Criminal Justice News

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two North Carolina Men Sentenced to Prison for Conspiracy and Identity Theft

A resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, was sentenced to prison today for his role in a conspiracy to file false claims and for aggravated identity theft, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker of the Eastern District of North Carolina announced.

Christian Rhodes, 39, was sentenced to serve 144 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,036,918 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Rhodes pleaded guilty on May 11 to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft.

“Today’s sentence reflects the heavy price that will be paid by those individuals who steal identities and file fraudulent claims for refunds to line their own pockets,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo.  “The department remains committed to working with the IRS and other federal and state law enforcement agencies to identify, prosecute and seek lengthy incarceration of these offenders.”

 On Aug. 4, 2015, Senior U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox of the Eastern District of North Carolina sentenced Rhodes’ brother and co-conspirator, Rodney Wright, 33, to serve 15 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $86,447 in restitution.  Wright pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to file false claims.

According to court documents, Rhodes, Wright and others conspired to prepare and file false income tax returns with the IRS.  Wright obtained personal identification information of taxpayers and provided this information to Rhodes so that Rhodes, and to a more limited degree Wright, could prepare and file false tax returns that fraudulently claimed refunds.  Rhodes also obtained the personal information of taxpayers from other sources, which he used to prepare and file false tax returns.  The false information on the returns included deductions, credits, employers, wages and withholdings.  Rhodes and Wright charged taxpayers a fee for preparing false returns.

Rhodes also recruited his sister, Virginia Parks-Bert, and Kellian James to join his scheme.  Parks-Bert and James pleaded guilty to conspiracy to file false claims with the IRS in the Eastern District of Virginia and were sentenced to serve 42 months and 15 months in prison, respectively.  Rhodes taught Parks-Bert to file false tax returns and explained how to make it more difficult for the IRS to trace false returns back to her.  Rhodes introduced James and Parks-Bert to each other so that James could recruit clients and Parks-Bert could prepare and file more tax returns.  The total intended tax loss of the fraudulent claims filed in this conspiracy was more than $3 million.

Rhodes also filed false claims for refund using stolen identities.  He used the identification of clients from previous tax years to file false tax returns in their names and then kept the entire fraudulently obtained refund.  Rhodes deposited the fraudulently obtained refunds into his own bank accounts or the accounts of third parties, including family members and girlfriends.  He then withdrew cash from his accounts or directed the accountholders to withdraw the funds and deliver them to him.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo commended special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, who investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Menzer of the Eastern District of North Carolina and Trial Attorneys Lauren M. Castaldi and Rebecca Perlmutter of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Kenyan Child Pornography Producer Sentenced to Life in Prison for Participation in Dreamboard Website

A Kenyan child pornography producer was sentenced late yesterday to life in prison for participating in the Dreamboard child sexual exploitation website, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley of the Western District of Louisiana.

Brian Musomba Maweu, 52, who was extradited from Kenya to the United States in September 2014, pleaded guilty in April 2015 before U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. of the Western District of Louisiana to one count of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise.  In addition to serving the prison term, Maweu will be required to register as a sex offender.

In connection with his guilty plea, Maweu admitted that, using the online alias “Catfish,” he posted 121 messages on the Dreamboard website – a private, members-only online bulletin board that promoted pedophilia and encouraged the sexual abuse and exploitation of very young children in an environment designed to avoid detection by law enforcement – including 34 posts containing child pornography that he produced.  Maweu was considered a “Super VIP” member of Dreamboard, a designation that was given to members who were prominent on the site and produced their own child pornography.

The prosecution of Maweu was the result of Operation Delego, an investigation launched in December 2009 that targeted individuals around the world for their participation in Dreamboard.  A total of 72 individuals, including Maweu, were charged as a result of Operation Delego.  To date, 57 of those defendants have been arrested either in the United States or abroad, and 49 have either pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial.  Sentences have ranged between five years to life in prison.

The investigation was conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), the Child Exploitation Section of ICE’s Cyber Crime Center, the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), CEOS’ High Technology Investigative Unit, and 35 ICE offices in the United States and 11 ICE attaches offices in 13 countries around the world, with assistance provided by numerous local and international law enforcement agencies across the United States and throughout the world.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Keith Becker of CEOS and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Luke Walker and Michael O’Mara of the Western District of Louisiana.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance.

Two Tennessee Men Each Sentenced to 28 Years in Prison for Killing During Home Invasion Robbery

Two Tennessee men were each sentenced to 28 years in prison for killing during a home invasion robbery, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David Rivera of the Middle District of Tennessee.

Michael Massey, 26, of Lexington, Tennessee; and Demario Winston, 27, of Clarksville, Tennessee, pleaded guilty on May 29, 2015, before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Kevin H. Sharp of the Middle District of Tennessee to conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act Robbery and use of a firearm in a crime of violence resulting in death.  Massey also pleaded guilty to a separate count of Hobbs Act Robbery, and was ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution.

According to admissions reflected in the plea agreements, on May 7, 2011, Massey, Winston and others attempted to rob a home in Clarksville, and Massey used a sledge hammer to gain entry.  The conspirators previously had been advised that a large amount of cocaine and cash was stored inside a safe in the basement of the home.

The defendants further admitted that, while inside the home, Winston, who was armed with a 9mm pistol, engaged in a gun fight with the homeowner on the first floor as other conspirators attempted to force one of the occupants of the home, Raul Triana, to open the safe, and pistol-whipped him in the face in the process.  Evidence introduced in the plea hearing indicated that, in response to the shooting on the first floor, some of the conspirators fled the home, and Massey, who was armed with an assault rifle, fled through the basement where he encountered Triana and shot and killed him.

In addition, Massey admitted that, on Oct. 21, 2011, he and a co-defendant planned the robbery of the owner of a Clarksville-based construction company.  Massey, together with two others executed the robbery at gunpoint.

This case was investigated by the Clarksville Police Department and the DEA.  The case was prosecuted by Laura Gwinn of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynne T. Ingram of the Middle District of Tennessee.