El Paso Federal Courthouse | Photo courtesy Department of Justice

Duo busted at bridge plead guilty to Mail Fraud, Aggravated Identity Theft Scheme

A pair of Dominican Republic citizens, first stopped at the Paso Del Norte International Bridge last year, pled guilty to multiple charges in Federal Court Tuesday.

Department of Justice (DoJ) officials say 26-year-old Wilver Jose Polanco-Alvarez, a Dominican Republic citizen residing in Miami, and 25-year-old Jose Eduardo Gomez Salas, a Dominican Republic citizen residing in New York, admitted in federal court Tuesday to using stolen personal identification information to obtain high-end electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers, tablets and watches.

Appearing before Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones Tuesday morning, both defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft.

According to court documents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Paso Del Norte International Bridge in El Paso encountered the defendants on April 11, 2020.

Officials share that during an inspection, officers seized several electronic devices belonging to the defendants.  A subsequent review of Gomez’s iPhone revealed personal identification information of multiple individuals as well as photographs of Polanco assuming and utilizing different aliases in the form of fake driver’s licenses from Indiana, Texas, California, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Officials add that further investigation revealed that the defendants operated a scheme in at least five different states with the help of others to purchase and activate cell phones and other electronic devices at retail stores using fake identification documents and stolen personal identification information to include wireless account information.

After collecting the new phones and devices, Gomez mailed the items to 28-year-old alleged ringleader Marcos Andres Briceno-Romero in New Jersey.

Polanco and Gomez have remained in federal custody since their arrest in April 2020.

They face up to 20 years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge.  Each aggravated identity theft charge calls for a mandatory two years in federal prison.  Sentencing has yet to be scheduled.

U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff and Special Agent in Charge Erik P. Breitzke of Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) El Paso Division made today’s announcement.

Jury selection and trial has yet to be scheduled for three remaining co-defendants:  Briceno-Romero, 21-year-old Wiktoria Lawika of New York and 20-year-old Justin Brito of New York.

HSI, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigated this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Valenzuela is prosecuting this case.