The number of criminals trying to hide their identities by burning, hacking and mutilating their fingerprints is skyrocketing in the Bay State — and local law enforcement continues to see the number rise even as the FBI has targeted Massachusetts as an altered fingerprint hot spot.
Massachusetts State Police officials have identified 867 suspects arrested with deliberately altered fingerprints — most within the past few years. The first three cases were logged in 2002, and by 2010 only 72 arrests were recorded.
Year-by-year breakdowns were not available, but since 2010, police have made 795 altered-fingerprint arrests, according to state police spokesman David Procopio.
The FBI flagged the Bay State as ground zero for criminal fingerprint erasures after studying records of altered prints across the nation, finding that, “Mass- achusetts officials had the most encounters with individuals who had altered fingerprints,” according to a 2014 FBI report.
Those include arrests made by local police in Boston, Lawrence and other cities, as well as by state police.
“On the tip of every finger were scars damaging each print,” wrote Salem police officer James Bedard in a June 4 arrest report of a man that police were unable to properly identify.
“This officer is aware that criminals alter/destroy their fingerprints to avoid detection by Law Enforcement Agencies.”
Bedard arrested the man, who initially identified himself as Puerto Rican-native Emybel Perez Ortis. Law enforcement in Puerto Rico quickly debunked that identity.
“The information received comes back to a female with the same name, DOB and social security number who resides in Puerto Rico,” Bedard wrote.
Despite the altered fingerprints, an Automated Fingerprint Identification System was able to identify a trail of fake personas and drug busts connected to the suspect.
“A check of his numerous identities show a pattern of drug related offenses and crimes involving the US Marshalls, DEA and local law enforcement,” wrote Bedard, who charged the man with identity fraud as well as possession of a fake driver’s license.
Boston-area FBI officials began to keep an eye out for altered prints in 2014 after two doctors from the Dominican Republic were busted in two separate Massachusetts cases offering to surgically alter fingerprints of convicted criminals and illegal immigrants, said Kristen Setera, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston division.
Crime fighters across the country have far more advanced means of tracking identities, such as DNA and facial recognition, but they don’t always employ those measures for suspects arrested on smaller drug offenses, said William Shade, a fingerprint expert with more than 40 years of experience. Those methods also require authorities to have access to the suspect’s previously identified DNA samples and facial images.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts State Police are seeking to combat the opioid crisis by keeping records of all altered fingerprint cases and investigate drug trafficking organizations under their new homeland security division, according to state officials.
The Bay State’s surge in altered fingerprints and identity theft comes as President Trump and his administration have blasted Massachusetts as a haven for drug dealers profiting from the opioid crisis — suggesting that drug dealers who are in the United States illegally seek the commonwealth’s so-called “sanctuary cities” for refuge.
“The sanctuary city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, is one of the primary sources of fentanyl in six New Hampshire counties,” said Trump at a March event in New Hampshire.
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