Criminal Justice News

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Virginia Man Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison for Enticement, Receipt, and Possession of Child Pornography


A Roanoke, Virginia man was sentenced to 360 months in prison today, to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for enticement of a minor, receipt or attempted receipt of child pornography, and possession of child pornography.  Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia made the announcement.

Scott Curtiss Pieritz, 57, pleaded guilty on June 19, before Chief U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski of the Western District of Virginia to one count of enticement of a minor, one count of receipt or attempted receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.

According to court documents, in July 2017, law enforcement agents were notified that Pieritz, who had a duty to register as a sex offender as a result of three prior child pornography convictions, was using social media applications to communicate with minors and ask them for nude images of themselves.   Forensic examination of Pieritz’s electronic devices seized pursuant to a search warrant confirmed that he was in possession of numerous images and videos of child pornography, had used applications such as Omegle and Musical.ly to entice minors to produce and send him child pornography, and had posed as a minor online.  At times, Pieritz also exchanged money and gifts for child pornography images from minors.  At the time of his arrest, Pieritz was employed as a cashier and dishwasher at K&W Cafeteria, in Roanoke.        

The case was investigated by the Virginia State Police.  Trial Attorney Nadia Prinz of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Healey of the Western District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.  Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

Current and Former Springfield Police Officers Indicted for Unreasonable Force Against Two Juveniles


Two Springfield Police Officers, one current and one former officer, were arrested today and charged in federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts, on allegations that they used unreasonable force against two Latino juveniles during an arrest. One of the officers is also charged with threatening the juveniles during an interrogation and falsifying subsequent reports regarding the incident. Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; and Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, Boston Field Division, made the announcement.

Gregg A. Bigda, 48, of Wilbraham, was charged in an indictment unsealed today with three counts of violating the civil rights of arrestees and one count of obstructing justice by writing a false report. Steven M. Vigneault, 48, of East Longmeadow, was charged in the same indictment with one count of violating the civil rights of an arrestee.

The indictment charges that, on Feb. 27, 2016, Bigda used unreasonable force against a juvenile, and that afterward, Bigda spat on him and said, “Welcome to the white man’s world.”  The indictment further charges that Vigneault used unreasonable force against a different juvenile.  According to the indictment, both uses of force involved the use of dangerous weapon and resulted in bodily injury.

"Even in the face of adversity, law enforcement officers are expected to conduct themselves professionally, respectfully, and with integrity,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “They are ambassadors for the rule of law, and when they themselves break those laws, they violate not just the rights of their victims, but compromise the public's trust in law enforcement. My Office is committed to holding our public servants accountable under the law and prosecuting those who abuse their positions of power."

"Most law enforcement officers are dedicated, honest, and fully committed to building trust within their communities, but those who break the law stain the reputation of the law enforcement profession,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, Boston Field Division. “Badges and guns do not come with the authority to ignore the Constitution or the rights of others, and those who violate it will be held accountable."

The indictment further alleges that after the arrests, Bigda interrogated the juveniles without their parents present and without reading them their Miranda rights, and that, during the course of the interrogations, Bigda threatened the juveniles in a number of different ways.  For example, Bigda made the following threats against the first juvenile: to “crush [the juvenile’s] skull and [expletive] get away with it,” “bring the dog back [and] let him [expletive] go after” the juvenile; “[expletive] kill [the juvenile] in the parking lot”; “charge [the juvenile] with killing Kennedy and [expletive] make it stick,” “stick a [expletive] kilo of coke in [the juvenile’s] pocket and put [the juvenile] away for [expletive] 15 years,” and “kick [the juvenile] right in the [expletive] face as soon as [they] cross the Springfield line.” Bigda made the following threats against the second juvenile: to “beat the [expletive] out of [the juvenile],” “tune [the juvenile] the [expletive] up,” and “bloody [the juvenile’s] body.”

Bigda subsequently attempted to obstruct the investigation into the assaults on the juveniles by falsifying his reports to the Springfield Police Department Internal Investigations Unit, allegedly writing that he did not kick anyone or see any officer kick anyone during the course of the arrests of the juveniles. Bigda filed a second report in which he denied spitting on anyone or yelling “welcome to the white man’s world” during the arrest of the juveniles.

The charges of depriving arrestees of their civil rights carry a maximum possible sentence of 10 years for counts alleging that a dangerous weapon was used or that bodily injury resulted, and a maximum sentence of one year for the charges that allege no weapon or injury. The charges of falsifying a police report provide for a maximum possible sentence of 20 years. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The details contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Deepika Bains Shukla and Katharine Wagner of Lelling’s Springfield Branch Office and Trial Attorney Christopher J. Perras of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.

Texas Businessman Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Charges in Connection with Venezuela Bribery Scheme


A former procurement officer of Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), pleaded guilty today for his role in an international money laundering scheme involving bribes paid by the owners of U.S.-based companies to Venezeulan government officials in exchange for securing additional business with PDVSA and payment priority on outstanding invoices.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Houston Field Office made the announcement.

Ivan Alexis Guedez (Guedez), 47, of Katy, Texas, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina A. Bryan of the Southern District of Texas in Houston to one count of conspiracy to launder money.  Guedez is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 20, 2019 by U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas.

According to admissions made in connection with Guedez’s plea, Guedez agreed with other PDVSA officials and businessmen who were employed by a Miami-based PDVSA supplier that, in exchange for bribe payments, Guedez and the other PDVSA officials would direct PDVSA business toward the supplier.  The co-conspirators who were employed by the PDVSA supplier also received kickbacks.  Guedez and his co-conspirators concealed the corrupt payments by, among other things, communicating using fictitious email addresses, creating false invoices to justify the payments, and directing the bribe payments to a Swiss account in the name of a shell company before being disbursed to the co-conspirators.

As part of his plea agreement, Guedez has agreed to forfeit the proceeds of his criminal activity.

Guedez becomes the latest individual to plead guilty as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA.  Including Guedez, the Justice Department has announced the guilty pleas of a total of 15 individuals in connection with the investigation.

HSI Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI Boston and Madrid, as well as from IRS Criminal Investigation.  Trial Attorneys Jeremy R. Sanders, Sarah E. Edwards and Sonali Patel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Pearson and Robert S. Johnson of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine Rollinson of the Southern District of Texas is handling the forfeiture aspects of the case.

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the Cayman Islands Mutual Legal Assistance Authority and Office of the Director of Public Prosecution also provided assistance.