Juan Antonio Hernandez, 43, was indicted along with Manolo Mendez Escobar (aka Johnny Ayala Garcia, 27, of Guatemala; Pascual Ramirez-Ramirez, 35, also of Guatemala; James Darrell Ward, 48, of Chattanooga; Francisco Baltazar Pedro, 45, of Monterey; and Amilcar Lerdo of Gainesville, Ga.
All have been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Tennessee with conspiring to unlawfully produce Tennessee driver’s licenses. Escobar also faces a charge of falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen, according to media information provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to the indictment, between July 2009 and January, “The individuals agreed with one another to transport (ineligible applicants) to the Tennessee Drivers License Testing Site located on Bonny Oaks Drive in Chattanooga. The applicants presented counterfeit documents to a Department of Motor Vehicles employee, who in exchange for cash, unlawfully produced Tennessee driver’s licenses.”
The person employed at the DMV was Ward, according to the information.
“Document and benefit fraud poses a significant vulnerability that must not go unchallenged,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond Parmer Jr., of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans.
“This should send a clear message HSI and its law enforcement partners will identify and dismantle those criminal organizations that perpetrate document fraud,” Parmer said. “We are committed to ensuring our nation’s security is not breached in this manner.”
According to U.S. Attorney Bill Killian, THP and its Criminal Investigations Division, ICE, TBI, U.S. Secret Service, FBI and Athens Police Department were agencies involved in the investigation.
“Due to the potential harm, we take these type cases very seriously,” said Killian.
If convicted, each defendant could face up to 15 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.