Friday, January 23, 2015

15th Member of Washington, D.C.-Based Identity Theft Ring Pleads Guilty

Defendant Admits To Targeting Parents Of Hospitalized Children, Among Others

A Maryland woman pleaded guilty today in connection with her involvement in a sophisticated identity theft ring that stole the identities of over 600 individuals in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas with an estimated loss of well over $1 million.  Fifteen members of the fraud ring—which targeted, among others, the parents of sick and injured kids receiving treatment at a children’s hospital in Washington, D.C.—have been convicted so far as a result of this investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland and Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Michalko of the U.S. Secret Service’s Washington Field Office made the announcement after the guilty plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Identity theft wreaks havoc on the lives of American citizens every year,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “But this group took the distress to a new level by targeting the parents of hospitalized children and stealing their identities, as well as those of other customers and members of businesses in the Washington, D.C., area.  Along with our law enforcement partners, the Criminal Division is committed to protecting the privacy and financial security of the American people from both foreign and domestic thieves.”

Leah Shanae Elliott, 22, of Clinton, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, access device fraud and identity theft.  A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 24, 2015, before Judge Hilton.  

In a statement of facts filed with her plea agreement, Elliott admitted that she was a member of a large-scale identity theft ring that operated in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and elsewhere.  According to Elliott, members of the ring used their employment at local businesses and nonprofits—including banks, credit unions, medical and dental centers, employee associations, restaurants and stores—to access and steal personally identifiable information (PII) such as social security numbers, addresses, and dates of birth, as well as debit and credit card information.  The conspirators then used this stolen information to manufacture fraudulent driver’s licenses and other identifications, as well as fraudulent debit and credit cards.  Conspirators used the fake identifications and debit or credit cards to establish lines of credit, purchase merchandise at retail establishments, make unauthorized withdrawals from victims’ bank accounts and manufacture and cash counterfeit checks.

Elliott specifically admitted that that she stole PII and debit and credit card information at the restaurant at which she worked, and used stolen PII and fraudulent driver’s licenses to open lines of credit and obtain rental vehicles, computers, televisions, cameras, watches, jewelry and other items under victims’ names.  She also admitted that she retrieved “skimming” devices loaded with stolen PII and debit and credit card information from other members of the conspiracy and used those devices to transfer the stolen information into fake identifications and debit and credit cards.

Further, Elliott admitted that she solicited her mother—a credit and collections representative at a children’s hospital in Washington, D.C.—to steal the identities of parents of sick or injured children, and that after a further request from one of the ring’s leaders, her mother ultimately provided 78 stolen “profiles” from the hospital.

Members of the fraud ring previously convicted include:

    Erin Lyles-Armstrong, 34, of Germantown, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft on Feb. 1, 2012;

    Justin Gatling, 28, of Silver Spring, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of exceeding authorized access to information stored in a computerized financial record of a financial institution on March 29, 2012;

    Segale Battle, 30, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to identity theft on Sept. 15, 2013;

    Rungnatee Pearson, 45, of Bronx, New York, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud on Sept. 18, 2013;

    Jamille Ferguson, 31, of Dumfries, Virginia, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 8, 2013;

    Christopher Bush, 30, of New York, New York, who pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 11, 2013;

    Jenaro Blalock, 31, of Clinton, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 29, 2013;

    Kevin Middleton, 32, of McClellanville, South Carolina, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud on Dec. 16, 2013;

    Adrienne Pritchett, 42, of District Heights, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Oct. 3, 2013;

    Tekia Thomas, 22, of Alexandria, Virginia, who pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud on Oct. 8, 2013;

    Elizabeth Monika Hunter, 20, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, who pleaded guilty to one account of access device fraud on Jan. 28, 2014;

    LaShawn Powell, 35, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements on April 15, 2014;

    Detrius Elliott, 43, of Clinton, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft on May 29, 2014; and

    Chantel Thompson, 22, of Washington, D.C., who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, access device fraud, and identity theft on Jan. 9, 2015.

Most of the defendants have already been sentenced.  Last year Judge Hilton sentenced Blalock and Bush, two of the leaders of the ring, to 12 years in prison and 10 years in prison, respectively.  Blalock was also ordered to pay $614,685.58 in restitution.

The U.S. Secret Service led this investigation, with significant assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General, Montgomery County Police Department, Fairfax County Police Department, City of Fairfax Police Department, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Prince George’s County Police Department’s Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement Unit and others.  The cases are being prosecuted by Senior Counsels Matthew A. Lamberti and Peter V. Roman of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera Fine of the District of Maryland.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Two Mexican Nationals Sentenced for Sex Trafficking Offenses

The Department of Justice today announced that Judge Amy Totenberg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia sentenced two defendants, Arturo Rojas-Coyotl, 28, and Odilon Martinez-Rojas, 43, both of Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, Mexico, to 192 months and 262 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in compelling three young women to prostitute in the Atlanta, Georgia., area.  In imposing the sentences, United States District Court Judge Totenberg also ordered the defendants to pay $180,000 in restitution to the victims.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery-- period. No matter the label, the of use violence, intimidation, psychological coercion, deception, or fear to exploit fellow human beings is repugnant,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates.  “The long sentences handed down today are just one of the latest examples of the Justice Department's unshakable resolve to dismantle human trafficking networks and prosecute those who would commit these unspeakable crimes against some of the most vulnerable in our society."  Yates’ previous service as United States Attorney from 2010 to 2015 included making her district—the Northern District of Georgia—one of several key U.S. districts engaged in the Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative.

In October 2014, the defendants pleaded guilty to three counts of sex trafficking and three related immigration violations pertaining to three separate victims of their sex trafficking scheme.  According to the indictment and documents filed in court, in early 2006, Rojas-Coyotl lured a young Mexican national of indigenous heritage using false promises of love, legitimate work and a better life to induce her to travel with him into the United States.  Upon her arrival in the United States, Rojas-Coyotl and Martinez-Rojas used physical violence, threats, intimidation, deception and psychological manipulation to compel her to engage in prostitution, for the defendants’ profit, in Georgia and Alabama, for over a year and half until she escaped in November 2007.

In March 2007, Rojas Coyotl and Martinez started romancing two young Guatemalan women and lured them to the United States in October 2007, under the same false pretenses.  The defendants then employed a nearly identical coercive scheme to compel the young women to prostitute in Georgia and Alabama before they escaped at separate times in early 2008.

The defendants made the young women fearful of law enforcement and thus, the victims did not immediately come forward.  Once investigators did find and speak to them, the details of the trafficking emerged: the defendants ran a high volume, low cost business compelling the young women to have sex, at times with upwards of 20 men a night in 15 minute increments, for payment of $30- $35.  The money earned by the victims was split between the defendants and others who drove the young women to the clients.  One of the young women became ill and suffered great pain due to the repeated commercial sex acts she had to endure.

Since 2009, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts in a Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative, aimed at strengthening high-impact prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law, in order to more effectively dismantle human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, bring human traffickers to justice, restore the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims and reunite victims with their children held under the trafficking networks’ control.  These efforts have resulted in successful prosecutions in both Mexico and the United States, including U.S. federal prosecutions of over 50 defendants in multiple cases in Georgia, New York, Florida, and Texas since 2009, in addition to numerous Mexican federal and state prosecutions of associated sex traffickers.

“These defendants targeted vulnerable individuals, preying on their hopes and dreams, dominating and deceiving them, and selling their bodies to strangers, all so the defendants could collect thousands of dollars in prostitution proceeds while the victims lived in fear, denied control over their own lives,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division is unwavering in its commitment to bringing human traffickers to justice and restoring the rights and dignity of the courageous survivors of all forms of modern-day slavery.”

“Sex trafficking is a horrendous crime that robs the victims of their freedom and dignity, leaving them feeling isolated and powerless,” said Acting United States Attorney John Horn for the Northern District of Georgia.  “This case hits new lows in depravity given the number of times these girls were victimized each day.  These defendants are being held accountable by U.S. laws which protect all victims of human trafficking.”

A third co-defendant, Daniel Garcia-Tepal, pleaded guilty to related immigration offenses.  A fourth co-defendant, Severiano Martinez-Rojas, remains a fugitive.

“This case represents one of the worst examples of human trafficking and why it is such a priority matter for not only law enforcement but for the many non-government agencies who help law enforcement in reporting human trafficking and providing assistance to those with nowhere else to turn,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Office.  “The FBI urges anyone with information regarding human trafficking activities to contact authorities and help put an end to modern day slavery.”

“The defendants mercilessly manipulated, abused and exploited these women in a criminal scheme that is all too common in our communities,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Spradlin of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta.  “Sex trafficking and other forms of human trafficking are a scourge on our society that HSI is dedicated to ending.”

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations.  It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Benjamin J. Hawk of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and Assistant United States Attorney Susan Coppedge of the Northern District of Georgia.

CBA and Justice Policy Toolkit

Justice policymakers must make tough choices with limited resources. To help weigh their options, decision makers are increasingly turning to cost-benefit analysis, an economic tool that compares the costs of programs or policies with the benefits they deliver. With support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Vera Institute of Justice's Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice (CBKB) has released the Cost-Benefit Analysis and Justice Policy Toolkit, which provides a step-by-step CBA guide and features several examples from the criminal justice field. To access the toolkit, go to