A Mexican national previously deported from the United States pleaded guilty today in federal court in Sacramento to one count of aggravated identity theft after stealing the identity of a deceased child to fraudulently seek a U.S. passport.
Rafael Ortega Zarate, 69, was living in Sacramento and committed the crime while making a false statement in his passport application, according to a federal Department of Justice news release.
According to court documents, Zarate was illegally living in the United States and was previously deported in 1962 and 1963. In October 2012, he presented an application for a U.S. passport to a passport acceptance officer in Sacramento, falsely representing, among other things, that his name was "Ernesto Zarate Ortega" and that he was a United States citizen by birth.
As proof of his purported United States citizenship and identity, Zarate presented a California birth certificate and a California identification card in the name of Ernesto Ortega. According to federal authorities, Ernesto Ortega was a real person born in California in 1949 who died in 1953, when he was 3 years old.
According court documents, Zarate in 2009 used Ernesto Ortega's identity to apply for and improperly receive Social Security benefits in the form of supplemental security income. In his application, he falsely stated that his name was Ernesto Ortega, that he was a United States citizen by birth and that he had never lived outside of the United States.
Zarate received approximately $33,700 in benefits from December 2009 through May 2013. In the plea agreement, Zarate agreed to pay restitution in that amount to the Social Security Administration.
He is to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on Jan. 15.
The case resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service and the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General.