Two Korean nationals arrested for allegedly masterminding an elaborate scheme to obtain valid California driver's licenses and state identifications cards for undocumented Asian immigrants will be facing arraignment today in Bakersfield.
Officials arrested Dae Wan Ahn, 49, of Diamond Bar, and Chong Hwan Kim, 47, of Norwalk, on Wednesday following a 16-month investigation by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Both men were booked into the county jail on suspicion of multiple felonies, including perjury, forgery, conspiracy, the manufacture and distribution of false documents and using a false document to conceal citizenship, according to officials.
During a news conference at the DMV Investigations Office in Artesia on Thursday, officials displayed dozens of items allegedly seized from the homes and businesses of Ahn and Cho, including counterfeit passports and identification cards, credit cards, social security cards and computers.
“We found not only the use of Canadian passports but also valid U.S. Social Security numbers issued in the [Northern] Mariana Islands to individuals who have the right to remain and work in the United States,” said Bernardo Madrid, supervisory special agent for the Department of Homeland Security.
“We know who and why they have them, but how they got them is still being investigated,” Madrid added.
According to ICE, both men are suspected of altering Canadian passports and legitimate Social Security numbers from Chinese workers in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, in order to make their clients eligible to obtain driver’s licenses.
The search warrant affidavits and investigation by DMV and ICE indicate that those involved in the scheme charged between $3,500 to $5,000 to obtain valid California driver's licenses for clients, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
According to officials, a DMV manager in Bakersfield noticed irregularities in a Canadian passport submitted by an Asian woman seeking a driver's license in Jan. 2010. The irregularities included basic information that had been newly added, new signature pages and an altered photograph.
This prompted the investigation that led to the arrest of the suspects in Los Angeles.
Madrid said ICE and the DMV are seeking 214 individuals -- mainly from Korea and China -- related to the case, but he admitted that more people could be involved in this operation.
Investigators say Ahn and Kim, who described themselves as "arrangers," recruited clients through advertisements in Korean newspapers and by word of mouth.
Since officers made the arrests Wednesday, investigators have yet to process fully the evidence found in the homes and businesses of Ahn and Kim.
“Once we get the forensics on the computers, we’re hoping a lot more information will track down the people who utilized or who were part of this scheme,” said Eric Light, supervising investigator for the DMV, adding that more arrests were being anticipated.
DMV Director George Valverde believes that the investigations and subsequent arrests send a strong message:
"Activities related to fraudulently obtaining a California driver's license simply will not be tolerated."