WILMINGTON — People coming out of Miz Willie’s Salon de Beaute on Castle Street had every right to feel like a new person. In addition to new hairdos, polished nails and tighter pores, many walked out with entirely new identities.
Wilhelmina Van der Roste, 52, was arrested yesterday and charged with illegally possessing and transferring someone else’s passport for felonious use, according to Ralph Evangelous, Wilmington’s Chief of Police.
“This arrest marks the beginning of the end of a lucrative and illegal business that was operating for years in this city,” said Chief Evangelous. “The day of the complete makeover at this salon is over.”
Miz Willie’s Salon de Beaute had been under surveillance for over six months by a joint task force of local police officers and FBI agents, said Evangelous. Owner Van der Roste supplied customers with fraudulent birth certificates, Social Security cards, green cards, passports and driver’s licenses. Some of the fake IDs used the names and Social Security numbers of people living in Puerto Rico.
While Van der Roste charged several dollars for a hair cut, she’d pocket about $1,000 for a fraudulent Social Security card and a birth certificate in the same name. A valid U.S. passport alone would set a customer back the same amount.
“Her customers were mostly undocumented immigrants, who could use them to apply for credit cards, buy cars or houses, and run up debt in other people’s names, says Evangelous. “But remember how the terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center imbedded themselves into this country — they all had fake ID’s. These ID’s could’ve just as easily fallen into the hands of terrorists or big-time criminals.”
Police uncovered the salon’s crooked dealings in June 2007, and began a six-month joint investigation with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI. Two federal agents even went undercover and bought several ID’s themselves, a Puerto Rican birth certificate, a Social Security card, and two U.S. passports.
Law enforcement officers shut the operation down yesterday by executing simultaneous search warrants at the salon and at Van der Roste’s home. Seized were 17 sets of ID’s that were about to hit the streets. Van der Roste is being held in the New Hanover County Detention Facility in lieu of $5 million bail. Five co-defendants pleaded guilty to similar charges.