What started as a routine investigation into a possible case of social security residency fraud uncovered one of the most long-ranging schemes in the history of the program: A Mexican man using an identity and fraudulent documents bilked the system out of more than $350,000 in benefits over the course of 37 years – all without tipping off the victim of his identity theft, according to the San Diego Tribune.
Andres Avelino Anduaga – if that’s even his real name – admitted to assuming the identity of a U.S. citizen in 1980. Armed with a fake birth certificate, he developed a seemingly legitimate persona by applying for a California driver’s license, Social Security number and U.S. passport.
The official documents identified him as Abraham Riojos, born in Alpine, Texas, in 1958.
The documents allowed him to move freely between Mexico and the U.S., and also to receive nearly $361,000 in government benefits over the years.
On Thursday, Anduaga, 66, pleaded guilty to theft of public property and being a previously removed unauthorized immigrant in the U.S.
He has agreed to pay back to several government agencies what he stole but could face additional fines as well as up to 12 years in prison when sentenced.
It’s not clear what the perpetrator’s real name is. Only US citizens and visa holders can receive social security disability benefits – but they must also reside in the US. The perpetrator was having his benefits sent to a mailbox near the US-Mexico border while he resided in Tijuana. Investigators asked the man to appear in person for a formal questioning – and he obliged, bringing with him a state ID card identifying him as Abraham Riojos.
The man told investigators that he was renting a room on I Street in Chula Vista. When they called his landlord, the landlord initially covered for him and confirmed that, yes, he was renting a room there.
But later, investigators discovered that the land lord was lying…and soon discovered that the man claiming to be Riojos was in fact a twice-deported Mexican national named Andres Avelino Anduaga. Anduaga has a rap sheet a mile long. And what’s worse, investigators still aren’t 100% certain that this is the man’s real name.
But when investigators visited the home in January 2016, the man admitted Riojos never lived there, but instead lived in Mexico, the complaint states.
Investigators turned to the border crossing records, finding frequent travels indicating Riojos had likely been living in Mexico since at least 2014.
They then learned that another person had tried to sign up for disability benefits in Oceanside under the same Riojos name, using a fake birth certificate with the same date and place of birth, according to the complaint.
The investigators went to the criminal records, finding the initial man claiming to be Riojos had a rap sheet that included 21 different names and six dates of birth, dating back to 1974. They included a firearms violation, forgery, cocaine possession and multiple DUIs, according to prosecutors.
Immigration records rounded out the picture. He’d been deported twice, once in 1994 and again in 2000. During the last deportation, he had given authorities his real name: Jose Reyes. Or so they thought.
Investigators tracked down the real Abraham Riojos to Immokalee, Fla., a rural town south of Fort Myers.
He told the special agents who visited him that he was unaware of the identity theft after nearly three decades of his name being used to secure fraudulent social security checks.
An analysis of Anduaga’s benefits showed he first applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits in 1989 and was awarded payments retroactive to 1988. He received monthly payments — $244,441 total — until Aug. 1, 2016, according to his plea agreement.
Plus, he illegally received more than $3,486 in food stamps under a county program.
Anduaga has been in custody since his arrest. According to the Trib, he suffers from a spate of health problems. There’s no evidence that the two men knew each other – and how exactly Anduaga came into possession of Riojos’ identity is unclear.
Because, as one law enforcement source puts it, it was the 1980s. Things were just different back then.