BY LINDA BENTLEY | JULY 28, 2010
Judge assigned to SB 1070 no stranger to illegal alien criminals
Theft of taxpayer funds and false statement gets illegal alien 30 months
PHOENIX – No stranger to illegal alien criminals, who pass through her court on a regular basis, U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton has taken the complaints filed against Senate Bill 1070 under advisement.
Last week, Bolton sentenced Rigoberto Bonilla, 57, to 30 months in prison and ordered $345,000 in restitution.
An illegal alien from Honduras, Bonilla entered into a plea agreement in March for 10 counts of theft of government funds and one count of false statement to federal agents.
Bonilla was initially indicted for multiple counts related to his theft of approximately $78,000 in Social Security benefits, which he had been collecting since 1998 under the alias Ernesto Molina-Rojas.
Additionally, Bonilla fraudulently obtained nearly $267,000 in benefits from AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System), Arizona’s Medicaid Agency.
The sentencing memorandum filed on behalf of Bonilla by Assistant Federal Public Defender Douglas Passon stated Bonilla did not assume the identity of Molina in order to perpetrate fraud on the Social Security Administration (SSA), but did so decades ago in order to “obtain gainful employment in the fields of California.”
It goes on to state Bonilla was in a severe car accident in 1995 and suffered a stroke. He subsequently applied for SSA disability benefits as he was unable to work and was later diagnosed with “cerebrovascular disease and diabetes mellitus.”
Court records indicate Bonilla has multiple health issues, including diabetes, paralysis on the left side of his body, high blood pressure and possible prostate and liver issues.
While Bonilla accepted full responsibility for using deception to obtain “needed benefits,” he also believed he was somewhat entitled to those benefits, despite using an alias, because he had worked approximately 20 years under that alias and had paid into the system.
In seeking a downward departure in sentencing for his client, Passon stated, “A person’s motive for committing an offense is an important consideration,” citing Bonilla’s case was “different from the heartland fraud/theft cases that come before this court …”
Unlike most cases where defendants steal because of greed, he said Bonilla’s crimes were based upon necessity and that Bonilla misrepresented his identity in order to obtain benefits he desperately needed with a belief he was somewhat entitled to them.
Passon stated, “This is not like the run-of-the-mill cases where, for example, a son continues to collect his deceased mother’s benefit check, or the schemer who opens a false bank account to obtain fraudulent credit, a fiduciary who misappropriates funds, or a huckster running a mail fraud operation or Ponzi scheme. This is a case where a man originally created a false identity without any intent to defraud the victims.”
He said the $267,000 in medical care Bonilla obtained under false pretenses was “more akin to stealing a loaf of bread to feed one’s family, than to fleecing an unsuspecting person or entity.”
Bonilla said he came to use Molina’s identity when he applied to work in the fields in California and his prospective employer instructed him on how to obtain an assumed identity.
He stated he did so with the consent of Molina, whom he said sold him a copy of his birth certificate. However, Bonilla stated he did not use Molina’s Social Security number (SSN) until after applying for benefits in 1997. Prior to that time he said he was using a “made-up number.”
And, he said he only began using Molina’s SSN “after a social worker assisting him in obtaining benefits informed him that his stated SSN was wrong, and provided him with the correct number.”
Passon tried to diminish Bonilla’s “lengthy criminal history” by arguing many of the points assessed were for minor offenses and/or offenses that were more than 20 years old.
Bonilla agreed with the prosecution’s argument that his “substantial medical issues will make any stay in prison extremely onerous,” with the Bureau of Prisons being “forced to assume the cost and responsibility for his ongoing medical care,” which, Passon said was “ironic given the nature of this offense.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bonilla was previously convicted on a felony charge for smuggling wildlife, for which the statute provides for a maximum imprisonment of up to 20 years, and since 1998, he had fraudulently obtained benefits in the approximate amount of $345,000 from the SSA and AHCCCS, by assuming a false identity.
“Moreover,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Rapp, “defendant frustrated the attempt of the real Ernest Molina from receiving benefits when Molina recently applied for disability from SSA.”
According to Rapp, Bonilla, who had been using Molina’s identity since 1987, lied and mislead law enforcement and the courts about his true identity during each subsequent criminal conviction.
Rapp stated, “Since 1982 defendant has had substantial and continuous contact with the criminal justice system, including theft and violent crime offenses,” most of which appeared to have been “motivated by his excessive use of alcohol.
Although he was provided numerous opportunities at probation and alcohol abuse treatment, Bonilla instead consistently violated probation and was returned to prison.
“Consequently,” wrote Rapp, “defendant inspires no confidence, based on his record, that he would remain compliant once released from custody on supervised release. In the final analysis, there is little in defendant’s personal history that would serve as mitigation or as a basis for a downward variance with the exception to his multiple health issues …”
The government’s sentencing recommendation noted Bonilla has resided illegally in the United States since 1977 and in Arizona since 1989, he’s had substantial and chronic contact with the criminal justice system, served several prison sentences exceeding a year, has serious alcohol abuse issues and, following his prison sentences, he has repeatedly failed to comply with community supervision.
Rapp also pointed out Bonilla has not worked in 10 years due to a disability. And, due to a combination of his age, deteriorating health and lack of education, he would be unable to secure employment in a meaningful occupation without substantial vocational training and physical rehabilitation.
After completing his incarceration, Bonilla will be deported to Honduras, where he has not lived in over 30 years, with no assets, no employment possibilities and where his health concerns “will likely go unaddressed.”
While Bonilla was not charged with fraudulently obtaining AHCCCS benefits, he agreed to pay restitution.
Bonilla’s case is only one of many that pass through Bolton’s court on a regular basis.