A twice-deported undocumented citizen from Tijuana, Mexico, managed to rake in $361,000 in government benefits by assuming an American’s identity for nearly four decades.
According to California court records obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Andres Avelino Anduaga admitting to using a fake birth certificate in 1980 to obtain a drivers license, Social Security number, and U.S. passport. The aforementioned documents identified him as Abraham Riojos, born in Alpine, Texas, in 1958.
As a result of this fraud, Anduaga was able to travel freely between the U.S. and Mexico and receive Social Security disability benefits since 1989. The Union-Tribune reported that he received monthly payments—totaling $244,441—from Social Security until August 1, 2016. He also received Medicaid benefits totaling $112,981 and $3,486 in food stamps.
Court records acquired by The Washington Post revealed that Anduaga has been in the United States since at least the 1970s and had amassed a lengthy rap sheet over the years. Under the name Jose Reyes, he was convicted of misdemeanor drunken driving in 1974 and forgery in 1978. He was convicted of various crimes, including a firearms violation, forgery, cocaine possession and multiple DUIs, and served time in a California prison in 1989 and 1990—both times assuming Riojos’ identity.
Meanwhile, the real Abraham Riojos was a 59-year-old man living in rural Florida. Investigators haven’t revealed how Anduaga stole Riojos’ identity but it doesn’t appear that the real Riojos had anything to do with the scam or was aware his identity was being used by someone else all these years, according to The Post.
The Union-Tribune reported that investigators also found that Anduaga had a rap sheet listing 21 different names six dates of birth, dating back to 1974. Alarmingly, immigration records stated that Anduaga was deported in 1994 and 2000.
Though investigators began their inquiry in 2014, the scheme reportedly began to fall apart in April 2015, when state officials conducted a routine review to determine Anduaga’s eligibility for disability benefits. It was then that the man, who called himself Riojos, provided an address to a mailbox facility. From there, he came into the Chula Vista office and claimed he had been renting a room from a man on I Street.
At the time, a man corroborated Anduaga’s story to an investigator with the California Department of Health Care Services. However, investigators visited the home in January 2016 and the man admitted that Riojos never lived there and instead was living in Mexico.
A review of his border-crossing records also revealed that Anduaga had likely been living in Mexico since 2014.
Under a plea agreement reached Thursday in San Diego federal court, Anduaga agreed to pay back the government benefits he obtained illegally. He still faces up to 12 years in federal prison and a fine of up to nearly $972,000.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 29.
[Featured Image: AP Photo/LM Otero]