Last edited on Monday, July 20, 2020, at 12:18 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, July 17, 2020
I. President of Law Enforcement Union Charged with Defrauding Union’s Annuity Fund
On July 13, 2020, Audrey Strauss, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with William F. Sweeny Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, New York Division of the FBI, and Andriana Vamvakas, Northeastern Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (DOL-OLMS), announced the arrest of Kenneth Wynder Jr., a former New York State Trooper and the president of the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association (LEEBA), a labor union for law enforcement officers employed by the City of New York.
The charges he faces include defrauding union members by misappropriating money from LEEBA’s Annuity Fund. Steven Whittick, LEEBA’s treasurer and a police officer for New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was charged separately with obstructing the investigation into fraud in connection with LEEBA and the Annuity Fund and making false statements to federal agents. Both defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court that afternoon.
According to the allegations contained in the two Complaints unsealed in Manhattan federal court, publicly available information, and prior court filings, from at least in or about 2012 up to and including the date of the current complaint, Wynder participated in a scheme to steal, embezzle, and misappropriate money from the Annuity Fund and individual members’ retirement accounts.
More specifically, Wynder made hundreds of thousands of dollars of fraudulent transfers from the Annuity Fund to LEEBA’s operating account, which he controlled, and regularly used the funds to enrich himself at union members’ expense, including through unauthorized and excessive checks to himself and cash withdrawals for his own benefit.
From at least in or about 2017 through in or about August 2019, while serving as LEEBA’s Treasurer, Whittick repeatedly lied to federal agents in an effort to obstruct their investigation, despite his own personal involvement in some of the financial improprieties with which Wynder is charged.
II. Jewelry Wholesaler Indicted for $200 Million Ponzi Scheme
An indictment was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on July 14, 2020, charging Gregory Altieri, the president of LNA Associates, with one count of wire fraud for allegedly running a two-year, $200 million Ponzi scheme based on nonexistent wholesale jewelry deals and false promises of inflated returns.
Altieri was arrested today and will be arraigned this morning via video conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, FBI’s New York Field Office, announced the arrest and charge.
According to the indictment, beginning in August 2017, Altieri solicited between $75 million to $85 million from over 80 investors from Queens, Staten Island, Long Island and elsewhere, allegedly to purchase jewelry at “closeout” prices and resell it at a high profit. Altieri promised returns of between 30 and 70 percent in a matter of months.
While Altieri initially purchased some jewelry with investors’ money, in approximately May 2018 he began to use new investors’ money to pay earlier investors, representing to the latter group that they were receiving returns on their investments.
These purported “returns” were used by Altieri to convince the earlier investors to keep their money with LNA Associates, by “rolling over” their investments into new investments based on false promises to use this money to purchase additional jewelry.
By January 2020, when Altieri stopped making paybacks to investors, he owed them approximately $200 million based on the falsely inflated promised returns.
III. Former MS-13 Gang Leader in Queens Indicted for Murder in-Aid-of Racketeering
An indictment was unsealed on July 10, 2020 in Brooklyn federal court charging Marcelo Esquivel with murder in-aid-of racketeering and causing death through the use of a firearm in connection with the fatal shooting of Daniel Licona-Gonzalez on July 2, 2012.
At the time of the murder, Esquivel was the leader of the Centrales Locos Salvatruchas clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13, a transnational criminal organization, in Jamaica, Queens. Esquivel was arrested yesterday and will be arraigned this afternoon via teleconference before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.
Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with several law enforcement officials announced the charges. As alleged, Esquivel ordered the murder of another in furtherance of the vicious code of the MS-13 gang, and the life of an 18-year-old man was ended by co-conspirators carrying it out.
As set forth in court filings, on July 2, 2012, Esquivel directed two MS-13 members to murder a member of the rival Latin Kings gang and provided them with a gun. Co-conspirator-1 was a new member of the gang and hoped to earn respect within the gang by carrying out an act of violence.
Coconspirator-1 and Coconspirator-2 then set out on a bicycle to find a Latin King to murder. Coconspirator-2 rode the bicycle and Coconspirator-1 stood on the bicycle’s back pegs. They went to a location that they understood was Latin Kings’ territory to find their target. In the vicinity of Lowe Court and 149th Street in Jamaica, they saw a group of men that they believed were Latin Kings.
IV. Five Defendants Arrested In 4 Separate Cases Involving Arsons And An Assault During May 30th Protests In Rochester And Buffalo
On July 7, 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced that five defendants have been arrested and charged federally in four separate complaints in connection with violent protests held on May 30, 2020, in both Rochester and Buffalo.
In Rochester, four individuals were charged for their roles in connection with the burning of three government vehicles and a private mobile construction trailer office during violent protests held in the late-afternoon/early-evening hours of Saturday, May 30, 2020, in the Rochester.
In Buffalo, a fifth individual was arrested this morning and charged with assaulting a federal officer during a violent protest held that same evening, outside of the Robert H. Jackson Federal Courthouse on Niagara Square.
The individuals charged include:
- Dyshika McFadden, 26, and Miguel Ramos, 19, both of Rochester, NY, are charged with conspiracy to commit arson and arson, for their alleged role in burning RPD Patrol Car which was parked in front of the Public Safety Building at 185 Exchange Boulevard, in Rochester;
- Mackenzie Dreschler, 19, of Ontario, NY, is charged with arson of a vehicle used in interstate commerce, for her alleged role in burning two (2) vehicles, one belonging to the New York State Attorney General’s Office and another Belonging to the City of Rochester Family Crisis Intervention Team (FACIT), both of which were parked in the vicinity of 144 Exchange Boulevard, in Rochester;
- Marquis Frasier, 27, of Rochester, NY, is also charged with arson of a building vehicle and property, for his alleged role in using a Molotov Cocktail to help burn down a 32-foot by 8-foot mobile construction trailer and its contents, which was being rented by an out-of-state construction company and which parked in the lot at the corner of Exchange Boulevard and Court Street, in Rochester; and
- Keyondre Robinson, 18, of Buffalo, NY, has been charged with assault of a federal officer, for his alleged role in throwing a bottle that struck a Deputy United States Marshal in the face during protests outside of the federal courthouse in Buffalo on May 30, 2020.
In the event of conviction, four of the defendants each faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and up to 20 years, along with a $250,000 fine, while Robinson faces up to 8 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
V. MS-13 Gang Members Indicted for Six Murders on Long Island
On July 14, 2020, a 24-count indictment was unsealed in federal court in Central Islip charging eight members of the violent transnational criminal organization La Mara Salvatrucha, better known as the “MS-13,” with multiple racketeering offenses in connection with six murders, two attempted murders, a kidnapping conspiracy and narcotics trafficking conspiracies, as well as related charges including assault in aid of racketeering and firearms offenses.
The defendants Carlos Alfaro, Jose Moises Blanco, Oseas Gonzalez, Jose Jonathan Guevara-Castro, Victor Lopez-Morales, Ever Morales-Lopez, David Sosa-Guevara and Kevin Torres allegedly are members of one of two subgroups or “cliques” of the MS-13 operating on Long Island: the Hollywood Locos Salvatruchas (“Hollywood”) clique and the Sailors Locos Salvatruchas Westside (“Sailors”) clique.
Sosa-Guevara and Torres allegedly were the New York leaders of the Hollywood and Sailors cliques, respectively, and were in direct communication with high-ranking MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.
Blanco and Gonzalez were arrested July 13, 2020, in Salisbury and Charlotte, North Carolina, respectively. They appeared the same day in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina and were both detained. Blanco and Gonzalez will be transferred to the Eastern District of New York and arraigned at a later date before United States Circuit Judge Joseph F. Bianco.
Alfaro, Lopez-Morales, Morales-Lopez and Sosa-Guevara, who are in state custody, and Torres, who is in federal custody, will also be arraigned at a later date before Circuit Judge Bianco. Guevara-Castro remains at large.
VI. Canadian Man Charged With Bulk Cash Smuggling For Attempting To Cross Border With More Than $200,000
On July 16, 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Mhamood Fadl Salih Khairi, 28, of St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with bulk cash smuggling. The defendant made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer and is being detained.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Misha A. Coulson, who is handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, on July 15, 2020, the defendant attempted to enter Canada at the Lewiston Bridge Port of Entry while driving a commercial tractor trailer bearing Ontario license plates. Khairi told a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer that he was returning to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada from the Boston, Massachusetts area with a load of copper wire.
When asked how much money he was traveling with, the defendant responded “$300.00 total U.S. and Canadian.” Khairi also indicated on a CBP Customs Declaration form that he was not carrying over $10,000. If convicted, the defendant faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
VII. Elmira Man Charged With Multiple Child Pornography Charges
On July 16, 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced that Brian Thomas, 59 of Elmira, NY, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography.
Due to Thomas’ previous criminal history involving child sexual exploitation crimes, the defendant faces an enhanced minimum penalty of 15 years in prison, with an enhanced maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine.
The defendant is currently a registered sex offender, following prior New York State convictions for child sexual abuse, child pornography, and child exploitation crimes. Thomas was most recently released from state prison in 2014, following a three year prison term.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle P. Rossi, who is handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, on March 29, 2020, the defendant distributed to an undercover FBI Task Force Officer child pornography depicting the sexual abuse of several prepubescent children online.
After using IP information to trace the child pornography, investigators located Thomas and executed a search warrant at his residence. They seized digital storage devices, including a computer and thumb drive. A preliminary forensic examination found evidence that Thomas received and possessed child pornography on both devices.
Friday, July 10, 2020
I. Man Charged with Violating the Kingpin Act
A complaint was unsealed yesterday in the Eastern District of New York charging Bryant Espinoza Aguilar, the U.S. citizen stepson of Sinaloa Cartel leader and notorious fugitive Rafael Caro Quintero, with conspiring to commit violations of the Kingpin Act, an economic sanctions program against narcotics traffickers that is administered and enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of Treasury.
More specifically, Espinoza is charged with assisting Caro Quintero and his common law wife by putting their assets in his own name, thereby violating OFAC’s prohibition on United States Citizens from conducting financial transactions with specially designated narcotics traffickers. The complaint was announced by Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with several law enforcement officials.
According to court filings, OFAC designated Caro Quintero as a specially designated narcotics trafficker in 2000, and designated Caro Quintero’s wife as a specially designated narcotics trafficker in 2016. The OFAC designations stem from Caro Quintero’s criminal history as the leader of the Caro Quintero drug trafficking organization, a faction of the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel.
Between January 1980 and January 2017, Caro Quintero led a continuing criminal enterprise responsible for importing into the United States and distributing massive amounts of illegal narcotics and conspiring to murder persons who posed a threat to his narcotics enterprise. The murder conspiracy includes Caro Quintero’s kidnapping and murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico in February 1985.
II. Brooklyn Man Indicted on Cultural Artifacts Smuggling Charges
On July 6, 2020, an indictment was returned in federal court in Central Islip, New York charging Ashraf Omar Eldarir with smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States. Eldarir was previously arrested on a complaint in February 2020 after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) with three suitcases filled with undeclared Egyptian antiquities. Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the indictment, along with several law enforcement officials. Eldarir will be arraigned at a later date.
As set forth in court filings, on January 22, 2020, Eldarir arrived at JFK Airport from Egypt with three checked suitcases. Eldarir falsely declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that he was carrying goods valued at only $300. However, when CBP officers opened Eldarir’s suitcases they found 590 bubble and foam-wrapped Egyptian antiquities. When the protective wrapping was opened, loose sand and dirt spilled out, and some of the items smelled of wet earth, which indicated that the artifacts had been recently excavated.
Among the items recovered are gold amulets from a funerary set; a relief with the cartouche of a Ptolemaic king that was originally part of a royal building or temple; wooden tomb model figures with linen garments dating to approximately 1900 BCE; and two complete Roman period funerary stelae of the type found at Kom abu Bellou in Egypt.
Eldarir did not produce any of the required documentation from Egypt authorizing the export of the artifacts. Eldarir was charged with one count of smuggling arising from this incident, and one count of smuggling involving an earlier trip in which he smuggled an ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.
III. Charges Announced Against Leader And Members Of Cross-Country Drug Trafficking Organization
On July 6, 2020, Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Jose Sergio Martinez-Aguilar, a/k/a “Orejon,” a/k/a “Andy,” a/k/a “Pa,” Vladimir Pulstilinkov, a/k/a “The Russian,” Miguell Lovos, Sebastian Ramos, a/k/a “Nimo,” and Ricardo Ruiz-Salinas with narcotics trafficking offenses based on their alleged participation in an international drug trafficking organization that distributed large quantities of cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin. Martinez-Aguilar, Pulstilinkov, and Lovos have also been charged with possessing and using firearms in connection with the narcotics trafficking.
Martinez-Aguilar and Lovos were previously charged in complaints filed in the Southern District of New York, and were taken into custody in California on June 26, 2020, and subsequently presented before magistrate judges in the Central District of California. Ramos and Ruiz-Salinas were taken into custody in New York earlier on July 5, 2020 and were presented before Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn on July 6, 2020 in Manhattan federal court. Pulstilinkov currently remains at large. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain.
As alleged in the Indictment, it is alleged that Martinez-Aguilar and Lovos, other court filings related to this matter, and statements made in court, since at least June 2019, Martinez-Aguilar has led a drug trafficking organization (DTO) that imports narcotics into California from Mexico, and then distributes those narcotics in California and other parts of the country, including New York City. The DTO is responsible for distributing large quantities of cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. Pulstininkov, Lovos, Ramos, and Ruiz-Salinas are members of the DTO who worked with Martinez-Aguilar to traffic the organization’s narcotics.
IV. Two Charged for Role in Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme Involving Former High-Ranking Government Official in Panama
A criminal complaint was unsealed on July 6, 2020 in federal court in Brooklyn, New York charging Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares for their roles in a massive bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A., a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate.
Luis Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares were arrested today at el Aeropuerto Internacional la Aurora in Guatemala. Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Brian C. Rabbitt, along with Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the charges.
According to the indictment, on December 21, 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York to a criminal information charging it with conspiracy to violate anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for its involvement in the bribery and money laundering scheme.
The overarching Odebrecht scheme involved the payment of more than $700 million in bribes to government officials, public servants, political parties and others in Panama and other countries around the world to obtain and retain business for the company.
The defendants are alleged to have participated in the scheme by, among other means, serving as intermediaries for approximately $28 million in bribe payments made by and at the direction of Odebrecht to a then high-ranking government official in Panama, who Both defendants were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
V. Airline Mechanic Arraigned on Indictment Charging Cocaine Importation Conspiracy
On July 6, 2020, Paul Belloisi, an American Airlines mechanic at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK Airport), was arraigned via teleconference before United States Chief Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak on an indictment charging him with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, conspiracy to import cocaine and importation of cocaine. Belloisi was arrested on February 5, 2020, released on a $300,000 bond and indicted by a grand jury in Central Islip, New York on June 18, 2020. Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced the charge, along with several law enforcement officials.
According to court filings, on February 4, 2020, shortly after American Airlines flight 1349 arrived at JFK Terminal 8 from Montego Bay, Jamaica, a routine search by CBP officers who are members of the JFK Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team revealed around 11.594 kilograms (25.56 pounds) of cocaine bricks concealed behind an insulation blanket in an external mechanical compartment beneath the aircraft. CBP officers and HSI special agents then began visual surveillance of the aircraft from a distance.
Shortly before the aircraft was scheduled to depart, Belloisi was observed approaching the aircraft and entering the compartment where the cocaine had been hidden. The officers confronted Belloisi after he exited the compartment and observed evidence that Belloisi had handled the area where the cocaine bricks were discovered. Belloisi also had carried an empty tool bag to the aircraft and had cutouts in the lining of his jacket, which together were sufficiently large to hold the bricks of cocaine that had been in the compartment.
VI. Staten Island Business Owner Arrested for Violating the Defense Production Act and Defrauding Customers
On July 8, 2020, a criminal complaint was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn charging Kevin Jay Lipsitz with violations of the Defense Production Act and wire fraud. According to the complaint, Lipsitz allegedly sold personal protective equipment (PPE) and other health and medical materials, some of which were designated as scarce due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at prices far exceeding prevailing market prices.
According to court filings, between February 2020 and April 2020, Lipsitz and SGD accumulated a large stockpile of PPE and other medical products, including facemasks and N-95 and KN-95 filtering face-piece respirators. Lipsitz also allegedly lied to customers about his inventory of such scarce materials and his ability to timely ship those items to customers. Lipsitz is the CEO and apparent sole owner of SuperGoodDeals.com Inc. (SGD), a New York corporation located in Staten Island.
Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with several Postal Service and law enforcement officials, announced the arrest and charges. Lipsitz was arrested today and is scheduled to make his initial appearance via teleconference this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.
VII. Brooklyn Man Charged with Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery of Pharmacy and Stabbing of Employee
On July 8, 2020, Rayvaughn Williams was arrested on a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn charging him with the attempted robbery of the Canarsie Plaza Pharmacy in Brooklyn during which an employee of the pharmacy was repeatedly stabbed.
Vaughn’s initial appearance is scheduled for this afternoon via video conference before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann. Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with several prominent law enforcement officials, announced the arrest and charges.
As detailed in the complaint, on August 12, 2019, Williams entered the pharmacy and claimed he was there to pick up a prescription. When the employee could not find a record of the prescription, Williams removed a knife from a plastic bag he was carrying and demanded money.
When the employee tried but failed to open the register, Williams vaulted over the counter and stabbed the employee repeatedly. The employee was seriously wounded but survived the attack, which was recorded on the pharmacy’s security cameras.
VIII. Charges Announced Against Nurse Practitioner for Illegally Distributing Oxycodone from Bronx Clinic
Audrey Strauss, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with Raymond P. Donovan, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced on July 8, 2020, the unsealing of a criminal Complaint in Manhattan federal court charging Purificacion Cristobal, a nurse practitioner who operated a medical clinic in the Bronx, New York, with illegally distributing large quantities of oxycodone. Cristobal was taken into custody early on July 8 and was presented before Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn later that day.
DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Raymond P. Donovan said: “This investigation reiterates that drug traffickers can hide in plain sight, as was allegedly done by Purificacion Cristobal, a nurse practitioner who worked at a medical clinic in the Bronx. Allegedly, Cristobal enabled opioid users by writing hundreds of unnecessary prescriptions, putting tens of thousands of oxycodone tablets into unsupervised hands. Law enforcement is committed to identifying drug traffickers at all levels to keep our communities safe from the dangers of drug abuse, drug addiction, and drug-related violence.”
Friday, July 3, 2020
I. Ghislane Maxwell Charged for Conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein to Sexually Abuse Minors
On July 2, 2020, Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced that Ghislane Maxwell had been arrested that morning and charged with enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit both of those offenses, and perjury in connection with a sworn deposition.
The indictment, unsealed July 2, 2020 alleges that between at least in or about 1994 through 1997, Maxwell and co-conspirator Jeffrey Epstein exploited girls as young as 14, including by enticing them to travel and transporting them for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex acts. As alleged, knowing that Epstein had a preference for young girls, Maxwell played a critical role in the grooming and abuse of minor victims that took place in locations including New York, Florida, and New Mexico. In addition, as alleged, Maxwell made several false statements in sworn depositions in 2016. Ghislane Maxwell is expected to be presented this afternoon in the in federal court in New Hampshire. This case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan.
II. Syracuse Man Arraigned on Child Exploitation Charges
On June 30, 2020, Austin Pratt, 23, of Syracuse, was arraigned on an indictment filed by a federal grand jury charging him with Sexual Exploitation of a Child and Distribution of Child Pornography. The arraignment was announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Grant C. Jaquith and several law enforcement officials.
According to the indictment, sometime between February and April 2018, Pratt engaged in sexually explicit conduct with a 10-year-old child for the purpose of producing visual depictions of the conduct, and that he then distributed the child pornography over the Internet. An earlier criminal complaint filed in the case details some of the images and a video Pratt allegedly produced. It also details some of the messages Pratt sent at the time he distributed the images and video to an Instagram user who has since been identified by the FBI, including an admission that the child depicted in the images and video is the 10-year-old. If convicted, Pratt faces at least 15 years in prison and up to 30 years in prison for the charge of sexual exploitation of the 10-year-old, and between five and 20 years in prison for distributing the images he produced. He also faces a fine of up to $250,000, a term of supervised release of between five years and up to life.
III. Buffalo Man Pleads Guilty to Drug Conspiracy
On June 30, 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced that Kevin Miller, 30, of Buffalo, NY, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to conspiring to distribute, and distribution of, controlled substances. If convicted, Miller faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph M. Tripi and Meghan E. Leydecker, who are handling the case, between March 2016, and September 25, 2018, the defendant allegedly sold cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and heroin in the City of Buffalo and surrounding suburbs. During that time, Miller utilized his Buffalo residences to store and distribute the drugs. Also, during the same time period, the defendant allegedly possessed various firearms, including semi-automatic pistols he posed with online using social media. On March 31, 2016, New York State parole officers conducted a search at Miller’s parole residence, where they located and seized three digital scales with residue; two bags of ammunition; a quantity of crack cocaine; and a cell phone. Buffalo Police were called, and Miller was arrested.
IV. Man from India Arrested for Attempting To Smuggle 4.5 Tons Of Marijuana Into The United States
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced on June 29, 2020 that Prabjot Nagra, 26, a citizen of India, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with possessing with the intent to distribute 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana and importation of marijuana into the United States. If convicted, Nagra will face between 10 years and life in prison.
According to assistant U.S. Attorney Misha A. Coulson, who is handling the case, and the complaint, Nagra attempted to enter the United States at the Peace Bridge Port on Entry just before midnight on June 25, 2020. Nagra was driving a commercial truck with Ontario, Canada license plates and, according to an electronic manifest, the truck was carrying a shipment of 55 storage containers. The commercial truck was referred to the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System for a non-intrusive x-ray exam, which demonstrated cargo inconsistencies within the entire trailer, whch resulted in the truck being referred to the Peace Bridge warehouse loading dock for physical examination. That revealed multiple packages of vacuum sealed bags containing a green leafy substance, which field tested positive for the presence of marijuana. Approximately 8,320 vacuum sealed packages of suspected marijuana weighing approximately 9,472 pounds were removed from the original shipment containers. The marijuana is valued at approximately $20,000,000, which makes this the largest seizure of marijuana ever at the northern border.
V. Two New Yorkers Charged with Conspiracy to Commit Passport Fraud, Bank Fraud, and Aggravated Identity Theft
On June 26, 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Peter G. Strasser announced that Thiendo O. Bah, 29, and Manuela Gonzalez-Bookman, 73, both residents of New York City, New York, were charged in an indictment related to their arrest by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies on February 19, 2020 in Metairie, Louisiana. According to court documents, Bah and Gonzalez-Bookman flew from Newark Liberty International Airport to Louis Armstrong International Airport on February 18, 2020, where they rented a car. The next day, Gonzalez-Bookman entered a Capital One bank branch while Bah waited in the car outside. Gonzalez-Bookman then attempted to cash a stolen check while using a false passport card in the name of another person.
The grand jury returned an indictment charging Bah and Gonzalez-Bookman with three counts, including one count of conspiracy to use a false passport, as well as conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. In all, if convicted, Bah and Gonzalez-Bookman face up to 32 years in prison and a fine of as much as $1,000,000.
VI. New York Man Arrested for Hate Crime
On June 30, 2020, John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and David Sundberg, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, today announced that Christopher Rascoll, 48, of Blauvelt, New York, has been charged by federal criminal complaint with making anti-Semitic death threats to a resident of Stratford, Connecticut. Rascoll was arrested on June 26 in New York City, and on June 29, 2020, he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel in Bridgeport and was ordered detained.
As alleged in the criminal complaint, on December 23, 2019, the first day of Hanukkah, Rascoll began sending the victim, who is Jewish, threatening text messages. In several messages, which continued into May 2020, Rascoll threatened to murder or seriously injure the victim and he threatened to blow up the victim’s house and car. Some of Rascoll’s threatening text messages contained anti-Semitic references to the Holocaust. On December 23, 2019, for example, Rascoll allegedly sent a message that included the words “Suns about to go down. It would be a shame if your house were used to light the menorah. Or turned in a gas chamber.” (sic) On April 8, 2020, Rascoll wrote “I’m going to kill you. You better be gone because if you’re in [the victim’s housing community] Easter weekend I’m going to stick you in an oven. Or I’m going to shoot you.”