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Feds stay out of ID theft case

55 arrested for Social Security fraud suspicion

Posted: February 15, 2009 1:02 a.m.
Updated: February 15, 2009 4:59 a.m.
 
Federal law enforcement turned a deaf ear to sheriff's Sgt. James Anderson's pleas for help in an identity theft investigation, but that didn't stop deputies from arresting 55 people for suspected Social Security fraud.

Deputies executed a search warrant at L&M Optical West in Valencia Feb. 5 after residents tipped off deputies about employees using stolen Social Security numbers to secure work at the company.

The tips from identity theft victims prompted a three-month investigation, Lt. Brenda Cambra said.

Santa Clarita Valley sheriff's deputies worked late into the night Feb. 5 booking all 55 suspects, she said.

"We had to bring on extra staff to handle the bookings. We transported people downtown because our holding cell isn't big enough," she said.

The Social Security Administration volunteered tips to residents whose Social Security numbers were stolen, but they wouldn't help local law enforcement, Anderson said.

"We contacted the Social Security Administration to help identify the victims," he said, and added he was told the administration couldn't join the investigation.

"They didn't tell me why except that the Social Security Office of Inspector General handles those crimes and wasn't willing to help," he said.

The Inspector General's office did not return phone calls from The Signal Friday.

The suspects broke at least two federal laws by presenting fake social Security numbers for employment, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the United States Attorney's office.

The suspects misused Social Security numbers and engaged in identity theft as related to federal statutes, he said.

Whether federal law enforcement will join the investigation or seek to prosecute the case is unclear.

"There is no answer to that," Mrozek said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't always investigate or always prosecute crimes unless it's a civil right violation, he said, and added federal law enforcement doesn't want to step on the toes of local authorities.
"If someone invested six months into an investigation, it makes no sense for federal law enforcement to get involved," Mrozek said.

Sheriff's deputies are still investigating whether L&M Optical West played a role in stealing the Social Security numbers. Federal law enforcement is still unsure whether it will act if the company is linked to the crime, Mrozek said.

Anderson's calls for help didn't stop with Social Security Administration. He also contacted the IRS searching for help, but the agency said it doesn't seek criminal prosecutions against Social Security cheats.
"The IRS doesn't deal with stolen Social Security numbers. That responsibility belongs to the Social Security Administration," IRS spokesman Victor Omelczenko said.

The IRS can take civil action against the tax scofflaws for running up a tax liability against the victims, Omelczenko said.

"With what appears to be undocumented workers, this raid looks more like something (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) would do," said Lance Gallardo, immigration attorney.

ICE officials were reluctant to comment on the investigation or the raid.

"We have a good relationship with the (Sheriff's Department) and we feel out of place commenting on the case," ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

"We weren't concerned with their immigration status," Anderson said. "Our first concern was the people who were victimized."

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