Criminal Justice News

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gabonese-French Dual Citizen Sentenced to 24 Months Imprisonment for Bribing African Officials

A dual citizen of Gabon and France was sentenced to 24 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to pay bribes to senior government officials across Africa, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Acting Special Agent in Charge Ronald L. Whitsett of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI)’s New York office made the announcement.

Samuel Mebiame, 43, who resided in Paris prior to his arrest, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York. Mebiame pleaded guilty on Dec. 9, 2016, to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.

According to admissions made at his plea hearing, Mebiame formed a conspiracy to provide improper benefits to government officials in multiple countries in Africa. Mebiame admitted that the improper benefits he provided were intended to influence the performance of official governmental duties, and that he took steps to further the conspiracy while physically in New York. Based on court documents, Mebiame worked as a “fixer” on behalf of a joint venture company owned by New-York-based hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC (Och-Ziff) and its business partner, a Turks and Caicos Islands-registered corporate entity controlled by a co-conspirator. In that role, Mebiame traveled extensively across Africa, Europe and the U.S. and routinely made bribe payments to senior government officials in Africa. Mebaime’s plea documents indicated that at least five senior officials in three countries, Niger, Chad and Guinea, received corrupt payments and various illicit benefits from Mebiame. The officials, each of whom could influence the award of mining, oil and mineral concessions in their countries, received either cash payments, luxury vehicles or extravagant travel including the private rental of an Airbus jet. The bribes paid by Mebiame to the officials were often masked through additional intermediaries or attorneys.

According to court documents, in Niger, Mebiame paid more than $3 million in bribes to a high-ranking government official both directly and through intermediary agents who were selected by the Nigerien official. Mebiame also made payments for luxury cars for that foreign official and directed a $100,000 donation to a charity run by a government official. In return, Mebiame obtained licenses for uranium concessions for the joint venture from the government of Niger. Similarly, in Chad, Mebiame bribed a high-ranking government official with cash payments and luxury foreign travel for the official and the official’s wife. In return, Mebiame obtained uranium concessions for the joint venture, including rights to an asset which had been stripped by the Chadian government, at Mebiame’s urging, from a French-owned company. In Guinea, during a time when the conspirators were seeking to establish a state-owned mining company there, Mebiame made corrupt payments to gain special access to senior Guinean government officials. Mebiame provided the officials with cash and other benefits, including an S-Class Mercedes Benz vehicle and the use of private planes, in exchange for special access and confidential information.

Mebiame’s plea documents indicate that Mebiame repeatedly traveled to the United States between 2007 and 2015, the period of the criminal acts, and used facilities in both New York and Florida to further the conspiracy. Among other activities undertaken by Mebiame cited in court papers, he met with co-conspirators in New York, received funds from co-conspirators to U.S. bank accounts he controlled, and had telephone calls and email correspondence about the scheme.

Following Mebiame’s arrest in Brooklyn last August, as part of the government’s broader investigation, Och-Ziff was charged in September 2016 with violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records, and accounting controls provisions for conduct in Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and conduct in Chad and Niger connected to Mebiame and his co-conspirators’ conduct. Och-Ziff entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in connection with those charges. An Och-Ziff subsidiary company, OZ Africa Management GP LLC pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information related to the payment of extensive bribes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The FBI’s New York Field Office and IRS-CI New York investigated the case. Trial Attorney James P. McDonald and Assistant Chief Leo R. Tsao of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James P. Loonam, Jonathan P. Lax and David Pitluck of the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in this matter. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Boston Regional Office provided significant cooperation.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

North Carolina Man Sentenced to 15 Years for Charges Involving Scheme to Compel Five Women to Prostitute

Eric J. Thompson, 29, of Jacksonville, N.C., was sentenced today to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $19,200 in restitution after pleading guilty on November 9, 2016, to one count of interstate transportation for prostitution and one count of using an interstate facility to promote a prostitution business enterprise. Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce of the Eastern District of North Carolina, and Special Agent in Charge Nick Anan of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta announced the sentence.

According to documents filed in the case and admissions in connection with the guilty plea, Thompson operated an interstate prostitution business enterprise in North Carolina and South Carolina. He used false promises of money and fame to recruit and entice five women to prostitute for his profit, and then used a scheme involving isolation, threats, and abuse to compel them to continue prostituting. Thompson further filmed himself performing sexual acts with the women and posted those videos online for sale without the victims’ consent.

“Human tracking is a heinous violation of an individual’s rights and freedoms, and today’s sentence sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will work tirelessly on behalf of human trafficking victims in order to stop this appalling criminal activity,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are grateful for our law enforcement partners and U.S. Attorney Bruce as we combat and dismantle human trafficking networks.”

“Our office was pleased to partner with the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecutions Unit, ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta, and the Raleigh Police Department in this important case. This prosecution gave the victims of this horrific human trafficking crime a voice and an opportunity to seek justice,” said United States Attorney John Stuart Bruce.

“Human trafficking is quite simply, a form of modern-day slavery, and the threats and abuse inflicted on these particular victims only adds to the heinous nature of the crime,” said Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta Nick Annan. “HSI made a record number of more than 2,000 human trafficking arrests in 2016 and rescued more than 400 trafficking victims nationwide, with many of them often hidden in plain sight. HSI will continue our relentless pursuit to investigate and seek prosecution of criminal traffickers while ensuring the victims of this terrible crime are rescued and get the care they need.”

Thompson was indicted on March 16, 2016, and charged with one count of sex trafficking, five counts of interstate transportation for prostitution, one count of using an interstate facility to promote a prostitution business enterprise, and one count of failing to maintain records related to individuals depicted in videos of sexually explicit conduct. A second defendant, Dequann Ross, was charged by information and pleaded guilty on August 9, 2016 to one count of using an interstate facility to promote a prostitution business enterprise for his role in aiding and abetting Thompson. He was sentenced on February 2, 2017, to 30 months in prison.

The case was jointly investigated by ICE Homeland Security Investigation’s Atlanta Division and the Raleigh Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erin Blondel and Eleanor Morales of the Eastern District of North Carolina and Trial Attorney Vasantha Rao of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Former Deputy Police Chief Found Guilty of Conspiring to Distribute Heroin and Marijuana

FRESNO, Calif. — A federal jury in Fresno today found former Fresno deputy police chief Keith Foster, 53, guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

U.S. Attorney Talbert stated: “When a police officer misuses his official position to commit crimes for personal profit, it is the ultimate betrayal of public trust. The betrayal is only compounded when the officer involved is in a leadership position in the police department. By conspiring with others to traffic heroin and marijuana, Keith Foster not only disgraced the office he held, he put the community he was sworn to protect in danger. Although the jury was not able to reach verdicts on the additional counts relating to Foster’s alleged involvement in trafficking oxycodone, we are grateful for their hard work and the guilty verdicts they returned. My office is committed to rooting out corruption and prosecuting those who use their official position to commit crimes that endanger the community. We are proud to have worked alongside the ATF and FBI, with the full cooperation of the Fresno Police Department, in bringing Foster to justice.”

“The actions of Keith Foster and his co-defendants in this case jeopardized public safety and violated the trust of the citizens of Fresno he swore to protect,” said Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder, San Francisco Field Division, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “During this investigation, ATF and FBI agents followed evidence of a drug trafficking conspiracy. That evidence led directly to the former deputy police chief of Fresno. Foster’s criminal activity will not deter ATF’s ongoing partnership with the Fresno Police Department to fight violent crime in the City of Fresno.”

“The FBI will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners, investigating any allegation of criminal activity within the law enforcement community. The community must be served by those who obey the laws they are sworn to uphold and fulfill the oath of office,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the FBI’s Sacramento field office. “Public trust is essential to the success of the work that men and women in law enforcement do daily. Foster’s illegal acts have negatively impacted public perception of the men and women of the Fresno Police Department who proudly put their lives on the line every day to serve the Fresno community.”

According to evidence presented at trial, between July 19, 2014, and March 26, 2015, Keith Foster conspired with his nephew Iran Dennis “Denny” Foster, 46, of Fresno, to obtain marijuana from Ricky Reynolds, 50, of Shasta Lake. Denny Foster regularly traveled to Reynolds’ residence to purchase marijuana. On one of these trips, Denny Foster was stopped by the California Highway Patrol in Merced County and arrested for possessing six pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his car. When he was arrested, his passenger called Keith Foster and Foster said that he “could have provided cover” for Denny Foster if he had known about the trip ahead of time. He also said he would call his “narc guys.”

Also according to evidence presented at trial, between December 23, 2014, and February 2, 2015, Foster conspired with co-defendant Rafael Guzman, 43, of Fresno, to obtain heroin for another person.

Keith Foster resigned from his position on April 3, 2015, one week after his arrest.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Melanie L. Alsworth and Dawrence W. Rice Jr. are prosecuting the case.

Six others pleaded guilty before trial to various offenses related to the drug trafficking conspiracy. Randy Flowers and Denny Foster are scheduled to be sentenced on July 10, 2017. Ricky Reynolds is scheduled to be sentenced on September 11, 2017. On October 11, 2016, Rafael Guzman, 43, of Fresno was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. Jennifer Donabedian, 37, of Fresno, pleaded guilty to concealing a felony and served 12 months’ probation. Sarah Ybarra, 39, of Fresno, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and served one year in prison.

Keith Foster is scheduled to be sentenced on October 10, 2017, by U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. Foster faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for the count relating to heroin, and a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the marijuana trafficking offense. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.