Gabriel Hernandez is known to his friends as “Chilango.” The maintenance man tools around in a golf cart at the mobile home park where he works, and often sings along to the Mexican music blaring from the stereo system he rigged to it.
Longtime friend Raquel Garcia said it is difficult to believe allegations that Hernandez operated an extensive forged-document business because he didn’t have much spare time. She said his maintenance job at Chaparral Village, 400 W. Baseline Road in Tempe, demanded most of his time.
And she said Hernandez also moonlighted as a disc jockey and karaoke host.
“I can’t believe what has happened,” Garcia said.
Investigator Mark Calles of the Arizona Fraudulent Identification Task Force alleges in court documents that Hernandez made three sales of resident alien cards and Social Security cards to an undercover officer between Jan. 31 and March 5.
And when investigators raided two homes associated with Hernandez, they made one of the biggest “hauls” of equipment and forging materials they’d ever seen, said Andrea Esquer, spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Hernandez made about $280 on the three transactions for a few hours work, according to the court documents.
Calles wrote in a search warrant affidavit that through his numerous investigations, fraudulent-document makers typically hire middlemen to pass out business cards to drum up business at shopping centers and other locations frequented by undocumented immigrants.
The customers contact the middleman, who they’ll meet to give their photos and personal information to.
Investigators were tipped off about Hernandez on Jan. 3 when a detective was given a business card with Hernandez’ disc jockey business. An undercover officer met Hernandez and made the transactions at Food City, 725 W. Baseline Road in Tempe.
Calles wrote that Hernandez would meet the undercover officer to get the necessary information, go to his home and return with the documents to collect his money in time frames ranging from 35 to 90 minutes.
An indictment alleges Hernandez got help in his enterprise from Cesar Esparza-Valencia and Marco Leon-Sierra, manager of the trailer court.
Hernandez, jailed in lieu of $9,000 bail, is charged with one count of illegally conducting an enterprise, three counts of trafficking in the identity of another and seven counts of forgery.
When authorities raided his home March 9 they found computers, card printers, scanners, laminators, blank Social Security cards, blank identification cards, a Mexican state of Guerrero seal, blank Mexican birth certificates and personal identification information on customers, according to inventory lists of the seized items. Esquer said the fake documents they found appeared very authentic.
“He’s saying he has nothing to hide,” said Garcia.
Police say suspect kidnapped crossers
Phoenix police detective Al Richard said most criminals tend to escalate their violence to gain dominance.
But police say Pablo Duran Guzman didn’t bother with escalation when he forced a truck loaded with smuggled illegal immigrants off Interstate 10 near Warner Road, kidnapped them and held them for ransom in the late hours of March 7 and early hours of March 8.
“He immediately established that dominance,” said Richard, the lead investigator in the case against Guzman, who with five others is charged with numerous counts of kidnapping, armed robbery and extortion.
Richard said Guzman admitted to the March 7 kidnapping and another one that occurred the night before.
He also admitted to a home invasion robbery of 21 illegal immigrants Feb. 19 that he committed — not as a ringleader, but “in his own words, ‘to help pay his rent,’” Richard said.
Investigators believed at first that Guzman might be part of a larger organization that specializes in stealing loads of illegal immigrants from other human-smuggling organizations, but now they believe he worked independently with a small group of people and a few houses where victims were kept.
According to court documents, Guzman paid rent for Javier Perez-Pastrana, 26, and Marisela Cazarez, 17, for the use of the Phoenix home at 3554 W. Monterrey Way where they took the 15 victims on March 7.
Guzman also used a home at 710 N. 13th St., and investigators believe there may have been more.
Guzman, who has a 2002 federal conviction for human smuggling, seems well practiced at his trade.
“Just from the speed of the operation, it’s impressive,” Richard said.
On March 6, a surveillance team watched him back a vehicle up to the home on 13th Street, but they didn’t learn until after his arrest that he unloaded a small group of kidnap victims “in a matter of seconds,” Richard said.
Lized Gallegos, 17, told police she and the 14 others crossed the desert from Mexico and eventually got a ride in a 1985 Ford pickup.
Richard said they were hidden under a carpet until they began to hear shouting and felt the truck getting bumped.
Richard said one victim reported hearing something to the effect of “You better stop, there’s no one here to help you.”
Guzman’s truck and an SUV forced them to stop and then ordered them at gunpoint into the SUV.
Richard said victims reported that Guzman stuck a gun into the neck of one person and began making threats.
Richard, other officers and a surveillance helicopter were nearby, but the bandits were gone by the time they arrived a few minutes later.
Police knew Guzman was staking out th area south of Chandler between Riggs Road and Firebird International Raceway for two nights prior, but because of the remoteness of the area, they were limited to watching from afar.
Guzman would drive on the freeway at speeds up to 100 mph, peer into a vehicle, back off, cross the median and return to his starting point to do it again.
At the Monterrey Way home, Guzman and his crew took the Mexican money from the victims and forced them to call relatives for ransom ranging from $1,500 to $2,500, based on their ability to pay.