Posted: Feb 11, 2014 5:07 PM
Updated: Feb 11, 2014 5:08 PM
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) A federal jury in Las Cruces convicted a Chinese national Tuesday of 64 felonies for running a ring that helped immigrants illegally obtain New Mexico driver's licenses.
After about three hours of deliberations, the jury found Hai Gan, 56, of The Colony, Texas, guilty on 51 counts of fraud and other charges. He faces a sentence of hundreds of years in prison, as well as the forfeiture of four homes he owns in New Mexico and Texas.
U.S. District Judge Robert Brack said it was the first time he has ever seen a "verdict form with 64 counts and there is a notation of guilty on each of the blocks opposite of counts one through 64."
Prosecutor Michael Pleters said the verdict sends a message that people "can't come to New Mexico and game the system."
Defense attorney Francisco Mario Ortiz said he was unable to "overcome the insurmountable evidence."
Gan is one of several people who have been prosecuted in recent years for running such rings in New Mexico, which is one of just a few states that let residents get driver's license regardless of their immigration status.
Lawmakers have repeatedly rejected attempts by Gov. Susana Martinez to change that law. Her latest effort stalled last weekend on a tied vote in a legislative committee.
Prosecutors say Gan advertised in Chinese language papers, then charged people upward of $3,000 each so they could list the addresses of his houses on their license applications.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Castellano characterized the case as one that has "too much evidence." He said the 56-year-old was driven purely by a love of money and that his actions prove that he knew what he was doing was illegal.
Castellano said Gan disguised his New Mexico properties to look like apartments, he advised people against talking to authorities, and he rarely accompanied his clients to the Department of Motor Vehicles to avoid being recognized.
Ortiz said his client believed he was acting lawfully when he advertised his services to immigrants around the country. And he said he never asked if the customers were in the country legally or not. He also pointed out that many spoke good English, were well-dressed and well-educated.
Ortiz said it was the clients' responsibility to follow the laws for establishing residency in New Mexico, not Gan's.
"The fact is they did not stay here," Ortiz said. "And I have a problem with that too. That's what they did. Not Mr. Gan."
But Pleters said Gan was advertising driver's licenses, not rental houses.
"Did he say come to New Mexico and live in my beautiful house? Come to sunny, beautiful New Mexico? No," Pleters said.