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Federal prosecutors see more cases involving passport fraud

Published May 27, 2011 3:30 pm

Security • Foreigners giving false info poses a terrorism threat, U.S. attorney for Utah says.
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Federal prosecutors have pursued a spate of cases involving passport fraud in recent months, the U.S. Attorney for Utah announced on Friday.

Foreign nationals provide false information on passport applications — a practice that poses a terrorism threat, said U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen.

"Many of these cases involve individuals attempting to obtain a passport using fraudulent documents or assuming the identity of another person. While some individuals attempt to obtain a passport as a means of employment identification in the United States, many of these individuals have criminal records, have been deported from the country on previous occasions and pose a threat to the security of our communities," Christensen said. "As part of our efforts to disrupt and deter terrorism, we must take these cases seriously."

Patrick Durkin, special agent in charge of the Diplomatic Security Service San Francisco Field Office, which includes Utah, said U.S. passports and visas are coveted travel documents — making them documents that are also fraudulently reproduced by criminals looking to profit. Undocumented immigrants also use the documents to enter the country under false pretenses, he said.

In Utah, recent cases of passport fraud include Paulo Afamasaga, a 32-year-old Magna man who claimed he was born in Pago, American Samoa, according to an indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court this month. Afamasaga is actually a resident of Western Samoa — a country where residents are not eligible for U.S. passports, unlike American Samoa.

In October 2010, Martin Vasquez-Villagomez, a 35-year-old man living in Roy, was charged with passport fraud after assuming the identity of another person to re-enter the country after he had been deported in June 2008. Vasquez was sentenced to 43 months in federal prison in April for the crime.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has prosecuted at least three other similar cases in the past two years.

Passport fraud is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Christensen and Durkin said passport fraud cases will continue to be prosecuted aggressively as the number of cases rises.

mrogers@sltrib.com