Generally The term “passport fraud” is a phrase that is used to generally describe misrepresentations in applications for a passport or visa, as well as some misuse of the passport or visa. Violations of federal law for passport fraud and related charges are found at Title 18, U.S. Code, §§1541 – 1547, which are:
- A. Issuance Without Authority (government official issuing or verifying a passport without authority or to a person with no allegiance to the United States) 18 U.S.C. §1541;
- B. False Statement in Application and Use of a Passport (when a person submits false information on a passport application for his own use or use by another) 18 U.S.C. §1542;
- C. Forgery of False Use of a Passport (when a person forges, counterfeits, or alters a passport, or gives a forged, counterfeited, or altered passport to another person for his use) 18 U.S.C. §1543;
- D. Misuse of a Passport (when a person uses a passport designed for another person, or uses a passport in violation of the restrictions on it) 18 U.S.C. §1544;
- E. Safe Conduct Violation (violation of a safe conduct permit granting passage into an area or a country where the person could not go without the permission of the government) 18 U.S.C. §1545;
- F. Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Other Documents (whoever forges, counterfeits, or alters an immigration document for the use of entry into the United States) 18 U.S.C. §1546;
- G. Alternate Imprisonment Maximum (to facilitate drug trafficking or terrorism) 18 U.S.C. §1547.
II. Fraud, Misuse, and False Statements
Activities that are the underlying basis for these types of charges are often the passport applicant making a false statement in the application in order to obtain a passport for travel. It also involves obtaining, or attempting to obtain, a passport for another person or group of persons, after the applicant has made false statements about the identities, location, or criminal history of the person whose name is submitted for a passport. Obtaining a passport in this manner, or attempting to do so, can be for the purpose of concealing one’s true identity to avoid detection or to ensure passage to another country. Such falsities may be tied to illegal drug trafficking or other illegal smuggling of goods, or even to terrorists.
Potential charges for these offenses would be the passport/visa fraud statutes listed above, and it could also include a conspiracy to commit these acts if two or more persons agreed to commit a passport crime. It could then be charged as a conspiracy pursuant to Title 18, U.S. Code §371. Such a conspiracy might also be charged as a Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, or Wire Fraud, under Title 18, U.S. Code §1349.
Indictments charging criminal violations of these passport laws are obtained through a federal grand jury by the United States Attorney’s Office or a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, as in any federal criminal case. Any person indicted is subject to arrest by the investigating agency or by the U.S. Marshal’s Service, unless the person makes arrangements through his attorney to self-surrender.
Since passports are obtained through the U.S. Department of State, usually agents from the Department of State conduct such investigations. Federal agents investigating criminal violations related to passports or visas work with the federal prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney, for advice and to obtain formal charges, i.e., an Indictment. If there is a lone violation of one person’s own passport application, or similar conduct, as opposed to larger-scale violations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office could refer the case to the state prosecutor (District Attorney) where the offense occurred.
Any person convicted of a passport fraud or misrepresentation offense in federal court, will be subject to the same type of sentencing as in other federal case. These sentencings are the result of recommendations by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, that is, the “point system” that provides a recommended punishment range.