More than two dozen people, almost all of them Dominican nationals, have been charged with fraud for stealing the identities of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico and using them to get public benefits, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
The charges stem from a Boston-based investigation dubbed “Operation Double Trouble,” which nabbed 25 people who allegedly used Puerto Rican identity documents to obtain a host of benefits for which they weren’t eligible.
The suspects were able to get Massachusetts driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, Medicaid benefits, unemployment insurance and even public housing subsidies, prosecutors said in a news release.
Of the 25 individuals charged, at least 22 have been confirmed to be Dominican nationals living in the Boston area, which has a significant Dominican immigrant population. The national origin of the other three people remains undetermined.
All but four of the defendants are illegal aliens, according to the Justice Department.
“With few exceptions, illegal aliens cannot have social security numbers, and so in many cases they steal them, usually so they can take jobs they are not entitled to or to receive other benefits,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was in Boston on Thursday to announce the charges. “But some illegal aliens steal identities to get money from the government.”
Sessions went on to say that there are about 180,000 illegal immigrants in the Boston metro area, putting it in the top 12 of U.S. cities in terms of illegal immigrant population.
Identity fraud exploiting Puerto Rican nationality is a widespread phenomenon in Boston and other metro areas with a high concentration of Dominican immigrants. Often times, Dominican drug trafficking gang members use Puerto Rican identity documents or aliases to mask their true country of origin and lack of legal status in the U.S. (RELATED: Dominican Nationals Face Deportation After Bust Of Massive Narcotics Ring)
The problem is particularly acute in Boston, according to Massachusetts authorities. A 2017 report from the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) said that in “59 percent of the cases where the suspect listed Puerto Rico as their place of birth, there were signs of identity fraud or use of aliases.”
Almost all of the defendants from Operation Double Trouble have been charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence.
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