Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Connecticut Men Plead Guilty to Bribery Scheme Involving FBI Agent in New York

Two Connecticut men pleaded guilty today to bribery charges, admitting that they participated in a scheme to obtain confidential, internal law enforcement documents and information from a former FBI Special Agent in White Plains, New York.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York, and Justice Department Inspector General Michael D. Horowitz made the announcement.

Johannes Thaler, 51, of Fairfield County, Connecticut, and Rizve Ahmed, aka “Caesar,” 35, of Danbury, Connecticut, pleaded guilty today in White Plains, New York, federal court to bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services and wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Vincent L. Briccetti of the Southern District of New York.  Both Thaler and Ahmed admitted to participating in a bribery scheme with Robert Lustyik, a former FBI Special Agent in White Plains who worked on the counterintelligence squad.

In pleading guilty, Thaler and Ahmed admitted that between September 2011 and March 2012, Thaler and Lustyik solicited bribes from Ahmed, in exchange for Lustyik’s agreement to provide internal, confidential documents and other confidential information to which Lustyik had access by virtue of his position as an FBI Special Agent.  Thaler was Lustyik’s friend, and Ahmed, a native of Bangladesh, was an acquaintance of Thaler.  Ahmed sought confidential law enforcement information, including a Suspicious Activity Report, pertaining to a Bangladeshi political figure who was affiliated with a political party opposing Ahmed’s views.  Thaler and Ahmed admitted that Ahmed requested the confidential information to help Ahmed locate and harm his intended victim and others associated with the victim.  Ahmed also sought assistance in having criminal charges against a different Bangladeshi political figure dismissed.

Thaler and Ahmed admitted that they exchanged various text messages in furtherance of the scheme, including text messages about a “contract” that would require Ahmed to pay a $40,000 “retainer” and $30,000 “monthly.”  In return, Lustyik and Thaler agreed to “give [Ahmed] everything [they] ha[d] plus set up [the victim] and get the inside from the party.”

Thaler and Lustyik also exchanged text messages about how to pressure Ahmed to pay them additional money in exchange for confidential information.  For example, in text messages, Lustyik told Thaler, “we need to push [Ahmed] for this meeting and get that 40 gs quick . . . . I will talk us into getting the cash . . . . I will work my magic . . . . We r sooooooo close.”  Thaler responded, “I know.  It’s all right there in front of us.  Pretty soon we’ll be having lunch in our oceanfront restaurant . . . .”

Additionally, in late January 2012, Lustyik learned that Ahmed was considering using a different source to obtain confidential information.  As a result, Lustyik sent a text message to Thaler stating, “I want to kill [Ahmed] . . . . I hung my ass out the window n we got nothing? . . . . Tell [Ahmed], I’ve got [the victim’s] number and I’m pissed. . . . I will put a wire on n get [Ahmed and his associates] to admit they want [a Bangladeshi political figure] offed n we sell it to the victim].”  Lustyik further stated, “So bottom line.  I need ten gs asap.  We gotta squeeze C.”

Sentencing hearings for Thaler and Ahmed are scheduled for Jan. 23, 2015.

Lustyik is scheduled for trial on Nov. 17, 2014.  The charges contained in an indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Emily Rae Woods of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Allee of the White Plains Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

U.S. Marshals Add Suspected Murderer to 15 Most Wanted

Fugitive allegedly killed military veteran; possibly fled the country

The U.S. Marshals Service announced the addition of suspected murderer Peter Castillo to its 15 Most Wanted fugitive list.

On May 10, 2012, Castillo allegedly shot 22-year-old military veteran Stephen Perez in the back killing him following an altercation that occurred in the Boston Theater District. Castillo was immediately identified as the shooter by the Boston Police Department and a warrant was issued for homicide. Shortly after the incident, he allegedly fled to New York then to the Dominican Republic where he has extensive ties. As a result, a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was also issued.

“The U.S. Marshals Service reserves our 15 Most Wanted list for the worst of the worst fugitives who are accused of the most egregious crimes,” said U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia A. Hylton. “Peter Castillo’s alleged crimes have made him the latest addition to the list, earning him the full attention of the U.S. Marshals Service. We will use every available resource to bring him to justice.”

U.S. Marshal John Gibbons of the District of Massachusetts reiterated that commitment. “The Marshals Service is committed to assisting the Boston Police Department in locating and apprehending this violent fugitive. Castillo committed a brutal act by allegedly shooting an unarmed veteran in the back and must answer for his crime.”

Gibbons acknowledged all of the investigative work and man-hours already given to the case.

“I would like to recognize the Boston Police Department Homicide Unit for their outstanding investigative efforts with this case; they play a significant role on the Massachusetts Fugitive Task Force. As always, we remain dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to track down and apprehend the most violent fugitives.”

Castillo has an extensive criminal history to include prior arrests for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Given his violent background assaulting law enforcement and the use of weapons, Castillo should be considered armed and dangerous.

“The U.S. Marshals Service 15 Most Wanted program benefits greatly from an extensive global network that includes deputies and law enforcement partners at the local, state, and international levels,” said Hylton. “Castillo and other fugitives who may flee our nation’s borders in an attempt to evade capture will learn the global reach of the U.S. Marshals Service as we stop at nothing to bring them to justice.”

The victim, Perez, was a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a sniper. At the time of the incident, Perez was attending Bunker Hill Community College and majoring in criminology.

A reward of up to $25,000 is being offered for information leading directly to Castillo’s arrest. Anyone with information is urged to contact the nearest U.S. Marshals office or the U.S. Marshals Service Communications Center at 1-800-336-0102.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sinaloa Cartel Member Found Guilty of Drug Trafficking Conspiracy - Four Others Plead Guilty

Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, 41, formerly of Sonora, Mexico, was convicted following a jury trial of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, announced United States Attorney John P. Kacavas.

Celaya Valenzuela and his co-conspirators were members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, led by represented the Sinaloa Cartel, led by the notorious drug lord Joaquin Guzman-Loera, also known as “Chapo.”  The cartel was seeking new cocaine distribution routes from South America to Europe, Canada and the United States.  Beginning in early 2010 and continuing through August 2012, undercover FBI agents posing as members of a European organized crime syndicate met with the cartel representatives.  Many of the meetings were audio and video recorded and portions of those recordings were played for the jury.  The recordings showed Celaya Valenzuela and several co-conspirators attending meetings in Miami, Boston, Madrid, Spain, and in Portsmouth and New Castle, New Hampshire.

Celaya Valenzuela held himself out as an attorney and financial planner working on behalf of Chapo and the cartel.  Manuel Gutierrez Guzman, a co-conspirator and first cousin of Chapo, held himself out as his cousin’s representative in the negotiations.  The cartel representatives offered to deliver thousands of kilograms of cocaine by containerized cargo vessels to various ports on the northeastern seaboard of the United States and in Europe.  They further represented that the cocaine would come from any number of source countries, including Bolivia, Panama, Belize and Col√≥mbia.  The deal was consummated by a face-to-face meeting with Chapo and several telephone calls in which he himself discussed details of the intended shipments.

On July 27, 2012, the conspirators delivered 346 kilograms of cocaine, more than 750 pounds worth millions of dollars, to a port in Algeciras, Spain.  The cocaine was shipped via cargo container in boxes that purportedly held glassware.  The FBI seized the cocaine, and Celaya Valenzuela, Gutierrez Guzman, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela and Jesus Palazuelos Soto were arrested by Spanish law enforcement in Madrid on Aug. 7, 2012.  The defendants were then extradited to New Hampshire.

Manuel Gutierrez Guzman, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela and Jesus Palazuelos Soto pleaded guilty before trial.  A sentencing hearing for Soto is scheduled for Dec. 22, 2014.  Sentencing hearings for Manuel Gutierrez Guzman and Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela are scheduled for Jan. 15, 2015.  Celaya Valenzuela’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2015.  All the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The cartel’s leader, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman-Loera, was arrested by Mexican authorities in February 2014.  He is under indictment in multiple jurisdictions in the United States, including the District of New Hampshire.

“Today’s guilty verdict, together with the guilty pleas of the defendant’s co-conspirators, demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to disrupting and dismantling international drug trafficking organizations wherever they seek to peddle their poison,” said U.S. Attorney Kacavas.  “Whether along our southwest border, in major American cities, or in bucolic New Hampshire, we will use every law enforcement and prosecutorial tool at our disposal to bring international drug traffickers to justice.  I want to thank our federal law enforcement partners, especially the FBI agents who went undercover at significant risk to their personal safety, and the Spanish National Police for their assistance in foiling this far-reaching scheme.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance with the extradition.  The case was prosecuted by First Assistant United States Attorney Don Feith.