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Deputies book 55 ID theft suspects

Arrests made after three-month investigation

Posted: February 7, 2009 1:25 a.m.
Updated: February 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Alexis Contreras, 4, waits with his family at the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Station Friday. His grandfather was arrested in an identity theft raid in the Industrial Center, Thursday.

 

More than 50 wet people stood outside the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station on a drizzly Friday looking for family members arrested during a Thursday raid at L&M Optical West.

Sheriff's deputies booked 55 L&M employees on the 28400 block of Avenue Rockefeller on Thursday.

All the suspects were booked on identity theft for using stolen Social Security numbers for employment at L&M, Lt. Brenda Cambra said.

Deputies transported 38 of the 55 suspects to the Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles on Friday morning because the Santa Clarita jail is too small, she said.

Relatives of the suspects waited in front of the sheriff's station.

"All we were told was that our family members are downtown and the bail is $50,000," said Judith M., who asked her last name not be used.

Deputies arrested her father during the raid.

The sheriff's station issued a flier with information on how relatives can reach their loved ones in custody, Sgt. Darren Harris said.

"We knew we had to do this due to the number of people we arrested," he said.

Rosa Munoz sold $50,000 bonds to three of the suspects.

"It's heartbreaking. The kids are crying and some of the wives don't know what to do," she said.

Munoz, who owns Rosa Munoz Bail Bonds, isn't sure whether the three people she bonded are United States citizens or in the country legally.

Munoz said the stolen Social Security numbers probably came from forgery shops common in Los Angeles.

Cambra's not sure whether the suspects will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"That's up to ICE. We are interested in the crime of identity theft," she said.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency already knows about the raid.

"The L.A. County Sheriff's interrogates the suspects to determine who is deportable. Then a detainer is filed to assure that no one who is deportable ends up back on the street," Kice said.

Who is deportable is complicated, she said.

"The person could have never had legal status, or is here with an expired visa. The person can be here legally and depending on the nature of the crime can be deported," Kice said. ICE can deport an alien resident (a person with a green card) if they commit aggravated felonies or crimes of moral turpitude, Kice said.

The consequences of using a stolen Social Security number seemed inconsequential to some of the relatives and family members of those arrested.

"The people came here to work. They are not criminals," Andres M. said.

More than 10 Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's cars lined Avenues Rockefeller and Scott just before 9 a.m. Thursday. A sheriff's van with bars over the windows waited to whisk suspects off to jail.

Exactly at 9 a.m. the deputies swarmed in, barging into two buildings looking for evidence and firing questions at employees.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Deputies worked late into the night Thursday booking all 55 suspects, Lt. Brenda Cambra said.

"We had to bring on extra staff to handle the bookings," she said.

The arrest came on the heels of a three-month investigation, Detective Steve Low said.

The Social Security Administration informed the identity theft victims who in turn told the sheriff's deputies, Cambra said.

"We are still investigating whether the company was involved and how the suspects acquired the Social Security numbers," she said.

L&M officials didn't return phone calls by deadline.

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