…in Wayne, Tuscarawas counties Ohio
March 17, 2019
by Amanda Garrett
Guatemalans who live in Amish Country called the man “ahuevos.”
That translates to “eggs” in Spanish, which seems fitting since ahuevos worked as a supervisor at a chicken processing plant in Kidron.
But “ahuevos”is also Spanish slang for “testicles” and used to describe someone with swaggering self-confidence.
Both meanings may apply to ahuevos.
Federal investigators say he is an immigrant who not only spent more than a decade in the U.S. illegally, but may have helped others stay, too, by peddling both fake and authentic government documents in and around Wayne and Tuscarawas counties.
Ahuevos’ court-appointed attorney — Alvaro L. DeCola of Akron — did not return a call this week.
But federal court records show that ahuevos was convicted of making a false claim to U.S. citizenship. Ahuevos, who is about 39 years old, faces up to three years in prison, after which he would be deported to his home country of Guatemala.
Also this week,another man who worked as a contractor at the same chicken processing facility — Gerber Poultry — was indicted for allegedly falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.
Federal investigators suspect that man — Javier Sanchez-Cruz, 38 — may have also been involved in human smuggling.
The federal cases against ahuevos and Sanchez-Cruz — who is in custody and does not yet have an attorney — are separate, but the men share common threads.
Both lived in New Philadelphia, both used multiple identities, both worked at Gerber Poultry — which has not been accused of any wrongdoing — and both claimed falsely to have been born in Puerto Rico.
This story, based on court records, is how U.S. Department of Homeland Security, working with local and state officials, unraveled who the two men really are.
Federal investigators first ran across ahuevos after reviewing Gerber Poultry’s employment records in 2009.
Ahuevos, then and now, called himself Jacob Ibarra at work and had a state of Ohio ID card and Social Security card to back it up.
Company records show he started working at Gerber in 2002, investigators said. But it’s not clear when authorities started to suspect ahuevos wasn’t who he claimed.
In 2011, a confidential informant working at Gerber Poultry — which court records say has a large Hispanic workforce — told a Homeland Security investigator someone named Jacob was selling counterfeit and authentic identity documents.
The informant identified Jacob as the same person pictured on Jacob Ibarra’s Ohio ID, court records said.
Other tips followed, and state and federal investigators began watching Ibarra, who they quickly learned was known to locals as ahuevos.
Ahuevos lived with his wife, who worked at another large chicken processor, Case Farms in Winesburg.
In 2016, federal investigators went to their New Philadelphia home and spirited away the trash the couple set out on the curb.
Among other things, they discovered ahuevos was using another name — Luis Daniel Rivera-Nieves, according to court records.
When investigators searched state records, they discovered ahuevos, using that name, had obtained several Ohio driver’s licenses and claimed he was a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico.
In 2017, federal officials reached out to law enforcement in Puerto Rico. They discovered ahuevos was using the identity of someone from Puerto Rico.
And as they dug deeper, investigators learned ahuevos was using a third name to register utilities in New Philadelphia, court records show.
Investigators, searching their own files, discovered they had been close to ahuevos before.
In 2013, they executed a search warrant at the home of Julio Tzip-Yac, who “ran a document mill” for Guatemalans in the Dover/New Philadelphia area.
Tzip-Yac was convicted and deported to Guatemala in 2013.
Ahuevos, at the time, lived next door to Tzip-Yac in the other side of a duplex.
Tips about ahuevos continued to come in. In January, someone not connected to Gerber told investigators he or she was about to buy documents from ahuevos.
Ahuevos charged $300 for a state identification card and $1,800 for a “genuine” Texas birth certificate and Social Security card, court records said.
Finally, after years of legwork, investigators obtained a search warrant for ahuevos’ New Philadelphia home.
During the search, ahuevos told investigators his true name is Luis Hernandez-Maldonado and that he was born in Guatemala.
Upstairs, investigators said they discovered three Guatemalan Consulate identification cards in the name of Luis Hernandez-Maldanado.
They found two Puerto Rican birth certificates, a Social Security card, a state of Ohio ID card and titles for two vehicles with the name Daniel Rivera-Nieves.
And investigators uncovered numerous tax records and earning statements bearing the name of ahuevos’ work identity, Jacob Ibarra.
All had photos or information pertaining to ahuevos, court records show.
When federal investigators ran ahuevos’ fingerprints through a federal crime database, they discovered he was previously arrested by U.S. border agents in 1998 near Friendly Corners, Ariz.
At the time, he told the border guard he was born in Mexico.
Ahuevos volunteered to return there, even though it wasn’t his true homeland.
Within a couple of years, he was back across the border, making it as far east as Ohio, where he landed a job at a chicken-processing plant.
Javier Sanchez-Cruz — the man investigators suspect may have been involved in human smuggling — later worked at Gerber Poultry, too.
People knew him as Carlos Morales-Hernandez. He was a supervisor working for Packer Sanitation Services, which has a contract to clean poultry processing machines at Gerber, court records said.
In March 2016, someone tipped U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, that Morales-Hernandez was involved in human smuggling, court records said.
An investigation began to unfold much like that of ahuevos.
Investigators say they quickly figured out that this man, who also lived in New Philadelphia, was using someone’s identity from Puerto Rico.
But peeling back Sanchez-Cruz’s identity may have been easier because he had been arrested for allegedly driving under the influence in Tuscarawas County in 2011.
That meant he had been fingerprinted.
When officials ran his fingerprints through a national crime database, they discovered he was stopped by border patrol in Arizona in 1998, as ahuevos had been.
At the time, he also said he was born in Mexico and volunteered to return there.
How he ended up in Ohio is not clear. But two years after his arrest in Tuscarawas County, he was arrested by police in Indiana, also on charges of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, court records show.
Then, in November, he was stopped for speeding in Lee County, which is in central North Carolina, where he was recently being held.
Javier Sanchez-Cruz was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Ohio on charges he falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen and of aggravated identity theft.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland said the investigation into his involvement in possibly human smuggling continues.
But at least, federal officials say they know who he is.
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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