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6 arrested in Knightstown for fake documents

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- Courier-Times Staff Report

KNIGHTSTOWN — Knightstown police were part of a multi-agency operation Friday to arrest six men who were in the United States with fake identification numbers.

Knightstown Police Chief Chris Newkirk said a Knightstown bank contacted his department last week after a group of farm workers tried opening direct deposit accounts.

Newkirk said the documents the men used looked genuine.

As part of the process for new accounts, banks run ID numbers through a federal database. This system verifies Social Security numbers for U.S. citizens or Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) for nonresident or resident immigrants.

During that security check, the ITINs of the six men came back as counterfeit.

The bank immediately contacted Knightstown police.

Knightstown Police Department coordinated with Henry County, Rush County and Hancock County Sheriff Departments and Indiana State Police to apprehend the men Friday morning when they were scheduled to return to the bank.

Newkirk said the men did not show up, so the task force went out to the local farm where the men were allegedly working.

According to Newkirk, the farm owner was surprised to find out the men were allegedly using fake documents.

When the law agencies showed up to the farm, three men reportedly ran into the woods.

“We had a three-hour search,” Newkirk said.

Newkirk said the state police were about to call in a helicopter to assist when K9 units located the three hiding behind a barn.

Santos Antunez-Argueta, 49, Juan Avila-Martin, 35, Enrique Banegas-Zelava, 65, Hector Funez-Chirinos, 31 and Enrique Zelaya-Munguia, 22,  were each arrested on a preliminary charge of Level 6 felony counterfeiting.

Jose Antunez-Meza (39), Avila-Martin and Funez-Chirinos also received a preliminary charge of Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement.

All six men reported Indianapolis as their city of residence.

Chief Newkirk said all six men were immediately put on hold immigration hold for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

According to Newkirk, all six men had allegedly been arrested before and had been through the ICE process.

“Two of them had already been deported before and made their way back in (to the U.S.),” Newkirk said.

Newkirk said two of the men arrested Friday have now been deported. The other four are now beginning the deportation process.

The Knightstown case may be about more than just people getting fake documents so they can get a job in the U.S.

Newkirk said he has been contacted by a federal and local task force, including ICE and the Indiana State Police, that investigates human labor trafficking cases.

In human trafficking schemes, a large network spanning multiple countries can trap workers into a system of what is essentially slavery, all with the promise of helping them get to the United States.

Newkirk said investigators are trying to find out who created the ID documents, how they made them and what the purpose was.

Newkirk said many people are being affected by this investigation.

Four of the identification numbers being used were identical to active, true ID numbers of people in other parts of the country, Newkirk said.

That means income and debt tied to these ID numbers is being connected to those people without their knowledge, which could affect their income tax records and credit scores.

Newkirk said there were also two active warrants linked to those ID numbers, which means police in another community could arrest someone by mistake.

Newkirk said the Knightstown farmer also lost most of his workforce after the arrests.