Monday, September 30, 2019

Two More Arrested in Connection to Eastern Avenue Marijuana Distribution Conspiracy, Shootings

Chad Custer, Darion Harvey Are Fourth Defendants Arrested in Recent Days

Roanoke, VIRGINIA –A pair of Roanoke men, Chad Custer and Darion Harvey, who conspired with others to run a marijuana operation out of a rented, Eastern Avenue home in the City of Roanoke, have been charged in a federal criminal complaint with drug and gun charges. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen made the announcement today as part of the Western District of Virginia’s ongoing Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative to reduce drug and violent crime.

Custer and Harvey are the latest in a series of arrests tied to the alleged drug operation at the Eastern Avenue home. Earlier this week, Aaron Woods was arrested and charged with federal drug and firearms-related crimes.

“These and other recent arrests reflect the commitment of federal law enforcement and the Roanoke Police Department to respond, in an aggressive manner, to rising levels of violence and organized drug activity in the city,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.  “Working collaboratively, we will continue to investigate individuals and groups engaged in these activities and, when appropriate, prosecute them in federal court.”

As alleged in the criminal complaints, Woods, Custer, Harvey, and others had been working together since at least 2017 to distribute large amounts of marijuana from an Eastern Avenue home Woods rented.  Law enforcement estimated that a dozen or more individuals would visit the home each day to purchase marijuana from large, vacuum-sealed bags left out on a table.  According to witnesses, purchasers streamed in and out throughout the day as others played video games, smoked marijuana and socialized.  Witnesses described seeing Woods, Custer and Harvey in possession of firearms, which they kept out on tables or in their waistbands.

Nolan Kyle Harman, also of Roanoke, was charged federally in February of this year for making straw purchases of firearms for Custer, at Custer’s request.

The complaints allege the distribution activity at Woods’ Eastern Avenue residence culminated in a shooting death on July 10, 2018.  According to witnesses, three individuals who had earlier in the day left the residence following an argument about a marijuana purchase, returned around 9:45 p.m.  Something like a brick was thrown through the front, plate glass window at which point Woods, Harvey and Custer began shooting.  Two-way gunfire ensued, resulting in the death of an individual who was shot in the head and neck as he/she apparently attempted to flee the scene.  Woods, Harvey, Custer, and others, fled the Eastern Avenue home following the shooting.

Investigation of these cases was conducted by the Roanoke City Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Roanoke County Police Department, the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police, and members of the region’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force.  Assistant United States Attorney Kari Munro will prosecute these cases for the United States.

These cases were brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

A criminal complaint is only a charge and not evidence of guilt.  These defendants are entitled to a fair trial with the burden on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Winchester Man Sentenced to 24 Months for Extorting Singapore Government

LEXINGTON, Ky. —Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, a 34-year-old man originally from Winchester, Kentucky, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison Friday, by United States Chief District Judge Danny C. Reeves, for sending extortionate communications to the Government of Singapore and its Ministry of Health and using the means of identification of over 14,200 people as leverage in his extortion attempt.

According to trial testimony, Farrera-Brochez obtained access to a database belonging to the Singaporean Ministry of Health that listed the private identifying and medical information of thousands of people in Singapore living with HIV, including more than 50 U.S. citizens. Farrera-Brochez sent the database to his mother in Kentucky, and retrieved it when he returned to Kentucky in 2018.

On January 22, Farrera-Brochez sent an email to several officials of the Government of Singapore that included three links to places on the internet where he had put copies of the database. Farrera-Brochez made several demands in that email. On February 18, Farrera-Brochez sent a second email to officials of the Government of Singapore threatening to publish the database if his demands were not met.

Farrera-Brochez was convicted on June 4. In addition to the sentencing, Farrera-Brochez was also ordered to forfeit to the federal government the electronic devices and Google accounts that he used in his crimes. Upon release from prison, Farrera-Brochez will be on supervised release for 3 years.                                   

Robert M. Duncan, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and James Robert Brown, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, jointly made the announcement.

“The defendant’s conduct was serious and significant, affecting thousands of people across the world,” said United States Attorney Robert M. Duncan, Jr. “The defendant unlawfully obtained the private, personal identifying information of more than 14,000 people, including American citizens, and used this information in an attempt to extort the government of a foreign nation.  Without the hard work of law enforcement personnel, the defendant could have caused significant additional harm, by publishing this personal and private information.”

The investigation was conducted by the FBI with assistance from the Kentucky State Police. The United States was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Dmitriy Slavin and Special Assistant United States Attorney James Chapman.

Rockford Man Sentenced to More Than 12 Years in Prison for Distributing Heroin in Rockford

ROCKFORD — A Rockford man was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Philip G. Reinhard on a federal drug trafficking charge. 

MAURICE D. NEAL (also known as “Moe”), 37, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release.  Neal pleaded guilty on June 25, 2019, to distributing heroin.

In a written plea agreement, Neal admitted that between October 2015 and September 2016, he operated a heroin trafficking business in the Rockford area, and maintained two cellphone lines as hotlines for customers to order and purchase heroin.  Neal typically sold user-quantity amounts of heroin, such as a gram or a half gram, but occasionally did larger transactions.  Neal admitted he engaged in a large number of transactions each day, selling at least ten to 15 grams of heroin a day, resulting in sales of at least 4,500 grams of heroin during the time period that he operated his heroin trafficking business.

The sentence was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Brian M. McKnight, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and Brendan F. Kelly, Acting Director of the Illinois State Police. The case was investigated by the Rockford Resident Agency of the DEA's Chicago Field Office, and the Stateline Area Narcotics Team (“SLANT”), a task force led by the Illinois State Police.  The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, and the Rockford Police Department assisted in the investigation. The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret J. Schneider.

A co-defendant, QUINCY L. ATMORE (also known as “Q”), 47, of Rockford, pleaded guilty on Jan. 17, 2018, to distributing heroin.  Atmore was sentenced on May 9, 2018, to 17 years in federal prison.