hearing filed in federal court. She said she sold the identity documents to support herself and her two children, a 12-year-old and a 20-year-old at the time of the June hearing.
Buendia-Chavarria submitted an asylum application last year, claiming domestic violence as grounds for her asylum, according to court records.
She admitted to helping her husband make the fake identity documents, saying that she “didn’t have any option,” according to the transcript.
Prosecutors contended that the true victim in the case was the Puerto Rican woman whose identity Buendia-Chavarria had been using for more than seven years and pointed to the scale of the false documents she produced.
At least two others have been charged in federal court in connection to the document mill.
Manuel Granados was one of the middlemen who took orders for identity documents from undocumented immigrants and traveled to Marion — sometimes twice per day — to pick up the fake documents from Buendia-Chavarria, according to the complaint and the memorandum filed in her case.
Granados pleaded guilty in February to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of making false statements or claims of citizenship. He was sentenced to time already served, according to the judgment filed in his case.
The other person charged in the document mill, Eliazar Lopez-Bravo, has pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to use unlawfully and to transfer unlawfully five or more identification documents. His sentencing is scheduled for late November.
In all, Buendia-Chavarria pleaded guilty to the following four counts:
• Possession with intent to unlawfully transfer five or more false identification documents
• Possession of document-making implements or authentication features
• False statement or claim of citizenship with intent to obtain a federal or state benefit
• Aggravated identity theft
After serving her prison time, Buendia-Chavarria will likely be deported from the U.S. If she re-enters the U.S. illegally within three years of her release from prison, she could be sentenced to additional prison time, according to Judge Jack Zouhary.