Monday, April 19, 2021

Navajo man pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Indian Country

             ALBUQUERQUE – Lowell Begay, 38, of Fruitland, New Mexico, and an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, pleaded guilty in federal court on April 16 to involuntary manslaughter in Indian Country.

            A grand jury indicted Begay and co-defendant Jerry Armenta on July 25, 2019.  According to the plea agreement and other court records, Begay committed the offense on Sept. 11, 2018, in San Juan County, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation. Begay was intoxicated and recklessly handling a loaded firearm when he accidently fired it and killed a woman. In the plea agreement, Begay admitted his unlawful actions were without due caution and circumspection and with a wanton and reckless disregard for human life, and that he knew and should have known that his conduct imperiled the lives of others.

            Armenta pleaded guilty on Sept. 19, 2019, to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. On March 23, 2020, Armenta was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

            Begay will remain in custody pending sentencing. He faces up to 8 years in prison.

            The Farmington Resident Agency of the FBI’s Albuquerque Field Office investigated this case with assistance from the Shiprock office of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety and the Navajo Nation Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Cowen and Allison Jaros are prosecuting the case.

Portsmouth Woman Pleads Guilty to Fraud Schemes Targeting Veterans

 NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A Portsmouth woman pleaded guilty today to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud veterans.

“This defendant has been brought to justice for orchestrating numerous fraudulent schemes against veterans who honorably served their country,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “For those who steal, misappropriate, and divert funds that belong to our country’s veterans, this case sends a strong message that you will be prosecuted and held accountable for your inexcusable conduct.”

According to court documents, Rita Copeland, 59, operated an entity known as “Veteran Services of the Commonwealth.” Copeland purported to provide caregiving, contracting, and rental assistance services to various veterans from 2016 through 2020. Copeland caused a number of victims to apply for Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Such grant payments are to be used for certain designated improvements to the residences of veterans. Copeland failed to perform all of the promised work and used a portion of these payments to her own benefit, contrary to the designated purposes of the funds.

Copeland also diverted the income and retirement fund payments of another veteran to a bank account that she had opened. In addition, Copeland fraudulently obtained and diverted loan funds and used the credit and debit cards of this elderly victim. Finally, Copeland engaged in a rental fraud scheme, purporting to link veterans and others with landlords, but then diverting rental and security deposit payments to her own benefit.

Copeland pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, and she is scheduled to be sentenced on August 27. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years for wire fraud and a mandatory consecutive term of two years for aggravated identity theft. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; and Michael J. Missal, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson accepted the plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Samuels is prosecuting the case.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Norfolk Division’s Peninsula Resident Agency.

Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. It is a term used to describe five subtypes of elder abuse: physical abuse, financial fraud, scams and exploitation, caregiver neglect and abandonment, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Elder abuse is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, affecting at least 10 percent of older Americans every year. Together with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners, the Department of Justice is steadfastly committed to combatting all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, research, victim services, and public awareness. This holistic and robust response demonstrates the Department’s unwavering dedication to fighting for justice for older Americans.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:20-cr-63.

Baytown Man Guilty of Cocaine Trafficking

 BEAUMONT, Texas – A Baytown, Texas man has pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei today.

Fernando Salcido, 46, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith F. Giblin.

“The Eastern District of Texas is committed to attacking drug trafficking organizations at every level,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.  “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who would try to harm our communities.”

According to information presented in court, from August 2018 through October 2019, Salcido was a member of a cocaine trafficking and money laundering operation.  The investigation included the seizure of a 12-kilogram shipment of cocaine being sent to Salcido within the false compartments of a vehicle.  Law enforcement also seized $54,100 in currency from a courier who had been transporting the proceeds at Salcido’s direction.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Salido on Oct. 7, 2020. Under federal statutes, Salido faces up to life in federal prison. The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson.

Madera County Woman Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Distribution of Heroin that Resulted in an Overdose Death

 FRESNO, Calif. — Georgia Nicole Dean, 37, of Coarsegold, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd to 12 years in prison for distributing heroin, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, on Aug. 22, 2019, Dean drove to the victim’s residence and sold heroin to him for a small amount of cash. The victim used the heroin that night, overdosed, and died. Dean pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin on Jan. 26, 2021.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, and the Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin J. Gilio and Kathleen A. Servatius prosecuted the case.

Senior NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud

 ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Senior Executive Service (SES) employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) pleaded guilty today to submitting fraudulent applications for over $350,000 in COVID-19 economic relief loans and benefits.

“Despite holding a senior executive position at NASA, the defendant applied for over $350,000 in fraudulent loans and benefits,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “In doing so, he essentially treated COVID-19 relief programs as a personal piggy bank, using funds intended to provide pandemic relief for small businesses and the unemployed to pay down his credit card debt, pay off loans for a residential pool and minivan, and pay a dog-breeder, among other personal expenses. EDVA will continue to hold accountable individuals who exploit a national economic crisis in order to unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of those in genuine need due to the pandemic.”

According to court documents, Andrew Tezna, 36, of Leesburg, fraudulently submitted three loan applications to two financial institutions (totaling $272,284) under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal initiative designed to help businesses pay their employees and meet their basic expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tezna also submitted two Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program applications to the Small Business Administration (totaling $69,500), and he applied for COVID-related unemployment benefits from Virginia, ostensibly for his mother-in-law, who was retired and did not qualify for the benefits (totaling $15,950). In support of the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Tezna submitted fabricated IRS tax returns and fraudulently claimed payroll expenses that did not exist.

“People’s greed, especially when it involves fraudulently obtaining funds meant to help those in need, is truly disappointing,” said Darrell J. Waldon, IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Washington D.C. Field Office. “We will continue to work with our agency counterparts to ensure all are held accountable.”

Tezna successfully obtained over $285,000 from the PPP loans and unemployment benefits. The bulk of the money came from PPP loans applied for in his and his mother-in-law’s names for businesses that did not exist. He then spent the funds, among other things, to pay off a personal loan for a residential pool, to pay off a personal loan for a minivan, to pay off personally incurred credit card debt, for a down payment on a new car, and to pay a dog-breeder. In addition, Tezna also admitted to filing a false Financial Disclosure Report with NASA.

“As a NASA senior executive, the Agency placed a great deal of trust in Tezna. Taking advantage of the CARES Act to fraudulently obtain PPP loans not only violated the Agency’s trust, but the trust of American people that sought assistance for the legitimate needs of their struggling businesses,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark J. Zielinski, NASA Office of Inspector General, Eastern Field Office.

Tezna pleaded guilty to bank fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 16. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Darrell J. Waldon, IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Washington D.C. Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Mark J. Zielinski, NASA Office of Inspector General, Eastern Field Office, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly M. Shartar and Jamar K. Walker are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:27-cr-77.

Norfolk Man Convicted of Visa Fraud, Other Immigration Crimes, and Tampering with a Witness

 NEW BERN, N.C. – A federal jury convicted a Norfolk, Virginia man Friday on charges of visa fraud related to a sham marriage and other immigration crimes along with trying to obstruct the testimony of a witness in an official proceeding.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Joshua Kwame Asane, 46, a citizen of Ghana, was indicted on July 22, 2020, for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, marriage fraud, visa fraud, false statements in immigration proceedings, and tampering with a witness.

Evidence presented at the trial revealed that the marriage between Asane and a U.S. soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was arranged by Asane’s brother (Ebenezer Asane, who was previously indicted for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, has plead guilty and is awaiting sentencing).   Asane and the soldier were married in Cumberland County, North Carolina.

Thereafter, Asane and the soldier submitted fraudulent applications to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requesting Asane’s adjustment of status as a lawful permanent resident in the United States.  Asane and the soldier were interviewed at the USCIS office in Norfolk, Virginia. Both attested under oath they were married in good faith. As a result of the interview, USCIS found indicators of fraud, and referred the case to USCIS, Fraud Detection and National Security, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for investigation.

In a split decision the jury found Asane guilty of visa fraud, false statements in immigration proceedings, and tampering with a witness, and not guilty of conspiracy and marriage fraud.

Asane faces maximum penalties of twenty-five years of imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 for his convictions of visa fraud, false statements in immigration proceedings, and witness tampering when scheduled for sentencing for the term of court commencing on September 7, 2021.

G. Norman Acker, III, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan accepted the verdict. The case was investigated by the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF) in the Eastern District of North Carolina led by Homeland Security Investigations and assisted by US Army Criminal Investigation Division, and USCIS’s Fraud Detection and National Security, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel J. Diaz is prosecuting the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No.5:20-CR-00349-FL-1 & 5:19-CR-423-1FL.

Berkeley County woman admits to role in drug trafficking operation

 MARTINSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA – Jaime Renee Coddington, of Falling Waters, West Virginia, has admitted to her role in a drug distribution operation, Acting United States Attorney Randolph J. Bernard announced.
 
Coddington, 34, pled guilty to one count of “Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Eutylone and Cocaine Base.” Coddington admitted to working with others to distribute Eutylone and Cocaine Base from October 2019 to April 2020 in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties.

Coddington faces up to 20 years of incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000,000. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Omps-Botteicher is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The FBI; the Department of Homeland Security Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; the West Virginia State Police; the Eastern Panhandle Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force, a HIDTA-funded initiative; and the West Virginia Air National Guard investigated. 

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert W. Trumble presided.

Judges sentences St. Louis County man for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime

 ST. LOUIS – United States District Judge Catherine D. Perry sentenced Bernard Toler to 72 months in prison today. The 33-year-old St. Louis County, Missouri resident pleaded guilty, in January, to one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

On or about February 20, 2019, officers from the St. Louis County Police Department saw a vehicle with no visible license plates make a turn without signaling. Officers turned on the emergency lights to make a traffic stop, but Toler evaded police at a high rate of speed. Toler continued to flee police through a residential area while refusing to stop at multiple stop signs.

Officers eventually turned off their lights and sirens but maintained visual observation of Toler’s vehicle. Officers saw Toler park the vehicle in the parking lot of a business, at which time officers turned on their lights again and positioned their vehicles to prevent Toler from fleeing.

Officers approached Toler’s vehicle and noticed a revolver-style firearm in the middle compartment of the vehicle. Officers removed Toler from the vehicle and took him into custody. Officers seized the firearm, which was loaded with six live rounds, along with two digital scales, a marijuana grinder, a plastic bag containing 24 grams of marijuana and three cellular phones. The seized paraphernalia, drugs and phones are indicative of drug trafficking.

Toler admitted he intended to distribute some or all of the marijuana in his possession to one or more persons and he possessed the seized firearm in furtherance of his drug trafficking activity.

The St. Louis County Police Department investigated this case. Assistant United States Attorney Geoff Ogden is handling the case.

EDVA Commemorates the 40th Anniversary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

 ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia joins communities nationwide in commemorating the 40th anniversary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) from April 18–24, 2021. This year’s theme, Support Victims. Build Trust. Engage Communities, emphasizes the importance of leveraging community support to help victims of crime.

“We are firmly committed to upholding victims’ rights as we protect the safety of our communities and pursue equal justice under the law in a broad range of criminal and civil matters across EDVA,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “From seeking justice for victims of terrorism, human trafficking, child exploitation, and other violent and white-collar crimes, to enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act, vindicating the rights of military servicemembers and veterans, and securing restitution for the victims of financial fraud, we will stand with victims and ensure their voices are heard. This year’s theme for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week recognizes the importance of, and power in, all facets of the community—including stakeholders in the justice system, victim advocates, charitable organizations, faith-based groups, health care providers, and mental health professionals—standing together to ensure that victims of crime receive the services, healing, and justice they need and deserve.”

NCVRW is a time to renew our commitment to serving victims of crime, acknowledge achievements made in the victim services field, and remember crime victims and survivors. For more information about this year’s NCVRW and how to assist victims in your own community, please visit the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week website.

The Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) leads communities throughout the country in their annual observances of NCVRW, during which victim advocacy organizations, community groups, and state, local, and tribal agencies traditionally host rallies, candlelight vigils, and other events to raise awareness of victims’ rights and services.

In the Eastern District of Virginia, those events will include the following:

  • The Unsung Heroes awards ceremony, hosted by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General on April 21 to recognize outstanding service and support to victims of crime in the Commonwealth. For more information about the event, please visit here.

To commemorate the NCVRW this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia is holding a clothing drive to donate garments and toiletries to a local non-profit organization that assists women and children in crisis. Additionally, among other initiatives led by the Victim-Witness Unit, EVDA is hosting speakers to raise awareness of victim issues. On April 16, Acting U.S. Attorney Parekh hosted a virtual event in which Aloke Chakravarty, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, discussed his experience prosecuting the Boston Marathon bombings case. The discussion also focused on the collaboration and coordination required to ensure that victims’ voices were heard during the investigation and resulting trial. On April 23, Acting U.S. Attorney Parekh will host a virtual fireside chat with Tony West, who in his former role as the Justice Department’s Associate Attorney General (2012–2014) helped secure nearly $37 billion in fines and restitution for American victims in connection with the 2009 financial crisis.

Source of Firearms for Chicago Gang Members Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison

 CHICAGO — A man who trafficked firearms and re-sold them to Chicago gang members has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.

DAVID SANTIAGO, 39, sold firearms and narcotics out of his residence in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side.  Many of the guns were sold to individuals whom Santiago knew were members of Chicago street gangs.  During one sale that was surreptitiously recorded by an individual cooperating with law enforcement, the individual discussed how he intended to give a firearm to younger members of a gang, to which Santiago responded that he was going to provide one to the “guys” as well.

During the investigation law enforcement seized 16 firearms, including rifles and semi-automatic handguns, as well as more than 100 grams of heroin.  Santiago purportedly obtained many of the firearms in Kansas and boasted to the Chicago buyers that the guns were “clean” and “brand new.”

Santiago pleaded guilty last year to two counts of illegal possession of firearms.  Santiago had previously been convicted of multiple felonies, including four cases involving domestic violence, and was not lawfully allowed to possess a firearm.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr., imposed the 12-year sentence Thursday after a hearing in federal court in Chicago.

The sentence was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Kristen deTineo, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; and David Brown, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.

“Santiago was running an illegal gun store from his bedroom,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Storino argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum.  “The over-proliferation of firearms in this city and the easy access of firearms in the hands of persons who should not have them has a direct correlation to the cyclical gun violence epidemic in Chicago.”

Holding illegal firearm possessors accountable through federal prosecution is also a centerpiece of Project Guardian and Project Safe Neighborhoods, the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction strategies.  In the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Attorney Lausch and law enforcement partners have deployed the Guardian and PSN programs to attack a broad range of violent crime issues facing the district, particularly firearm offenses.

Ainsworth Man Sentenced to Prison for Drug and Firearm Charges

 DAVENPORT, Iowa — On Thursday, April 15, 2021, United States District Court Chief Judge John A. Jarvey sentenced Curtis Anthony Cousins, age 37, of Ainsworth, to 210 months in prison for Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime announced Acting United States Attorney Richard D. Westphal. Cousins was ordered to serve five years of supervised release to follow his prison term and pay $200 to the Crime Victims’ Fund.

The investigation began in January of 2019 when law enforcement identified Cousins as a distributor of “ice” methamphetamine in the Washington County area. Following a search warrant at a residence Cousins was renting, officers found distribution quantities of ice methamphetamine, materials consistent with drug trafficking, two handguns, and drug proceeds. Cousins, as a convicted felon, is prohibited from legally possessing firearms.

This matter was investigated by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.

Lev Tahor Leaders Charged With Child Exploitation Offenses

 Leaders of Extremist Jewish Sect Charged with Participating in a Scheme to Kidnap 14-Year-Old Girl and Return Her to Sexual Relationship with Adult “Husband”

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced new charges against NACHMAN HELBRANS, MAYER ROSNER, YAKOV WEINGARTEN, SHMIEL WEINGARTEN, and YOIL WEINGARTEN for conspiring to (1) transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and (2) travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, in connection with the kidnapping of a 14-year-old girl (“Minor-1”) from New York to reunite her with her adult “husband” outside the United States for purposes of continuing their sexual relationship.  The defendants, among other members of Lev Tahor, were previously charged with several other crimes related to the kidnapping of Minor-1 and her younger brother.

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss stated:  “As alleged, the defendants engaged in a brazen kidnapping of a minor girl in the middle of the night, taking her across the border to Mexico in order to reunite her with her adult ‘husband’ to continue their sexual relationship.  These charges send a clear message that the sexual exploitation of children will not be tolerated.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. stated:  “International borders will not stop the FBI from pursuing justice and enforcing violations of our laws, especially when you target children.  The behavior alleged today is outrageous, and there is no justification for it whatsoever.  We are grateful for the excellent cooperation from our partners in Mexico and Guatemala who helped us hold these leaders of Lev Tahor accountable for their behavior.  Protecting innocent children should be a priority for all of society – it’s certainly one of ours.  If you know of children who are being trafficked, please contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or fbi.tips.gov.”

According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:[1]

NACHMAN HELBRANS, MAYER ROSNER, YAKOV WEINGARTEN, SHMIEL WEINGARTEN, and YOIL WEINGARTEN are U.S. citizens and senior leaders of Lev Tahor, an extremist Jewish sect previously based in New York and Canada, and currently based in Guatemala.  HELBRANS became the leader of Lev Tahor in or about 2017.  After HELBRANS and his leadership team took over, they seized tight control over the group and embraced several extreme practices, including strict, invasive monitoring of members, frequent beatings, and forced marriages of minors to adult members.  Children in Lev Tahor are often subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

In or about 2017, HELBRANS arranged for his then-12-year-old niece, Minor-1, to be “married” to a then-18-year-old man, defendant JACOB ROSNER.  They were religiously “married” the following year, when Minor-1 was 13 and JACOB ROSNER was 19, and immediately began a sexual relationship with the goal of procreation.  They were never legally married.  Lev Tahor leadership, including the defendants, required young brides to have sex with their husbands, to tell people outside Lev Tahor that they were not married, to pretend to be older, and to deliver babies inside their homes instead of at a hospital, partially to conceal from the public the mothers’ young ages.

In or about October 2018, the mother of Minor-1 (who is also HELBRANS’s sister) determined that it was no longer safe for her children to remain in the Lev Tahor community in Guatemala.  The mother escaped from the group’s compound and arrived in the United States in early November 2018.  Also in November 2018, a Brooklyn family court granted her temporary custody of the children and prohibited the children’s father, a leader within Lev Tahor, from communicating with the children.

After the mother fled and settled in New York with her children, the defendants devised a plan to return Minor-1, then 14 years old, to Guatemala and to her then-20-year-old “husband” so that they could resume their sexual relationship and procreate.  In December 2018, they executed their plan, kidnapping Minor-1 and her brother in the middle of the night from a home in New York and transporting them through various states and, eventually, to Mexico.  During this time, Lev Tahor leadership was seeking asylum for the entire Lev Tahor community in the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Following a three-week search involving scores of local, federal, and international law enforcement entities, Minor-1 and her brother were recovered in Mexico and returned to New York.  On two additional occasions, in or about March 2019 and March 2021, members of Lev Tahor again tried to kidnap Minor-1 and her brother.

*                *                *

NACHMAN HELBRANS, 39, of Guatemala, MAYER ROSNER, 44, of Guatemala, YAKOV WEINGARTEN, 30, of Guatemala, SHMIEL WEINGARTEN, 25, of Guatemala, and YOIL WEINGARTEN, 32, of Guatemala, are charged with (1) conspiring to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison; and (2) conspiring to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

The Superseding Indictment also includes charges that were previously brought against the defendants and other members of Lev Tahor.  Specifically, it charges NACHMAN HELBRANS, MAYER ROSNER, YAKOV WEINGARTEN, SHMIEL WEINGARTEN, YOIL WEINGARTEN, MORDECHAY MALKA, 26, of Guatemala, ARON ROSNER, 47, of Brooklyn, New York, JACOB ROSNER, 21, of Guatemala, and MATITYAU MOSHE MALKA, 29, of Guatemala, with conspiring to kidnap, unlawfully use a means of identification, and enter by false pretenses the secure area of an airport, and charges three additional counts of international parental kidnapping.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding work of the FBI, the New York State Police, the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, United States Customs and Border Protection, the Village of Spring Valley Police Department, and our law enforcement partners in Mexico and Guatemala.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys Sam Adelsberg, Jamie Bagliebter, and Jim Ligtenberg are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.            

 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Superseding Indictment, and the description of the Superseding Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day set for April 24, 2021

 Numerous collection sites located across Montana

BILLINGS – Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson will join the Drug Enforcement Administration in support of the 20th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 24. The biannual event will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at sites across Montana. The event is an effort to rid homes of potentially dangerous, expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs.

In addition to DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day on April 24, prescription drugs can be disposed of any day throughout the year at any of the 11,000 authorized collectors. For more information on collection sites, visit: https://apps2.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e1s1.

This initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. Medicines that languish in homes are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses from these drugs. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

“The DEA’s Take Back Day is a great reminder to get rid of unneeded and expired prescriptions, not only on April 24, but also on any day of the year. Prescription drugs often end up in the wrong hands, fueling an epidemic of opioid deaths and overdoses. Montanans can help protect their families, friends and community by participating in the DEA Take Back event to safely dispose of unused prescription medications,” Acting U.S. Attorney Johnson said.

“We now face a national epidemic reaching every corner of America.  Prescription medications often end up in the wrong hands, fueling an epidemic that kills more Americans than car accidents,” said DEA Montana Resident Agent in Charge Stacy Zinn-Brittain. “The power to make a difference starts at home, beginning with returning the unused, unwanted or expired medications that each American keeps in their homes.”

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that opioid overdose deaths have increased during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC issued an alert in December indicating a significant increase in overdose deaths from August 2019 through Aug. 1, 2020, including concerning trends during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the United States, 85,500 people died of an overdose in just one year, from August 2019 to August 2020. This is the largest number of drug overdoses on record in the country within a one-year period and a 27 percent increase in deaths year over year. While many of these deaths are attributed to synthetic opioids (fentanyl), and while the CDC is seeing a decline in deaths attributed to prescription opioids, there are still an alarming number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids.

To keep everyone safe, collection sites will follow local COVID-19 guidelines and regulations. Given the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, DEA wants to ensure that the public is aware of other ways they can dispose of unwanted prescription drugs without having to leave their homes. More information is available at: https://takebackday.dea.gov/

During the last Take Back Day held on Oct. 24, 2020, DEA collected a record amount of drugs since the program began in 2010. With a total of 4,153 law enforcement participants at 4,587 collection sites, the event brough in a total weight of 985,392 pounds, or 492.7 tons, of drugs. This brings the total weight collected to 13.68 million pounds, or more than 6,842 tons, of prescription drugs collected in the history of the program. Collection results may include materials other than prescription drugs.

During the Oct. 24, 2020 event, Montanans turned in 2,251 pounds of prescription drugs at 20 collection sites.

For more information about the disposal of prescription drugs or about the April 24 Take Back Day event, go to www.DEATakeBack.com.

Virginia Truck Driver Detained in Rhode Island for Allegedly Transporting a Minor with Intent to Engage in Sexual Activity

 Missing 15-year-old located in the sleeping compartment after driver is detained on outstanding warrant while attempting to enter Naval Station Newport

PROVIDENCE –  A Virginia truck driver detained by Naval Station Newport Police on April 2, 2021, when a routine background check conducted prior to his being allowed to enter the Navy base determined that he was wanted in Texas for felony assault of a child, appeared today in federal court in Providence on a charge of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity.

David Romero Reyes, 50, of Stafford, Virginia, was charged in U.S. District Court in Providence after an FBI and Rhode Island State Police investigation determined that Reyes allegedly had sexual contact in several states with a 15-year-old girl who was discovered in the sleeping compartment of his tractor-trailer by Naval Station Newport Police. The girl was reported missing from her Virginia home in July 2020, when she was 14 years old.

The girl entered the United States as an unaccompanied minor in February 2020.  She was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and placed in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) facility.  HHS documents found in the truck indicate that in May 2020 she was removed from a Houston, Texas, HHS-funded facility by Reyes, who, according to HHS documents, identified himself as the girl’s distant relative. An FBI and Rhode Island State Police investigation determined that Reyes is a long-time friend of the girl’s father who lives in El Salvador and a distant cousin of the girl.

According to court documents, the girl resided in the Houston, TX, area with her mother and other relatives for several weeks after leaving the immigration detention center. The young teenager eventually left Texas with Reyes and began living in Virginia with a relative of Reyes. Shortly after moving to Virginia, when it became known by a family member that Reyes and the girl allegedly had a sexual relationship, the family member reported Reyes to law enforcement. Shortly thereafter, in July 2020, the girl left the home on a bicycle and was picked up nearby by Reyes. She was reported missing and had not been seen since. According to court documents, during the week the two travelled together in trucks driven by Reyes. On weekends they stayed at hotels or at an apartment rented by Reyes.

According to court documents, during interviews with law enforcement, Reyes and the now 15-year-old admitted to traveling together and engaging in sexual contact in multiple states. Investigators determined that Reyes, using the name David Romero, traveled in or through Rhode Island on at least six dates between February 1, 2021, and April 2,2021, the date of his arrest.

Reyes, detained in state custody since his arrest, appeared today in federal court in Providence on a criminal complaint charging him with transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity and was ordered detained, announced Acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus, Newport Naval Station Police Chief Lieutenant Ruben Gutierrez, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division Joseph R. Bonavolonta, and Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police Colonel James M. Manni.

A federal criminal complaint is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity is punishable by statutory penalties of 10 years to life imprisonment and lifetime federal supervised release.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. McAdams.

Urbandale Man Sentenced to Twelve Years in Prison for Receipt of Child Pornography

 DES MOINES, IA – On April 16, 2021, United States District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger sentenced Joseph Mikel Cerwick, age 33, of Urbandale, to 144 months in prison for Receipt of Child Pornography announced Acting United States Attorney Richard D. Westphal. Cerwick was ordered to serve eight years of supervised release to follow his prison term, pay $9,000 in restitution, and comply with sex offender registry requirements upon his release from prison.

This investigation began in December of 2017 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation Task Force received a tip that a video of child pornography had been sent to an individual through the Kik internet application. Following further investigation, the FBI executed a search warrant at Cerwick’s Urbandale apartment in September 2018. Police seized Cerwick’s cellular telephone which was found to contain hundreds of images of child pornography. Cerwick also received and sent a video of child pornography to other persons via the Kik app in November 2017.

This matter was investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force. The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa as part of the United States Department of Justice’s “Project Safe Childhood” initiative, which was started in 2006 as a nationwide effort to combine law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, community action, and public awareness in order to reduce the incidence of sexual exploitation of children.

Any persons having knowledge of a child being sexually abused are encouraged to call the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline at 1-800-284-7821.

Two Former Mariners Admit to Facilitating the Bribery of a Coast Guard Employee, Three Others Sentenced for Unlawfully Receiving Mariner Licenses

 NEW ORLEANS, LA – U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced the guilty pleas of two middlemen in a test score-fixing scheme at a United States Coast Guard exam center, bringing the total number of defendants convicted in this case to 21.

Former mariners ALEXIS BELL and MICHEAL WOOTEN pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. BELL and WOOTEN each admitted to acting as an intermediary between co-defendant Beverly McCrary and merchant mariners who were willing to pay for false passing exams scores.  McCrary is accused of participating in the scheme while she was employed by the Coast Guard exam center and continuing after her retirement.

BELL and WOOTEN acknowledged that they would take money from mariners and then pay McCrary for the false scores. BELL and WOOTEN understood that McCrary would keep a portion of that money and use the rest to bribe another exam center employee to enter the scores. BELL admitted that, in addition to assisting eleven other mariners in obtaining false scores, he also had his own scores fixed on three occasions. WOOTEN admitted that, in addition to assisting nine other mariners in obtaining false scores, he also had his own scores fixed.

All of these false scores resulted in the Coast Guard issuing unearned licenses without the required exams being passed. The exams tested mariners' knowledge and training to safely operate under the authority of licenses, which were legally required to work various positions on vessels.

As alleged in the indictment, which was filed on November 20, 2020, Coast Guard credentialing specialist Dorothy Smith entered the false scores in this scheme. The indictment alleges that Smith accepted bribes and used a network of intermediaries, which included McCrary, BELL, and WOOTEN. Smith and McCrary are scheduled to stand trial on June 28, 2021.

U.S. Attorney Evans reiterated that the indictment's allegations against Smith and McCrary are merely charges and their guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Honorable Barry W. Ashe presided over BELL’s guilty plea on April 1, 2021 and set a sentencing date of July 8, 2021.  Judge Ashe took WOOTEN’s guilty plea on April 15 and set sentencing for July 22, 2021. The maximum penalty for each defendant is five years' imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

On April 15, Judge Ashe also sentenced the first three defendants to plead guilty in this case, ANTHONY BROWN, DAVID GALVAN, and CARDELL HUGHES. Each of the three had pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining a mariner license and received a sentence of one year of probation, along with 100 hours of community service.

This case is being investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Chandra Menon is in charge of the prosecution.

Sioux City Man Pleads Guilty to Meth Conspiracy

 Conspired to Distribute Meth Within a School Zone

A man who conspired to distribute methamphetamine pled guilty April 15, 2021, in federal court in Sioux City.

Brett Michael Walking Eagle, 41, from Sioux City, Iowa, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine within 1000 feet of a protected location.

At the plea hearing, Walking Eagle admitted that on or about December 2, 2019, he and an individual cooperating with law enforcement agreed that Walking Eagle would either sell or coordinate the sale of approximately 6 ounces of methamphetamine to the cooperating individual.  In return, Walking Eagle requested roughly a half ounce of the 6 ounces for himself.  Walking Eagle instructed the individual cooperating with law enforcement to travel to the Boys and Girls Home parking lot, in Sioux City, Iowa to meet with another person who would provide the methamphetamine.   

Sentencing before United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand will be set after a presentence report is prepared.  Walking Eagle remains in custody of the United States Marshal pending sentencing.  Walking Eagle faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment and a possible maximum sentence of 80 years’ imprisonment, a $10,000,000 fine, and at least 8 years of supervised release following any imprisonment.

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Patrick T. Greenwood and was investigated by Tri-State Drug Task Force based in Sioux City, Iowa, that consists of law enforcement personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration; Sioux City, Iowa, Police Department; Homeland Security Investigations; Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office; South Sioux City, Nebraska, Police Department; Nebraska State Patrol; Iowa National Guard; Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement; United States Marshals Service; South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation; and Woodbury County Attorney’s Office.

Iowa City Woman Sentenced to Prison for Fraud Charges

 DAVENPORT, Iowa — On Thursday, April 15, 2021, United States District Court Chief Judge John A. Jarvey sentenced Tykeese McCray, age 44, of Iowa City, to three months in prison for Health Care Fraud and False Statements announced Acting United States Attorney Richard D. Westphal. McCray was ordered to serve three years of supervised release to follow her prison term and pay restitution in the amount of $118,943.19 and $100 to the Crime Victims’ Fund.

The investigation revealed as early as 2011, McCray fraudulently completed application paperwork for the Section 8 housing assistance program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). On the initial application, as well as the annual recertification forms filed every year, McCray purposefully did not list her husband as a household member, nor did she include his income for purposes of determining her eligibility. McCray also falsified benefit forms by indicating she was single when, in fact, she was married. In addition to defrauding HUD, McCray also falsified forms for food assistance benefits (aka SNAP), childcare assistance, and medical insurance through Medicaid. As a result of falsifying records, McCray agreed she received $54,032 in entitled housing assistance, $31,385 in unentitled food assistance, $31,835.73 in unentitled medical assistance, and $1,690.46 in unentitled medical assistance for a total loss amount of $118,943.19.

This matter was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General and the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.

Turner Falls Man Charged with Child Pornography Offenses

 BOSTON – A Turners Falls man was indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Springfield on child pornography charges.

Brian Cooper, 63, was charged on April 15, 2021 with four counts of distribution of child pornography, six counts of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. Cooper will be arraigned in federal court at a later date.

According to the indictment, between April 2018 and October 2019, Cooper distributed, received and possessed child pornography files depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct. In October 2019, Cooper was arrested on state court charges and has been detained since that time.

For defendants with certain qualifying prior convictions, the charges of distribution and receipt of child pornography provide for a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and up to 40 years in prison. The charge of possession of child pornography provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to 20 years in prison. Each charge also provides for a mandatory minimum of five years and up to life of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell; David E. Sullivan, Northwestern District Attorney; William S. Walker, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston; and Colonel Christopher Mason, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex J. Grant of Mendell’s Springfield Branch Office is prosecuting 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 the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

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.

Brooklyn Man Charged with Molotov Cocktail Attack on NYPD Officers

 A criminal complaint was filed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Lionel Virgile with attempted arson by allegedly using an improvised incendiary device commonly known as a “Molotov Cocktail” to damage and destroy a New York City Police Department (NYPD) vehicle while police officers were inside the vehicle.  Virgile was arrested on Saturday and made his initial appearance this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy.  The defendant was ordered detained pending trial.

Mark J. Lesko, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Dermot F. Shea, Commissioner, NYPD, announced the arrest and charges.

“As alleged, the defendant deliberately sought to severely injure an NYPD police officer by throwing bleach at his eyes and to ignite an NYPD vehicle with officers inside by hurling a lit Molotov cocktail at it," stated Acting United States Attorney Lesko.  “This Office simply will not tolerate the intentional infliction of physical harm on NYPD officers while they are working to protect our communities.” Mr. Lesko thanked the Kings County District Attorney’s Office for their assistance with the investigation.

“Virgile’s alleged attack on members of the NYPD is yet another reminder of the danger law enforcement officers face on a daily basis—and today’s charges should serve as a reminder to all that this type of behavior will be met with a swift response.  As Virgile has now learned, the federal charge he faces carries the potential for a lengthy federal prison sentence.  The NYPD’s quick response in neutralizing this threat to the public is a testament to its professionalism and dedication to keeping our city safe,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. 

“Attacks on uniformed police officers, as alleged in this federal complaint, are not only crimes against our sworn public servants but are unacceptable assaults on the fabric of society. I commend our NYPD officers and our partners in the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York for working closely to ensure that Lionel Virgile, the accused assailant in this case, faces justice,” stated NYPD Commissioner Shea.

According to the complaint, in the morning of April 17, 2021, NYPD officers in a marked vehicle observed Virgile drive his Lincoln Town Car through a steady red traffic light at the intersection of Clarendon Road and East 45th Street in East Flatbush.  When the officers approached Virgile’s car, he opened the driver side door and threw a cup containing a chemical substance in one of the NYPD officer’s eyes that was later determined to be bleach.  The officer sustained chemical burns on his face and has since been discharged from the hospital.  Virgile fled in the Lincoln Town car and was pursued by officers in another NYPD vehicle.  Approximately 10 minutes later, Virgile pulled over, exited his Lincoln Town Car and threw a lit Molotov cocktail at the NYPD vehicle pursuing him.  The Molotov cocktail struck the windshield of the NYPD vehicle and shattered on the sidewalk.  The Molotov cocktail consisted of a glass beverage bottle containing gasoline and a cloth wick.  The defendant subsequently crashed into a parked car on Snyder Avenue and was apprehended by the NYPD.  Five additional Molotov cocktails and a red jerry can were found in Virgile’s Lincoln Town Car.       

The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted, Virgile faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Sara K. Winik and Joy Lurinsky are in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendant:

LIONEL VIRGILE
Age:  44
Brooklyn, New York

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 21-MJ-483

Elkhart, Indiana Man Sentenced To 9 Years in Prison possession of stolen mail, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and felon in possession of a firearm,

 SOUTH BEND – Lafiamma Orona, age 33, of Elkhart, Indiana, was sentenced by United States District Court Judge Damon R. Leichty upon his plea of guilty to possession of stolen mail, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and felon in possession of a firearm, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Bell. 

Orona was sentenced to 108 months of imprisonment followed by 2 years of supervised release.

According to documents filed in this case, during the spring of 2020, Orona stole mail from mailboxes near Elkhart, Indiana.  The mail contained, checks, check books, debit and credit cards, and personal information of victims. Orona then forged checks, fraudulently used victims’ debit and credit cards, and opened new credit card accounts using victims’ stolen personal information. In May 2020, a description of the car stealing mail was broadcast to all local police departments.  On May 6, 2020, the car was located in Bristol, Indiana. Orona was driving the car and possessed fake drivers’ licenses with his own photo and victims’ names, stolen checks and check books, other stolen mail items, a handgun holster and a box of ammunition. On the road nearby, police found a loaded handgun that was thrown out of the car. The following day, police searched a house in Michigan where Orona was residing.  Police found more stolen mail items, stolen checks and check books, a printer with more fake drivers’ licenses, tools for forging checks, notebooks with victims’ personal information, handgun ammunition, and narcotics paraphernalia. In total, Orona had stolen items and checks valued at more than $226,000, stolen mail from approximately 46 victims, and the personal information of approximately 253 people.

The case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department; Bristol Police Department; Cass County Sheriff’s Department (Michigan); and Cassopolis Police Department (Michigan).  This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke N. Reilander.

Three Indicted In ID Theft, Fraudulent Credit Card Scheme

 PROVIDENCE – A federal indictment returned by a grand jury on April 2, 2021, and unsealed on April 16, 2021, charges three individuals with having been in possession of dozens of fraudulent drivers’ licenses, fraudulent credit cards, equipment to produce credit cards, and lists of individuals stolen personal identifying information.

It is alleged in the indictment that Courtney Hilaire, 28, of Providence, Hugh A. Martin, 32, of Pawtucket, and Shawn K. Hilaire, 30, of Avon, MA, possessed devices and equipment used to create fraudulent credit cards with the use of stolen credit card numbers and personal identifying information, such as names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

According to information presented to the court following the arrest of Courtney Hilaire on April 5, 2021, a Warwick Police Department Captain discovered the three men reclined in a vehicle parked in a hotel parking lot in the early morning hours of  July 3, 2020. It was determined that the license plate on the vehicle was allegedly stolen from Norwood, MA.

After removing the individuals from the vehicle, Warwick Police allegedly discovered 33 counterfeit credit cards, numerous fraudulent drivers’ licenses from multiple states, equipment used to read and transfer information onto credit card magnetic strips, listings of  individuals identities and personal identifying information, and approximately $13,000 in crisp, clean $100 and $50 dollar bills.

The indictment charges the three men with conspiracy to possess fifteen or more counterfeit or unauthorized access devices, possession of fifteen or more counterfeit or unauthorized access devices, possession of device-making equipment, and aggravated identity theft.

Since the issuance of the indictment, further investigation into Courtney Hilaire’s alleged criminal activity has resulted in the return of 17-count indictment charging Courtney Hilaire with using stolen Social Security numbers and personal identifying information of numerous individuals to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funded unemployment insurance compensation from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor  and for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration.

Courtney Hilaire is currently detained in both state and federal custody at the ACI. Arrest warrants have been issued for Hugh A. Martin and Shawn K. Hilaire.

The indictment of Hugh A. Martin, Courtney Hilaire, and Shawn K. Hilaire is announced by Acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus, Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge William S. Walker, Warwick Police Chief Colonel Bradford Connor, and Pawtucket Police Chief Tina Goncalves.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Ferland.

The matter was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Warwick and Pawtucket Police Departments.

TSA seeks input on mobile driver’s licenses to inform REAL ID rulemaking

 WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) published a request for information in the Federal Register seeking information about security standards and technologies concerning mobile driver’s licenses. Responses to the request for information will support future DHS/TSA rulemaking to update the REAL ID Act implementing regulation to accommodate mobile driver’s licenses.  

Mobile driver's licenses are digital representations of physical driver’s licenses, and are typically accessed via an app installed on a smartphone. Conceptually, mobile driver’s licenses are similar to digital representations of physical credit cards that are accessed via apps installed on smartphones. DHS and TSA are interested in mobile driver’s licenses because, compared to physical driver’s licenses, mobile driver’s licenses could provide greater security to TSA and all federal agencies verifying an individual’s identity, stronger privacy protections to individuals, and health and safety benefits to all users by enabling touchless identity verification.

“The TSA workforce comprises teams of security-focused innovators who look for opportunities to improve security and the traveler experience across the nation’s transportation network,” said Darby LaJoye, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the TSA Administrator. “The mobile driver’s license is one emerging technology example, and TSA is interested in exploring its incorporation into our identity verification processes.”

The Request for Information, solicits comments and input regarding technical approaches, applicable industry standards and best practices to ensure that mobile driver’s licenses can be issued and authenticated with features that ensure security, privacy and identity fraud detection. Comments may be submitted until June 18, 2021.

The REAL ID Act applies to mobile and digital driver’s licenses and identification cards. To enable federal agency acceptance of mobile driver’s licenses for “official purposes,” which the REAL ID Act defines as including access to federal facilities, nuclear power plants, and boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft, the REAL ID Act implementing regulation requires an update to accommodate mobile driver’s licenses. This request for information will inform potential updates to the regulation.

For more information on REAL ID, please visit TSA.gov

Providence Man Indicted for CARES Act Fraud

 PROVIDENCE – A federal grand jury in Providence on Friday returned a 17-count indictment charging a local man, who used the moniker “Mr. Vacation,” with using stolen Social Security numbers and personal identifying information of numerous individuals to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funded unemployment insurance compensation from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor  and for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration.

It is alleged in the indictment that beginning in March 2020, Courtney Hilaire, 28, obtained from the Internet personal identifying information, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of numerous individuals, then accessed commercial public records data bases to obtain additional information about the identity of his victims. In July 2020, using the stolen identities, Hilaire filed a least six applications for unemployment insurance payments from the State of Pennsylvania. On at least seven occasions beginning in August 2020, Hilaire withdrew fraudulently obtained CARES Act unemployment funds from bank accounts he accessed through ATMs in Rhode Island.

It is also alleged in the indictment that Hilaire, using the moniker “Mr. Vacation,” solicited the assistance of another individual to defraud the Small Business Administration by fraudulently seeking CARES Act Economic Injury Disaster Loans, a program which provides economic relief to small businesses that have experienced a temporary loss of revenue during the pandemic. It is alleged that Hilaire filed at least twenty-eight fraudulent applications with the Small Business Administration for Economic Injury Disaster Loans if he was not entitled to receive.

Hilaire, charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 14 counts of wire fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft, is the latest individual charged in federal court in Providence with allegedly running schemes to defraud CARES Act programs. Earlier this month, the United States Attorney’s Office publicly detailed investigations and charges brought against fraudsters who collectively have targeted more than $31 million in CARES Act funding.

To date, the United States Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island has charged 24 individuals with allegedly defrauding state unemployment agencies in Rhode Island and elsewhere and the Small Business Administration, of CARES Act relief funds made available to assist American families and business in need due to the pandemic. Several investigations are ongoing.

The indictment of Courtney Hilaire is announced by Acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus, Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge William S. Walker, Warwick Police Chief Colonel Bradford Connor, and Pawtucket Police Chief Tina Goncalves.

A federal indictment is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The investigation that resulted in an indictment being brought against Hilaire for CAREs Act fraud was conducted by the Warwick Police Department, Pawtucket Police Department Special Squad, and Homeland Security Investigations.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney William F. Ferland.

Friday, April 16, 2021

ATF Offers Reward in Gun Store Burglary

Left Image: Suspect in black hooded jacked wearing red pants. Right image: Black and white security image of a car turning right into parking lot.

 ATF and Billings Police Department seek the Public’s Help in Firearms Theft from Shipton’s Big R

Billings, MT. — The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), in conjunction with the Billings Police Department are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the theft of firearms from Shipton’s Big R, a federal firearms licensee (FFL). 

On April 12th, 2021 Shipton’s Big R, located at 216 North 14th St., Billings, Montana was burglarized where 7 firearms were reported stolen to the Billings Police Department.  ATF Industry Operations Investigators responded to the FFL and conducted an inventory to determine the exact number of firearms stolen.

Anyone with information about these crimes should contact ATF at ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477) or the Billings Police Department at (406)657-8200.

Information can also be sent to ATFTips@atf.gov, through ATF’s website at www.atf.gov/contact/atftips. Tips can be submitted anonymously using the Reportit® app, available from both Google Play and the Apple App store, or by visiting www.reportit.com.

ATF is the lead federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction involving firearms and violent crimes, and regulates the firearm industry. More information about ATF and its programs is available at www.atf.gov.

Lifetime Founding Member of the Oath Keepers Pleads Guilty to Breaching Capitol on Jan. 6 to Obstruct Congressional Proceeding

 WASHINGTON – Jon Schaffer, 53, of Columbus, Indiana, today admitted that he breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021, wearing a tactical vest and armed with bear repellent, and pleaded guilty to unlawfully entering the U.S. Capitol to obstruct Congress’ certification of the U.S. presidential election results.

"On this 100th day since the horrific January 6 assault on the United States Capitol, Oath Keepers member Jon Schaffer has pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including for breaching the Capitol while wearing a tactical vest and armed with bear spray, with the intent to interfere with Congress’ certification of the Electoral College results," said Acting Deputy Attorney General John P. Carlin.  "The FBI has made an average of more than four arrests a day, seven days a week since January 6th.  I commend the hundreds of special agents, prosecutors and support staff that have worked tirelessly for the last hundred days to bring those who committed criminal acts to justice."

"The defendant in this case admits forcing his way into the U.S. Capitol on January 6 for the express purpose of stopping or delaying congressional proceedings essential to our democratic process. These actions are disgraceful and unacceptable" said FBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate. "The FBI and our partners will continue to utilize all available authorities to aggressively investigate, pursue and hold accountable those who committed acts of violence or otherwise violated the rule of law that day." 

In his plea agreement, Schaffer acknowledged he is a founding lifetime member of the Oath Keepers, a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias.

In his plea agreement, Schaffer also acknowledged that on January 6, 2021 he was in Washington to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. to protest the results of the presidential election, which he believed were fraudulent. Schaffer wore a tactical vest and carried bear spray, a dangerous weapon and chemical irritant used to ward off bears. When the rally finished, Schaffer joined a large crowd that marched from the Ellipse to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress, presided over by Vice President Michael Pence, was in session to certify the electoral college vote results. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., members of the mob forced entry into the Capitol building, disrupting the joint session and causing members of Congress and the Vice President to be evacuated from the House and Senate chambers.

In his plea agreement, Schaffer admitted that after arriving on Capitol grounds, he walked past barriers intended to restrict access to the public and to a set of locked doors on the Capitol’s west side.  At approximately 2:40 PM, Schaffer positioned himself at the front of a crowd that broke open a set of doors being guarded by four U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officers wearing riot gear. Schaffer admitted to being among the first individuals to push past the damaged doors and into the Capitol building, forcing officers to retreat. Schaffer and others advanced toward five or six backpedaling USCP officers while members of the mob swelled inside of the Capitol and overwhelmed the officers. The officers ultimately deployed a chemical irritant to disperse the mob. Schaffer was among the people who were sprayed in the face, after which exited while holding his own bear spray in his hands.

Schaffer pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with obstruction of an official proceeding and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon. Combined, he faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The Honorable Amit P. Mehta accepted Schaffer’s guilty plea.

Anyone with tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or visit tips.fbi.gov.

The charges contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Community Reporting Engagement Support and Training Rated Promising

 

This is an enhanced day reporting center designed to reduce the risk of recidivism in probationers with mental illnesses. It provides services such as substance abuse treatment and crisis intervention.

The program is rated Promising. Treatment group probationers had a statistically significantly lower risk of conviction for any offense, compared with control group participants on standard probation. However, there was no statistically significant effect on the risk of conviction for a felony.

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