Last edited on Friday, February 26, 2021, at 4:52 AM.
Welcome to The Blanch Law Firm’s weekly digest of New New York Criminal Cases. Our goal is to keep the public informed as to recent events in federal courts around the country.
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Friday, February 05, 2021
I. Federal Arrest Announced as Part of Dollar General Shooting Investigation
On February 1, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason Dunn announced that Johnny Ray McCaslin, age 49, of Arvada has had been charged with being a felon in possession of firearm and ammunition. McCaslin had his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado that afternoon.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, evidence supporting the firearm charge was obtained as part of an investigation into a shooting at a Dollar General store in Arvada on in January 26, 2021. Mr. McCaslin was identified as a suspect in that shooting, which led to a search warrant for his residence.
During that search, investigators located two firearms and ammunition. Mr. McCaslin has previously been convicted of felonies in the State of Colorado and is therefore prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.
II. State Lawmaker Indicted for Stem Cell Fraud Scheme, Illegally Distributing Prescription Drugs
An elected Missouri state representative has been indicted by a federal grand jury for a fraud scheme in which she made false claims about a supposed stem cell treatment marketed through her clinics in southern Missouri and for illegally providing prescription drugs to clients of those clinics.
Patricia “Tricia” Ashton Derges, 63, of Nixa, Missouri, was charged in a 20-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo. The indictment was unsealed and made public today following Derges’ self-surrender and initial court appearance. The federal indictment charges Derges with eight counts of wire fraud related to five specific victims (identified by their initials).
These five victims were among those who lost a total of nearly $200,000 in the fraud scheme, which lasted from December 2018 to May 2020. During this time, Derges exclusively obtained amniotic fluid, which she marketed under the name Regenerative Biologics, from the University of Utah. Derges advertised Ozark Valley Medical Clinic as a “Leader in … Regenerative Medicine,” including stem cells, and marketed her “stem cell” practice through seminars, media interviews, and social media.
The federal indictment cites an August 2019 seminar in which Derges told her audience that the amniotic fluid she used in her stem cell practice was a “stem cell shot” and that it contained “mesenchymal stem cells.” In fact, however, the amniotic fluid Derges administered to her patients did not contain stem cells of any kind.
The amniotic fluid she obtained from the University of Utah was a sterile filtered amniotic fluid allograft (a tissue graft comprised of human amniotic membrane and amniotic fluid components derived from placental tissue) that was “acellular,” meaning it did not contain any cells, including stem cells.
The University of Utah sold its amniotic fluid allograft to Derges for approximately $244 per milliliter and $438 for two milliliters. Derges charged her patients $950 to $1,450 per milliliter. In total, Derges’ patients paid her approximately $191,815 for amniotic fluid that did not contain stem cells.
III. Two Indicted on Charges Stemming From $100 Million Home Health Care Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme
Two women were arrested yesterday and charged in connection with a $100 million home health care fraud scheme. The government also filed a civil action seeking forfeiture of five properties and 40 financial accounts and investments involved in a scheme to launder the ill-gotten gains.
Faith Newton, 52, of Westford, and Winnie Waruru, 41, of Lowell, were each indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud; one count of healthcare fraud – aiding and abetting, and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. In addition, Newton was indicted on one count of money laundering conspiracy and seven counts of money laundering.
In addition, Waruru was indicted on two counts of making false statements and one count of making a false statement in a health care matter. Newton and Waruru were arrested yesterday and will make an initial appearance in federal court in Boston today at 1:30 p.m.
According to the indictment, from January 2013 to January 2017, Newton was part owner and operator of Arbor Homecare Services LLC. Waruru was a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)employed as a home health nurse at Arbor.
It is alleged that Newton and Waruru engaged in a conspiracy to use Arbor to defraud MassHealth and Medicare of at least $100 million by committing health care fraud and paying kickbacks to induce referrals. Newton then allegedly laundered the ill-gotten gains.
IV. Ohio Man Charged with Possession of Explosive Devices and Illegal Firearm
On February 1, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Bridget M. Brennan, announced that a federal grand jury in Cleveland had returned a three-count indictment charging Oliver Smith, 51, of Youngstown, Ohio, with possession of explosive devices, felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unregistered silencer.
According to court documents, in October 2020, the Adult Parole Authority (APA) and law enforcement agents learned that the defendant allegedly had in his possession a firearm with an attached silencer at his Youngstown-area residence.
At the time of the incident, the defendant was on Community Control under the supervision of the APA related to a previous conviction of drug possession and was prohibited from possessing a firearm due to a previous conviction of aggravated assault.
V. Real Estate Developer, Three Others Charged in Mortgage Fraud Scheme
A federal grand jury has indicted a real estate developer and three others for allegedly participating in a mortgage fraud scheme that defrauded financial institutions out of at least $3 million.
Andrzej Lajewski, who owned Des Plaines-based Highland Consulting Corp., and Chicago-based Quality Management and Remodeling Inc., schemed with two mortgage professionals and the owner of a remodeling company to fraudulently obtain at least $3 million in mortgage loans by making and causing to be made materially false representations to financial institutions regarding the buyers’ qualifications for the loans, according to an indictment returned Jan. 28, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
According to the indictment, the false representations made concerned concerning the buyers’ employment history, income, assets, source of down payment, and intention to occupy the properties. Sometimes, Lajewski fraudulently claimed to lenders that the buyers were employed by his companies, even though he knew that was untrue.
That claim was intended to help buyers qualify for the mortgage loans. The alleged fraud scheme lasted from 2010 to 2016 and involved numerous properties on the South Side of Chicago.
The indictment charges multiple counts of financial institution fraud against Lajewski, 53, formerly of Wheeling, the two mortgage professionals – loan originator Agnieszka Siekowski, 46, of Northbrook, and loan processor Aldona Bobrowicz, 45, of Arlington Heights – and the home remodeler, Andrzej Bukowski, 66, formerly of Wheeling.
VI. Ohio Man Indicted on Meth Charge In West Virginia
Devante Crutez Taylor, of Columbus, Ohio, was indicted on February 2, 2021, on a drug charge, the U.S. Attorney for the District of West Virginia Bill Powell announced. Taylor, 28, was indicted on one count of Possession with Intent to Distribute 50 Grams or More of Methamphetamine. Taylor is accused of having 50 grams or more of methamphetamine in August 2019 in Ohio County.
The government is also seeking the forfeiture of $3,638 in cash found with Taylor that is believed to be proceeds from drug sales. If convicted, Taylor will face at least 10 ten years and up to life incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000,000. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn M. Adkins is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The Wheeling Police Department investigated.
VII. Former Navy CPO, Naval Reservist Indicted for ID Theft Scheme
On January 28, 2021, a federal grand jury in Fresno indicted Selma couple Marquis Asaad Hooper, 30, and Natasha Renee Chalk, 37, charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, Hooper was stationed in Japan as a Chief Petty Officer (CPO) with the Navy’s Seventh Fleet until October 2018. Chalk, his wife, was a naval reservist stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California.
Hooper separated from the Navy in October 2018, but shortly before his separation was final, Hooper and Chalk fraudulently obtained access to a database containing the personal information of millions of people. In August 2018, Hooper contacted the company, falsely claiming that the Seventh Fleet needed access to the database to run background checks on Navy personnel.
In reality, Hooper was not acting on behalf of his fleet, and he did not access the database for a legitimate government purpose. Over more than two months, Hooper and Chalk searched for tens of thousands of individuals on the database and sold the information to third parties in exchange for bitcoin.
VIII. Proud Boys Member Charged with Offenses Related to Jan. 6 Riots
On February 3, 2021, a member of the Proud Boys, a nationalist organization, was arrested today and charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, among other charges.
Ethan Nordean, a/k/a Rufio Panman, 30, of Washington state, was charged by criminal complaint in District of Columbia federal court with obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, aiding and abetting, and knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building, or grounds and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Nordean appeared in federal court in the Western District of Washington later the same day. According to charging documents, Nordean is the self-described “Sergeant of Arms” of the Seattle Chapter of the Proud Boys, a group self-described as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists.”
It is alleged that Nordean was observed marching at the front of a group of known Proud Boys shortly before the riot began. It is further alleged that Nordean was among those who entered the U.S. Capitol building after rioters, including certain persons associated with the Proud Boys, forced entry into the Capitol by means of destruction of Federal property.
It is also alleged that Nordean was near the front of the crowd of rioters, who collectively approached, confronted, and vastly outnumbered Capitol Police.
IX. Four Arrested and Charged with Physical Therapy Clinic Fraud
On February 4, 2021, four people were arrested and charged in Boston, Massachusetts, in connection with a scheme to defraud an insurance provider for physical therapy services that were not provided to patients.
Gyulnara Bayryshova, 55, of Brighton; Anna Barenboym, 45, of Wayland; Slava Pride, 41, of West Roxbury; and Raya Bagardi, 36, of Brighton, were each indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit mail and health care fraud, eight counts of mail fraud and one count of health care fraud.
In addition, Barenboym, Pride, and Bagardi were each charged with three counts of making false statements in connection with a health care benefit program. The defendants will make an initial appearance in federal court in Boston later today.
As alleged in the indictment, Bayryshova was the owner of Brighton Physical Therapy (BPT), a physical therapy clinic on Washington Street in Brighton. Barenboym was a licensed physical therapist, and Pride and Bagardi were licensed physical therapist assistants, all employed by BPT.
It is alleged that, from October 2018 through June 2020, the defendants conspired to cause an insurance company to reimburse them for physical therapy services that were not actually provided and/or were not medically necessary and, in some cases, were provided by individuals not licensed to provide the services.
Specifically, the defendants falsely billed for services purportedly rendered to patients injured in automobile accidents when the services were not actually provided. In addition, some of the services for which the defendants sought reimbursement were not provided by licensed physical therapists.
It is further alleged that BPT paid patients for referrals, referred patients to attorneys to assist with patients’ insurance settlements, and accepted kickbacks from those attorneys in return.
X. Former Nike Marketing Manager Charged in Scheme to Defraud Company
On February 4, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy J. Williams announced that Errol Amorin Andam, 49, of Beaverton, Oregon, a former marketing manager at Nike, Inc., has been charged by criminal information with wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements on a loan application as part of a scheme to defraud his former employer.
According to the information, from 2001 until his termination in 2018, Andam was employed by Nike at its headquarters in Beaverton. Most recently, Andam worked as a manager in the company’s North American Retail Brand Marketing division, wherein he managed the design, build-out, and operation of “pop-up” retail venues, temporary Nike shops situated near and tailored to sports competitions, and other special events around the U.S.
In the summer of 2016, Andam recruited a childhood friend to establish a company to design and build the pop-up venues as an independent contractor for Nike. Andam used his authority as a manager at Nike to ensure that his friend’s company was consistently awarded the contracts for these jobs.
Though he had no formal role in his friend’s company, Andam assumed control of much of the company’s financial operations, managing financial accounts and issuing invoices to Nike. To conceal his role in the scheme, Andam used an alter ego, “Frank Little,” to invoice Nike and manage the contract company’s account with Square, Inc., a California-based provider of mobile credit-card-processing services.
In 2016, Andam also renewed the lapsed registration of an Oregon-based limited liability corporation (LLC) he owned so that he could use the defunct entity as a shell company to funnel the proceeds diverted from Nike and his friend’s company to accounts under his personal control.
XI. Albany Man Charged with Obstruction of Justice and Violating Release Conditions
On January 29, 2021, Michael P. Fish, 25, of Albany, was charged with obstruction of justice and committing a felony offense while on release for submitting fraudulent character letters to the U.S. District Judge overseeing his federal criminal case.
The announcement of the charges was made by Antoinette T. Bacon, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, along with Thomas F. Relford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albany Field Office.
The criminal complaint alleges that Fish, who pled guilty to computer hacking, aggravated identity theft, and child pornography offenses in May 2020, submitted six fraudulent character letters to U.S. District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino.
According to the complaint, Fish doctored letters, including one from a Catholic priest, and created letters purportedly from others, including his mother and grandparents. The fraudulent letters spoke of Fish’s good character and asked Judge D’Agostino to impose a lenient sentence.
If convicted, Fish faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to 3 years.
XII. Promoter of Foreign Cryptocurrency Companies Charged in $11 Million-Plus Securities Fraud Scheme
A California man was charged in a complaint unsealed on February 1, 2021, for his alleged participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency and securities fraud scheme that used purported digital currency platforms and foreign-based financial accounts.
John DeMarr, 55, of Santa Ana, California, was charged in a complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. DeMarr made his initial appearance that afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge John D. Early of the Central District of California. Judge Early referred the case to the Eastern District of New York for further proceedings.
According to the allegations, DeMarr’s businesses, Start Options, and B2G were both fraudulent. In approximately December 2017, DeMarr and others began offering securities in the form of investment contracts to the U.S. and international investors through the Start Options website. Investments were accepted in Bitcoin, U.S. dollars, or Euros.
To participate, investors had to deposit their funds for a specified contract period, after which they could purportedly withdraw their money at a significant profit. Among other things, DeMarr and others falsely claimed that investor funds would be invested in digital asset mining and trading platforms that would earn them massive profits.
In truth, however, the money was never invested and was instead diverted to accounts controlled by DeMarr and others and used for various personal expenditures, including the purchase of a Porsche, jewelry, and renovations to DeMarr’s home in California.
XIII. Quebec Man Indicted by Grand Jury For Multi-Million Dollar Fraud Scheme Targeting Elderly Victims
On February 1, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Martin Hogan, 52, of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, and international money laundering conspiracy. If convicted, Hgan faces up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the indictment, Hogan would place telephone calls from Canada to victims in the United States and tell victims that they had won the Canadian lottery. However, before collecting their winnings, victims had to first pay the taxes, brokerage fee, and/or custom, fees due in connection with the winnings.
Victims were instructed by the defendant and others to pay these taxes, brokerage fees, and/or customs fees by wire transferring funds to a bank account in Rochester, NY, controlled by co-defendant Bernard Perkins, or by mailing funds to Perkins or addresses in the United States controlled by co-defendants Anthony Laughing, Jr., Cory LaPlant and others.
After receiving funds from victims, defendants Bernard Perkins, Anthony Laughing, Jr., and Cory LaPlant would keep a small portion of the funds and then pay co-defendants Devlin Laughing and Brenda Garrow to smuggle the remaining funds from the United States to the defendant Hogan in Canada.
As a result of this fraudulent telemarketing scheme, defendant Hogan and his co-defendants caused approximately 37 victims over the age of 55 to mail approximately 200 packages and wire transfer funds totaling approximately $2 million.
XIV. Buffalo Man Arrested, Charged as Felon In Possession Of A Firearm
On February 3, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that Kaylen Edwards, 22, of Buffalo, NY, was arrested and charged by complaint with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan E. Leydecker, who is handling the case, stated that on November 7, 2020, Cheektowaga Police Officers responded to Pinehurst Avenue, where a limousine bus party was being let out, following a report of disorderly persons.
According to the complaint, earlier that day, the defendant was identified on social media flashing a black and silver handgun and wearing a distinct black and red jacket inside the limousine bus. A member of law enforcement sent a photo of the social media post to responding officers.
On Pinehurst Avenue, officers observed Edwards getting into the front passenger seat of a vehicle with Georgia license plates and leaving the area. The officers then observed the vehicle in violation of multiple vehicle and traffic infractions and conducted a traffic stop.
The officers observed a marijuana cigar end in the center console area and immediately detected the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Officers identified Edwards as the passenger. The defendant was detained. During a pat frisk, an officer felt and observed a handgun in Edwards’ side waistband.
The handgun was loaded with a magazine containing seven .45 caliber rounds and one .45 caliber round in the chamber. In November 2017, the defendant was convicted of Attempted Criminal Possession of a Weapon in New York State Court, and as a result of that conviction, he is prohibited from legally possessing a firearm.
XV. Tonawanda Man Arrested On Child Pornography Charge After Hidden Camera Discovered
On February 3, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that Andrew Vallone, 44, of Tonawanda, NY, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with attempting to produce child pornography. If convicted, Vallone faces at least 15 years and up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the criminal complaint, an individual contacted the Town of Tonawanda Police Department after discovering a video depicting a child (Victim) wearing only a pair of underwear on a desktop computer belonging to Vallone.
On January 23, 2021, the Tonawanda Police contacted the FBI, and further investigation determined that Vallone had secreted a camera in a location which that allowed him surreptitiously to film the Victim. The MicroSD card recovered from that hidden camera contained numerous images which depicted the Victim in various states of undress.
Additionally, on January 29, 2021, the New York State Police contacted investigators regarding an email that Vallone sent to a mental health counselor. In the email, the defendant stated that he liked to look at younger girls and “I need help.”
XVI. Indictment Charges Rochester Man With Sex Trafficking, Enticement, And Possession Of Child Pornography
On February 2, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that a federal grand jury had returned a superseding indictment charging Peter R. Kiwitt, 62, of Rochester, NY, with sex trafficking of a minor, sex trafficking by coercion, sexual enticement of a minor, and possession of child pornography.
The superseding indictment also alleges that the defendant, as a registered sex offender, faces enhanced penalties in the event he is convicted of certain of the crimes with which he is charged. The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life, and a $250,000 fine.
According to the superseding indictment and a previously filed complaint, on December 10, 2018, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office stopped a vehicle being driven by Kiwitt. Also in the vehicle were two females, Adult Victim 1 (AV1) and Minor Victim 1 (MV1).
The three were questioned regarding drug related drug-related activity but were released and eventually followed to a room at a motel in Penfield, NY. Officers went to the room and knocked on the door. Kiwitt indicated that he was dating AV1 but knew her to be a prostitute who belonged to another pimp known to law enforcement.
He denied any involvement in prostitution at that time. Officers did not make any arrests at the time. On January 23, 2019, Rochester Police Department officers responded to a residence in the City of Rochester for the report of a fatal overdose involving MV1. The owner of the apartment found MV1 deceased on his living room floor and called 911. He told officers he met MV1 through AV1 and that the night before, he brought MV1 back to his residence to engage in commercial sex acts with her.
Subsequent cell phone and Facebook searches uncovered conversations between the defendant, AV1, and MV1 regarding prostitution activities. Investigators also uncovered naked photos, some of which depicted child pornography. In June 2017, Kiwitt was convicted in Monroe County, NY, of Possession of a Sexual Performance by a Child, and sentenced to serve 10 ten years’ probation, and designated as a Level 1 Sex Offender. The defendant was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark W. Pedersen and was detained.
XVII. GPB Capital Founder and CEO Among Three Individuals Indicted in Private Equity Investment Fraud
On February 4, 2021, an indictment was unsealed today in Brooklyn federal court charging three people affiliated with GPB Capital Holdings, LLC (GPB) with securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy.
Defendants David Gentile, the founder, owner, and CEO of GPB; Jeffry Schneider, the owner and CEO of Ascendant Capital LLC (Ascendant); and Jeffrey Lash, a former managing partner of GPB, are charged with engaging in a scheme to defraud investors by misrepresenting the source of funds used to make monthly distribution payments to them and the amount of revenue generated by two of GPB’s investment funds, GPB Holdings, LP and GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP.
The defendants were arrested on Feb. 1, and Gentile appeared that afternoon in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, Schneider appeared in federal court in Austin, Texas, and Lash in federal court in Fort Myers, Florida. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, announced the charges.
As detailed in the indictment and other court documents, GPB, founded by Gentile in or around 2013, was a New York-based investment advisor registered with the SEC. GPB served as the general partner of several investment funds, including GPB Holdings, LP (“Holdings I”), GPB Holdings II, LP (“Holdings II”), GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP (“Automotive Portfolio”), GPB Waste Management, LP (“Waste Management”) and GPB Cold Storage, LP (“Cold Storage”) (collectively, the “GPB Funds”).
The business of GPB Capital was to manage the GPB Funds, which raised and invested capital in a portfolio of private equity investments. Gentile and Schneider worked closely together on the founding, development, operation, and marketing of the GPB Funds. From 2013 through early 2018, Lash was responsible for overseeing the GPB Funds’ investments in car dealerships, which made up a sizable percentage of GPB’s portfolio companies.
Between August 2015 and December 2018, the defendants and others allegedly engaged in a scheme to defraud investors and prospective investors in the GPB Funds through material misrepresentations and omissions.
Specifically, Gentile and Schneider, both individually and through employees at Ascendant, represented to investors that the GPB funds would make a monthly distribution payment to investors that would be fully covered by funds from operations, meaning that the companies purchased by the funds would be sufficiently profitable, without drawing from capital raised by investors.
Friday, February 12, 2021
I. Man Arrested for Allegedly Robbing Chicago Bank at Gunpoint
On February 8, 2021, a Chicago man was arrested for allegedly robbing a Chicago bank and holding a customer at gunpoint. Christopher Porter, 49, of Chicago, has been charged with one count of bank robbery for allegedly robbing a Fifth Third Bank branch, 3957 W. 26th St. in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, on Feb. 4, 2021.
Porter made an initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez on February 5, 2021, where he waived his right to a detention hearing and was ordered to remain in federal custody. The arrest and complaint were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., who is United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paige A. Nutini.
According to a criminal complaint and affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Porter entered the bank shortly after 5:00 p.m. and demanded that a teller place cash in a bag. Porter then put a customer in a headlock, pointed a gun at the customer’s head, and repeatedly said he would shoot the customer if the teller did not comply with his demand, the complaint states.
The teller put cash in a bag and handed it to Porter, who fled the bank, the complaint states. The FBI arrested Porter later that evening in the parking lot of a Chicago apartment complex about four miles from the bank.
II. Iron Youth Member Charged with Unlawfully Possessing a Machine Gun
In San Antonio, on February 8, 2021, federal authorities filed a criminal complaint against an Iron Youth gang member who illegally possessed a machine gun. The charge was announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Ashley C. Hoff and Christopher Combs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Antonio Division.
Caleb Nathaniel Oliver, 19 oof Smiley, Texas, has been charged with one count of unlawful possession of a machine gun. If convicted, Oliver faces up to 10 years in prison. The criminal complaint alleges that on February 5, 2021, Oliver purchased a fully automatic machine gun from an undercover officer for $1,000.
According to the complaint, Oliver is a member of the group called Iron Youth, a racially motivated violent extremist group that advocates violence in the furtherance of its objectives. Beginning in September 2020, Oliver had several meetings with the undercover officer to discuss the purchase of the machine gun.
Oliver, who was arrested on Friday evening after exchanging money and taking possession of the machine gun, remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing expected later this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney in San Antonio.
III. Former Phone Company Employee Charged For Role in Sim Swap Scam That Targeted At Least 19 Customers, Including New Orleans Resident
On February 8, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiansa Louisiana Peter G. Strasser announced that Stephen Daniel DeFiore, 36of Brandon, Florida, was charged in a one-count Bill of Information with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371 and 1343, for his role in a SIM Swap scam that targeted at least 19 people, including a New Orleans-area physician. DeFiore is the second member of the conspiracy to be charged.
According to the Bill of Information, a SIM Swap scam is a cellular phone account takeover fraud that results in the routing of a victim’s incoming calls and text messages to a different phone. Once a perpetrator can swap the SIM card, he is able to obtain access to a victim’s various personal accounts, including email accounts, bank accounts, and cryptocurrency accounts, as well as any other accounts that use two-factor authentication.
From August 2017 until November 2018, DeFiore had access to the accounts of Phone Company A’s customers, including the ability to switch the subscriber identification module (SIM) card linked to a customer’s phone number to a different phone number. Between October 20, 2018, and November 9, 2018, DeFiore accepted multiple bribes, typically in the amount of approximately $500 per day, to perform SIM swaps of Phone Company A customers identified by a co-conspirator.
For each SIM swap, a co-conspirator sent DeFiore a customer’s phone number, a four-digit PIN, and a SIM card number to which the phone number was to be swapped. In total, DeFiore received approximately $2,325 in a series of twelve payments.
Among the individuals whose accounts DeFiore accessed was Victim A, a New Orleans resident, whose phone number was swapped on November 10, 2018, to a SIM card contained in an Apple iPhone 8 that was in the possession of Richard Li. Li was charged with his role in the offense in June 2020.
IV. Financial Analyst Charged With $1.4 Million SBA Fraud
A former financial analyst has been charged with defrauding the North Texas Business Alliance (NTBA) out of more than $1.4 million in rebate funds, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah. Last week, a federal grand jury charged Tammy Walden Thomas, 60, with nine counts of wire fraud. Ms. Thomas made her initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez on Monday.
According to the indictment, from March 2016 through October 2019, Ms. Thomas served as a financial analyst for NTBA, a cooperative association of hundreds of North Texas convenience stores and gasoline station owners that negotiated discounts with multinational food and beverage companies on behalf of its members.
As a financial analyst, Ms. Thomas was charged with passing these discounts, as like rebates, on to NTBA members via automatic clearinghouse transfers. However, she allegedly misdirected more than $1.4 million in rebate funds into her own bank accounts, lying to NTBA’s executives and accountants in the process.
V. Killeen Man Indicted for Discharging a Firearm on Fort Hood
In Waco today, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against 28-year-old former U.S. Army soldier Ricardo Manuele Davila-DeJesus for discharging a firearm while on Fort Hood over the weekend, stated U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division. The indictment charges Davila-DeJesus with aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon.
According to court documents, on February 6, 2021, the defendant became intoxicated and got into an argument with several individuals inside the barracks. The argument continued outside when the defendant pulled out a .45 caliber pistol and discharged his firearm in the direction of a soldier who, fearing for his life, had retreated back into the barracks.
Other individuals who were at the scene managed to subdue and disarm the defendant. If convicted, Davila-DeJesus faces up to 10 years in federal prison. He remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on February 11, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske in Waco.
VI. Florida Man Charged With Unlawfully Operating Drone In Restricted Airspace Near Super Bowl LV
On February 9, 2021, the U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced the filing of a criminal complaint charging Kevin Jonathan Canty, 33, West Palm Beach, with violating national defense airspace. If convicted, Canty faces up to one year in federal prison.
According to the complaint, on February 6, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) covering an area extending outward from downtown Tampa. This TFR, along with others, was issued as part of a comprehensive security plan designed to protect and secure the events leading up to, and including, Super Bowl LV.
That day, FBI agents saw an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a “drone,” flying near the USF Health CAMLS building—an area within the TFR. FBI agents later located Canty, the operator of the drone, nearby in downtown Tampa. Canty stated that he is an FAA-licensed remote pilot drone operator and that he was aware that a TFR was in place for the Super Bowl.
A review of his drone’s flight path showed that it had traveled through downtown Tampa, which was hosting public events related to the Super Bowl. Furthermore, according to the flight path, Canty had flown his drone over people and moving vehicles.
VII. Pennsylvania Man Indicted For Threatening To Murder Members Of The U.S. Senate
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has announced that Kenelm L. Shirk, age 71, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was indicted on February 3, 2021, by a federal grand jury for threatening to murder members of the United States Senate.
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, the indictment alleges that Shirk made threats to murder Democratic members of the United States Senate. On January 21, 2021, Shirk was stopped by the Pennsylvania State Police in his vehicle en route to Washington D.C. A search of Shirk’s vehicle recovered several firearms and a large amount of ammunition.
Shirk was then taken into custody by the Pennsylvania State Police and charged with making terroristic threats. Shirk made his initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab on February 9, 2021, and pled not guilty to the federal charges. He was detained pending a trial that was scheduled for April 5, 2021.
VIII. Dominican National Charged with Identity Theft
A Dominican national was arrested on January 9, 2021, on charges of fraudulently using someone else’s Social Security number. Mariana Rosmely Aguasviva, 38, who previously resided in Lawrence, was indicted on one count of false representation of a Social Security number and one count of aggravated identity theft.
She was detained following an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald L. Cabell, pending a detention hearing scheduled for Feb. 12, 2021. According to the indictment, Aguasviva fraudulently used a Social Security number that was assigned to someone else in an application at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles in 2016.
The case is the result of an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigation’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, a specialized investigative group comprised of local, state, and federal agencies with expertise in detecting, deterring, and disrupting organizations and individuals involved in various types of document, identity, and benefit fraud schemes.
If convicted on the charge of false representation of a Social Security number, Aguasviva, faces up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of aggravated identity theft means she faces at least two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed, as well as up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.
IX. Former Operator of Suburban Chicago Nightclub Charged With Underreporting Corporate Income Taxes
The former operator of a suburban Chicago nightclub has been charged in federal court with assisting in the preparation and submission of false corporate income tax returns for six years.
Alicia Arnold, 51, of Las Vegas, Nevada, willfully assisted in the preparation and submission of false and fraudulent income tax returns for the calendar years 2012 to 2017 for Arnie’s Idle Hour, the nightclub Arnold operated in Harvey, Ill., according to a criminal information filed Feb. 5, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Each of the false tax returns substantially underreported the nightclub’s gross receipts and sales, the information states. Arnold, 51, of Las Vegas, Nev., and formerly of Homer Glen, Ill., pleaded not guilty today at her arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert.
A status hearing has been set for March 3, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso. The charges were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Tamera D. Cantu, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago; Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office; and Thomas J. Dart, Cook County Sheriff.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grayson Walker and Maureen Merin.
X. Couple Behind “My Buddy Loans” Indicted for Wire Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft
Two Liberty County, Texas, people have been indicted for filing hundreds of fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications with the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in the Eastern District of Texas. The charge was announced on February 11, 2021, by Acting U.S. Attorney fr for the Eastern District of Texas Nicholas J. Ganjei.
Clifton Pape, 45, and Sally Jung, 58, both of Cleveland, Texas, allegedly operated a COVID relief fraud scheme known as “My Buddy Loans,” that garnered them more than $700,000 in fraud proceeds and resulted in at least $1.3 million in loss to the United States.
Pape and Jung are charged by way of a federal indictment that charges conspiracy to commit telemarketing wire fraud victimizing ten or more persons over the age of fifty-five; and 2, aggravated identity theft and aiding and abetting. According to court documents, Pape and Jung used Square’s credit and debit card processing service to charge third parties the fee.
Pape and Jung completed at least 700 successful charges, obtaining at least $700,000 in fees. Pape and Jung then transferred the proceeds of the fraud scheme into a bank account they controlled. Once, Pape used the fraud proceeds to pay a traffic ticket. On another occasion, Pape and Jung used more than $3600 from the fraud scheme to pay for a stay at a resort in San Antonio, Texas.
A picture from that stay shows Pape and Jung celebrating over sparkling wine. Pursuant to a seizure warrant, agents seized the $505,535.04 in fraud proceeds remaining in the account.
XI. Mexican Drug Traffickers Charged with Conspiring to Import Large Quantities of Narcotics
On February 5, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with Raymond P. Donovan, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York Division, Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Division of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), and Dermot Shea, NYPD Commissioner, announced that Jose Loreto Gastelum-Torres and Fredy Alejandro Gastelum-Vega were charged in a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to import approximately 2.5 tons of methamphetamine and 100,000 fentanyl pills into the United States.
The charge arises from a January 29, 2021, seizure by Mexico’s Secretaría de Marina (the Mexican Navy) of approximately 2.5 tons of methamphetamine and 100,000 fentanyl pills in Sinaloa, Mexico. According to charging documents, on or about January 29, 2021, the Mexican Navy located and began tracking an outboard-powered boat traveling from Las Arenitas, Sinaloa, Mexico, northwest through the Gulf of California.
Approximately several hours later, the Mexican Navy interdicted the vessel in or around Topolobampo, Sinaloa, Mexico, and arrested Gastelum-Torres and Gastelum-Diaz. Mexican Navy officers seized approximately 960 plastic containers from the boat, which contained approximately 2.5 tons of methamphetamine and 100,000 pills of fentanyl.
XII. Warren County Man Charged with Obstruction of Justice
On February 9, 2021, it was announced that Terry Lajeunesse, 49, of Pottersville, New York, was charged last month with obstruction of justice for attempting to convince another individual to admit guilt for crimes allegedly committed by Lajeunesse. The announcement was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon and Thomas F. Relford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albany Field Office.
Lajeunesse is detained on an indictment charging him with possessing child pornography. The criminal complaint alleges that in September 2020, he mailed letters from the Rensselaer County Jail attempting to convince another person to admit to possessing the child pornography that is the subject of his indictment. Lajeunesse appeared in court on the complaint on Feb. 8, 2021, in Albany before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel.
If he is convicted, Lajeunesse faces up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to 3 years.
XIII. California Attorney Arrested For Multimillion-Dollar Investment Fraud Scheme
On February 9, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with several law enforcement officials, announced the arrest of Derek Jones on charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
As alleged in an Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court, Jones, while licensed as an attorney in California, defrauded investors in businesses Jones controlled out of at least approximately $4.5 million. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska. Jones, who was arrested in California, was presented later that day before a magistrate judge in the Central District of California. Arraignment will be tomorrow before Judge Preska by teleconference.
As alleged in the Indictment, from at least 2012 through at least 2019, Jones solicited and obtained investments for various companies and investment funds he controlled, including the purported real estate development and investment firm BlueRidge Realty (BlueRidge) and the purported venture capital firm Realize Holdings (Realize). Jones routinely made materially false oral and written statements to induce victims to invest, including statements that lied about BlueRidge’s and Realize’s assets.
For example, Jones falsely claimed that BlueRidge was developing a “resort village” on land it controlled in Washington State, when in fact neither BlueRidge nor Jones owned or controlled the property, let alone had begun developing a resort there.
Additionally, Jones sent a potential Realize investor an altered bank statement showing a balance in a Realize bank account of more than $7 million – at a time when that bank account actually had a negative balance of approximately $268.71. In all, Jones defrauded investors out of at least approximately $4.5 million.
XIV. Bronx Woman Arrested for Fraudulently Obtaining over $200,000 Worth of iPhones
A Bronx woman was arrested February 10, 2021, and charged with fraudulently obtaining over $200,000 worth of iPhones, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced. Rosanna Lucrecia Cruel Blanco, 39, is charged by with a criminal complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. She is expected to make her initial appearance by videoconference today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from December 17, 2017, to December 2020, Blanco and her conspirators devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain replacement cellular phones from an insurance company (Company 1) by assuming the identities of wireless customers and filing false claims under Company 1’s handset insurance program. The handsets were predominantly iPhones with a value of approximately $700 to $1,000 per handset.
Blanco and her conspirators contacted Company 1, posed as legitimate customers, and submitted false claims to Company 1 for damage, theft, or loss on hundreds of handsets owned by the legitimate customers. Blanco and her conspirators provided Company 1 with false identification to reflect the name of the legitimate customer.
They also provided Company 1 with new shipping contact names and addresses that were different from the actual customers. More than 100 replacement cellular telephones were shipped to Blanco and her conspirators.
Total losses from the scheme exceed $200,000. If convicted, the charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss from the offense. The aggravated identity theft charge carries up to two years in prison, to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
XV. Former Investment Adviser Charged with Stealing Client Funds
A criminal complaint was unsealed on February 10, 2021, in federal court in Central Islip, charging Apostolos Pitsironis, a former registered investment advisor and broker, with defrauding his former clients of more than $400,000 that he used to pay his personal debts and expenses, including casino gambling debts and credit card bills.
Pitsironis was arrested earlier that day in Dix Hills, New York, and made his initial appearance via videoconference this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the arrest and charge.
According to the complaint, in approximately 2009, Pitsironis, who worked in the Melville office of a financial services firm, began managing the investments of Victim-1 and Victim-2, a married couple who lived on Long Island. Between May 2, 2019, and June 11, 2019, Pitsironis initiated 22 transfers totaling approximately $411,000 from one of the Victims’ investment accounts at the Financial Services Firm to a bank account in the defendant’s own name at another financial institution.
Pitsironis falsely told the Financial Services Firm that Victim-2 owned the bank account receiving the funds and that Victim-2 had authorized the transfer of funds to that account. Pitsironis then transferred the stolen funds to other bank accounts that he controlled and used the stolen money to pay for his family’s personal expenses, including casino gambling debts, credit card bills, and the lease for a luxury car.
XVI. New York City Department of Buildings Inspector Charged in Queens Bribery Scheme
A criminal complaint was filed in Brooklyn federal court on February 10, 2021, charging New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) Inspector Francesco Ginestri with solicitation and receipt of a bribe in exchange for his agreement to ensure that DOB would not issue a fine in connection with astop work stop-work order.
Ginestri was arrested on February 10, 2021, and made his initial appearance via video conference this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Lois Bloom. The defendant was released on a $150,000 bond. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the arrest and charge.
According to the complaint, on July 31, 2020, Ginestri re-inspected a construction site in Flushing, New York, after a stop work stop-work order was issued for safety violations earlier in the month. After learning that construction had continued during the pendency of the stop work stop-work order, Ginestri solicited a $1,200 cash bribe from an employee of the construction company in exchange for the defendant’s agreement to ensure that DOB would not issue a $25,000 fine to the company.
In August 2020, an employee of the construction company met Ginestri at a bakery and provided him with the $1,200 bribe payment. The meeting was recorded under the supervision of federal law enforcement agents.
XVII. Brooklyn Man Charged with Conspiring to Commit COVID-19 Relief Fraud
On February 10, 2021, Sean M. Andre, 30, of Brooklyn, New York, appeared in court on a complaint alleging that he worked with an Ulster County man to fraudulently obtain more than $4 million in government-backed loans meant for businesses struggling with the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon, along with Thomas F. Relford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albany Field Office; Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS’ New York Field Office, and others.
The criminal complaint alleges that between June 24, 2020, and August 13, 2020, Andre and Jean R. Lavanture fraudulently obtained at least $4.18 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which were paid out to companies that Lavanture controls. According to the complaint, Andre and Lavanture worked together to submit loan applications that fraudulently claimed that Lavanture operated multiple companies, each employing dozens of people and paying out millions of dollars in salaries per year.
In fact, according to the complaint, none of these companies has ever reported employees to the New York State Department of Labor nor reported income to the IRS. Lavanture paid Andre at least $157,578 for Andre’s role in the scheme.
The complaint charges Andre with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and engaging in transfers of wire fraud and bank fraud proceeds of a value greater than $10,000.
XVIII. Man Charged in “SIM Swapping” Scheme Targeting 300 Victims Throughout North America
On February 10, 2021, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr., today announced the indictment of Joseph Chase Oaks, 22, for his role in a sophisticated “SIM swapping” scheme that targeted more than 300 victims across the United States and Canada. Oaks is charged with successfully accessing at least 50 online accounts belonging to 15 Manhattan-based victims and stealing more than $150,000 in cryptocurrency.
Oaks is charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Grand Larceny, Identity Theft, Computer Trespass, Computer Tampering, and Scheme to Defraud, among other charges.
According to documents filed in court, between August 2018 and October 2019, Oaks worked with others to fraudulently transfer the cell phone numbers of more than 300 individuals across the United States and Canada to multiple smartphones in Oaks’ possession.
Then, they circumvented two-factor authentication security measures to access the victims’ online accounts by requesting that recovery codes be sent to the phone numbers already associated with those online accounts – phone numbers which Oaks now controlled.
Over the course of the scam, Oaks used approximately 60 different Apple and Android smartphones and hundreds of SIM cards to carry out this large-scale SIM swapping scheme.
Oaks and others successfully accessed at least 50 online accounts belonging to 15 Manhattan residents, including bank accounts, social media profiles, email and messaging accounts, cryptocurrency, and Apple accounts.
Friday, February 19, 2021
I. Foreign Currency Exchange Investment Company Owners Indicted for Wire Fraud and Conspiracy
On February 12, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason R. Dunn announced that a federal grand jury has had indicted Michael Shawn Stewart, 57, of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Bryant Edwin Sewall, 54, previously of Little Elm, Texas, charging them with fourteen counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Stewart made his initial appearance that same day in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix. Stewart remains out on bond, while Sewall remains at large. According to the indictment, from late 2015 through September 2019, Stewart, Sewall, and a third business partner owned and operated Mediatrix Capital for the purpose of soliciting investor funds for algorithm-based trading in foreign currency exchange (FOREX) markets.
During the same time, Stewart, Sewall and the third business partner had majority ownership of, and operated, Blue Isle Markets for the purported purpose of acting as an intermediate broker between Mediatrix’s investors and its brokerage firm where the FOREX trading took place. From early 2016 through September 2019, Stewart and Sewall allegedly caused the third business partner to provide false and misleading information to investors and potential investors.
From early 2016 through late 2018, Stewart and Sewall falsely represented that Mediatrix had a history of successful FOREX trading dating back to December 2013 with no months in which Mediatrix incurred net losses when, in fact, Mediatrix never traded prior to 2015, and its trading history included many months in which net losses were incurred. From March 2016 through September 2019, investors sent more than $129 million dollars to bank accounts held by Blue Isle and Mediatrix for the purpose of investing in algorithm-based FOREX trading.
During that time, trade losses in excess of $32 million occurred, and Stewart, Sewall, and the third business partner spent more than $40 million on personal and business expenses.
II. Federal Gun and Drug Charges Filed Against Suburban Chicago Man
A suburban Chicago man was arrested on February 11, 2021, for allegedly illegally possessing a loaded handgun and dealing crack cocaine. Larry Dennis, 36, of Markham, is charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, and one count of illegal possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The complaint alleges that Dennis, on three occasions last month, sold suspected crack cocaine to an individual who, unbeknownst to Dennis, was cooperating with law enforcement. Dennis also illegally possessed the loaded handgun in his residence on Jan. 20, 2021, according to the complaint.
Dennis had previously been convicted of multiple state felonies, including robbery and firearm offenses, and was not lawfully allowed to possess a gun. Dennis was arrested February 11 on the federal charges, and he appeared the next day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert, who ordered him to remain detained in federal custody.
The complaint and arrest were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and a number of law enforcement officials.
III. Owner of Fake Charitable Organizations Charged with Tax Fraud in Georgia
The owner of several bogus charitable organizations in Georgia was charged and has agreed to plead guilty to filing false tax returns. Taressa Hightower, 60, of Grayson, Georgia, was charged with two counts of filing false tax returns. A plea hearing has not yet been scheduled by the court.
According to court documents, Hightower ran two non-profit organizations that purported to serve underprivileged kids in the Atlanta, Ga. area. From approximately 2010 to 2015, Hightower received more than $650,000 in ostensible donations from a bank in Boston – where Palestine Ace, the wife of Hightower’s family member Jonathan Ace, worked. In reality, the monies Hightower was receiving as purported donations were the proceeds of a separate embezzlement scheme carried out by Palestine and Jonathan Ace.
As a condition of receiving these “donations,” Hightower agreed to return approximately 25% to Palestine and Jonathan Ace as a secret kickback. Rather than use the funds for charitable purposes, Hightower spent most of them on personal expenses unrelated to any charity work.
For tax years 2013 and 2014, Hightower filed false personal and organizational tax returns in connection with the purported donations. Each year, Hightower reported significant amounts of non-existent and/or inflated business expenses, which ultimately lowered her personal tax liability.
IV. Dominican National Charged with Identity Fraud
A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment last week, bringing additional charges against a Dominical national who was previously indicted for unlawfully reentering the United States after being deported. Pedro Wilson Hernandez-Castillo, 49, was charged in a superseding indictment on one count of false representation of a Social Security number and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Hernandez-Castillo was arrested and charged in June 2020 with unlawful reentry of a deported alien and has been in custody since that time. Hernandez-Castillo was previously indicted on Dec. 30, 2020.
According to the charging documents, on June 15, 2020, Hernandez-Castillo was stopped by a state trooper while driving and asked to provide his identification. The defendant provided the driver’s license and Social Security card of another individual.
After determining that Hernandez-Castillo provided false information, the state trooper arrested Hernandez-Castillo. Court Documents further allege that Hernandez-Castillo illegally re-entered the United States after being deported in August 2018, following a conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin. Hernandez-Castillo was removed from the United States on three previous occasions: August 2011, July 2000, and January 1999.
If convicted, Hernandez-Castillo faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 on the charge of false representation of a Social Security number. The charge of unlawful reentry after deportation could cost him up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.
The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two-year prison sentence that must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed, up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
V. Morris County Man Charged with Producing, Possessing and Mailing Child Pornography
On February 16, 2021. a Morris County, New Jersey man who is employed by a New Jersey elementary school and helps run a youth soccer club has been charged in connection with production, possession, and mailing child pornography. The announcement was made the same day by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Rachael A. Honig. Steven Brooks, 34, of Morristown, New Jersey, is charged by complaint with one count of production of child pornography, one count of possession of child pornography, and one count of mailing child pornography.
He appeared by videoconference that day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor. According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, n court on January 2021, law enforcement officers were notified about possible child pornography on an external hard drive belonging to Brooks.
Law enforcement officers conducted a legally authorized search of Brooks’ external hard drive. The investigation revealed that Brooks used a fake online persona on a social media account to solicit nude photos and videos from teenage victims.
A video file on Brooks’ external hard drive showed the fake online persona that Brooks created using a social media platform to communicate with a minor and to solicit the minor to send a video that depicted the minor masturbating. There were dozens of other images of child sexual abuse.
VI. Eight Charged in Identity Theft Ring
Eight have been charged with running a complex identity theft ring, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah. A federal grand jury indicted Samson Kidane Asres, 47, of Dallas, Brandon Michael Bay, 34, Stephen Robert Adams, 59, and Todd Stuart Breitling, 57, and Jeffrey Wilcox, 46, all of Dallas, Christopher William Feil, 40, of Garland, William Ernest Hartshorn, 43, of Richardson, and Breanna Wellborn, 38, of Garland, on identity theft crimes in December.
Their court documents were unsealed on February 16, 2021. The lead defendant, Mr. Asres, was arrested in late January and faces one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft, six counts of aiding and abetting fraud in connection with identification documents, and aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, Mr. Asres allegedly obtained or purchased personally-identifying information and then gained access to credit report information of victims from credit agencies. Using the victims’ personal information, Mr. Asres allegedly paid coconspirators an agreed sum of money to purchase cell phones and other high-end items. He would then sell the items and use the proceeds to continue to fund his unlawful scheme.
The purchasers were provided with a fraudulent Texas driver driver’s license which included the image of the coconspirator but the personal identifying information of an unknowing victim. Purchasers were also given false utility bills and other pertinent information from the victims’ credit report that would enable them to answer security questions on the credit check to qualify for large lines of credit at retail stores.
The coconspirators would allegedly then visit retail stores to purchase cell phones, cell phone accessories, wireless speakers, watches, clothing, and other items. The coconspirators were able to use the false identification and victim’s identifying information to qualify for lines of credit and purchase items with a nominal down payment.
VII. Taunton Man Charged with Fentanyl Trafficking
A Taunton man was indicted by a federal grand jury on in Boston on February 16, 2021 in connection with drug trafficking activities involving fentanyl. Carlos Rivera, 46, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl and three counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.
Rivera was previously charged by a criminal complaint and arrested on Jan. 29, 2021. He has been in federal custody since his arrest. According to court documents, between September 2020 and January 2021, Rivera and his co-conspirator engaged in four separate sales of fentanyl to a cooperating witness in Taunton.
If convicted, the charge of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl carries at least five years and up to 40 years in prison, at least four years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $5 million. The charges of distribution of and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl carry carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, at least three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $1 million.
VIII. Carjacking in Orland Park Leads to Federal Charges
A Chicago man has been arrested and charged in federal court with carjacking after he allegedly took a vehicle from a victim in Orland Park and fired a shot at a police officer who was pursuing him. David Johnson, 23, of Chicago, is charged with one count of carjacking in connection with the Friday evening incident.
Johnson made an initial court appearance Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert, where he was ordered to remain detained in federal custody. A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 26, 2021. The complaint and arrest were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, along with numerous law enforcement officials. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sheri Wong and Scott Edenfield.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, on the evening of February 12, 2021, the victim was sitting in his car parked on the street outside of his home in Orland Park when Johnson approached, pointed a gun at the victim’s head, and demanded the key.
Johnson stole the vehicle and drove it to Chicago, where he crashed into another car in the city’s Morgan Park neighborhood, the complaint states. Johnson then fled on foot and fired a shot at an Oak Forest Police officer who was pursuing him. Chicago Police officers arrested Johnson a short time later.
IX. Daniel A. Baker Indicted For Inciting Violence At The Florida Capitol Building
In a case arising from anticipated protests at the Florida Capitol last month, a federal grand jury returned an indictment on February 18, 2021, that charged Daniel A. Baker, of Tallahassee, with two counts of transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure. The indictment was announced by Lawrence Keefe, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
Baker was arrested by FBI agents on January 15 after he issued a “Call to Arms” for like-minded individuals to violently confront protestors gathered at the Florida Capitol in the wake of the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. He specifically called for others to join him in encircling any protestors and confining them at the state Capitol complex using firearms. Baker’s next court appearance has not yet been scheduled.
This office will send an update when more information is available. This indictment is the result of a collaborative investigation by the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Leon County Sheriff’s Office, and the Tallahassee Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Stephen Kunz and Lazaro Fields are prosecuting this case.
X. Maryland Couple Linked to Two Overdoses Faces Federal Indictment for Fentanyl Distribution Conspiracy
On February 17, 2021, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Andrew Joseph Trimmer, a/k/a D and Smoke, 32, and Alicia Marie Walls, a/k/a Porsha and Alicia Porsha, 28, both of Bowie, Maryland, on federal charges related to a fentanyl distribution conspiracy. The superseding indictment adds Walls as a defendant and adds three counts, including conspiracy and two counts of distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious bodily injury.
The superseding indictment also includes the two counts from the original indictment charging Trimmer with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and with assault on a federal officer. The superseding indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner and several law enforcement officials.
According to the five-count superseding indictment, from May 2018 through September 25, 2020, Trimmer and Walls conspired to distribute fentanyl. According to court documents, Trimmer and Walls, who were romantically involved and had a child together, were the subjects of an investigation into narcotics trafficking activity.
The investigation revealed that Trimmer and Walls had been living with their child in a rental home in Bowie, Maryland, but had moved on September 15, 2020. In August 2020, Walls allegedly posted two videos on her YouTube channel discussing her narcotics use and the activities of her drug-dealer boyfriend, whom law enforcement believed to be Trimmer.
Walls stated that she and “her man” lived in fear of police detecting their whereabouts and drug customers finding their location. As a result, Walls and Trimmer would use hotels as temporary residences and frequently moved between hotels while storing and distributing narcotics in order to avoid detection.
XI. Upstate New York Man Arrested in Broome County on Child Enticement Charge
On February 5, 2021. Charles Wager, 53, of Castleton-on-Hudson, New York, was arrested and charged with attempting to entice or coerce a child. The charges were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon and Thomas F. Relford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albany Field Office. Wager appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Miroslav Lovric on Feb. 10, 2021, and was ordered detained pending trial.
The criminal complaint alleges that on January 18, 2021, Wager initiated an electronic messaging conversation with an undercover officer posing as the parent of a 10-year-old child. The complaint alleges that during that conversation, Wager described his interest in sexual contact with the child, and on the following day, Wager began communicating with an undercover officer who he believed was the 10-year-old child.
The complaint further alleges that from January 19, 2021, through February 5, 2021, Wager communicated with the parent and child and explicitly described sexual acts he planned he performed on the 10-year-old child when he met the child in person.
On February 5, 2021, Wager traveled from Castleton-on-Hudson to Broome County to perform sexual acts on the 10-year-old child and was apprehended by law enforcement when he arrived at the pre-arranged meeting location in Broome County.
XII. Queens Man Charged with Referral-Fee Fraud on Ride Sharing Ride-Sharing Business
A Queens man has been charged with using hundreds of stolen and false identities to defraud a ride sharing ride-sharing business of over $500,000 in delivery driver referral benefits. Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced the charge on Feb. 18, 2021. Hatem Ghouneim, 32, of Astoria, New York, was charged Feb. 11, 2021, by indictment with three counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
According to documents filed in this case, Corporate Victim 1 was a technology company headquartered in San Francisco, California, that allowed users to order food from restaurants and have it delivered by eligible delivery carriers. To grow its platform, Corporate Victim 1 employed referral promotions.
Individuals participating in the referral program could earn money by inviting new delivery carriers who met Corporate Victim 1’s criteria and who completed the actions required by the specific referral program. Throughout 2019, Ghouneim engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain delivery carrier referral fees from Corporate Victim 1.
He created fraudulent delivery carrier accounts with Corporate Victim 1, using hundreds of stolen and false identities, to induce Corporate Victim 1 to pay referral fees for each new fake account. Ghouneim defrauded Corporate Victim 1 of over $500,000 in referral fees. If convicted, Ghouneim faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
XIII. New York City Man Charged with Threatening To Kill Current And Former Elected Officials
On February 12, 2021, Audrey Strauss, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced that Rickey Johnson, a/k/a “Nigel Dawn Defarren,” had been arrested the night before based on a criminal Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court charging Johnson with making threatening interstate communications and threatening United States officials.
Johnson allegedly posted public videos on Instagram in which he threatened to kill a United States Senator, a member of the United States House of Representatives, other current and former elected officials, and several cable news broadcasters. Johnson was presented before U.S. Magistrate Gabriel W. Gorenstein in Manhattan federal court on Feb. 1
As alleged in the complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court, on January 30, 2021, Johnson sent a private message to a cable news broadcaster that threatened, “you will all be held accountable . . . you will be killed.” Johnson’s message threatened by name two additional broadcasters.
On February 3, 2021, Johnson posted public messages in which he stated that he intended to “kill” two of the same broadcasters. On February 4, 2021, Johnson posted public messages threatening, among others, a U.S. Senator, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a former Speaker of the House, and a governor.
XIV. New York Resident Arrested for Marijuana in Carry-On Bag, Upon Arrival at King Airport, St. Thomas
On February 16, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced that a criminal complaint has had been filed against Christopher Dunn, resident of New York City, for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Dunn made his initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday, February 16th, on St. Thomas.
According to the affidavit in this case, on February 11, 2021, Christopher Dunn arrived at the Cyril E. King airport in St. Thomas on an inbound flight from JFK Airport, New York. While conducting an inbound inspection, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers discovered a green leafy material in the contents of Dunn’s carry-on luggage.
After obtaining an oral declaration from Dunn, CBP Officers opened his carry-on bag and discovered a green leafy substance that field-tested positive for marijuana. The total weight of the three (3) vacuum sealed vacuum-sealed packages within the checked suitcase was approximately 1.03 kilograms.
XV. Six Arrested in Multiple States for Laundering Proceeds from Fraud Schemes Perpetrated by Ghana-based Criminal Enterprise
On February 17, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and several law enforcement officials announced the arrests of Farouk Appiedu, Fred Asante, Celvin Freeman, Lord Aning, Sadick Eduseio Kissi, and Faisal Ali, a/k/a “Clarence Graveley,” for charges in connection with their roles in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy based in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) involving the theft of tens of millions of dollars.
Freeman and Ali were arrested earlier that day in New Jersey and presented in Manhattan federal court later the same day. Asanti and Aning were arrested earlier that day in Virginia and were presented in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia. Appiedu was previously arrested in Queens, New York, on October 18, 2020. Kissi was previously arrested in Fargo, North Dakota, on February 5, 2020.
According to the indictments filed against Appiedu, Asante, Freeman, Aning, and Kissi, a criminal complaint filed against Ali, and other court documents, from about 2013 through at least in or about 2020, the defendants were members of a criminal enterprise (the Enterprise) based in Ghana that committed a series of business email compromises and romance scams against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York.
The frauds perpetrated by the Enterprise have consisted of, among other frauds, business email compromises, romance scams, and fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
XVI. Liquor Entrepreneur Arrested for Defrauding Investors
On February 17, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FB|I’s New York Field Office, announced that Joseph Cimino, the founder of an Orange County-based tequila company, was arrested this morning and charged with securities fraud and wire fraud arising out of his fraudulent solicitation of investments for the company.
Cimino was presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy in White Plains federal court later the same day. According to the allegations contained in the Complaint unsealed today in White Plains federal court, from 2014 to 2018, Cimino raised approximately $935,000 from at least 25 investors ostensibly to fund a tequila company that he founded (the Tequila Company).
Throughout this period, Cimino made numerous false and misleading representations in an effort to attract and maintain investors. For example, in multiple communications with prospective investors Cimino falsely inflated the amount of capital that the Tequila Company had raised from other investors, and falsely represented that certain individuals were investors in the Tequila Company when in reality, they had not invested any funds.
Cimino also fabricated or falsely inflated the Tequila Company’s sales in a number of investor communications. In December 2015, Cimino made statements in an email to a prospective investor falsely implying that the Tequila Company already had sales, when in fact, the company’s initial sales did not occur until 2017. In July 2017, Cimino falsely represented in an investor report and quarterly profit and loss (P&L) statement that the Tequila Company’s year-to-date sales totaled 3,410 cases when its actual sales totaled only 350 cases.
Then, in October 2017, Cimino falsely represented that the Tequila Company’s year-to-date sales totaled 6,035 cases when its actual year-to-date sales totaled barely 20 percent of that number.
XVII. Attorneys, Managers Of Fraudulent Asylum Scheme Charged in Manhattan Federal Court
On February 18, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeny Jr., along with several law enforcement officials, announced the unsealing of two indictments charging nine individuals in two respective schemes to prepare and submit fraudulent asylum applications, affidavits and other documents to USCIS, and to coach, asylum seekers to lie under oath during immigration proceedings.
Ilona Dzhamgarova and Arthur Arcadian, two immigration attorneys and associate Igor Reznik, were charged in one indictment with conspiracy to commit asylum fraud (the Dzhamgarova Indictment). The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.
All three defendants were taken into custody today. Dzhamgarova and Arcadian are expected to be presented in the Southern District of Florida. Reznik is expected to be presented in the District of Maryland. As alleged in the indictment, these defendants engaged in a scheme to deceive asylum officers of the United States through carefully scripted lies, trading on deeply held concerns for actual victims of persecution in an effort to obtain money and illegal immigration documents.
XVIII. Four Alleged Smugglers Charged for Importing Banned Catfish into the U.S.
On February 18, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Peter C. Fitzhugh, along with a number of law enforcement officials, announced the unsealing of a Complaint charging Mahmud Chowdhury, a/k/a “Masum Chowdhury,” a/k/a “Uncle Masum,” Shakil Ahmed, Belayet Hussain, a/k/a “Belayet Sohel,” and Firoz Ahammad with participating in a conspiracy to smuggle banned catfish into the United States through the Southern District of New York.
All four defendants were taken into custody on Feb. 18 and were presented that afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Katharine H. Parker. As alleged in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court, since in or about 2017, the importation into the United States from most countries of fish of the order Siluriformes, which includes multiple species of fish commonly referred to as catfish, has been prohibited by federal law, in order to ensure the safety of food for human consumption in the United States.
From at least in or about January 2018 up to and including at least in or about October 2019, notwithstanding this ban, Mahmud Chowdhury, a/k/a “Masum Chowdhury,” a/k/a “Uncle Masum,” Shakil Ahmed, Belayet Hussain, a/k/a “Belayet Sohel,” and Firoz Ahammad, the principals of Asia Foods Distributor Inc. (“AFD”), a trading company based in New York City, conspired to smuggle large quantities of prohibited catfish into the United States through the Southern District of New York for distribution to their customers around the United States.
Friday, February 26, 2021
I. South Dakota Man Charged with Assaulting a Federal Officer
On February 22, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Ron Parsons announced that a Fort Thompson, South Dakota, a man has had been indicted by a federal grand jury for Assaulting, Resisting, Opposing, and Impeding a Federal Officer. Warren Dion, 22, was indicted on November 10, 2020.
He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on February 18, 2021, and pled pleaded not guilty to the Indictment. If convicted, Dion faces up to 20 years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Restitution may also be ordered.
The Indictment alleges that on October 18, 2020, in Fort Thompson, Dion forcefully resisted a federal officer, who was engaged in the performance of his official duties in a manner that involved physical contact. The indictment further alleges that the officer suffered bodily injury as a result of the incident.
II. Oyster Company, Dozen People Indicted for Illegally Harvesting Raw Oysters
On February 22, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook announced that a federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging Bay Fresh Oyster Company, Inc. (BFO), a Cameron Parish company, and 12 individuals with illegal harvesting and selling raw oysters in violation of the Lacey Act.
The indictment alleges that from approximately March 1, 2019, through May 5, 2019, BFO and the 12 named co-defendants listed above (“Defendants”) conspired to harvest raw oysters from Calcasieu Lake in violation of Louisiana law and knowingly made and submitted and caused to be submitted, false records for those harvested oysters that were intended to be transported in interstate commerce.
According to the indictment, BFO and 12 Defendants knowingly engaged in conduct that involved the sale and purchase of oysters knowing that they had been taken in violation of the laws and regulations of Louisiana.
The indictment further alleges that oysters were not reported as required; oysters were harvested in amounts in excess of those authorized by state law to be harvested; oysters were harvested during illegal harvesting hours; oysters were not refrigerated within the required time by state law; oysters were harvested by those who failed to possess a valid Calcasieu Lake Harvest Permit or whose permit had been revoked; oysters were falsely reported as being harvested by those with valid permits; and oysters were harvested from areas closed to oyster harvesting.
III. Federal Indictment Charges Suburban Chicago Man with Trafficking Fentanyl, Illegal Possession of Loaded Guns
On February 23, 2021, a federal grand jury indicted a suburban Chicago man for allegedly trafficking fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and illegally possessing loaded handguns. The 12-count indictment was returned in federal court in Chicago on Feb. 23 and charges charged Dennia German, 34, of Robbins, Ill., with using the firearms in furtherance of his drug-trafficking activities in 2019 and 2020.
The indictment also accuses German of conspiring with two others – Nicole Schmidt, 34, of Midlothian, Ill., and John P. Siewert, 40, of Orland Park, Ill. – to traffic cocaine and heroin in Robbins last year. A fourth defendant – Marcus Washington, 23, of Markham, Ill. – is charged in the indictment with trafficking cocaine and illegally possessing a loaded handgun in Robbins in 2019.
German, Seiwert, and Washington are in law enforcement custody, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Schmidt, and arraignments for German and Washington are set for March 2, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, while arraignment for Seiwert is set for March 5, 2021, before Judge Kennelly.
The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and several law enforcement officials.
The charges in the indictment include the following:
➤ German is charged with two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; four counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver; one count of maintaining a residence for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance; two counts of illegal possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon; and one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
➤ Schmidt is charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
➤ Seiwert is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
➤ Washington is charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and one count of illegal possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon.
IV. Massachusetts Man Indicted on Charge of Murder-for-Hire
On February 23, 2021, a Malden, MA man was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with his attempt to hire a contract killer – who was actually an undercover federal agent – to murder his wife. Massimo Marenghi, 54, was indicted on one count of murder-for-hire.
Marenghi was charged by with criminal complaint and arrested in January 2021. After a detention hearing on Feb. 10, 2021, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer C. Boal ordered Marenghi detained pending trial.
According to charging documents, an individual reported to law enforcement that Marenghi had complained about his wife seeking a restraining order against him. Marenghi allegedly asked the individual for assistance in killing his wife.
At the direction of federal agents, the individual introduced Marenghi to an undercover agent who posed as a contract killer. On Jan. 20, 2021, Marenghi met with the undercover agent and allegedly sought help to “eliminate” his problem. Marenghi provided the undercover agent with a photograph of his wife’s residence and explained how to evade detection by cameras while approaching the residence.
The indictment also alleges that on Jan. 29, 2021, Marenghi again met with the undercover agent and discussed moving forward with the killing of his wife. Marenghi provided $1,500 cash as a deposit for the murder and explained that the sooner the “demolition job” takes place, the sooner he will be able to pay the balance owed.
He also allegedly provided the undercover agent with a photograph of his wife, the hours of operation of her place of business and a schedule indicating the he would have custody of his children, which he said would be the “best time for the construction work to start.”
If convicted on the charge of murder-for-hire, Marenghi faces up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
V. Six Foreign Nationals, Maryland Bank Employee Face Indictment on Scheme to Defraud Financial Firms
On February 23, 2021, a Maryland federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging six foreign nationals and a bank employee for a bank fraud scheme in which the defendants and their co-conspirators obtained or attempted to obtain more than $700,000.
The defendants, Diape Seck, 27, of Rockville, Maryland; Nicolae Gindac, 52, of Dania Beach, Florida; Mateus Vaduva a/k/a “Romi”, “Romi,” 28; Marius Vaduva, 26; Marian Unguru, 36; Daniel Velcu, 43; and Vali Unguru, age 18, all of Baltimore, are charged with a federal bank fraud and wire fraud conspiracy.
The superseding indictment was returned on February 17, 2021, and was unsealed in part at Diape Seck’s initial appearance on February 22, 2021. The superseding indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner, and several law enforcement officials.
According to the superseding indictment and other court documents, from June 2018 to January 2021, conspirators fraudulently opened bank accounts at victim financial institutions. The conspirators stole checks from the incoming and outgoing mail of churches and other religious institutions, then deposited the stolen checks into the fraudulently opened bank accounts.
The conspirators then allegedly withdrew the funds and spent the fraudulently obtained proceeds.
VI. Cleveland City Council Member Arrested, Charged with Federal Program Theft
The Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Bridget M. Brennan, announced February 23, 2021, that sitting Cleveland City Council member Kenneth Johnson, 74, was arrested by law enforcement agents, including the Cleveland Division of the FBI, after a federal grand jury handed down a fifteen-count indictment charging Johnson with violations related to federal program theft. Two additional defendants were also charged in the indictment.
The indictment charges Johnson with two counts of conspiracy to commit federal program theft; six counts of federal program theft; five counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns; one count of tampering with a witness, and one count of falsification of records in a federal investigation. Defendant Johnson was elected to serve as a Ward 4 Councilperson for the city of Cleveland.
Defendant Garnell Jamison, 61, of Cleveland, is also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit federal program theft; two counts of federal program theft; five counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns; one count of tampering with a witness and one count of falsification of records in a federal investigation.
Jamison worked for the city of Cleveland as Johnson’s Executive Assistant, a position he held for over two decades.
VII. Federal officer charged with helping undocumented nanny into the country
On February 24, 2021, a 40-year-old CBP officer from Laredo, Rhonda Lee Walker, was charged and set to appear in federal court on charges of conspiring to transport an illegal alien and making false statements. The charge was announced on Feb. 23 by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Ryan K. Patrick. She appeared later that same day at a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Dos Santos.
According to the criminal complaint, it is alleged that on Jan. 2, 2021, Walker used her official position to assist a foreign national into the country. According to the charges, Walker improperly used another officer’s computer login information to help the Mexican woman to enter the United States through the Laredo Port of Entry.
The woman allegedly had no legal status to reside or work in the United States, but Walker allegedly intended for the woman to illegally enter the country and work for her as a housekeeper and nanny. The charges also allege that she had sent money to the woman in Mexico to facilitate her arrival.
Walker also allegedly falsely claimed the woman was her aunt and denied ever sending her money. If convicted, Walker faces up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy or knowingly transporting undocumented aliens, and she also faces up to five years for knowingly making a materially false statement.
VIII. Ohio Deputy Charged with Federal Child Pornography Crimes
A Franklin County corrections officer was charged on February 24, 2021, with advertising for and receiving child pornography. Daniel P. Heintz, 38, of Columbus, Ohio, turned himself in that morning and appeared in federal court for an initial appearance that afternoon.
According to court documents, authorities were alerted to messages sent by Heintz on Kik Messenger in mid-August 2020, where he allegedly discussed with an Illinois man their mutual sexual interest for children and exchanged images of themselves and of pornography, including child pornography. It is alleged that Heintz received sexually explicit videos from the man of a girl 13 to 15 years old.
On Feb. 11, law enforcement officials executed search warrants at Heintz’s residence and of his person at his place of employment, the Franklin County Correctional Center on S. Front Street. A forensic examination of his electronics revealed what is alleged to be several hundred images of prepubescent minors, some as young as toddler age, engaged in explicit sexual conduct and being sexually abused.
IX. Pennsylvania Man Indicted for Distributing Child Porn
On February 25, 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that Kenneth Persise, 32, of Nesquehoning, PA had been indicted on February 23, 2021, by a federal grand jury for distribution of child pornography. According to Acting U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, the indictment alleges that on February 26, 2020, March 4, 2020, and June 14, 2020, in Carbon County, PA, Persise distributed visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
The case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenny P. Roberts is prosecuting the case, which was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children and to identify and rescue victims.
If convicted, Persise faces up to 20 years in prison, a fine, and a term of supervised release following imprisonment.
X. IRS Employee Charged with Tax Fraud
Linda Williams, 52, of Memphis, Tennessee, who is an IRS tax examiner, was indicted on February 25, 2021, for defrauding the IRS by filing false tax returns for various taxpayers in the Memphis area. Williams claimed over $500,000 in false deductions for these citizens. Many of these citizens were unaware of the false deductions discovered on their tax returns. D. Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney, announced the indictment today.
According to the indictment, from 2015 to 2017, Williams executed a scheme to prepare and file false tax returns for friends and family members. The tax returns contained false deductions to inflate taxpayers’ refunds. Specifically, these deductions were pertaining to medical expenses, charitable contributions, and business expenses.
Williams would then take a portion from the refunds and transfer the funds to her personal bank account. Williams was indicted for filing (10) false tax returns. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000. There is no parole in the federal system.
XI. Serial Con Artist Charged with Embezzlement Scheme
On February 19, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the arrest of Trach Show-Hutsona on wire fraud and identity theft charges. Specifically, Show-Hutsona is charged with embezzling more than one million dollars as part of a confidence scheme.
Show-Hutsona used her position as a personal assistant to funnel money from her victim’s financial accounts, including the victim’s children’s college savings accounts, into her own spending account in order to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Show-Hutsona was arrested on Feb. 17 and was immediately presented in federal court in the District of Arizona before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle H. Burns. U.S. Attorney Strauss said, “Traccii (sic) Show-Hutsona, a personal assistant and founding partner of Elite Lux Life, branded her concierge service as the ‘VIP Concierge Company Jets-Yachts-Vacation Rentals-Exotic Vehicles.’
As alleged, Show-Hutsona afforded herself the same swanky accommodations she promised her clientele – only she did so with their money.
XII. Mexican National Extradited to Face Sex Trafficking and Related Charges
Hugo Hernandez-Velazquez, also known as “Norberto Hernandez Velasquez” and “La Gallina,” was arraigned via videoconference on February 19, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn on a 12-count indictment.
Along with his siblings Arcelia Hernandez-Velazquez, also known as “La Gordis,” and Ernesto Hernandez-Velazquez, also known as “Chapas,” Hernandez-Velazquez is charged with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy involving predicate acts of sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, interstate prostitution, alien smuggling, money laundering, and related offenses.
Hugo Hernandez-Velazquez was arrested on a provisional warrant in August 2020 and extradited on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, from Mexico to the United States. His co-defendants were previously arrested in New York in November 2019 and currently await trial.
As set forth in the indictment, since at least 2001, the Hernandez-Velazquez Trafficking Organization, a family organization based in Mexico, has used force, fraud, and coercion to cause young women in Mexico to engage in prostitution in the United States. Members of the organization lured victims into romantic relationships through false promises of love and support.
Victims were taken to the homes of members of the organization in Tenancingo, Mexico, where they were often not allowed to leave the home and not allowed to contact their families. The victims were pressured to travel to the United States with promises of a better life with their trafficker.
After the women were smuggled into the United States, members of the organization transported them to various states to engage in prostitution, while the organization maintained a base of operations in Queens. Members of the organization used violence, including physical beatings and forced abortions, and threatened violence to the victims’ families to force the victims to continue prostituting.
The prostitution proceeds were sent to members of the organization in Mexico through wire transfers and cash shipments.
XIII. Brooklyn Man Charged with Armed Robbery of Luxury Retail Store
On February 22, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with several New York law enforcement officials, announced that Eric Spencer, 29, of Brooklyn, had been arrested for his participation in an armed robbery of a luxury retail store in Manhattan on February 2, 2021.
Spencer was apprehended on Feb. 20 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and was presented in federal court there later that day. According to the allegations in the Complaint, on February 2, 2021, Spencer robbed a luxury retail store located in the SoHo neighborhood in Manhattan. Spencer and three other co-conspirators entered the store and began grabbing handbags and other items off the walls.
When a security guard confronted Spencer, he said, “What are you going to do? Shoot me?” Spencer then reached into his waistband, where the security guard could see the handle of a firearm. Spencer yelled, “Nobody touch me! Get everything! Grab everything!” Spencer and his co-conspirators made off with handbags and other merchandise valued at $189,500.
The next day, Spencer bragged on social media about having so many items from the store that he could “OPEN A SMALL BOUTIQUE.” Spencer is charged with one count of robbery and, if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison.
XIV. Somers Man Charged with Receipt, Possession of Child Porn
On February 23, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Richard Leaf, 72, a resident of Somers, NY, was arrested this morning and charged with receiving and possessing videos and images containing child pornography. Leaf was presented later the same day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew E. Krause in White Plains federal court.
According to the allegations contained in the Complaint, between March 2019 and April 2020, Leaf posed as a teenager named “Alex Bronson” to communicate via Skype with a minor (“Minor-1”), who Leaf believed was 15 years old. During the course of these communications, Minor-1 sent Leaf a video of himself masturbating in the shower and a fully nude photo of himself in a bedroom.
In addition, law enforcement officers uncovered almost a dozen images and videos containing child pornography on Leaf’s home computer. The Complaint further alleges that Leaf created fictitious accounts on Chat Avenue, an online chatroom website, and Skype to communicate with minors.
A Leaf is charged with one count of receiving child pornography, which carries between 5 years and 20 years in prison, and one count of possessing child pornography, which carries a up to 10 years in prison.
XV. Retired NYPD Officer Charged for Assaulting and Impeding MPD Officer during U.S. Capitol Breach
A retired NYPD officer and former Marine appeared today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on charges stemming from his attack on a law enforcement officer, as well as other crimes, during the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 that disrupted a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress in the process of affirming Presidential election results.
Thomas Webster, 54, of the town of New York, was charged by criminal complaint with one count of assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with any person assisting an officer or employee of the United States in the performance of their official duties while armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon, one count of obstructing, impeding, or interfering with any law enforcement officer during the commission of a civil disorder which in any way obstructs or delays the performance of any federally protected function, one count each of unlawful entry, engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct, and engaging in an act of in the act of physical violence against any person on restricted building or grounds while armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
Webster voluntarily was taken into custody on Feb. 22, where he was ordered detained with a future appearance date of March 3, 2021.
XVI. Serbian Founder of Digital-Asset Companies Indicted in International Cryptocurrency Scheme
A Serbian man was charged in an indictment on February 23, 2021, for his alleged participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency scheme in which he solicited U.S. investors using two fraudulent online investment platforms. Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme of the Eastern District of New York and several law enforcement officials made the announcement.
Kristijan Krstic, 45, was charged in an indictment filed Feb. 23 in the Eastern District of New York with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to the indictment, Krstic was the founder of two digital-asset investment platforms, “Start Options” and “B2G.” He also served as the CFO of Start Options.
As alleged, between approximately 2017 and 2018, Krstic and others fraudulently induced U.S.-based investors to purchase securities in the form of investment contracts in Start Options and B2G. In order to perpetuate the fraud, Krstic allegedly used the alias “Felix Logan” and created the Twitter handle “@felixlogan_cfo” to communicate with investors in Start Options and B2G.
XVII. Internet Marketing Schemes Leader Charged with Defrauding Customers, Financial Institutions of Millions
An indictment was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on February 23, 2021, charging Larby Amirouche with conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements to banks, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. These charges are brought in connection with a series of internet marketing schemes that utilized internet e-commerce websites to defraud consumers and financial institutions.
Amirouche was arrested on Feb. 23 and made his initial appearance that day in Chicago federal court. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the arrest and the charges.
As detailed in the indictment and other court documents, Amirouche was the managing member of both Angry Elephant Marketing LLC and Purple Whale Management LLC. Between January 2012 and April 2016, Amirouche allegedly orchestrated a series of internet marketing schemes that utilized internet e-commerce websites purporting to sell dietary supplements, hair care products, skin care skincare products, testosterone, and web-based business tutorials.
Amirouche and his co-conspirators earned illegal profits by (1) charging consumer credit cards for products that were ordered, but never delivered to the consumer; (2) charging consumer credit cards for products that were not purchased by the consumers and, (3) repeatedly charging consumers for products that they had ordered from Amirouche’s websites.
Amirouche and his co-conspirators set up dozens of shell companies fronted by nominees they recruited to distance themselves from the fraudulent schemes and maximize the ill-gotten profits, which were funneled to a bank account in the name of a nominee, but which was actually controlled by Amirouche.
XVIII. Driver Charged by DA Vance with Manslaughter for Striking Two Pedestrians in Crosswalk, Killing 3-Year-Old Boy
On February 17, 2021, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. announced the indictment of Jaime Sabogal, 61, of Yonkers, for striking two pedestrians in a crosswalk with his pick-up truck in East Harlem, killing 3-year-old Bertin DeJesus and injuring his mother, while driving with a suspended license.
Sabogal is charged in a New York Supreme Court indictment with Manslaughter in the Second Degree and Criminally Negligent Homicide, among other charges.
Assistant D.A.s Annie Siegel and David Ginensky are handling the prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant D.A. Erin LaFarge and William Beesch, Deputy Chiefs of the Vehicular Crimes Unit, and Jill Hoexter, Chief of the Vehicular Crimes Unit, as well as Executive Assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi, Chief of the Trial Division.
Trial Preparation Assistant Elias Neibart is assisting with the case. DA Vance thanked the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad and other Highway Unit Officers for their assistance.
XIX. Hogansburg, NY Man Arrested for Smuggling
On February 24, 2021, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Antoinette T. Bacon, announced that Kyle Thompson, 28, of Hogansburg, New York, had been arrested on February 17 and charged by criminal complaint with alien smuggling in connection with a failed smuggling event.
The criminal complaint alleges that Thompson was arrested while transporting two illegal aliens who had illegally crossed into the United States via the St. Lawrence River near Hogansburg. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Police attempted to stop Thompson’s vehicle as he fled with the occupants in his vehicle.
Thompson drove his vehicle into a snowbank and was ultimately apprehended. There were no injuries to Thompson or the occupants. Border Patrol Agents from the Massena Border Patrol Station detained Thompson and the two occupants.
XX. 11 “Bully Gang” Members, Associates Charged with Racketeering
A third superseding indictment was unsealed February 25, 2021, in federal court in Brooklyn, charging 11 members and associates of the violent New York City-based street gang known as the “Bully Gang” with racketeering for their role in multiple crimes, including attempted murder, armed robbery, narcotics trafficking, bribery, extortion and money laundering.
Charges against multiple co-conspirators were also unsealed, including a an NYC Department of Correction (DOC) officer and a former DOC officer who are charged with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy led by the founder and leader of the Bully Gang, which trafficked drugs into DOC facilities. Six defendants were arrested in the New York area today and will be arraigned via videoconference this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon. The remaining defendants will be arraigned at a later date.
As set forth in the indictment and other court filings, the defendants used force and violence to promote their power, terrorize surrounding communities and enrich themselves and their members. For example, in June 2018, Moeleek Harrell, the founder, and leader of the Bully Gang, conspired with Derrick Ayers, another member, to murder a perceived “rival” of the gang, whom Harrell later shot at multiple times on a street in Brooklyn.
Harrell’s leadership of the gang continued even after his incarceration at Rikers Island, where he led a drug trafficking, bribery, and money laundering scheme responsible for smuggling drugs into the jail through the use of conspirators and the payment of bribes to correctional officers.
As alleged, the gang’s leaders sent Brooklyn-based drug dealers, including Bully Gang members and associates, from New York to Maine to operate “trap” houses where narcotics were stored and sold.
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