A Washington Post story about a Korean organized crime ring — operating within driving distance of our nation’s capital — reveals how these groups are involved in a wide-variety of criminal enterprises designed to create illegal revenue flows. It also shows how foreign criminals establish themselves and operate within our society.

The problem isn’t people trying to make a better life for themselves, the problem is that criminals are able to easily manipulate the security of our borders. There is even a good example in the story of how illegal immigrants are routinely victimized. In order to pay back their debt for being brought in illegally — they were working in a sweatshop located in a middle-class residential neighborhood — producing counterfeits of designer labels.

On a side note, according to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition, counterfeit merchandise is a $600 billion a year problem in itself.

The story, written by Tom Jackman, of the Washington Post details an undercover investigation that starts with manipulating cigarette taxes and progresses into identity theft, mortgage fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting and even murder-for-hire.
The initial scheme with the cigarettes involved buying cigarettes in Virginia — which has a 30 cent per pack tax — and transporting them to New York where the tax runs $4.25 a pack. Like the designer clothing being knocked-off (counterfeited), the tax stamps were counterfeited. According to an ATF agent quoted in the story, this equates to billions of dollars that have “gone missing” in tax revenue.

The identity theft and resulting crimes, such as mortgage and credit card fraud, were discovered when undercover agents were introduced to an individual selling social-security numbers and passport information obtained from Chinese nationals working in the Marianas Islands. This information was then used to establish credit and obtain identification to make the members of the gang appear to be legitimate members of our society.

The investigation also uncovered a dishonest DMV employee in Illinois, who was providing identification to members of the group. These documents were then traded in for identification from other States. In this case, the State was often Virginia. This sent shivers up my spine as I remembered that Mohammed Atta and crew used Virginia, Florida, New Jersey and California driver’s licenses’ — which were obtained after they entered the country with counterfeit documents – to board the planes in what became 9-11.

In the past, I’ve written about and spoken to Suad Leija and her husband, who have been working with the government to expose a cartel that operates throughout the country providing counterfeit identification documents. They have dubbed these documents, “Paper Weapons” because they can be used to commit crimes or even achieve radical political objectives. Suad’s story has been covered in the mainstream media on a fairly regular basis. According to the conversations I’ve had with Suad and her husband, most of the people illegally entering the country use what are known as “feeder documents” to establish themselves. Their eventual goal is to establish an identity that appears to be as legitimate as yours or mine. Once they accomplish this, the identities can be used to establish credit and even get a mortgage.

In the Washington Post story, no mention of direct fraud involving a financial loss is mentioned. The intent seems to be to use the identities to establish a “seemingly” legal status and then commit other crimes. The story mentions that the group offered to help launder the illegal revenue being made from selling the cigarettes. This was done with personal and cashier’s checks, which suggests the identities were also used to open bank accounts.

These fraudulently established identities were also being used to buy real estate. Although no direct financial fraud is mentioned in the article, it wouldn’t be very hard for people doing this to get some home-equity loans, cash them out and disappear. They could do this if they were leaving the country, or simply move on to another identity and do it all over again. Given that we are in a pretty severe recession, sparked by a mortgage crisis, it again made me wonder how much of it might have been caused by fraud that we aren’t even aware of?

When the sweat shops were raided, crack pipes were found. This was probably to keep the people working in them in a state of addiction, which would assist in keeping them under the control of their keepers. Abuse of illegal immigrants is well-documented and this is probably only one of many examples going on throughout the country at this very moment. It isn’t unknown for illegal immigrants to be forced into smuggling drugs, committing financial crimes or even becoming prostitutes.

This is just one example, but a good one, of how insecure our borders really are. It also shows the more severe consequences of allowing identity theft to run rampant in our society. Now that the election is over, perhaps it’s time for our politicians to stop ignoring the problem. We are a nation of immigrants, and in the end, very few of us are against hard-working people trying to better themselves. The problem is that the way we currently approach the problem enables criminals (and potentially terrorists) to operate and profit at the expense of society.