- Fifty indictments were made in the largest of three rings, authorities say
- Largest ring was centered in Puerto Rico and spread to 15 states
- Sets of Social Security cards, P.R. birth certificates went for up to $2,500
- Two smaller rings operating in Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin also were busted
Federal agents Wednesday arrested more than 60 people in 17 states alleged to have been involved in conspiracies to provide fraudulent documents, top administration officials announced.
In the largest of three separate rings producing phony documents, 50 individuals were indicted. Authorities said by midafternoon 43 of the suspects had been arrested. Many of the arrests and searches occurred in Puerto Rico where the phony documents originated.
Justice and Department of Homeland Security officials said "hundreds upon hundreds" of sets of Social Security cards and Puerto Rico birth certificates had been sold for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set.
Officials stressed the high priority the government places on cracking down on document trafficking.
"The conspiracy alleged to be perpetrated by those charged undermines the integrity of our national immigration system," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.
Despite the widespread fraud, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer told reporters, "there is no evidence whatsoever" of any connection to potential terrorist groups or plots.
The document fraud ring was centered in Puerto Rico and spread to customers or brokers in 15 states. The investigation covered areas in Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
Authorities said the investigation leading to the major fraud ring began with a single incident in Elgin, Illinois.
Breuer and Morton said two other smaller document fraud rings had been busted.
One in Missouri involves 14 suspects, and all have been arrested.
In another case, four of six suspects have been arrested so far in Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin.