PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon man has pleaded guilty to charges that include both possession of methamphetamine and a large conspiracy to make and sell fake U.S. identification documents — including many that were "immigration-related," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon.
24-year-old Miguel Merecias-Lopez of Woodburn was originally picked up while trying to conduct a drug deal on September 21 of 2017, the U.S. Attorney's office said. He was arrested in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant with "more than a kilogram" of meth on him.
Following the arrest, investigators searched Merecias-Lopez's apartment — finding more meth, and equipment "used in furtherance of the fraudulent document scheme."
"A review of electronic devices found in Merecias-Lopez’s apartment produced evidence that the conspiracy had operated in Woodburn for more than a decade and produced and sold more than 10,000 different fraudulent documents including driver’s licenses for more than 25 states, U.S. social security cards, immigration-related documents including non-immigrant visas and legal permanent resident cards, marriage licenses, vehicle bills of sale and titles, and birth certificates," the U.S. Attorney's office said.
Investigators came to believe that Merecias-Lopez was personally responsible for making more than 300 fake U.S. government documents as part of a scheme that produced thousands.
The conspiracy itself, the U.S. Attorney's office said, was based in Oaxaca, Mexico and involved a number of co-conspirators. Investigators are still unsure for how long the conspiracy operated in total.
"Conspirators, including Merecias-Lopez, maintained a clandestine photo lab in Woodburn where they used various computers, scanners, laminators, digital cameras and a high-resolution printer to produce the fraudulent documents. They would communicate with customers in-person and electronically via email, Facebook and Snapchat, and receive payments via PayPal, U.S. mail or in person," the U.S. Attorney's office said.
While together the charges for both possession with intent to distribute meth and conspiracy to produce false identification documents can carry a sentence ranging from 10 years to life in prison, with potential fines in the millions of dollars, the U.S. Attorney's office said that it has joined the defense in "are jointly recommending a sentence on the low-end of the non-binding U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines range" — presumably because Merecias-Lopez has cooperated with investigators and pleaded guilty to the charges.
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