By Dave Montgomery
WASHINGTON - Forgers are making tens of millions, and possibly billions, of dollars selling counterfeit Social Security cards, driver's licenses, immigrant registration cards and other papers to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
The dominant forgery-and-distribution network in the United States allegedly is controlled by the Castorena family, say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Its members emigrated from Mexico in the late 1980s and have used their printing skills and business acumen to capture a big piece of the booming industry.
Only trained experts can distinguish its fake identity documents from real ones, and the Castorena Family Organization, or CFO, as immigration officials call it, has spread to at least 50 cities in 33 states.
At a sentencing hearing for one family member in December, U.S. District Judge Lewis Bab of Denver said that the CFO's criminal reach is "simply breathtaking" and strikes "at the heart of the sovereignty of the United States of America."
The threat of terrorism has made document forgers even more menacing since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers used fraudulent notarized forms to obtain valid Virginia ID cards, which enabled them to board the two airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center.
Julie Myers, assistant secretary for ICE, calls document forging an "epidemic."
Her agency, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, is waging a nationwide crackdown on forgery rings and has formed multiagency task forces in 10 cities, including Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta and St. Paul, Minn. ".....