Alleged ringleaders sought in NM license fraud

CLOVIS, N.M. (AP) — Authorities have issued arrest warrants for a Mexican couple accused of leading a ring that fraudulently obtained New Mexico driver’s licenses for hundreds of people living outside the United States.

Luis Raul Collazo-Medrano, 53, and his wife, Olivia Campos, may have returned to Mexico but also have ties to Texas, Louisiana and Ohio, District Attorney Matthew Chandler told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/14Hfw8B ).

The couple is accused of transporting foreign nationals to Clovis and Portales and charging them up to $4,000 each for fake driver’s licenses.

New Mexico is one of several states that have laws allowing people to get driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has long argued that New Mexico’s laws concerning licenses attract criminals to the state who then exploit the driver’s license policy and threaten the safety and security of New Mexicans. During the last legislative session — for the third straight year — Democrats blocked the governor’s efforts to change the policy.

Chandler said the investigation has been complex and that plea agreements reached with others and promises of testimony ensure a strong case against the alleged ringleaders.

The fifth person to plead in the case, 38-year-old Veronica Diaz, has been placed on five years of supervised probation. Prosecutors had sought a three-year prison sentence for Diaz, but a judge turned down their request.

On Monday, Diaz entered what is known as an Alford plea, in which she maintains her innocence but acknowledged the risk of being convicted at trial in light of the evidence against her. She was charged with 47 counts of forgery and other crimes.

“She’s just a public notary and a translator and she just got caught up in something that snowballed into something that is not her ultimate responsibility,” defense lawyer Eric Dixon said Wednesday.

He said his client was not involved in any way with human trafficking and as part of her plea agreement, she is under no requirement to cooperate with prosecutors. However, if she were to be subpoenaed to testify about what she knows, he said she would be legally obligated to do so.

Prosecutors have accused Collazo-Medrano and Campos of working with others to rent houses in Clovis and Portales to provide false residences and documentation that helped as many as 200 foreign nationals obtain driver’s licenses.

Associated Press