Last edited on Friday, March 26, 2021, at 7:21 PM.
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, March 05, 2021
I. Florida Pediatrician Detained on Federal Child Pornography Possession Charge
Today, a federal magistrate judge in Ft. Lauderdale ordered South Florida pediatrician Michael Mizrachy, 49, of Parkland, Florida, held without bond pending trial on a federal charge of possession of child pornography. During a hearing on March 1, 2021, in Ft. Lauderdale, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia O. Valle ordered pre-trial detention for Mizrachy, meaning he will remain in custody pending his federal trial.
If convicted on the federal charge, Mizrachy faces up to 20 years in prison. He also faces a pending state criminal case in connection with the alleged conduct.
According to the federal criminal complaint affidavit, in June 2020, the South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received a CyberTip cyber tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about files depicting child pornography being uploaded to an e-mail account, including a video of a prepubescent child being sexually abused.
An investigation led law enforcement to Mizrachy, who worked as a pediatrician in Broward County, Florida. The affidavit alleges that during the execution of a search warrant at Mizrachy’s home in Parkland, Florida, law enforcement officers obtained evidence that Mizrachy used an instant messenger application to obtain child pornography and communicate with minors about sex.
II. Apprehended Fugitive Charged in Second Fraud Scheme
On March 1, 2021, Joseph Albert Corey appeared in federal court to face an indictment filed December 15, 2020, charging him with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and money laundering. The charge was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds and FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. Corey also re-appeared on a 2019 federal indictment for mail fraud, to which he had already pleaded guilty but had absconded in February 2020 before sentencing.
According to the new indictment (CR 20-481 RS), between March 2019 and October 2020, Corey, 56 and last known to live in Los Angeles, engaged in a fraud scheme that involved impersonating different physicians and applying for loans in the physicians’ names. The applications sought loans purportedly to purchase expensive medical devices.
The indictment outlines that once a fraudulent loan application was approved for a loan, Corey directed the lender to deposit the funds in a bank account set up by Corey in a deceptive name, one that closely resembled or was identical to that of a legitimate medical-device supply company. After the lender deposited the money loaned for the medical device purchase into the apparent medical-device supplier’s bank account, the indictment alleges that Corey withdrew the money and purchased gold.
The gold purchase obscured the financial trail of the funds, laundering the money for Corey. The indictment alleges three different executions of this scheme – twice in April 2019 and once in August 2020 after Corey pleaded guilty to the previous fraud and had absconded – that netted more than $300,000.
III. Federal Employee Arrested on Indictment Alleging He Accepted Bribes, Kickbacks for Approving No-Bid Work
A U.S. Forest Service employee was arrested on March 1, 2021, on a federal grand jury indictment charging him with illegally directing nearly $900,000 in no-bid Forest Service vehicle repair and maintenance work to a San Bernardino County, California, auto body repair shop that illicitly paid him more than $360,000 in bribes and kickbacks.
Francisco Isaias, 38, of San Bernardino, surrendered this morning to authorities and is expected to be arraigned this afternoon on seven counts of honest services wire fraud and 12 counts of conflict of interest.
A second defendant in this case – Joaquin Perez, 44, of Rancho Cucamonga, the operator of JP’s Collision and Auto Body Center, Inc., a Bloomington-based car repair shop – was arrested on Feb. 25. Both Perez and JP’s Auto have been charged in this case with seven counts of honest services wire fraud. Federal prosecutors have issued a summons for JP’s Auto, the corporate defendant.
According to the indictment returned February 24, 2021, the defendants executed a scheme to defraud the U.S. Forest Service of its right to the honest performance of Isaias’ duties as the agency’s fleet maintenance inspector. As part of his job duties, Isaias selected the businesses that would maintain and repair Forest Service vehicles and approved specific expenditures related to the vehicles.
From June 2013 to March 2017, in exchange for bribes and kickbacks, Isaias allegedly provided favorable official action on the Forest Service’s behalf to Perez and JP’s Auto by steering Forest Service vehicle maintenance and repair work to them.
IV. Arkansas Man Detained Pending Trial on Federal Gun Charges
A Sherwood, Arkansas man will remain in custody to await trial after being indicted on federal firearm charges. Noah Shoemaker, 37, appeared for a bond hearing on Monday afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris. Shoemaker was charged in January 2021 with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of possessing a machine gun.
When FBI agents arrested Shoemaker on January 30, they discovered he had fled to Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Upon locating Shoemaker, agents found a firearm on his person and another firearm in his vehicle ,as well as numerous rounds of ammunition. Additionally, Shoemaker was equipped with camping gear, bottled water, cash, fire supplies, and other survival gear.
Judge Harris determined that Shoemaker poses posed a risk of flight as well as a risk of danger to the community and remanded him to the custody of the United States Marshals.
He will remain in custody until his trial, which is currently scheduled for March 29, 2021, but is expected to be continued due to the Court’s Administrative Order 11. Shoemaker was initially charged in January on a federal complaint and subsequently indicted on three charges—two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of possessing a machine gun—on Feb. 3, 2021.
If convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing a machine gun, Shoemaker’s faces are both punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of not more than $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release for each charge.
V. Houston-area Woman Charged with Fraudulently Receiving Millions Under CARES Act
A 37-year-old Houston resident is set to appear in federal court for her alleged submission of two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
The criminal indictment, which was filed on Feb. 24, charges LaDonna Wiggins with bank fraud, making a false statement to a bank, and money laundering. She appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray on March 2, 2021. If convicted, Wiggins faces up to 30 years in federal prison and a possible $1 million fine.
Wiggins allegedly submitted two PPP loan applications for businesses known as Wiggins & Graham Enterprise LLC and Pink Lady Line, resulting in the receipt of $3,648,145. The charges allege Wiggins used these funds to make personal purchases such as for two homes, multiple vehicles, and luxury goods – rather than for any legitimate business purposes.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted March 27, 2020, to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One source of relief is the authorization of up to $349 billion in the United States Small Business Administration (SBA)-guaranteed and forgivable loans to small businesses through the PPP, but funds must be used for certain expenses, like payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.
VI. Ten Indicted for Allegedly Trafficking More Than 500 Grams of Meth
In a superseding indictment, unsealed March 3, 2021, ten were charged with manufacturing and trafficking methamphetamine all through the Tulsa Metro area. The charge was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Clint Johnson. During an early morning law enforcement operation targeting members of the drug trafficking organization, ten individuals were arrested, with eight of those arrested were named in the indictment.
The 16-count indictment alleges the defendants conspired to manufacture, to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. The defendants have been charged with drug conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute and distribution of methamphetamine, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and use of a communication facility in committing, causing, and facilitating the commission of a drug trafficking felony.
VII. Businessman Indicted for Not Reporting Foreign Bank Accounts and Filing False Documents with IRS
A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging a Herndon man with failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs) and filing false documents with the IRS. According to the indictment, Azizur Rahman, 70, had a financial interest in and signature authority over more than 20 foreign financial accounts, including accounts held in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Singapore, and Bangladesh.
For the years 2010 through 2016, Rahman allegedly did not disclose his interest in all of his financial accounts on annual FBARs, as required by law. Rahman also allegedly filed false individual tax returns for the tax years 2010 through 2016 that did not report to the IRS all of his foreign bank accounts and income. Rahman is also charged with filing a false “Streamlined Submission” in conjunction with the IRS Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures.
Those procedures allowed eligible taxpayers residing within the United States, who failed to report gross income from foreign financial accounts on prior tax returns, failed to pay taxes on that gross income, or who failed to submit an FBAR disclosing foreign financial accounts, to voluntarily disclose their conduct to the IRS and to pay a reduced penalty if their conduct was non-willful.
The indictment alleges that Rahman’s Streamlined Submission did not truthfully disclose all the foreign bank accounts in which he had an interest and falsely claimed that his failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, such as FBARs, was non-willful. If convicted, Rahman faces up to three years in prison for each of the counts related to filing false tax documents and up to five years in prison for each count relating to his failure to file an FBAR or filing a false FBAR.
VIII. Union Leader and Nephew Charged with Extortion, Conspiracy
On March 3, 2021, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that John Dougherty, 60, and Gregory Fiocca, 28, both of Philadelphia, PA, were charged by Indictment with 18 counts of extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. This Indictment represents new charges against Dougherty, separate and distinct from any other currently pending case.
The Indictment alleges that Dougherty, the Business Manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 (Local 98), and Fiocca, his nephew and a member of Local 98, conspired to extort salary, wages, and employee benefits from Fiocca’s employer, an electrical contracting company, for services Fiocca allegedly did not actually perform from August 2020 until January 2021. The object of the conspiracy was to have Fiocca’s employer continue to pay Fiocca without holding Fiocca accountable or monitoring his work performance.
The defendants allegedly used actual and threatened force, violence and fear, including fear of economic harm, to obtain this result. The Indictment further alleges that between October 2019 and August 2020, after Dougherty appointed Fiocca to be the Local 98 steward for employees working at this job site, Fiocca frequently did not show up for work, was not present at his workstation, and did not complete his assigned work.
As a result, Fiocca allegedly was sometimes paid for fewer than 40 hours per week. It is also alleged that Dougherty was apprised of Fiocca’s attendance and performance issues but refused to acknowledge that Fiocca was at fault.
IX. Four Charged in Scheme Employing Homeless to Cash Bogus Checks
Four men originally from the Atlanta area have been charged in federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, for allegedly operating a long-running scheme in which homeless and transient individuals from the Providence area were recruited to cash counterfeit business checks in exchange for a cash payment.
It is alleged in court documents that homeless individuals enlisted by the Georgia men were driven to financial institutions in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and elsewhere, provided bogus business checks made out to them, and were instructed to cash the checks using their Rhode Island ID card or driver’s license for identification. The individuals were told to return to the vehicle with the cash and, in return, were paid between $100 and $200.
It is further alleged that in at least one instance, a homeless individual was threatened with bodily harm if that person took off with the proceeds after cashing the bogus check and failed to provide the funds to the schemers.
As a result of an investigation by the Medway, MA, Police Department and the Secret Service, federal criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Providence charge Austin Weaver, 31, of Decatur, GA; Cortavious Benford, 26, of Atlanta, GA; and Michael Williams, 26, and Jalen Ronald Stanford, 28, of East Point, GA, with conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
The charges were announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, along with several law enforcement officials.
X. Oklahoma Mother Charged with Production of Child Pornography
A 29-year-old Claremore woman, Brittney Jo Wallace, was indicted in federal court on March 4, 2021, for producing child pornography involving her young child. The charge was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Clint Johnson. Wallace was charged with the production of child pornography by a parent and with possession of child pornography. The Court ordered Wallace detained pending trial.
According to the indictment, Wallace knowingly permitted the young child to engage in sexually explicit activity while she took photos on her cell phone on Sept. 26, 2015. From Sept. 26, 2015, to May 13, 2016, Wallace also knowingly possessed with intent to view the child pornography.
At a detention hearing on March 2, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matilda Villalobos argued the defendant was a danger to the community and should be detained based on her criminal record and evidence she abused her children in 2015 and 2016.
AUSA Villalobos stated evidence would show that in 2016, the defendant’s children were taken from the home after a doctor found signs of severe child abuse. Wallace’s parental rights were later terminated. The Court ruled in favor of the United States and ordered the defendant detained.
XI. Canadian Fugitive Charged with Distribution and Possession of Child Pornography
A Bronx, New York, a man appeared in court on March 1, 2021, on charges of possessing and distributing images of child sexual abuse. The Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Rachael A. Honig, announced he charges the charges. Perth De, a/k/a “Parthasarthie Kapoor,” 47, is charged by complaint with one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.
He appeared by videoconference today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III and was ordered detained. According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, on January 21, 2020, De was arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant obtained at the request of the Government of Canada, which previously charged De with sexually assaulting minors.
Law enforcement officials found several cellular phones in De’s luggage. A subsequent forensic examination of one of the cellular phones revealed numerous videos of children being sexually abused. Some of the videos had been distributed from the cellular phone.
If convicted, De faces Defaces at least five years and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the charge of distribution of child pornography, and up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the charge of possession of child pornography.
XII. Buffalo Man Faces 25 Charges, Including Drug, Gun And COVID Fraud Charges, in Two Separate Indictments
On March 3, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that a federal grand jury has had returned two separate indictments against Joseph Bella, 48, of Buffalo, NY.
A superseding indictment charges the defendant with possessing with intent to distribute and distributing cocaine, maintaining drug-involved premises, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm; and , and threatening to injure a person through interstate communications.
The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison, a maximum of life, and a $1,000,000 fine. The second indictment charges Bella with committing wire and mail fraud, money laundering, and making false statements on a loan application.
According to the superseding indictment, indictment, and a previously filed criminal complaint, on April 23, 2020, Special Agents and Officers from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Buffalo Police Department executed a search warrant at a residence on Summer Street in Buffalo.
The defendant was present during the execution of that warrant. During the search, a quantity of cocaine, plastic bags, and a digital scale were was seized. In addition, agents also discovered: a shotgun and numerous rounds of ammunition; THC gummies, lollipops, and other THC edibles; marijuana cigarettes and loose marijuana; THC vape cartridges; suspected Psilocybin mushrooms; a small quantity of MDMA; various pills; and THC resin.
Bella is also alleged to have defrauded a Salt Lake City, Utah, corporation (Victim) that developed and manufactured COVID-19 test kits. Bella falsely represented that his company, Medcor Staffing, Inc., was laboratory certified to perform high-complexity molecular testing, that Medcor was an “end-user” of the tests, and that Medcor would not attempt to resell them.
As a result, the Victim sold Bella 5,000 COVID-19 tests that he could not safely and accurately process, could not provide end-user support for, and, in fact, intended to re-sell at a substantial mark-up.
XIII. Grand Jury Indicts Depew Man for Selling Fentanyl That Led to The Deaths of Two Individuals
On March 2, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that a federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging Jonathan DiPirro, 30, of Depew, NY, with the distribution of acetyl fentanyl, fentanyl, and cocaine causing death, distribution of acetyl fentanyl and fentanyl causing death, possessing with intent to distribute, and distributing, acetyl fentanyl and fentanyl, narcotics conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and crack cocaine, and maintaining a drug-involved premises.
If convicted, DiPirro faces at least 20 years and up to life in prison. According to the indictment, on November 2, 2019, Lancaster Police Officers, the Bowmansville Fire Company, and the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corporation responded to an emergency call at a residence in Lancaster.
When first responders arrived, they discovered an individual identified as J.L. deceased. Next to J.L., officers observed a hypodermic needle containing a small amount of liquid or blood. A few days later, on November 4, 2019, officers took custody of an eyeglasses case that contained an amount of suspected controlled substances and the hypodermic needle.
Testing by the Erie County Central Police Services Forensics Forensic Laboratory confirmed that the powdered substance contained a mixture of acetyl fentanyl, fentanyl, and cocaine. On February 11, 2020, the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office issued a death certificate listing the cause of death as “[a]cute mixed drug intoxication,” and identifying fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl as two of the drugs in J.L.’s system at that time that contributed to the drug intoxication.
Further investigation determined that DiPirro was the individual J.L. contacted by cell phone, using calls, text messages, and Facebook Messenger, to purchase heroin or fentanyl. Specifically, between September 2019 and November 2, 2019, the date of his overdose death, J.L. contacted DiPirro continually using these lines of communication.
During that time, J.L. overdosed from heroin and/or fentanyl on three known occasions. J.L. survived the first two overdoses but died as a result of the third overdose.
XIV. Cheektowaga Man Charged with Engaging in Sexual Acts with a Minor
On March 2, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that Michael Mesko, 50, of Cheektowaga, NY, had been charged by criminal complaint with enticement of a minor and production of child sexual abuse. The charges carry a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.
According to the complaint, the defendant was arrested by the North Tonawanda Police Department on February 4, 2021, after it was discovered that he had been engaging in repeated sexual acts with the 17-year-old Victim. Mesko communicated with the Victim on social media applications, including Snapchat and TextNow, obtained naked images, constituting child pornography, of the Victim, and enticed the Victim into sexual contact.
Investigators conducted a search of the Victim’s iPad and discovered conversations between the defendant and the Victim dating back to October 8, 2020. Mesko made an initial appearance the same day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer.
XV. Brooklyn Man Charged with Enticing 15-Year-Old Girl to Travel to Engage in Sexual Activity
On March 4, 2021, in Brooklyn federal court, a three-count indictment was unsealed, charging Jacob Daskal with coercing a minor to engage in illicit sexual conduct, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.
Daskal was arrested that day and is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the arrest and charges.
According to court filings, between August and November 2017, Daskal, then 59, allegedly engaged in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl whom he took into his home in Brooklyn, where he groomed her for sex. During the summer of 2017, Daskal is alleged to have engaged in sexual relations with the victim, primarily at his residence and at his summer home in South Fallsburg, New York. In October 2017, the victim moved to Chicago to attend a new school and live with another family.
While the victim was in Chicago, Daskal communicated with her via text message and over Skype video chat. He requested that she pose nude for him during their video chats and send him nude photographs as well. On November 5, 2017, Daskal traveled by plane to Chicago to visit the victim and brought her to a hotel room he had booked.
There, he engaged in sexual intercourse and oral sex with the victim. Throughout the abuse, Daskal was the founder and chief of the Borough Park Shomrim Society, a private anti-crime patrol group, a position in the community which that led the victim to feel threatened when he told her not to tell anyone about their sexual relationship.
XVI. Albany Felon Arrested for Possessing a Firearm
Kevin Weems, 61, of Albany, was charged by complaint on March 4, 2021, with unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon. The announcement of the charge 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.
The complaint alleges that law enforcement agents while executing a search warrant on Weems’s residence today, located a loaded .38 caliber handgun in a boot. The charges in the complaint are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Weems appeared on March 4 in Albany before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart and was ordered detained pending a hearing scheduled for March 8, 2021. The charge filed against Weems carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a maximum 3-year term of supervised release.
XVII. Grand Jury Indicts Rochester Man on Multiple Child Pornography Charges
On March 4, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced that a federal grand jury had returned an indictment charging James Oliver Young, 52, of Rochester, NY, with the enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, conspiracy to produce child pornography, and production and receipt of child pornography.
If convicted, Young faces at least 15 years and as much as life in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa M. Marangola, who is handling the case, stated that the according to the indictment and previously filed complaints filed against the defendant and co-defendant and Rebecca Wilson, on April 17, 2020, the New York State Police received information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that an “Ollie Young” was communicating with a Minor Victim (MV1), in Rochester through private messages on Facebook.
It appeared that “Ollie Young” was attempting to entice MV1 to produce and send apparent child exploitation images as well as engage in sexual activity. “Ollie Young” was later identified as defendant Young. Subsequent investigation determined that Young and Wilson allegedly had sexual relations with MV1 on multiple occasions.
On April 18, 2020, New York State Police executed a search warrant and seized multiple devices, including two cell phones belonging to Wilson. Investigators located multiple videos depicting child pornography involving Minor Victim 2 (MV2).
Friday, March 12, 2021
I. Woman Indicted for Allegedly Straw Purchasing Handguns in Chicago Suburb
On March 8, 2021, Diamond Smith, 28, of Chicago, was indicted on federal firearm charges for allegedly straw purchasing handguns in a Chicago suburb on behalf of another individual. The charges were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and several law enforcement officials.
Smith is charged with three counts of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. Arraignment happened the very same day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim.
According to the indictment, on three occasions in 2019 and 2020, Smith purchased a total of seven handguns, including two semi-automatic pistols, from a licensed firearms dealer in Oak Forest, Ill., and falsely certified on federal forms that she was the actual buyer, according to an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In reality, Smith purchased the guns on behalf of another individual, the charges allege.
If convicted of either charge, Smith faces up to ten years in prison.
II. Indictment Alleges Visa Fraud Scheme Using Surrogate Test-Takers, ‘Guaranteed’ Foreign Admissions into Colleges
The second defendant named in a federal grand jury indictment surrendered March 8, 2021, to face charges stemming from a scheme that used bogus transcripts, ghostwritten admissions essays, and imposters who took standardized tests to help foreigners gain admission to colleges, allowing them to fraudulently obtain student visas to enter or remain in the United States.
Yi Chen, aka “Brian Chen,” 33, of Monrovia, pleaded not guilty that afternoon to charges in a 21-count grand jury indictment that alleges conspiracy, visa fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment alleges that Chen and Li owned “educational consulting” companies in Alhambra and Arcadia that charged foreign students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed” admission to a college that would lead to the issuance of an F-1 student visa.
To secure admission to a school, the companies prepared application packages that used bogus or altered transcripts, and they hired people to impersonate the prospective student to take standardized tests, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Once a foreign student was admitted to a college, the school issued a “Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students,” which provided the basis for a visa application or extension of permission to remain in the United States.
III. Former Executive Extradited from Thailand to U.S. to Face Charges for Participation in Massive Scheme to Defraud U.S Navy
On March 9, 2021, Pornpun Settaphakorn, a former executive of foreign defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) who oversaw the company’s Thailand office, appeared in federal court in San Diego following her extradition last week from Thailand. Settaphakorn, also known as “Yin,” was charged with participating in a conspiracy to submit fraudulent price quotes, claims, and invoices to the U.S. Navy in an effort to steal millions of dollars as part of a years-long fraud scheme.
The indictment, in this case, returned December 23, 2014, alleges that Settaphakorn, along with co-defendants Neil Peterson and Linda Raja, among others, submitted false claims of more than $5 million. In addition, according to the indictment, Settaphakorn worked to perpetuate and cover up the fraud by consistently misrepresenting to the U.S. Navy the cost of providing services to its ships in Asia, even going so far as to submit false price quotes from non-existent companies on letterhead created from graphics cut and pasted from the Internet.
Settaphakorn is charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States with respect to claims, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and multiple counts of making false claims.
IV. Texas Man Indicted for Smuggling Drugs in Cardboard Box
On March 9, 2021, Eduardo Maldonado, 46, from Pharr, Texas, was charged with importing kilogram quantities of meth, heroin, and cocaine. The announcement was made by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Jennifer B. Lowery. Previously charged by complaint, Maldonado remains in custody pending his arraignment in the near future.
According to the indictment, Maldonado allegedly conspired with others to import 1.42, 2.04, and 4.16 kilograms of meth, heroin, and cocaine, respectively. On Feb. 8, Maldonado applied for entry into the United States as a passenger on a commercial bus that arrived at the Lincoln-Juarez bridge Port of Entry in Laredo.
Authorities had conducted an X-ray scan of the luggage and allegedly observed anomalies in a cardboard box. A K-9 unit was then positively alerted for the presence of contraband, according to the charges. Law enforcement allegedly determined the box belonged to Maldonado.
A physical search of the box revealed a total of nine packages, all of which allegedly tested positive for cocaine, meth, and heroin. The drugs have a combined estimated street value of $162,000. If convicted, Maldonado faces up to life in prison and a possible $10 million fine.
V. Two New Jersey Men Charged with Attempted Carjacking, Discharging a Firearm
Two men from Newark, New Jersey, made their initial appearances on March 9, 2021, on charges stemming from a Feb. 22, 2021, attempted carjacking in Newark during which a firearm was discharged. The charges were announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Rachael A. Honig. Antwan Malone, 34, and Dawan Walker, 24, both of Newark, are charged by complaint with one count of attempted carjacking and one count of discharging of a firearm during a crime of violence.
They appeared by videoconference on March 9 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk and were ordered detained. According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, on Feb. 22, 2021, law enforcement officers responded to the area of the I-78 West entrance ramp and Irvine Turner Boulevard in Newark on a report of an attempted carjacking with a weapon.
They learned that Malone and Walker had pulled up beside a blue BMW M5 SUV that was stopped at a stop light stop light and blocked the BMW’s ability to enter I-78. Malone approached the vehicle brandishing a handgun and then pointed the gun at the driver’s face while repeatedly telling the driver to either exit the vehicle or Malone would shoot them.
At that point, the driver was able to escape by ramming the BMW into Malone and Walker’s vehicle and entering the I-78 entrance ramp. Malone fired two shots at the BMW.
VI. Alleged Romance Scammer from California Arrested on Charges of Defrauding Victims Out of Over $1 Million
Federal authorities have arrested Ze’Shawn Stanley Campbell, 33, of Irvine, on fraud charges based on allegations he stole more than $1 million from at least 10 ten victims in Southern California – some of whom he developed romantic relationships with – and used the personal information of some to obtain credit.
Campbell, who in recent years has lived in several cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties, was taken into custody on March 6 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport after arriving on an international flight. During his first court appearance on March 8, 2021, in federal court in Fort Worth, Campbell was ordered detained, and the U.S. Marshals Service was ordered to transport him to Los Angeles.
Once he arrives in Southern California, Campbell will be arraigned and will be afforded a detention hearing. According to the indictment, over the course of six years, Campbell allegedly defrauded his victims by lying about his wealth, his ownership of a various business, his success in investing money, and his military service.
After convincing the victims he was wealthy, reliable, and successful, Campbell asked them for money, including for loans that he claimed he would use to support his businesses and to pay his medical bills. In some cases, Campbell obtained money from victims with false claims he would invest their funds.
Campbell allegedly instead used the funds to support his lifestyle, which included the purchase of luxury items. When some of his victims refused to give or stopped giving him money, he applied for loans and credit cards in their names without their knowledge and then failed to pay off those loans and credit card balances.
VII. South Dakota Man Charged with Second Degree Murder
On March 10, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Dennis R. Holmes announced that Phillip Pond, 39, of Rapid City, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for Second Degree Murder and Discharging, Brandishing, or Possessing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence.
Appeared before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann on March 3, 2021, and pleaded not guilty to the indictment. If convicted, Pond faces up to life in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, 5 years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.
Restitution may also be ordered. The Pond was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial. A trial date has been set for April 27, 2021.
VIII. Pittsburgh Felon Indicted for Illegal Possession of a Gun and Ammunition
One resident of Pittsburgh, PA, Dreshawn McBroom, 33, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on a charge of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.
According to the indictment presented to the grand jury, on February 19, 2021, McBroom was found to be in possession of a firearm and ammunition. His prior felony convictions make it unlawful for him to possess a firearm. If McBroom is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.
IX. St. Louis man charged with Hobbs Act Robbery
On March 10, 2021, a federal criminal complaint charged Jonathan Davis, 21, of St. Louis, with one count of Hobbs Act Robbery. Davis made his initial appearance on March 10, in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nannette A. Baker.
According to the complaint, around 12:20 a.m. on January 23, 2021, a Steak N’ Shake employee was sitting in the back office of the restaurant located in the 9500 block of Natural Bridge Road. The restaurant was closed, and the employee was talking to another employee while preparing bank deposits. While the employees were talking, Davis entered the office with a gun and demanded money from the safe.
Davis, a former employee of the restaurant, held the gun against the neck of one of the employees. The employee handed the money from the cash register drawer to Davis. After receiving the money, Davis ran through the back door of the restaurant.
X. New Bank Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft Charges Added to Non-Profit CEO’S Previous Federal Indictment
A newly filed federal superseding indictment adds added bank fraud and aggravated identity theft charges against Glenda Hodges, 69, of Clinton, MD, who was already facing wire fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft charges in connection with the misuse of federal funds and other fraud-related to non-profit and for-profit entities that Hodges operated.
The new bank fraud charges relate to a fraud allegedly committed while Hodges was on pretrial release for the wire fraud charges. The superseding indictment was returned on March 10, 2021. At a hearing on March 11, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Hodges was ordered to be detained pending trial for violating the conditions of her pre-trial pretrial release.
The superseding indictment was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Jonathan F. Lenzner. According to the 12-count superseding indictment, between October 9, 2020, and October 21, 2020, while on pretrial release, Hodges allegedly defrauded her fourth victim by claiming she would monitor the victim’s finances while the victim prepared to move out of state.
Hodges assured the victim that she would return the funds once the victim was settled in her new location. Hodges drove the victim to her financial institution and procured a check for $71,731.85, which Hodges deposited into her own bank account. Hodges then allegedly spent the victim’s money on personal expenditures without the victim’s authorization and failed to repay the victim.
XI. Buffalo Man on Federal Probation Arrested on Gun Charge
On March 5, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that Larry Watkins, Jr., 54, of Buffalo, NY, was arrested and charged by with a criminal complaint with of being a felon in possession of a weapon. If convicted, Watson faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Watkins made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. the same day and is being held pending a detention hearing on March 17, 2021.
According to the complaint, the defendant is currently on federal probation following a 2019 conviction for being a felon in possession of ammunition. On March 2, 2021, United States Probation Officers, assisted by other law enforcement personnel, searched Watkins’ Stanton Street residence and recovered a 9mm pistol in his bedroom. The defendant was also previously convicted in the New York State Court of drug and gun charges and is legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.
XII. Two Buffalo Men Arrested on Fentanyl Conspiracy Charges
On March 5, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced today that Alexis Lopez, 27, and Ivan Irizarry-Ramos, 35, both of Buffalo, NY, were arrested and charged by criminal complaint with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl.
If convicted, the defendants face between 10 years to life in prison and a $10,000,000 fine. The defendants made an initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer and are being held pending a detention hearing on March 11, 2021.
The complaint is the result of an investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector-in-Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the Boston Division, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan, New York Field Division.
XIII. Rockland County Man and Woman Charged With Violent Beating And Carjacking
On March 8, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with Thomas E. Walsh II, Rockland County District Attorney, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, and Raymond McCullagh, Chief of the Clarkstown Police Department, announced that Dwayne Hicks and Tnaiya Williams were arrested on March 6, 2021, based on a criminal Complaint filed in White Plains federal court.
Hicks and Williams are charged with conspiracy to commit carjacking and carjacking, stemming from their participation in a brutal beating and robbery of a victim in New City, NY. Hicks and Williams were presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew E. Krause in White Plains federal court later the same day.
As alleged in the Complaint unsealed in White Plains federal court, on February 28, 2021, Hicks lured a victim to a certain residence in New City. Once the victim arrived there, Hicks and multiple other assailants, including Williams, viciously attacked the victim. Hicks, Williams, and others forced the victim to strip naked, stole his personal belongings, including the keys to his car, and then beat the victim with a baseball bat, belts, and their hands, and repeatedly slashed and stabbed the victim with a large knife.
The victim ultimately fled, after being left, naked and covered in blood, in a pile of snow, and some of the assailants drove off in the victim’s car.
XIV. Capital Region Men Charged with Conspiring to Distribute Fentanyl
On March 9, 2021, Doron Tucker, 24, of Schenectady, and Darren Favreau, 50, of Troy, have been charged with conspiracy to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl and distribution of fentanyl. Tucker was also charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of fentanyl and marijuana with intent to distribute.
The announcement of the charges was made by Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York Antoinette T. Bacon and Ray Donovan, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York Division.
The superseding indictment unsealed today alleges that Tucker and Favreau conspired to distribute over 40 grams of fentanyl in Schenectady and Rensselaer Counties between June and October 2020 and that they distributed fentanyl together on seven occasions between June and August 2020.
The superseding indictment also alleges that Tucker distributed fentanyl on six additional occasions between August and October 2020; possessed over 40 grams of fentanyl, and marijuana, with intent to distribute; and also possessed a .40 caliber handgun in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
XV. Postal Worker, Four Others Arrested for Shipping Heroin, Fentanyl Through The Mail
On March 9, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Luis Gamez, Hugo Richard Villanueva Torres, Daniel Ortiz, Jose Luis Martinez Rosario, and Jayson Colon with participating in a conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl in connection with a scheme to transport those narcotics through the U.S. mail.
Gamez was arrested on March 7, 2021, in California and was presented yesterday before a federal magistrate judge in the Central District of California. Villanueva, Ortiz, Martinez, and Colon were arrested on March 8 in New Jersey and were presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara C. Moses that same day. The case is assigned to United States District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer.
Gamez, 30, of Riverside, California, Villanueva, 29, of Belleville, New Jersey, Ortiz, 41, of Harrison, New Jersey, Martinez, 44, of Harrison, New Jersey, and Colon, 42, of Kearny, New Jersey, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl and one kilogram or more of heroin. If convicted, each faces at least ten years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
XVI. Staten Island Man Charged with Attempted Production of Child Pornography
A criminal complaint was unsealed on March 10, 2021, in federal court in Brooklyn, charging Ryan Behar with attempted sexual exploitation of a child. The charges relate to sexually explicit live-streamed and recorded depictions that the defendant requested from a minor whom he targeted on Instagram.
Behar was arrested March 10 and made his initial appearance via video conference that afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara. Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. 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 arrest and charge.
As set forth in court filings, beginning on September 13, 2020, Behar, 42, falsely claimed he was a teenage boy and engaged in a series of sexually explicit communications with the 16-year-old victim. Using an Instagram account, Behar repeatedly messaged the victim, requesting that the victim create pornographic videos, photographs, and live visual depictions.
These communications occurred between September 2020 and October 2020. During these communications, Behar also sent the victim sexually explicit images he represented to be of himself and directed her to perform sexual acts while participating in video calls.
Friday, March 19, 2021
I. Atlantic City Fugitive Arrested for Escape
An Atlantic City,the NJ man, appeared by videoconference today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio on March 15, 2021, after he was arrested on charges of escaping from federal custody. The charges were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Rachael A. Honig. Patrick Giblin, 56, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is charged by with a complaint with the escape from the custody of the Attorney General.
According to the complaint and court documents, on July 23, 2020, Giblin escaped from the custody of the Attorney General while traveling from a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to a residential living facility in Newark, where he had been directed to serve the remainder of his federal prison sentence. At the time, Giblin was serving a 2017 sentence for traveling interstate and using an interstate facility to promote unlawful activity in connection with a scheme to defraud multiple women.
Giblin’s 2017 sentence followed an earlier sentence of 115 months’ imprisonment for a 2007 wire fraud conviction for a similar fraud scheme. Members of the U.S. Marshals Service located and arrested Giblin in Atlantic City on March 10, 2021. If convicted on the escape charge, Giblin faces up to five years in prison.
II. Florida Man Charged After Mailing Multiple Machinegun Conversion Devices
On March 15, 2021, the Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Karin Hoppmann announced the return of an indictment charging Kristopher Justinboyer Ervin, 41, Orange Park, with possession of an unregistered machinegun conversion device. If convicted, Ervin faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
According to court documents, in January 2021, an agent with the ATF received information that Ervin may be selling devices referred to as “auto-sears” on a website called AutoKeyCards.com. Auto-sears are also sometimes referred to as “lightning links.” An auto-sear is a combination of parts designed and intended for converting a weapon to shoot automatically more than one shot more than one shot automatically, without manual reloading, with a single trigger pull, and is, therefore, a machinegun under federal law.
All machine guns are required to be registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Agents with ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service purchased multiple items from AutoKeyCards.com consisting of metal cards etched with a design for an auto-sear. The agents paid for the metal cards etched with a design for an auto-sear using postal money orders, which Ervin then deposited into his account at a local credit union.
An ATF expert analyzed one of the devices that had been purchased undercover and was were able to convert an AR-15 style firearm into a machinegun by cutting out the etching for an auto-sear using a commonly available tool and then inserting the auto-sear into the firearm.
III. Former mayoral candidate charged with stealing from the Paycheck Protection Program
Olivia Ware, a former candidate for Mayor of the City of Conyers, Georgia, was arraigned March 16, 2021, on federal charges of bank fraud and money laundering stemming from a scheme to use a company she started to steal over $323,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
According to the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Ruth Erskine, and numerous court documents, in 2020, Olivia Ware, 61, of Oxford, Georgia, was the CEO of a Georgia company called Let’s Talk About the Family, Inc., but according to state records, it did not pay wages to any employees.
Despite that, Ware allegedly submitted a false application to a bank for a PPP loan for the company that included fictitious tax records purporting to show the company had 54 employees who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary. As a result of this materially false information, the bank loaned over $323,000 in PPP funds to Ware’s company.
Ware allegedly then spent the PPP loan for her own benefit, including buying an in-ground swimming pool, furniture, and other home improvement items, and to pay down the principal on her mortgage. If convicted, Ware faces charges of bank fraud and money laundering.
IV. El Paso Tax Preparer Indicted for Underreporting Income
El Paso businessman, Victor Manuel Gonzalez, 59, was the sole proprietor of the now-closed Tax Preparation Service. According to court filings, Gonzalez allegedly underreported his income on personal tax returns causing a tax loss of over $100,000. The charges were announced on March 16, 2021, by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Ashley C. Hoff, along with Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Field Office of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, Richard D. Goss.
A federal grand jury indictment unsealed last week charges Gonzalez with three counts of filing a false federal income tax return. The indictment alleges that Gonzalez filed fraudulent returns for three years. Gonzalez claimed his income was $17,462, $18,450 and $25,328 for tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively. Court testimony revealed that Gonzalez actually earned over $350,000 during that period.
Besides underreporting his yearly income, Gonzalez allegedly applied for and improperly received funds through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Federal authorities arrested Gonzalez on March 3, 2021. During Gonzalez’s detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne T. Berton set bond at $25,000.
V. Six Charged with Crimes Related to Virtual Currency Exchange Business
On March 16, 2021, six individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Hampshire and charged with participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and other offenses. The indictment was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire, John J. Farley.
Those charged in the indictment include the following: Ian Freeman (formerly Ian Bernard), 40, of Keene, Colleen Fordham, 60, of Alstead, Renee Spinella, 23, and Andrew Spinella, 35, both of Derry, Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 52, and Aria DiMezzo (formerly James Baker), 34, both of Keene. Freeman, Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, and Nobody also are charged with wire fraud and participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Ian Freeman is charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise. Freeman and DiMezzo also are charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
According to the indictment, since 2016, the defendants have operated a business that enabled customers to exchange over ten million dollars in fiat currency for virtual currency, charging a fee for their service. They operated their virtual currency exchange business using websites, as well as operating virtual currency ATM machines in New Hampshire.
The indictment alleges that the defendants knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations. In furtherance of their scheme, the indictment alleges that some defendants opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities.
VI. Slidell Man Charged with Failure to Account for and Paid Taxes
On March 16, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane A. Evans announced that Scott Pellissier, 55, of Slidell, Louisiana, was charged on March 12 with failing to account for and pay federal income taxes and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”) taxes.
According to the one-count bill of information, Pellissier conducted a business as a limited liability company under the name Paint and Body Experts of Slidell, Inc. During the third quarter of the year 2016, Pellissier collected federal income taxes and FICA taxes in the approximate sum of $43,205.83 from his employees, but did not pay any of that money to the Internal Revenue Service.
If convicted, Pellissier faces up to five years in prison, a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of $10,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person.
VII. Tax Preparer Charged with COVID-19 Loan Fraud
A South Florida tax preparer was charged on March 16, 2021, by criminal information with wire fraud in connection with a scheme to obtain over 100 COVID-19-relief loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). According to the allegations in the information, Leonel Rivero, 35, of Miami, owned a tax-preparation business and submitted approximately 118 fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of himself and his accomplices.
Combined, the 118 PPP loan applications sought more than $2.3 million in PPP loans. On each PPP loan application, Rivero allegedly falsified the applicant’s prior-year income and expenses and submitted fraudulent IRS tax forms. Rivero and his accomplices allegedly received approximately $975,582 in PPP loans as a result of the fraud.
Rivero is scheduled for his initial court appearance on March 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. If convicted, Rivero faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
VIII. Two in Pennsylvania Indicted for Conspiring to Distribute Fentanyl
On March 17, 2021, a Philadelphia woman and a man from the Dominican Republic were charged federally with violating federal drug laws. The announcement was made by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Stephen R. Kaufman that day. The two-count Indictment named, Yarelis Mary Garcia Corretjer, 23, of Philadelphia, and Reyelin Manuel Abreu Vasquez, 23, of the Dominican Republic.
According to the Indictment, on or about September 16, 2020, Garcia Corretjer and Abreu Vasquez conspired to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl. Also, on September 16, 2020, Troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police seized from the vehicle, occupied by Garcia Corretjer and Abreu Vasquez, approximately 400 bricks of suspected fentanyl.
The suspected fentanyl field-tested positive for the controlled substance. Abreu Vasquez informed law enforcement that he was illegally in the United States and had crossed the Mexican border approximately four years ago. If convicted, both defendants face up to life in prison and fines of up to $10,000,000 or both.
IX. Illinois Man Charged with Threatening Violence Against Former President Trump, Other Officials
On March 18, 2021, a Chicago man was indicted on federal charges for allegedly threatening to commit violence against former President Trump, a federal judge, and the former U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois. Damien Grant, 33, of Peoria, is charged with three counts of influencing a federal official by threat, two counts of mailing threatening communications, and one count of threatening the President of the United States.
The indictment was returned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Peoria. Arraignment has not yet been scheduled. The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as well as a number of law enforcement officials.
According to the indictment, on Nov. 30, 2020, Grant stated in a letter addressed to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, “You have 2 two days to drop all charges and investigations against me or im (sic) going to make sure you never see Christmas… I might have someone walk in the Court House and blow all you evil [expletive] to pieces.”
The indictment also accuses Grant of sending similarly threatening letters in December 2020 to President Trump and a U.S. District Judge in the Central District of Illinois.
X. 29 Alleged Drug Dealers Face Federal Indictments
A 10-month investigation by the Baltimore OCDETF Strike Force into violence and drug dealing in the area of Pennsylvania and North Avenues in West Baltimore has led to six federal indictments charging a total of 29 defendants for conspiracy, drug distribution, and firearms charges. The defendants are allegedly members of six different drug crews, each using a different name for their drugs, operating in a several-block area in Penn North.
The indictments were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner. The indictments remained sealed until March 18, 2021, as 23 of the defendants have now been arrested and had their initial appearances. Five defendants are fugitives, and a sixth absconded from pretrial release.
Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized approximately $935,000 in cash, $70,000 worth of luxury jewelry, including Rolex watches, and four kilograms of fentanyl – enough to kill 200,000 people – as well as quantities of cocaine and heroin, and nine firearms.
The first indictment, returned on August 25, 2020, charges Wesley Clash, 38; Dashelle Claridy, 24; Vincent Davis, 41; Myesha Jones, 25; and Kevin Riggins, 26, all of Baltimore, with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, and crack and powder cocaine using the name “Dirty Sprite,” beginning no later than July 2019. Jones, Clash, and Claridy are also charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. Kevin Riggins is a fugitive, and Vincent Davis absconded from his pretrial release.
The second indictment was also returned on August 25, 2020. The new indictment charges Jerold Gilliam, 40; Akeem Ross, 29; Charles Bond, 25; Trevor Connors, 50; Gilbert Conway, 44; James Meekins, 35; Isaiah Timms, 28; Marquese Ward, 30; and Welton Whittington, Jr., 30, all of Baltimore, for their participation in a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and crack cocaine, using the name “Bullseye,” beginning in August 2019. Ross, Bond, Meekins Connors, and Gilliam are also charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.
Ward, Ross, Connors are charged with being felons in possession of a firearm, and Ross and Connors are also charged with possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Akeem Ross is a fugitive.
XI. Singapore Resident Charged in Manhattan Federal Court with Fraudulent Pre-IPO Stock Scheme
On March 12, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with several law enforcement officials, announced the unsealing of a criminal Complaint complaint charging Shamoon Rafiq, a/k/a “Shamoon Omer Rafiq,” a/k/a “Omar Rafiq,” a/k/a “Omer Rafiq,” a resident of Singapore, with securities fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft for engaging in a scheme in which Rafiq solicited millions of dollars through his use of false representations offering to sell purported investments in shares of stock in privately held companies that have not yet conducted an initial public offering (“pre-IPO stock”) that he did not actually own, his false impersonation of senior officials of a reputable family office investment firm, and other acts of deception.
According to the indictment, since at least July 2020, Rafiq has been engaging in a new scheme from Singapore to defraud victims into paying him millions of dollars for alleged investment interests in various pre-IPO stocks that he does not actually own or control.
In connection with his new fraud scheme, Rafiq has fraudulently impersonated two senior officials (“Victim-1” and “Victim-2”) of a prominent family office investment firm (“FamCap”) that manages and invests assets of members of a prominent billionaire family (the “Family”).
In July 2020, Rafiq created a fake FamCap website (the “Fake FamCap Website”) that has automatically routed users to the official FamCap website, and the creation of fake FamCap email addresses for Victim-1 and Victim-2 that closely resemble, but are slightly different from, their official FamCap email addresses (the “Fake FamCap Email Addresses”).
The Fake FamCap Website and Fake FamCap Email Addresses for Victim-1 and Victim-2 were created without their or FamCap’s consent.
XII. Three Charged in Cocaine Importation and Distribution Network In New York City
On March 15, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Raymond P. Donovan, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York Division, announced that Adriano Rodriguez-Diaz, Ironellys Paulino-Nolasco, and Robert Nunez were charged in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court with narcotics importation, narcotics trafficking, and firearms offenses.
Rodriguez-Diaz and Paulino-Nolasco were apprehended on March 12, 2021, and will be presented this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave. Nunez remains at large.
As alleged in the Complaint complaint, since in or about late 2020, the DEA has been investigating the importation and distribution of narcotics through a produce warehouse in New Jersey called “Sweet Produce” (the “Warehouse”). Cocaine was shipped from a company in the Dominican Republic to the Warehouse.
Between March 9, 2021, and March 12, 2021, DEA agents observed members of the conspiracy receive and move shipments from the Warehouse to other locations, including an apartment in the Bronx. On March 10, 2021, agents seized approximately one kilogram of cocaine from a car driven by Nunez. On March 11, 2021, agents seized approximately 20 kilograms of cocaine and $1.3 million in United States currency from the apartment in the Bronx.
On March 12, 2021, agents seized approximately 100 kilograms of cocaine from a produce van as it left the Warehouse, and also seized a firearm from the Warehouse. The Produce Van was en route to a safe house in New Jersey that contained approximately one kilogram of cocaine, a cocaine press, and packaging materials.
XIII. Manhattan Chiropractor Arrested for Years-Long Health Care Fraud Scheme
On March 16, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Office, Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the IRS Criminal investigations, and Thomas Licetti Lacetti, New York Regional Director, U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration (DOL-EBSA), announced the unsealing of a complaint charging Melissa Panayiota Kanes with health care fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to submit more than $800,000 in fraudulent health care claims, including by using, over the course of multiple years, the identities of three per diem chiropractors when submitting claims in an effort to hide the defendant’s association with the claims.
Kanes was arrested the morning of March 18 on Long Island, New York, and was presented earlier today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave.
According to the allegations in the Complaint, Kanes worked as a licensed chiropractor in New York City. Between 2014 and 2016, Kanes submitted a high volume of insurance claims to one of the largest private health insurance companies in the country (Insurer-1). Insurer-1 served as the third-party claims administrator for various health plans, including a health plan covering the employees of a large consulting firm (“Victim Employer-1”).
At the outset, Kanes submitted the bills using companies publicly associated with her and her own identification number. But in 2016, Insurer-1 flagged Kanes for improper billing and slowed or ceased payments to Kanes. Thereafter, Kanes continued to submit claims to Insurer-1, but took steps to hide Kanes’ association with the bills.
In particular, Kanes submitted bills under the names and identification numbers of two newly incorporated companies and three newly recruited per diem chiropractors (“Victim Chiropractor-1,” “Victim Chiropractor-2,” and “Victim Chiropractor-3”; together, the “Victim Chiropractors”), without the Victim Chiropractors’ knowledge or consent.
XIV. Defendant Charged In $1.4 Million Covid-19 Fraud Scheme
On March 17, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with numerous law enforcement officials, announced today the unsealing of a complaint charging Elvin German with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a COVID-19 unemployment benefit scheme that resulted in the loss of more than $1.4 million from the New York Department of Labor (NY DOL).
German was arrested on March 16, 2021 in the Bronx, New York, and will be presented this afternoon before the United States Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave. As alleged in the Complaint, from May 2020 through March 2021, Elvin German engaged in a scheme to obtain COVID-19 unemployment benefits by fraudulently filing and verifying applications using the names and social security numbers of more than 250 other people.
The NY DOL was alerted to the suspicious activity based on metadata associated with the applications (the “Applications”), which indicated that the Applications were either submitted and/or verified on a weekly basis from the same internet protocol (“IP”) address. Additionally, the Applications had the same security questions and responses, including that the applicant’s first pet was named “Benji.”
After identifying the residence assigned to the IP address, DOL-OIG and USSS conducted a joint search of the residence, locating, among other items linked to German, approximately $7,000 in cash, a computer loaded to the NY DOL unemployment benefits page with the personal identifying information of four individuals named in the Applications open in an adjacent computer file.
As a result of German’s scheme, the NY DOL authorized the release of more than $1.4 million of COVID-19 unemployment benefits.
XV. Pharmacist Charged in $4 Million Health Care Fraud and Kickback Scheme
A New York man – Robert John Sabet, 44, of Brooklyn – was arrested March 17, 2021, for his role in a conspiracy to commit health care fraud and to pay kickbacks and bribes to customers for expensive prescription orders in connection with more than $4 million in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York, Sabet was the owner of Brooklyn Chemists in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and Lucky Care Pharmacy in Flushing, Queens. Since September 2016, Sabet allegedly conspired to bill Medicare and Medicaid for expensive prescription drugs that were not eligible for reimbursement because, among other reasons, they were not needed or not dispensed.
Sabet also allegedly conspired to pay kickbacks and bribes to customers to convince them to fill prescriptions at his pharmacies, and to pay customers cash in exchange for the ability to bill Medicare and Medicaid for over-the-counter healthcare-related products on their behalf. In December 2020, Sabet allegedly wired nearly $100,000 from Lucky Care’s bank accounts to an automobile dealership to pay for a luxury car.
XVI. The Operator of Money Laundering Scheme Indicted in Manhattan Federal Court
On March 18, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging Abraham Adeniyi with money laundering and bank fraud offenses in connection with his years-long involvement in a money-laundering operation.
Adeniyi, who was arrested that same morning in Georgia, was presented later that day before a federal magistrate judge in the Northern District of Georgia.
According to the allegations in the indictment filed against Adeniyi and other court proceedings, from at least in or about 2017 through at least in or about 2020, Adeniyi opened and directed others to open multiple bank accounts, which received proceeds of various wire fraud schemes, and transferred and directed others to transfer those proceeds among the bank accounts he had opened, as well as to other bank accounts controlled by participants in the scheme, in order to conceal and disguise the source, location, ownership, and control of the funds.
XVII. Former LIRR Employee Charged with Falsifying Inspection Report
On March 18, 2021, a criminal complaint was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn charging Stuart Conklin, a former employee of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), with making a false entry in a railroad inspection report required to be maintained by the LIRR under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. Conklin surrendered to federal authorities earlier that day, and his initial appearance is scheduled for this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes, Jr.
As alleged in the complaint, Conklin was employed by LIRR as a Signalman, and his responsibilities included performing regular inspections of rail bonds. Rail bonds are electronic jumpers around joints in the rails of a railroad track to ensure continuity of conductivity for signal currents. Conklin completed an inspection report indicating that he had inspected a particular rail bond on April 26, 2019, and that the bond had passed inspection.
Video footage from a an LIRR camera showed that Conklin, in fact, did not inspect the bond during his shift that day.
Friday, March 26, 2021
I. Federal Employee Charged with Unauthorized Representation of Claims Against the Government
On March 22, 2021, Megan Mariah Patrick, 36, of Terry, Mississippi, was charged in a federal indictment with the unauthorized representation of claims against the government and false statements to a federal agency. The charges were announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, Darren J. LaMarca, along with several federal law enforcement officials.
The indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury on March 16, 2021, charges Patrick, a Rural Development Loan Specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture in Jackson, with three counts of unauthorized representation of claims against the United States, and three counts of false statements to a federal agency.
According to the indictment, from August 2017 through March 2019, Patrick acted as an attorney, outside her official duties as Rural Development Loan Specialist, to represent claimants before the Social Security Administration seeking increased federal benefits.
In each case where she entered her appearance as an attorney representing the claimant before the Social Security Administrative Law Judge, Patrick filed an official form with the Social Security Administration, stating that she was not disqualified or otherwise prohibited as a federal employee from representing the claimant.
In fact, as Patrick then knew, such a statement was false, because, as an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she was prohibited by law and regulation from representing claimants against the United States in the Social Security Administration.
II. Bank Teller Indicted on Federal Fraud Charges
On March 22, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane A. Evans announced the Indictment of Karen Farrell Tigler, 34, of Harvey, Louisiana, who was charged on Friday, March 19, 2021, in a twelve-count federal indictment for Bank Fraud, Making False Statements to Federal Agents, and Making and Subscribing False Tax Returns.
If convicted, Tigler faces up to 30 years in prison and/or a fine of $1,000,000.00 or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any victim of the offense. She also faces a term of supervised release up to 5 years after her release from prison.
According to the indictment, from January 1, 2013, to November 14, 2016, Tigler was employed as a multi-service banker with the Hancock Whitney Bank. Tigler worked at the Whitney branch, also known as the “Morgan State Branch,” located at 430 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA. Client A was in her mid-80s in 2015 and 2016 and was a banking customer of Whitney.
From February 9, 2015, to October 28, 2016, approximately 100 counter checks totaling approximately $349,556 were processed and debited, without permission or authorization, from Client A’s account. Tigler used her position with the bank to embezzle approximately $349,556 from Client A’s account by using 100 counter checks to debit funds from Client A’s account, and to access personal information from other legitimate banking transactions to create the fraudulent counter checks.
Tigler forged the signatures of Client A and various others on the counter checks in an effort to conceal her embezzlement scheme. Tigler accessed or utilized legitimate checks drawn on Client A’s account in order to prepare fraudulent counter checks.
III. New Orleans Woman Charged with Social Security Fraud Spanning More Than Three Decades
U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that Betty Arrington, a/k/a “Betty Callie Arrington,” a/k/a “Betty Francis C Miller,” a/k/a “Betty Miller”, ,”72, a resident of New Orleans, was charged on March 19, 2021, with theft of government funds.
According to the Indictment, Arrington engaged in a 35-year multifaceted scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). From 1984 through 2019, Arrington intentionally used a Social Security number (“SSN”) not assigned to her by the Commissioner of the SSA in order to conceal her earnings from employment in the New Orleans area.
Arrington’s fraudulent use of a an SSN, in addition to the concealment of program eligibility factors and the intentional submission of false statements to SSA, aided Arrington in fraudulently gaining and maintaining Supplemental Security Income Disability benefits totaling approximately $164,270.90.
Arrington is charged in the Indictment with one count of theft of government funds, and faces up to ten years in prison; ,a fine of $250,000; ,up to three years of supervised release; ,and a $100 mandatory special assessment.
IV. Couple Charged with Firearms Offenses after Standoff in Hotel Reveals Cache of Firearms and Ammunition
On March 22, 2021, a husband and wife were arrested on weapons charges after a standoff at a Hudson County hotel. The announcement of the charges was made by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Rachael A. Honig. Rahim Harris, 42, of Maplewood, New Jersey, is charged by complaint with one count of possession of firearms and ammunition by a convicted felon.
His wife, Haneefha White, 39, of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, is charged by with a complaint with aiding and abetting the possession of firearms and ammunition by a convicted felon. They will have their initial appearances by videoconference at a date to be determined.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, on Dec. 21, 2019, Harris was charged by with a complaint with weapons and aggravated assault offenses allegedly committed on that date. On March 14, 2021, law enforcement received information indicating that Harris was in a specific room at a hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Law enforcement officers responded to the hotel a few hours later to attempt to locate and arrest Harris, who was identified from a photograph as the person staying in the specific hotel room. Officers observed Harris’ Harris’s wife entering the room. They attempted to summon White while she was in the hallway, but she entered the room and closed the door. White then called the front desk and asked why police were in the hallway.
Law enforcement officers spoke with White on the telephone to persuade her to come out. She indicated there were other individuals in the room and that they were “on edge” and had firearms and hand grenades. Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
V. Illinois Woman Indicted on Federal Firearm Charge for Allegedly Providing Handgun to Convicted Felon
On March 23, 2021, a woman was indicted on a federal firearm charge for allegedly providing a semi-automatic handgun to a convicted felon whom she knew was not lawfully allowed to possess it. The convicted felon was also charged.
Benita Gross allegedly knowingly disposed of the gun in Chicago on June 20, 2020, to Terrance Elkins, knowing that Elkins was previously convicted of a felony and not lawfully allowed to possess a firearm, according to an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Gross, 32, of Springfield, Ill., is charged with one count of disposal of a firearm to a prohibited person. Elkins, 32, of Springfield, Ill., is charged with one count of illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Gross and Elkins made initial court appearances on March 19, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim in Chicago. Elkins was ordered detained in federal custody, while Gross was ordered released on bond.
A status hearing was scheduled for April 6, 2021, at 10:00 a.m., before U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp, Jr. The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., the U.S., along with several federal and state law enforcement officials.
VI. Five Face Federal Charges for Alleged Nationwide Elder Fraud Scam
On March 24, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, John E. Childress, announced federal charges and arrests of five individuals for their roles in a nationwide elder fraud conspiracy. According to the criminal complaint, Darlens Darlene Renard, 31, of North Lauderdale, Florida; Jasaun Pope, 30, of Valley Stream, NY; Princess Elizer Eliezer, 30, of Dallas, Georgia; Jennifer Glemeau, 28, of Marietta, Georgia; and Kareem Brown, 30, of North Baldwin, NY, were each charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to charging documents, since at least April 2020, the defendants participated in a conspiracy to defraud seniors out of thousands of dollars in cash by convincing them that their relatives were in serious trouble and in dire need of money.
The defendants would travel to a city, identify unoccupied residences where overnight packages could be sent, and relay those addresses to their co-conspirators. The co-conspirators would place calls to elderly victims and inform them that their grandchild or other relative had an urgent legal or medical problem and needed money immediately.
The caller, who often claimed to be an attorney, police officer, or other another authority figure, told the victim to send an overnight delivery of cash—typically between $5,000 and $15,000—to the address the defendants provided. The defendants tracked the overnight package of cash to the address, picked it up shortly after delivery, and then took their cut of the proceeds before sharing it with their co-conspirators.
To date, investigators have identified numerous victims of the defendants’ scheme, who in total have lost over $350,000. It is alleged that, since April 2020, the defendants traveled to at least ten cities in five different states to perpetrate their scheme. In mid-August 2020, they came to Indianapolis, Indiana.
After the defendants identified addresses, scam calls were made to at least seven victims, each from different states, who ultimately sent money to Indianapolis.
VII. Two Pennsylvania Men Indicted For Fentanyl Trafficking
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that Lee Crawford, 59, of Wilkes-Barre, PA, and John Williams, 41, of Kingston, PA, were indicted on March 23, 2021, by a federal grand jury for conspiring to distribute more than 40 grams of fentanyl in Luzerne County.
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, the indictment alleges that Crawford and Williams conspired to distribute more than 40 grams of fentanyl in the Luzerne County area between July 2020 and February 2021. The indictment also charges Crawford with nine counts of distributing fentanyl and charges Williams with one count of distributing fentanyl.
The case was investigated by the Kingston Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the Luzerne County Drug Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. O’Hara is prosecuting the case.
VIII. Former Texas State Trooper Charged with Sexually Assaulting Two Women While on Duty
Authorities are seeking potential victims following the arrest of a 32-year-old Spring man on federal civil rights violations. The arrest and charges were announced on March 24, 2021, by Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District f Texas Jennifer B. Lowery. The defendant, Lee Ray Boykin Jr., is a former State Trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The criminal complaint, filed March 24, alleges he deprived two separate victims of their right to bodily integrity. He is also charged with carrying and using a firearm during a crime of violence as well as destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in a federal investigation. Boykin made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam S. Sheldon on March 24, 2021.
The complaint alleges that on Aug. 7, 2020, Boykin conducted a traffic stop near an Express Inn at 9025 North Freeway in Houston. After issuing the driver a written warning, Boykin allegedly ordered the passenger to get into his patrol car. The charges allege he then drove her to a back parking lot at 10700 North Freeway and parked near a dumpster.
There, he threatened to take the victim to jail for an out-of-state warrant if she did not perform oral sex on him, according to the complaint. She allegedly feared for her life and safety and obeyed Boykin’s commands. Following the sex act, Boykin placed his hand on his weapon and ordered her to run, according to the charges. The investigation revealed there had been a second victim, according to the complaint.
IX. Nine New Jersey Residents Charged with Conspiracy to Distribute Narcotics
Nine Newark residents were charged for their roles in conspiracies to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced today. Robert Covington, aka “Nachie,” 55; Korey Smith, aka “Murda,” 36: Jeffrey Workman, aka “Rah,” 53; Yvonne Jackson, 49; Carlos Stokes, aka “Ab,” 54; Karen Gamble, 50; and Alaa Covington, 21, are charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 40 grams of fentanyl.
Robert Covington, Workman, Williamson, Stokes, and Gamble are also charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Smith is additionally charged, along with Leroy Baxter III, 55, and William Lane, 57, with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin. Eight of the defendants are expected to appear this afternoon by videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor. Stokes remains at large.
According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from August 2020 through March 2021, multiple individuals were involved in selling fentanyl and cocaine in an open-air narcotics market in Bradley Court Housing Complex in Newark. These individuals comprise at least two separate drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs), which have overlapping membership.
DTO-1 involved individuals engaged in the distribution of fentanyl and included Robert Covington, Smith, Williamson, Gamble, Workman, Stokes, and Alla Covington. DTO-2 involved individuals engaged in the distribution of cocaine and included Robert Covington, Williamson, Gamble, Workman, and Stokes.
X. Two Texans Indicted for Transporting Illegal Aliens Resulting in Death
In Del Rio, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging two Austinites for their alleged roles in transporting illegal aliens from Del Rio to Austin, resulting in the death of an illegal alien, announced the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Ashley C. Hoff and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, San Antonio Division.
The four-count indictment returned March 24, 2021, charges 18-year-old Bianca Michelle Trujillo-Lopez and 28-year-old Isidro Rodriguez Jr. with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of transporting an illegal alien resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury; and one count of transporting an illegal alien resulting in serious bodily injury.
Court records allege that on March 4, 2021, the defendants were traveling on FM 2523 near Del Rio when a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper attempted to stop them for speeding. The driver, Trujillo-Lopez, tried to outrun the trooper, at times reaching speeds topping 120 miles per hour. She ultimately lost control of her vehicle and rolled it multiple times after missing a curve on the road.
One illegal alien died after being ejected from the vehicle during the rollover. Two illegal aliens were transported to San Antonio area hospitals with multiple injuries. Another illegal alien sustained minor injuries. If convicted, the defendants face up to life in federal prison. On March 22, U.S. Magistrate Judge Collis White ordered that Rodriguez remain remains in federal custody pending trial.
Trujillo-Lopez remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for March 26 before Judge White in Del Rio.
XI. Buffalo Woman Arrested, Charged With Stealing Unemployment Benefits To Pay For Plastic Surgery
On March 22, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the. Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced that Shaneesha White, 25, of Buffalo, NY, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with theft of government funds, fraud associated with disaster relief, and wire fraud. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard A. Resnick, who is handling the case, stated that in October 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor received information from the New York State Department of Labor that a federal prisoner was illegally receiving NYS unemployment insurance benefit payments.
Subsequent investigation determined that the IP address associated with the unemployment claim was also associated with multiple other claims, including the defendant Shaneesha White. According to the complaint, a total of $48,833.15 was deposited onto Key Bank debit cards controlled by the defendant. The debit cards were in the name of White, and two others.
The complaint further states that the defendant used the unemployment benefits to pay for various expenses, including cosmetic surgery, a trip to Florida, footwear, and cosmetics. The defendant made an initial appearance on March 22, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr., and was released on conditions.
XII. Queens Man Indicted for $1.7 Million Paycheck Protection Program Fraud
On March 22, 2021, an indictment was returned in federal court in Brooklyn charging Gelpys Joel Peralta-Gutierrez with wire fraud conspiracy relating to a fraudulent application for a loan under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which Congress created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Peralta-Gutierrez was previously arrested in February 2021 on a criminal complaint and will be arraigned at a later date.
Mark J. Lesko, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Amaleka Amalek McCall-Brathwaite, Special Agent-in-Charge, Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Eastern Region Office (SBA-OIG), announced the charges.
As set forth in court filings, in June 2020, Peralta-Gutierrez arranged for a PPP loan application to be submitted on behalf of his company, J Films HD Inc., claiming that he employed 62 employees with a total monthly payroll of nearly $700,000. Based on these representations, Peralta-Gutierrez’s business was granted a loan in excess of $1.7 million.
The location that Peralta-Gutierrez submitted as his business address, however, was a New York City Housing Authority apartment at the Queensbridge Houses. In applications Peralta-Gutierrez submitted for other business relief, he acknowledged that, in reality, his business had only one employee, and total revenues of approximately $50,000.
XIII. Rochester Man Arrested On Gun Charge After Attempting To Flee From Police
On March 23, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that Tyree Sommerville, 24, of Buffalo, NY, had been arrested and charged by criminal complaint with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Meghan E. Leydecker, who is handling the case, stated that late in the morning on December 6, 2020, Buffalo Police Officers were on routine patrol when they observed a vehicle with Ohio license plates fail to signal 100 feet prior to turning at the intersection of Dartmouth Avenue and Orleans Street. Officers activated their overhead lights and sirens to conduct a traffic stop.
The operator of the vehicle refused to stop and continued to drive before turning into a lot on Stockbridge Avenue. At that point, three individuals exited the vehicle, including Sommerville, who jumped out of the vehicle and fled from officers on foot. After a foot chase, officers apprehended the defendant on Hewitt Avenue, at which time officers recovered a semiautomatic pistol from Sommerville.
In July 2014, the defendant was convicted of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, in New York State Court, and as a result, is legally prohibited from possessing a firearm. The defendant was ordered detained on March 23, following a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr.
XIV. Brooklyn Man Charged in Long-Running International Insider Trading Scheme
A 10-count indictment was filed March 23, 2021, in Brooklyn federal court, charging Jason Peltz with securities fraud, money laundering and, tax evasion, among other offenses, including related conspiracy offenses. The charged crimes arise out of a long-running insider trading scheme, in which Peltz executed securities transactions in the brokerage accounts of co-conspirators based on material nonpublic information (MNPI) from a variety of sources.
Peltz was previously arrested on a complaint in December 2020 and will be arraigned on the indictment at a later date. Mark J. Lesko, the Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, and Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent-in-Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, New York (IRS-CI), announced the indictment.
According to the indictment, between November 2015 and October 2020, Peltz and his co-conspirators engaged in a fraudulent scheme by which they obtained MNPI about publicly traded companies from a variety of sources, including a corporate insider and a reporter at a financial news organization (the “Reporter”).
Peltz and his co-conspirators allegedly used the MNPI to profitably trade in securities in advance of public disclosure through news articles. For example, the brokerage accounts of members of the conspiracy made purchases of certain companies’ securities shortly before significant corporate events, such as announcements of potential mergers or acquisitions that sometimes resulted in near-immediate increases in the companies’ share prices.
The co-conspirators’ brokerage accounts sold the shares at a later date in close proximity to the relevant corporate events or announcements of the events. To prevent scrutiny of their communications, Peltz and his co-conspirators often communicated via the use of smartphone applications with end-to-end encryption. Peltz also used prepaid cellular telephones, known as “burner” phones, to prevent scrutiny of his communications.
XV. Bronx Gang Member Charged With 2015 Murder
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), and Ray Donovan, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today the unsealing of a Superseding Indictment charging Ronald Goland, a/k/a “Bigg Base,” a/k/a “Base,” with murder in aid of racketeering and a firearms offense in connection with the murder of Odane Bentley on July 17, 2015, in the Bronx; attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and a firearms offense in connection with the shooting of a rival gang member on November 9, 2018, in the Bronx; and, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
Isaiah Smith, who is also charged in the Superseding Indictment, was previously arrested on charges related to the November 9, 2018, shooting and is already in federal custody. Goland was arrested on March 23, 2021, and was presented later the same day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood.
According to the allegations in the Superseding Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court, Goland is a member or associate of the MacBallas, a subset of the larger Bloods types of blood street gang. In order to preserve and protect the MacBallas’ power, enrich its members, keep victims in fear, and promote and enhance its reputation, members and associates of the MacBallas committed, conspired, attempted, and threatened to commit acts of violence, including acts involving murder and assault, against others, including, in particular, rival gang members; conspired to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics; and, possessed, stored, and used firearms.
On July 17, 2015, Goland shot at a rival gang member (the “Rival Gang Member”) and, in doing so, fired a bullet through the front door of 4431 DeReimer Avenue in the Bronx, New York, killing Odane Bentley. On November 9, 2018, Goland and Isaiah Smith planned and carried out the shooting of the Rival Gang Member in the vicinity of Murdock Avenue in the Bronx, New York.
XVI. Three Charged In $1.6 Million Covid-19 Fraud Scheme
On March 23, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with several federal and state law enforcement officials, announced the unsealing of a complaint charging Alicia Ayers, Andrea Ayers, and Traci Proctor with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, false statements, and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud the SBA, resulting in a loss to the SBA of more than $1.6 million.
All three defendants were arrested this morning. Alicia Ayers and Andrea Ayers were presented that same day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy. Traci Proctor was presented in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
As alleged in the Complaint, the SBA is a federal agency of the Executive Branch that administers assistance to American small businesses. This assistance includes making direct loans to applicants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress expanded SBA’s EIDL Program to provide small businesses with low-interest loans of up to $2 million prior to in or about May 2020 and up to $150,000 beginning in or about May 2020, in order to provide vital economic support to help overcome the loss of revenue small businesses are experiencing due to COVID-19.
In June and July 2020, Alicia Ayers, Andrea Ayers, and Traci Proctor used the identities of approximately 300 other individuals (the “Applicants”) to submit approximately 315 online applications to the SBA, seeking over $3 million of funds through the SBA’s EIDL Program. (the “EIDL Applications”). In connection with the EIDL Applications, Alicia Ayers, Andrea Ayers, and Traci Proctor falsely represented to the SBA that the Applicants were the owners of businesses with ten or more employees., among other things.
In fact, however, the applications falsely reported the businesses’ numbers of employees, and the vast majority of the purported businesses appear not to have existed at all. Based on the fraudulent EIDL Applications, the SBA made advance payments of approximately $1,690,000 to the Applicants, who often then kicked back a portion of the advance payments to Alicia Ayers, Andrea Ayers, and Traci Proctor.
XVII. CEO Of NYC Non-Profit Charged in Bribery/Kickbacks Scheme Involving Publicly-Funded Housing, Social Services
On March 24, 2021, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Margaret Garnett, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”), announced the arrest of Victor Rivera, 61, of Stony Brook, on charges of honest services fraud and money laundering.
As alleged in an Information filed today in Manhattan federal court, Rivera, while leading a non-profit organization (Organization-1) that operated soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and affordable-housing affordable housing facilities in New York City, schemed to enrich himself through bribes and kickbacks from Organization-1’s contractors. Rivera was presented and arraigned later the same day before U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein.
As alleged in the Information, Rivera was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Organization-1, which annually spent millions of dollars in public funds on real estate, security, cleaning, construction, and food expenses, among other costs related to the housing and social services Organization-1 provided.
From at least in or about 2013 until in or about 2020, Rivera engaged in a scheme to enrich himself and his relatives by soliciting and accepting bribes and kickbacks from contractors doing work related to or for Organization-1. The scheme yielded Rivera at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit gains.
Rivera laundered some of the corrupt payments through intermediary entities he controlled, including through a purported consulting company nominally owned by one of his relatives.
XVIII. Popular Instagram Personality Charged with Wire Fraud
A complaint was filed in federal court in Brooklyn yesterday charging Jegara Igbara, 25, of Edgewater, NJ, also known as “Jay Mazini,” with wire fraud related to a scheme in which the defendant allegedly induced victims to send him Bitcoin by falsely claiming to have sent wire transfers of cash in exchange for the Bitcoin. In reality, Igbara never sent the money, and stole at least $2.5 million worth of Bitcoin from victims.
Igbara is currently being held on state charges in New Jersey and will make his initial appearance in the Eastern District of New York at a later date. Mark J. Lesko, 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, and Jonathan D. Larsen, IRS Special Agent-in-Charge, announced the charge.
As set forth in the complaint, up until March 2021, Igbara, under the name “Jay Mazini,” maintained a popular Instagram account with nearly one million followers where he would post videos depicting himself handing out large amounts of cash to individuals as gifts. Beginning in or around January 2021, Igbara began posting videos to his Instagram account offering to buy Bitcoin from other Instagram users at prices 3.5% to 5% over market value.
Igbara claimed that he was willing to pay above-market prices because the traditional Bitcoin exchanges were limiting how much Bitcoin he could purchase. When victims agreed to transact in Bitcoin with Igbara, he sent them documents that included images of purported wire transfer confirmation pages that falsely confirmed Igbara had sent a wire transfer for the promised amounts.
In response, the victims supplied Igbara with the Bitcoin, but the promised wire transfers never arrived. Bank records showed that, as to at least one victim, Igbara did not have funds in the account identified in the wire transfer receipt that were was sufficient to cover the wire transfer he had promised to make.
XIX. MS-13 Gang Associate Indicted for Murder of 17-Year Old Victim in Kissena Park in Queens
A superseding indictment was returned March 25, 2021, in Brooklyn federal court, charging Oscar Flores-Mejia, an associate of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13, a transnational criminal organization, with murder in-aid-of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder in-aid-of racketeering in connection with the April 23, 2018 murder of 17-year-old Andy Peralta in Queens, New York.
Flores-Mejia was arrested on a criminal complaint in February 2021 and ordered detained pending trial. The defendant will be arraigned at a later date. Mark J. Lesko, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with several federal and state law enforcement officials, announced the superseding indictment.
According to court filings, on the evening of April 23, 2018, Peralta was lured to Kissena Park, where he was ambushed in a wooded area by Flores-Mejia and two others. Peralta was believed to be a member of the 18th Street gang. Peralta had a tattoo of a crown on his chest, which the defendant mistakenly believed to be a symbol of a rival gang.
Peralta was repeatedly slashed, stabbed, beaten, and strangled. A photograph taken of Peralta’s body depicts Flores-Mejia leaning over the victim and displaying an MS-13 hand sign. If convicted, Flores-Mejia faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.