PEABODY — Federal agents arrested two people in Peabody over the weekend who they say have been surgically altering people’s fingerprints to elude detection by law enforcement.
Danilo Montero Ramirez, 61, and Teresa Araujo Martinez, 40, were arrested by federal agents Saturday in an apartment at 156 Shore Drive, where they had arranged to meet a patient.
Authorities say the pair charged people thousands of dollars to alter their fingertips so they could not be connected to past crimes or deportations. Ramirez, a doctor in the Dominican Republic, did the procedures, and Martinez served as his assistant, according to court documents.
The pair are charged with distributing drugs — the oxycodone and other pain medications given to their patients — as well as “conspiring to harbor illegal aliens.”
“Homeland Security Investigations special agents arrested the pair (Martinez and Ramirez) on the current federal charges without incident Saturday morning in Peabody,” said Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. “Our investigative efforts were supported by the Massachusetts State Police, the Bristol and Essex County Sheriffs’ Departments and the Peabody Police Department. The investigation will continue.”
Martinez and Ramirez appeared in federal court in Boston on Monday. The duo remain in the custody of U.S. Marshals and have a court hearing set for Nov. 25 in Boston, according to court filings.
They both have court-appointed lawyers, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Peabody police were on the scene Saturday morning to assist while federal agents made the arrest. Authorities seized a variety of prescription medications (more than 200 pills) and surgical paraphernalia the pair had set up in the apartment, including scalpels, syringes, surgical gloves and bandages.
After the arrest, Ramirez told investigators he has altered the fingertips of “five to six individuals so that they could avoid detection while living in the United States,” according to court documents. He altered the fingertips of two people in the Boston area — court documents do not specify where — in 2012, as well as the fingertips of Martinez, his assistant.
Ramirez and Martinez were arrested in Peabody because that’s where they agreed to meet a witness working with federal agents. It does not appear Ramirez and Martinez lived in Peabody; they came to the Shore Drive apartment on Saturday from an address in Lynn, according to court documents.
The arrest took place after a lengthy investigation by federal agencies. ICE agent Sean Rafferty, in an affidavit included in court documents, said he began investigating Ramirez in 2010 because he was known to be altering the fingerprints of people who had been previously deported from the U.S.
When authorities found out that Ramirez planned to travel to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic this month, Rafferty had a cooperating witness contact Ramirez to set up an appointment.
The witness told Ramirez he had been previously deported from the U.S. and jailed, and he wanted to avoid recapture. Ramirez agreed to alter the witness’s fingertips, as well as those of a friend, for a total price of $7,000, according to court documents.
When the witness asked if there was something for the pain associated with the surgery, Ramirez said Martinez takes care of distributing painkillers to patients, according to Rafferty’s affidavit.
Federal agents entered the Peabody apartment and arrested the duo Saturday once they had set up their equipment, discussed the surgery and accepted $4,000 in cash from the witness. Agents had both video and audio surveillance set up on the location, and the witness wore a recording device.
Authorities found Martinez was also wanted on a Somerville District Court warrant for cocaine trafficking.
Martinez told investigators she had her fingertips altered by Ramirez after her arrest in Somerville.
“To date, Martinez had successfully avoided detection and capture on this cocaine-trafficking charge, as well as avoiding deportation,” Rafferty wrote in his affidavit.
In an interview after the arrest, Martinez told investigators she is a citizen of the Dominican Republic and entered the United States illegally in 2003. Ramirez was born in the Dominican Republic but is a U.S. citizen, according to court documents.
The drug charges Martinez and Ramirez are facing carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $1 million fine and three years of supervised release. The immigration charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.