Doctor convicted of surgery to alter immigrant fingerprints

BOSTON Thu Feb 10, 2011 8:26pm EST

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BOSTON (Reuters) - A doctor from the Dominican Republic was convicted and sentenced in Boston on Thursday of offering to surgically alter the fingerprints of illegal aliens, the Department of Justice said.

The case is one of a number of attempts in recent years to subvert the U.S. government's powerful new biometric border security program, known as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

Jose Elias Zaiter-Pou, 62, pleaded guilty of conspiring to conceal illegal aliens from detection by law enforcement authorities, by surgically altering their fingerprints in exchange for payment.

He was sentenced to a year and one day of imprisonment, followed by deportation and three years of supervised release.

Authorities said Zaiter-Pou met at a hotel in Woburn, Massachusetts, with a government informant who was posing as an illegal alien, and agreed to alter the informant's fingerprints for $4,500.

The doctor brought surgical equipment, antibiotics and pain medication to the meeting, which was secretly recorded.

Zaiter-Pou described how he would surgically remove a portion of the fingertip, then suture the tip back together to make a new, unrecognizable fingerprint.

Every person entering the United States, whether through ports of entry or caught sneaking over the border, have their digits run through the fingerprinting system.

In seconds, the prints are checked against law enforcement databases for previous immigration violations or outstanding warrants for the person's arrest.

Some illegal immigrants have been known to burn their fingertips, file them down with an emery board, dip them in acid or even resort to surgery to avoid a match.

In 2007 a Mexican doctor was charged in Pennsylvania with surgically removing drug traffickers' fingerprints, substituting skin from the soles of their feet.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny, Editing by Greg McCune)

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