New York State Criminal Cases – Friday, September 10, 2021

Last edited on Friday, September 10, 2021, at 1:05 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. 

As always, unless otherwise disclosed, none of the defendants mentioned in these summaries are clients of our firm.

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Friday, September 10, 2021

I. Trinitarios Gang Member Charged with Murder of Confidential Informant

On September 3, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, along with Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, Dermot Shea, NYPD Commissioner, and Stuart K. Cameron, Acting Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced that William Jones, a/k/a “Principe,” had been charged with the murder of a federal confidential informant.  Jones was arrested the day before and was presented Sept. 3 in Manhattan federal court. The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Edgardo Ramos.

According to the indictment, in or around December 2019, Jones, who is a member of the Trinitarios street gang, and others agreed to kill Frederick Delacruz, who was a member of the Trinitarios and also a confidential informant for law enforcement.  On December 28, 2019, Jones and others drove Delacruz from the Bronx to Suffolk County, where Delacruz was shot and killed. Jones, 43, of the Bronx, New York, is charged  with two counts of conspiracy to murder a federal informant. If Jones is convicted, he will face up to life in prison or the death penalty.


II. Three Financial Services Firm Operators Indicted for $155 Million Investment Fraud

On September 8, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, announced that an indictment had been unsealed in Brooklyn federal court, charging three former operators of the financial services firm Biscayne Capital with conspiring to defraud investors and financial institutions in an international fraud scheme that resulted in investor losses topping more than $155 million.  

Roberto Gustavo Cortes Ripalda (“Cortes”), Fernando Haberer Bergson (Haberer) and Ernesto Heraclito Weisson Pazmino (“Weisson”) have all been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.  Weisson was arrested yesterday in Florida, made his initial appearance yesterday afternoon in federal court in Miami and was ordered held pending a detention hearing.  Cortes and Haberer were arrested yesterday in Spain and Argentina, respectively.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that the defendants orchestrated a complex and fraudulent scheme to repeatedly mislead investors about the nature and performance of their investments.  The defendants enriched themselves with millions of dollars in investor funds while making misrepresentations that caused more than $155 million in investor losses. The charges that were made in the indictment reflect the seriousness of criminal activities carried out by the defendants. 

Biscayne Capital was a financial services company founded in approximately 2005 and which maintained offices in Florida, Ecuador, Argentina, the Bahamas, and Uruguay.  Between 2013 and 2018, Cortes, Haberer and Weisson, together with others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud Biscayne Capital clients and financial institutions through a series of material misrepresentations and omissions about how client funds would be used.  

The defendants and their co-conspirators used the funds they fraudulently obtained from clients and financial institutions to pay other investors, cover Biscayne Capital expenses and pay themselves millions of dollars.


III. Former Ericsson Employee Charged for Role In Foreign Bribery Scheme

On September 8, 2021, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, announced t the unsealing of an indictment charging Afework Bereket, a/k/a “Affe Bereket,” with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit money laundering, in connection with his role in a criminal scheme to bribe foreign government officials perpetrated by Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (“LM Ericsson”), a multinational telecom company headquartered in Sweden, and its subsidiary Ericsson Egypt Ltd. (Ericsson Egypt and Ericsson).  Bereket remains at large.

According to the Indictment, which was unsealed today in Manhattan federal court Sept. 8, Bereket while working as an account manager for Ericsson, bribed foreign officials in Djibouti in exchange for business with a state-owned telecom company there (Telecom Company-1). Bereket was responsible for accounts in the Horn of Africa, a region that included Djibouti, from approximately November 2010 until approximately July 2013.  

The indictment alleges that Bereket and co-conspirators engaged in a scheme to pay approximately $2.1 million in bribes to three foreign officials, including two high-ranking foreign officials in the executive branch of Djibouti’s government, and a high-level executive with Telecom Company-1 – in order to help Ericsson, obtain and retain a large contract with Telecom Company-1.  Bereket and co-conspirators disguised the bribes as payments to a consulting company related to one of the foreign officials being bribed.


IV. Owner of Long Island Commercial Check Cashing Companies Pleads Guilty to Financial Fraud

In federal court in Central Islip on September 9, 2021, John Drago, the former owner/operator of several check cashing businesses located on Long Island, pleaded guilty to illegally structuring financial transactions and payroll tax evasion. The proceeding took place before U.S. District Judge Gary R. Brown.  When sentenced, Drago faces up to 10 years in prison, has agreed to forfeit approximately $253,000 and to pay restitution of approximately $593,000.  

As part of his plea, Drago is required to surrender his check cashing licenses, his federal money services business registrations and he is barred from applying for any such licenses or registrations in the future.

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the guilty plea. She noted that the guilty pleas emphasize that running a check cashing business is not a license to cheat the IRS or to create a blank check for committing fraud.”


V. Buffalo Man Arrested, Facing Drug, Gun Charges

On September 9, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced that Angel Coira-Burgos, 44, of Buffalo, NY, had been arrested and charged via criminal complaint with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute cocaine and fentanyl and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. If he is convicted in a court of law, Coira-Burgos faces at least five years in prison and up to life, as well as a potential fine of up to $1,000,000.

According to the charging documents filed in this case, on June 1, 2021, Amherst Police officers, while on routine patrol on Flint Road, conducted a check of a license plate and learned that the registered owner had two outstanding warrants for drug charges in Lancaster, New York. When officers conducted a traffic stop, they confirmed that the driver was the registered owner with the two warrants and took her into custody. 

During the traffic stop, a passenger identified himself as Angel Coira-Burgos, and advised officers that he was previously arrested on firearms charges in Buffalo. This criminal complaint is the result of an investigation by the Amherst Police Department, under the direction of the FBI.


VI. Rensselaer County Man Charged with Pandemic-Related Unemployment Fraud

Hector J. Sanchez, 29, of Rensselaer, New York, was arrested September 9, 2021, on an indictment charging him with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft related to filing for and receiving more than $80,000 in benefits from false unemployment insurance claims. The allegedly false claims exploited federal programs stemming from the CARES Act and they were intended to aid out-of-work New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The announcement of the arrest and the charges was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon, along with several prominent state and federal law enforcement officials.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that from August to November 2020, Sanchez engaged in a fraud scheme to obtain the personal identifying information of other individuals, including via social media, and file false unemployment insurance applications in their names with the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL).  It is further alleged that Sanchez used debit cards linked to the false claims to obtain cash, goods, and services.


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