Initially, a Miami family’s crime appeared to be just illegal cockfighting.
But after scratching the surface, Miami-Dade police found out it was a lot more serious. Soon the feds got involved.
“When MDPD arrived at the Rodriguez family home, they found evidence that made plain the home also doubled as the headquarters for a second illegal business: counterfeit check cashing,” U.S. prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Carlos Miguel Rodriguez Sr., aka “Il Padrino,” was accused of collaborating with his adult children and family associates in a nearly $2 million counterfeit check-cashing scheme built upon the theft of other people’s personal identities, including Social Security numbers, according to an indictment.
As the ringleader, Rodriguez, 46, got hit the hardest in a series of plea deals involving identify theft and bank fraud.
At his sentencing last week in Miami federal court, Rodriguez Sr. got almost 11 years in prison. His son, Carlos Miguel Rodriguez Jr., 25, a former Miami Dade College computer science student, received more than four years, and his daughter, Taily Rodriguez, 27, was previously sentenced to two years. Three other associates were also given prison sentences of probation to four years by U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles.
The Rodriguez family and other defendants were ordered to pay back $1.8 million to victims of their financial scheme. The family also must forfeit a home on Little River Drive in Northwest Miami-Dade, a couple of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and a 39-foot Midnight Express boat with triple 400-horsepower Mercury engines.
At the recent sentencing, a defense lawyer for Rodriguez’s son argued for lenience, saying the father pressured him to participate in the family’s racket.
“The defendant, Mr. Rodriguez, “Carlito,” became involved in this conspiracy in January of 2016, when he was barely 19 years old,” Miami attorney Kristi Kassebaum said in a court motion for a four-year sentence. “This conspiracy was not his idea.”
She said the son became involved after an associate approached his father with a proposal — that the family would receive a motorboat in exchange for a computer program that could discover Social Security numbers as well as create counterfeit checks. … If he could do it over again, he [Carlito] would focus on his education.”
According to a half-dozen plea deals and factual statements, Rodriguez Sr. and his daughter purchased names, dates of birth, addresses and Social Security numbers of unwitting bank customers on the dark web, which allows users to remain anonymous.
Usingthe stolen personal information, Rodriguez Sr.’s tech-savvy son accessed victims’ bank accounts across the country to change contact information on phone numbers that he and his father could control, according to Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Young, who brought the case with the FBI and Secret Service. The son also downloaded checks signed by the account holders so they could be used as templates for counterfeit checks.
“Once the counterfeit checks were ready, Rodriguez Sr. would give them to other co-conspirators, tasking them with finding people who would visit the banks to cash the checks,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release. “Sometimes, Rodriguez Sr. recruited the check cashers himself, using people living on the street or in homeless shelters.”
The recruits traveled to banks in South Florida as well as California, Texas and Utah to cash the counterfeit checks, prosecutors said, with Rodriguez Sr. depositing the cash proceeds in “different bank accounts to disguise the source of the money.”