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8 nabbed in document-mill sting

Published: Saturday, Feb. 27 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Jake Taylor, the assistant attorney general assigned to the strike force, speaks to media Friday about SECURE's efforts.

T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Members of a state strike force that targets illegal immigrants arrested eight people Thursday who are believed to have been involved in illegal document mills.

The SECURE Strike Force, which operates out of the Utah Attorney General's Office, also served two search warrants in West Valley City. Among the eight people taken into custody, one man had an active warrant for his arrest on a robbery charge, and another faces deportation from the United States for the fifth time.

"Our primary focus yesterday was the document mills, but we also knew the history on some of (the suspects) — they're also slinging dope, and they are packing guns," Tina Minchey Verkler, a special agent with the attorney general's office, said Friday.

"We never know what we're going to run into," she said. "We arrest them for some kind of forgery or document (offense), and we don't know that we're dealing with someone who might have just committed robbery."

Strike force agents have teamed up with local police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest 15 people during three major operations over the past two months. The sweeps have been made after hours of gathering evidence through a variety of methods, including undercover work, the use of confidential informants and surveillance of suspected criminal aliens.

The group's latest effort has focused on identifying and eradicating document mills in Utah, which are used to create phony driver licenses, Social Security cards, resident alien ID cards and other documents used to commit fraud.

Minchey Verkler said the documents that agents are finding are "very high quality."

The fraud committed with these documents impacts everyone in Utah, said assistant Utah attorney general Jake Taylor. They are used to obtain loans for cars or homes, he said, and when the person defaults on the loan, the financing company has no way to recoup the money it has advanced the person.

"The financing company is left on the hook for somebody driving a car who they don't even know," Taylor said. "That's actually something that is quite more widespread than we thought it would be."

Launched in June, the SECURE Strike Force was created and funded by HB64, which was sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, during the 2009 legislative session. Its other financial backer is the U.S. government's two-year, $1.7 million in federal stimulus.

Although the state accepted federal money to fund the strike force, organizers continue to chastise the same government for failing to keep the nation's borders secure.

"We understand whose responsibility this is, but we've decided we're not going to stand still in Utah," Dee said Friday. "We're going to take that responsibility and do something about it," he added. "And the results show that we are."

e-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

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