By Cándida Portugués, New York Comminity Media Alliance
NEW YORK - The sentencing of Kelvin Crucey for stealing the identities of Puerto Ricans from their tax forms puts a spotlight back on the crime of identity theft, which has been disproportionately focused on this community.
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin sentenced Crucey to 27 months in prison, three years of supervised probation, and the restitution of $249,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. From 1996 to 2010, Crucey was an executive officer with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), where he rose to the position of Vice President for Finance and Administration. UMEZ is one of the nine "empowerment zones" established in 1994 to revitalize impoverished communities, by means of public financing and tax exemptions intended to attract private investment.
Besides his position at UMEZ, Crucey had a tax preparation business that he used to prepare false income tax returns for Puerto Ricans residing on the island whose personal information he had stolen. On these declarations, he requested the return of excess tax payments, and when those arrived, he pocketed the checks.
And this was not the worst of the cases of stolen identities. In 2009, it was discovered that some 12,000 Puerto Rican students, teachers, and school administrators had been victims of identity theft by a gang which stole their information, and then sold it to undocumented immigrants. A search carried out by the FBI at one of the houses [where the gang members lived], led to the discovery of 5,000 identification documents of different types, from birth certificates to Social Security cards.
Due to this discovery the Puerto Rican government instituted a new kind of birth certificate in 2010 for all persons born on the island, with the goal of making its falsification more difficult.
"We've eliminated the old certificates, and with them all the black market documents [have lost their value]," indicated Luis Balzac, the director of the Puerto Rican government's N.Y. office.
Balzac pointed out that not all Puerto Ricans born on the island – an estimated 5 million – are obliged to renew their birth certificates, since that document is needed only when applying for a passport or a driver's license for the first time, and when children are registered for school.
Because so little time has passed since the implementation of the new certificate, there are no statistics to gauge its effect on identity theft.
"What I can say is that thanks to the new birth certificate law, the situation has improved. But, we'll have to wait to evaluate its effects," Balzac declared.