Criminal Justice News

Friday, May 30, 2014

Federal Inmate Sentenced to Life in Prison for the Murder of a U.S. Correctional Officer

WASHINGTON – Federal inmate James Ninete Leon Guerrero, 48, of Guam, was sentenced today to serve life in prison for the murder of United States Correctional Officer Jose Rivera, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner of the Eastern District of California.  Guerrero was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Phillip Pro of the District of Nevada.

According to court documents, Guerrero aided and abetted co-defendant Jose Cabrera Sablan in the stabbing death of Officer Rivera.  On June 20, 2008, as Officer Rivera was on duty and conducting his daily count in the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California, Sablan attacked him with an eight-inch homemade shank.  Officer Rivera tried to flee, but was knocked backwards by Sablan and tackled by Guerrero.  Guerrero held Rivera down as Sablan stabbed him with the shank in excess of 20 times.  Officer Rivera was 22 years old at the time of his death and was a United States Navy veteran.
Sablan and Guerrero were indicted for murder on Aug. 14, 2008.  Sablan’s case is set for trial on April 6, 2015, and the government will be seeking the death penalty if he is convicted.

The charges against Sablan are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Prisons and the FBI.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Bonnie Hannan of the Capital Case Section of the Criminal Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Duce Rice of the Eastern District of California.

DEA Employee and Contractor Husband Plead Guilty to False Statements in Kidnapping Hoax

Nydia L. Perez and John A. Soto, both 44, of Haymarket, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials in federal court on Friday, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director for International Operations John Boles of the FBI.

According to the plea agreement, in December 2013, Perez, an employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and her husband Soto, a private contractor in the United States Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, designed and executed a hoax with the intention of defrauding the United States Embassy in Bogotá.   As part of the hoax, Perez and Soto fabricated a plot to kidnap minors who are United States citizens.

According to court filings, Perez and Soto sent, through electronic mail and courier services, information about a purported threat to the safety of minor United States citizens in Bogotá.   Perez and Soto added detailed descriptions of the targeted United States citizens, including information about their whereabouts and daily routines.   Perez and Soto included photographs of the citizens in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat, and attempted to implicate innocent individuals in the kidnapping plot.   Perez and Soto made numerous false representations to law enforcement and security officials in furtherance of the fabricated kidnapping plot.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman-Jackson is scheduled for Aug. 21, 2014.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Legal Attaché in Bogotá and the Extra-Territorial Squad of the FBI Miami Field Office.   Also participating in the investigation were the DEA, the U.S. Embassy Bogota Regional Security Office, and the U.S. Embassy Bogota Force Protection Detail.   The Department is grateful for the assistance of the Colombia National Police Directorate of Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Justin Weitz of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

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Rochester Man Pleads to 1998 Murder

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Pablo Plaza, of Rochester, N.Y., 38, pleaded guilty to the commission of a murder while engaged in a drug trafficking conspiracy before U.S. District judge Frank P. Geraci. The charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 20 years and a maximum of life, and a $250,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Everardo A. Rodriguez, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant murdered Francisco Santos at the Seneca Indian Reservation in Erie County, N.Y., in October 1998. The murder was part of a drug trafficking conspiracy in the Rochester area, which included cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and marijuana, from 1993 to March 2011.

“This conviction is proof that no matter how long ago a murder was committed, this office will continue to relentlessly investigate and prosecute those responsible for such violent episodes,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul.

The victim, Francisco Santos, was a member of the drug distribution conspiracy and was believed to have stolen drugs and money from other members of the conspiracy. In retaliation for the theft, Plaza and other members of the conspiracy assaulted Santos and one of the other conspiracy members slashed Santos across the side of the head with a knife. Sometime after the beating, the co-conspirator who slashed Santos on the head was arrested for the assault.

To further retaliate for the original theft and to prevent Santos from testifying against the co-conspirator on the assault charge, Plaza and a group of other co-conspirators found Santos and drove him to the Seneca Indian Reservation. Once at the reservation, they took Santos down a dirt path behind some trees and stabbed him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. Plaza admitted to having personally stabbed Santos and to having observed other coconspirators also stabbing him.

In addition, the defendant was present for the beating death of Ryan Cooper. Plaza stated that Cooper learned about Santos’ murder and wanted to report it to the police. The defendant explained that one of the men involved in the Santos murder learned what Cooper was saying. Plaza stated that one day while Cooper was at his residence, two co-conspirators came to Plaza’s apartment, confronted Cooper and then attacked Cooper and killed him. Bags containing Cooper’s remains were later dumped behind a school near some railroad tracks in Rochester.

Plaza was charged along with four other defendants with the murder of Francisco Santos. Also charged: James Kendrick, Pablo Plaza, born in 1972 (Plaza’s older brother with the same name), Janine Plaza Pierce, the mother of Kendrick and the older Plaza, and Angelo Cruz. Kendrick is also charged with the murder of Ryan Cooper. The trial of these remaining defendants is expected to take place later this year or early 2015.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The plea is the culmination of a joint investigation on the part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New York Field Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Cannon, and the Rochester Police Department, Violent Crime Team/Firearms Suppression Unit, under the direction of Chief Michael Ciminelli. Numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies assisted in the investigation, including the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Robert T. Meyers and Major Mark Koss; the Erie County Sheriff=s Department, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy B. Howard; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, New York Field Division. Also assisting in the investigation was the Schenectady County District Attorney=s Office, under the Direction of District Attorney Robert M. Carney.

Sentencing is scheduled for September 2, 2014 at 3:00 pm. before Judge Geraci.

NIJ and OJJDP Release Three Bulletins in Justice Research Series

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) have released three new bulletins in their new, coproduced Justice Research series. The series reports on findings from joint NIJ and OJJDP research on youth in the juvenile justice system. The three new bulletins are:
  • “Criminal Career Patterns” discusses the criminal careers of offenders, specifically the links between offending patterns in adolescence and in adulthood, and how studying criminal careers has the potential to provide useful information to practitioners and policymakers.
  • “Explanations for Offending” presents an overview of five theoretical perspectives proposed to explain offending patterns over the life course, with attention to the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
“Prediction and Risk/Needs Assessment” examines our ability to predict whether a young adult will commit crimes based on information available from his or her juvenile years and reviews assessment tools used to make these predictions.

Puerto Rico Superior Court Judge and Local Businessman Indicted on Conspiracy and Federal Programs Bribery Charges

A current Puerto Rico Superior Court Judge and Puerto Rico businessman were charged with orchestrating a criminal scheme in which the businessman paid bribes to the judge presiding over the criminal case against the businessman according to an indictment unsealed today.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico, and Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division made the announcement.

“The outcome of a criminal case should be determined by the evidence and the law, not by paid-for bias,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “When citizens can’t have faith in the very people who are sworn to uphold the law, confidence in the entire system is shaken.  We are committed to restoring that faith by rooting out corruption wherever it may be found.”

“A fair and impartial criminal justice system is one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” said U.S. Attorney Rodríguez-Vélez.  “Judges, in particular, are expected to protect the public’s trust in the fairness of the judicial system.  Investigations such as the one leading to today’s indictment are crucial to deter corrupt officials influenced by greed from breaking their oath to uphold the rule of law.   This case should serve as a strong warning to those who might consider similar behavior.  No one is above the law and everyone is accountable for their misdeeds.”

“Rogue justice as the one allegedly imparted by Judge Manuel Acevedo-Hernández will not be tolerated by the FBI,” said Special Agent in Charge Cases.   “The FBI will continue vigorously to investigate allegations of corruption at all levels.”

The indictment, returned yesterday by a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico and unsealed today, charges Manuel Acevedo-Hernandez, 62, and Lutgardo Acevedo-Lopez, 39, with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery.  Acevedo-Hernandez was also charged with receipt of a bribe by an agent of an organization receiving federal funds, and Acevedo-Lopez was charged with paying a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds.

According to the indictment, Acevedo-Hernandez, a Supervisory Superior Court Judge in the Aguadilla judicial region of Puerto Rico, allegedly accepted bribes from Acevedo-Lopez and others, knowing that the payments were made so that Acevedo-Hernandez would use his official position as a Superior Court judge for Acevedo-Lopez’s benefit.    In particular, Acevedo-Hernandez presided over a criminal trial of Acevedo-Lopez and acquitted Acevedo-Lopez of all charges pending against him, including vehicular homicide.   In exchange for the acquittal, Acevedo-Lopez, through an intermediary, bribed Acevedo-Hernandez by paying taxes owed by Acevedo-Hernandez, paying for construction of a garage, and providing him with a motorcycle, clothing and accessories, including cufflinks and a watch.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations.   The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s San Juan Division and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Peter Mason of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Henwood and Jose Capo of the District of Puerto Rico.

Citizens of Puerto Rico who have allegations of public corruption are encouraged to contact the FBI’s San Juan Division at (787) 754-6000.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New York City Police Department Officer Arrested On Fraud And Identity Theft Charges

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Robert T. Johnson, the District Attorney for Bronx County, George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today the arrest of JOHN L. MONTANEZ, a police officer with the NYPD, on charges of access device fraud, mail fraud, and identity theft. MONTANEZ was arrested this morning at his residence in the Bronx, New York, and presented this afternoon in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Police Officer John Montanez not only violated his oath to uphold the law, but actively broke it when he himself engaged in fraud and identity theft. Corruption undermines the public’s confidence in law enforcement, particularly so when a police officer, out of greed, allegedly uses his position of authority not to stop crime, but to help commit more crime. I want to thank our partners at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the NYPD for their work in this important case.”

Bronx County District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said: “Police officers are sworn to uphold the laws, and it is most disturbing when those whose purpose is to combat crime instead engage in identity theft that not only victimizes the public, but also their fellow officers. This office will continue to work to prosecute these crimes with all due diligence.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said: “As a police officer Mr. Montanez was charged with enforcing the law. He was also rightfully expected to abide by the very laws he enforced. Today’s complaint tells a different story. We’ll continue to work with the New York City Police Department to investigate corruption wherever we find it.”

NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “These charges evidence not only a significant breach of trust and abuse of authority but also serious criminal conduct on the part of a public servant. I commend the well-coordinated efforts of the federal and state prosecutors, the FBI and our Internal Affairs Bureau in developing this case.”

According to the allegations contained in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

In 2011, an individual, who subsequently agreed to cooperate with law enforcement, and who is referred to in the Complaint as the “CW,” informed MONTANEZ that the CW had a suspended and/or revoked driver’s license. In response, MONTANEZ offered to provide the CW with the name and driver’s license number of a real person – so that if the CW were stopped by law enforcement, the CW could pretend to be someone else – in return for electronic items that the CW would purchase for MONTANEZ with fraudulently obtained or stolen credit cards. After that, in return for the CW purchasing merchandise for MONTANEZ, and providing to MONTANEZ credit card/debit card numbers that MONTANEZ understood were stolen or fraudulently obtained, MONTANEZ provided to the CW multiple names, dates of birth, and driver’s license identification numbers of other people. One such person, referred to in the Complaint as “Victim-1,” was a fellow police officer with the NYPD, serving in the same precinct as MONTANEZ.

The CW was arrested in June of 2013 and later began recording meetings with MONTANEZ in connection with the CW’s cooperation with law enforcement. During these meetings, MONTANEZ offered to provide additional identities to the CW in return for merchandise purchased with credit cards that MONTANEZ believed that the CW had stolen or fraudulently obtained. In one recorded meeting between the CW and MONTANEZ, MONTANEZ explained to the CW that the CW should feel comfortable pretending to be Victim-1, stating, “It’s the best, cleanest, guaranteed name you can ever have.” In another consensually-recorded meeting between the CW and MONTANEZ, in connection with discussing the CW looking to obtain from MONTANEZ additional names and/or personal identification information of other persons, MONTANEZ stated, “I can go into the precinct in plain clothes. It’s going to take me a couple of minutes. I can go inside, and do whatever.” During one consensually-recorded meeting, MONTANEZ also stated: “I’m not the cop you think I am. I am a piece of s***.”

MONTANEZ, 28, is charged with one count of access device fraud, one count of mail fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. He faces a maximum sentence of 32 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of two years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau. Mr. Bharara noted that the investigation is ongoing.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel C. Richenthal is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

International Scheme to Extort Americans by Impersonating DEA Special Agents Foiled

 DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and United States Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York today announced that 21 citizens of the Dominican Republic have been charged with conspiring to impersonate United States law enforcement officers, extortion, and wire fraud.  Beginning two weeks ago, authorities in the Dominican Republic, acting on requests from the United States, located and arrested 17 of the defendants in the Dominican Republic, who are now awaiting extradition proceedings in that country.  Four defendants remain at-large.

The defendants are alleged to have engaged in a scheme to extort money from individuals located in the United States by posing as DEA Agents or other representatives of the United States Government.  The defendants targeted individuals who they believed had illicitly purchased prescription pharmaceuticals through call centers located in the Dominican Republic.  As part of the defendants’ scheme, a member of the conspiracy would call a victim located in the United States and identify himself or herself as a DEA agent or representative of another United States agency.  The victim would then be told that he or she was under investigation for illegally purchasing prescription drugs, and that the only way to avoid arrest and jail would be to pay a “fine” or some other fee to the DEA.  In total, the defendants and others who participated in this scheme and copy-cat schemes demanded at least $3.5 million, and received at least $880,000, in extortionate payments from victims in the United States.

“These alleged criminals not only bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting Americans but they also called into question the integrity and honor of the DEA and all law enforcement,” Administrator Leonhart said.  The DEA, with the assistance of our Dominican Republic counterparts, have worked diligently to identify, target and, ultimately, dismantle this group of alleged scam artists.  We urge anyone who receives a similar threatening phone call to hang up and contact local or federal law enforcement immediately.”

United States Attorney Bharara said: “These defendants generated untold millions of dollars in illicit profits by posing as DEA Agents or other U.S. law enforcement officers.  They carried out the internet or telephone equivalent of displaying phony badges to rip off their victims.  In the process, the defendants assaulted the good name of the DEA.  We commend the DEA for putting a stop to this criminal charade.”

According to the Indictment, which was unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

From at least 2008, up to and including March 2013, JULIO SANTANA JOSEPH, FRANCISCO RUBIO MONTALVO, ANGEL PEREZ AVILES, a/k/a “Mike,” DEIVY BURGOS FELIX, CHENGY PADILLA GARO, GEURY GUZMAN ROSA, DANTE CAMINERO VASQUEZ, SAUL HERNANDEZ BATISTA, MOISES DE LA CRUZ DECENA, CELSO MIGUEL SARITA, EDWARD CUEVAS ESCANO, SANTIAGO GUZMAN GONZALEZ, JOSE ARISMENDY CUESTA ABREU, CARLOS PERDOMO ROSARIO, a/k/a “El Depo,” ELINSON REYES ALMONTE, YEURY AMARANTE ROSARIO, MARIO ANTONIO PLACIDO, YGNACIO ESTEVEZ MESSON, BORIS GIL GUERRERO, VICTOR VELASQUEZ ROCHTTIS, a/k/a “Vitico,” and RAFAELA MEDINA, a/k/a “Carolina,” the defendants, and others known and unknown, engaged in a scheme to extort money from individuals located in the United States by posing as DEA Agents or other representatives of the United States Government (the “Impersonation and Extortion Scheme”).  Each of the defendants made extortionate calls and/or received money from victims who had been extorted.  The Impersonation and Extortion Scheme targeted individuals who the defendants believed had purchased prescription drugs unlawfully over the internet or through call centers.  The illicit websites and call centers at issue sold pills to customers that would typically require a doctor’s prescription to purchase.  The illicit websites and call centers did not require consumers to obtain the required prescriptions before purchase (hereinafter, the pills sold in this manner are referred to as the “Prescription Drugs”). 

The DEA Impersonation and Extortion Scheme typically operated as follows: First, certain of the defendants and other individuals not named as defendants who engaged in the Impersonation and Extortion Scheme (the “Extorters”) purchased, or otherwise obtained, lists of individuals who the Extorters believed had previously purchased Prescription Drugs over the internet on illicit websites or through illicit call centers located in the Dominican Republic (“Customer Lists”).  The Customer Lists generally contained the names, addresses, credit card numbers and other information for individuals located in the United States.

Second, an Extorter contacted a customer from the Customer Lists (the “victim”) and identified him- or herself as a DEA agent or representative of another United States agency. Often, the Extorter provided the name of an actual DEA supervisor from a DEA office located in the United States.  The Extorters attempted to extort money from victims throughout the United States, including victims in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York.            
During a call with a victim, an Extorter falsely informed the victim that authorities in the Dominican Republic or elsewhere were investigating or criminally charging the victim as a result of his or her illegal purchase of Prescription Drugs that were sent to the victim from the Dominican Republic.  In a single call or series of calls and emails, the Extorter detailed the purported criminal charges and potential penalties facing the victim, including imprisonment, and the likelihood that the victim would be arrested and extradited to a foreign country for prosecution. 
During a call with the victim, an Extorter also generally informed the victim that he or she could dispose of, or avoid, the criminal charges by making a cash payment.  In order to do so, the Extorter had the victim transfer between several hundred and several thousand dollars either (i) through a money remitting service to a particular individual in the Dominican Republic, or (ii) via wire transfer to a particular bank account located in the Dominican Republic.   
Following receipt of a payment from a victim, an Extorter typically contacted the victim again.  During the follow-up conversations, the Extorter demanded additional payments and threatened to have criminal charges re-filed against the victim.  If the victim refused to make, or to continue to make, extortion payments to the Extorter, the Extorter threatened the victim with his or her imminent arrest, with searches of the victim’s home in the United States by federal law enforcement officers, or with public disclosure of the victim’s prior purchases of Prescription Drugs.