LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A federal jury Tuesday began deliberating the fate of a Chinese national accused of helping more than 50 people suspected of being in the country illegally get New Mexico driver's licenses.
Hai Gan is accused of 51 counts of fraud and other charges. Prosecutors say he bought four houses in New Mexico, then charged people more than $3,000 each so they could list the addresses as residences on their license applications.
Prosecutor Randy Castellano characterized the case as one that has "too much evidence." He said the 56-year-old resident of The Colony, Texas, was driven purely by a love of money and that his actions prove that he knew what he was doing was illegal.
Castellano said Gan disguised his New Mexico properties to look like apartments, he advised people against talking to authorities, and he rarely accompanied his clients to the Department of Motor Vehicles to avoid being recognized.
But Gan's attorney, Francisco Mario Ortiz, said his client believed he was acting lawfully when he advertised his services to immigrants around the country. And he said he never asked if the customers were in the country legally or not. He also pointed out that many spoke good English, were well-dressed and well-educated.
Ortiz said it was the clients' responsibility to follow the laws for establishing residency in New Mexico, not Gan's.
"The fact is they did not stay here," Ortiz said. "And I have a problem with that too. That's what they did. Not Mr. Gan. "
But prosecutor Michael Pleters said Gan was advertising driver's licenses, not rental houses.
"Did he say come to New Mexico and live in my beautiful house? Come to sunny, beautiful New Mexico? No," Pleters said.
New Mexico law allows people who are in the country illegally to get driver's licenses, if they can prove residency.