Bluffton woman arrested for selling fake ID to ICE informant

tbarton@islandpacket.comAugust 9, 2012 

An employee of a Bluffton insurance business was arrested last week and accused of selling a fake photo ID to an informant posing as an illegal immigrant, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Maria Sanchez, 40, of Bluffton was arrested after selling a counterfeit international driver's license to a confidential informant referred to as "Stinger" in a report released Thursday by the Sheriff's Office.

Sanchez's arrest was the result of a sting operation by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Immigration and Customs Enforcement Task Force.

According to the report, the task force received an anonymous tip that Aseguranzas Internacionales Insurance Services in Bluffton Park Crescent was selling fraudulent documents.

The informant, who was wired with an audio/video transmitter, went to the business Feb. 10, where he was greeted by Sanchez.

He told Sanchez he had no legal status in the U.S. and asked if the international driver's license was a valid form of identification. It is not, according to the Sheriff's Office.

"It's a fake ID," spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said. "It's not a nationally or state-recognized document. ... It gives you no privileges whatsoever."

McIntosh said the license often is mistaken for the international driving permit, a legitimate document.

The permit translates information contained on a U.S. driver's license into 10 languages so that officials in foreign countries are able to interpret it. An international license supplements a valid government-issued license -- it does not serve as a replacement for a license, McIntosh said.

Sanchez, however, told the informant the license could be presented to a law enforcement officer as a regular license, but it is up to the officer to decide whether to accept it as a valid form of identification, according to the report. She also said the license worked best if presented with a passport.

Sanchez took the informant's picture, a photo of the passport he presented and a photo of the informant's signature on a completed application. The informant made a $60 down payment, according to the report.

The informant returned to the business Feb. 24 to pick up his license and accompanying booklet, after paying another $70. The license and booklet were later seized by the task force.

Sanchez was arrested Aug. 1 and placed on an ICE hold for "making, issuing or selling a false or counterfeit picture ID for (an) alien unlawfully in the U.S.," a felony.

She posted a $10,000 bond the next day. Her next court appearance is Sept. 14, according to Beaufort County's online court records.

Sanchez told task force members the license was sold as a translation of a foreign license. She said customers would have to provide a foreign license and or passport to obtain one.

She also said licenses were not produced at the business, but came from New York.

Sanchez faces up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine, if convicted.

An ICE spokesman could not say Thursday whether the business or its owner, whose name was redacted from the report, will face charges or penalties.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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