Charleston ID scheme organizer pleads guilty in federal court
A Charleston woman accused of making thousands of dollars by improperly obtaining driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants accepted a plea deal with federal prosecutors Thursday.
Alma Rosa Ortiz-Calzada, 56, pleaded guilty in a Charleston federal courtroom to one count of conspiracy to transfer false documents and to transport illegal aliens. She admitted to organizing a driver’s license scheme that helped 55 people get New Mexico licenses by using fraudulent paperwork.
Ortiz-Calzada, who is free on bail, wore headphones as a translator explained the proceedings in court.
According to the indictment, she did not work alone in the scheme that was unraveled by the Homeland Security investigators. At least 30 people were indicted in the scheme.
Ortiz-Calzada recruited illegal aliens in the Southeast, mostly in South Carolina, from July 2009 through June 2012, according to federal prosecutors. She charged each customer $2,500 to get a fraudulent driver’s license, they said.
In order to obtain a driver’s license in South Carolina a person must provide proof of citizenship; in New Mexico, certification of driving ability and proof of state residency, such as a utility bill, are the only requirements.
Ortiz-Calzada transported the illegal immigrants to and from New Mexico to get those licenses, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart.
Part of the conspiracy included setting up several residences in New Mexico, “often paying the individuals who lived there to let them use the address to receive mail,” the indictment states. Organizers also coordinated driving tests in New Mexico for the clients.
The cases of the co-conspirators are still pending. Whether Ortiz-Calzada is a U.S. citizen remains unclear. Representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not disclose her citizenship status.
In court, Ortiz-Calzada was told that a non-U.S. citizen who is guilty of a felony could be deported. Ortiz-Calzada faces a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
She is expected to be sentenced in the next few months.