Santiago Carrasco brings a whole new meaning to the term "dead man walking."
Carrasco and his wife Rosa pleaded guilty Tuesday to faking Santiago's death in order to obtain death benefits, confirmed Matt Lockhart, a prosecutor for the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
"They were a suburban family living their lives," Lockhart told The Huffington Post. "But then they come up with this wacky plan out of fear of losing what they'd worked for."
Santiago Carrasco, 52, and Rosa Carrasco, 54, had been living in Santa Ana, Calif. with their four children. Santiago, who did not have U.S. citizenship, was living under the stolen identity of Lucio Rodriguez, who is Santiago's uncle and a living U.S. citizen.
For 18 years, Santiago worked under the alias "Lucio," as a truckdriver for Roadway Express. He was also a member of the Teamsters union, Lockhart told HuffPost. After the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, Santiago and Rosa feared that the federal government's increased scrutiny into immigration matters would lead to Santiago's undocumented status being discovered.
The couple reasoned that they would end up losing the Social Security and union benefits Santiago had been accruing for almost two decades, and they came up with a plan to make sure this didn't happen.
In 2004, Santiago traveled to Mexico and used family connections to bribe a judge and physician to obtain a phony death certificate stating that his alias, "Lucio Rodriguez," died in Mexico of a heart attack. When Santiago returned to the U.S., he began living under his real name, and, in September 2004, the couple began collecting benefits from "Lucio's" fake death.
For seven years, the scheme went according to plan. But in the summer of 2011, an anonymous person sent a letter laying out the couple's crime to the US Department of Justice, the US Social Security Administration, the Santa Ana Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff's Department, according to Lockhart.
In August 2011, Santiago and Rosa were arrested by the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Rosa was living with her two daughters at the time in Santa Ana, while Santiago was living in Fontana. The couple was estranged, and Santiago told the police that he hadn't received any of "Lucio's" death benefits for years, Lockhart told HuffPost.
By the time of their arrest, the couple had collected $413,000.
Santiago and Rosa, who pleaded guilty to their charge of two felony counts of grand theft, were each sentenced to two years in custody and two years of mandatory supervision upon release. In addition, they were ordered to jointly pay back the $413,000 plus an additional 10% of the sum in interest.
The couple's youngest daughter, 16, is now living with an aunt. Prosecutors do not know where the real Lucio Rodriguez is.