WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ - Federal identity theft charges have been brought against 148 illegal aliens accused of stealing the identities of lawful U.S. citizens in order to gain legal employment, the Justice Department announced today. One hundred eight defendants have been charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years imprisonment and is the most serious federal identity theft charge. Other federal defendants will be charged with illegal reentry by an aggravated felon, document fraud, Social Security fraud, and identity theft. State charges of identity theft, forgery and criminal impersonation charges are also being pressed against 98 additional defendants. The aliens being criminally prosecuted were identified as a result of Operation Wagon Train, an investigation led by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) working in conjunction with six U.S. Attorney's Offices. Agents executed civil search warrants on December 12, 2006, at six meat-processing plants owned by Swift & Company (Swift), one of the nation's largest processors of fresh pork and beef. In total, ICE agents apprehended 1,282 illegal alien workers on administrative immigration violations at Swift facilities. To date, 148 of the most serious offenders have been charged with federal criminal violations. Fifty-three defendants have been charged in the Northern District of Texas, 30 in the Southern District of Iowa, 20 in the District of Minnesota, 26 in the District of Nebraska, 18 in the District of Utah, and one in the District of Colorado. The District Attorney in Cache County, Utah (home of a Swift plant), is prosecuting 80 defendants on charges that include identity theft and forgery and the District Attorney in Weld County, Colo. (home of another Swift plant), is prosecuting 18 defendants on charges that include identity theft, forgery and criminal impersonation. "The Justice Department takes identity theft very seriously," said Attorney General Gonzales. "We are committed to ensuring that every American's identity is protected and that those who commit this crime are fully prosecuted." "Operation Wagon Train unveiled a clear and disturbing picture. What began as an illegal employment investigation uncovered a massive scheme in which illegal aliens used the identities of actual U.S. citizens to get jobs," said Julie Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "Our message is simple: No employee in any industry who uses a stolen identity is immune from law enforcement action." Evidence uncovered during Operation Wagon Train, which began in February 2006, suggests that illegal aliens assumed the identities of actual U.S. citizens and improperly used the stolen Social Security numbers and other identity documents in order to gain employment at Swift facilities. Federal authorities confirmed that many of the names and Social Security numbers being used at the Swift plants were reported stolen by identity theft victims to the Federal Trade Commission. In many cases, victims indicated that they received letters from the Internal Revenue Service demanding back taxes for income they had not reported because it was earned by someone working under their name. Other victims were denied driver's licenses, credit, or even medical services because someone had improperly used their personal information before. The Justice Department has made vigorous efforts to combat identity theft in recent years. In fiscal year 2005, the Justice Department prosecuted 177 cases of aggravated identity theft. In fiscal year 2006, the Justice Department prosecuted 344 such cases, an increase of 94 percent. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales co-chairs the President's Task Force on Identity Theft with Deborah Majoras, Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Task Force, established by President Bush in May 2006 and comprised of 17 federal agencies and departments, is developing a comprehensive national strategy to fight identity theft which will improve the ability of the government and the private sector to bring identity thieves to justice, mitigate the risks of identity theft for individuals and companies, and assist identity-theft victims in recovering from the aftermath of the crime. In September, the Identity Theft Task Force adopted interim recommendations on measures that can be implemented immediately to combat identity theft, prior to publication of the final strategic plan. These recommendations will: * Provide guidance to federal agencies when data breaches do occur; * Develop a universal police report for identity theft victims; * Extend restitution to victims of identity theft; * Reduce access of identity thieves to Social Security numbers; * Develop alternative methods of "authenticating" identities; * Improve data security in the government; and * Improve agencies' ability to respond to data breaches in government. Anyone wishing to ask a question about identity theft or to report identity theft may call 1-877-ID-THEFT, or visit the FTC's Web site, http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft, or the Department of Justice's Web site, http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html.