Weekly Roundup of New York Criminal Cases for November 26, 2021

Last edited on Friday, November 26, 2021, at 5:04 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, November 26, 2021

Prosecuting Cyberstalkers and Public Corruption

Starting our roundup of recently initiated New York criminal cases is a case involving cyberstalking and public corruption, as a lawyer — better yet, he was once a partner in a law firm — was arrested after an indictment was unsealed charging Willie Dennis, 59, from New York City, with cyberstalking some of his former law firm partners. Dennis, City, was arrested last week in the Dominican Republic and appeared in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang the very next day.  The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Lorna G. Schofield.

According to the indictment, from at least in or about 2018, up to and including in or about November 2020, Dennis, a former partner at a prominent national law firm, engaged in a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and threats against multiple individuals, including other partners, who worked at the Firm. In all, Dennis sent the victims thousands of harassing, threatening, and intimidating emails and text messages as a part of that campaign. 

Overall, Willie Dennis has been charged with four counts of cyberstalking. If he is convicted in a court of law, he faces as much as five years in prison per count. The AUSA Sarah L. Kushner oversees the prosecution, as the prosecution of this case is being handled by the General Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Campaign Finance Fraud and Political Intrigue

There was also a case involving a real estate specialist and a lawyer acting on a scheme involving campaign finance and politics.  It all started Nov. 19, when the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, announced that he had unsealed an indictment charging Gerald Migdol with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, and that all the charges stemmed from a scheme to conceal and misrepresent the sources of political campaign contributions. 

Migdol was arrested earlier that same day and he was presented that same day to U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang. Ultimately, the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken. 

According to the allegations made in the indictment, from at least in or about October 2019, through at least in or about January 2021, Gerald Migdol was a willing participant in a scheme to misrepresent and conceal sources of contributions made during the 2021 election cycle to the campaign of Candidate-1, who was running for the office of New York City Comptroller (“Candidate-1”). 

The campaign funding scheme was very thorough, and included a “matching funds program,” which was overseen by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (“CFB”).

Child Exploitation and Pornography

There was another interesting case initiated this week, when Terence Ratigan, 39, of Troy, New York, showed up in a Troy federal court, to answer charges related to child pornography. The charge was announced Nov. 19 by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Carla B. Freedman, along with Janeen DiGuiseppi, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albany Field Office.

If Ratigan is convicted in court, he will face at least five years and up to 20 years in prison, at least five years and up to life of supervised release whenn then prison sentence is over, and a fine up to $250,000. 

Also on November 24, 2021, another case involving child pornography was initiated in a New York court. This time, the case involved a Danville teacher. Derek Hagen,, 29, of Batavia, New York, was arrested and charged via criminal complaint with producing, receiving, distributing, and possessing child pornography. 

According to the complaint filed in this case, in Sept. 2020, Snapchat sent a tip via email to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) regarding a user who had uploaded images of child pornography to a group chat. After tracing the user to Western New York, NCMEC alerted the New York State Police, who were able to identify the defendant in a short amount of time.

On July 20, 2021, investigators confiscated two computers and a cell phone from Hagen’s apartment, and a forensic analysis demonstrated a pattern of child exploitation activity on the devices. He was shown to produce and distribute child pornography in online chats, where he and others traded child porn among each other and even discussed specific children they had sexually abused or wanted to. Those professional analysts have thus far recovered approximately 50,000 images and videos of child porn on Hagen’s devices.

Hacking Personal Information from Business

Also this week, on Nov. 24, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, Trini E. Ross announced that Maurice Sheftall, 23, of Brooklyn, NY, had been arrested and charged by criminal complaint with fraud and related activity in connection with computers and wire fraud. Sheftall is accused because he attempted to access about 74 customer accounts at Wegman’s, the supermarket chain. 

According to AUSA Meghan K. McGuire, who is handling the case, Sheftall attempted to place approximately 25 fraudulent orders of groceries and other goods, totaling approximately $10,000. If he is convicted, the defendant faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sheftall made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark W. Pedersen on Nov. 24, where he was released on conditions.

Threatening Public Officials

On Nov. 24, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, announced that a federal grand jury has returned a two-count indictment against Daniel DeGroat, 30, of Middletown, NY, who was charged with mailing threatening communications to public officials, specifically, the Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, as well as a federal judge. 

According to the indictment, DeGroat mailed the threats in November 2020. If he is convicted of the charges, he faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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