A disturbing early morning discovery by a St. Paul snowplow driver — a man with duct tape over his mouth, his hands bound — turned out to be an elaborate ruse to try to gain citizenship, federal authorities announced Thursday.

Prosecutors charged Alejandro Mario Cortes, 45, of Chicago, with making a false statement to federal agents after he allegedly lied about being abducted in Chicago and tossed from a vehicle into a St. Paul snowbank last April.

According to charges, Cortes told St. Paul police he had been kidnapped by several unknown men in Chicago days before his April 17 discovery in St. Paul. He said he was threatened with death and held with a bag over his head. The men told him he would be killed if he called police, he said.

Police referred the case to the FBI, and Cortes met with agents to describe the encounter and threats allegedly made against him and relatives. But according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Cortes admitted during follow-up interviews with the FBI that he was living illegally in the U.S. and often used fake identities to avoid detection because of a previous drunken driving arrest.

Investigators also traced the alleged threatening messages to an online texting application and linked the IP address used to create the texts back to an "associate" of Cortes who later told agents that Cortes faked his own kidnapping so he could obtain a visa to stay in the U.S. as a crime victim.

According to the charges, Cortes asked the associate to let him stay in a storage unit with food, water, a sleeping bag and a heater during the alleged abduction and to also bind him with duct tape before dropping him off in St. Paul. The alleged associate has not been charged or named in the complaint.

Agents arrested Cortes on Wednesday and he made an initial court appearance on the charges Thursday in St. Paul.

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor