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Criminal Investigations

Press Releases tagged with "Criminal Investigations"

  • Former CBP Officer Sentenced to Prison for Alien Smuggling

    For Immediate Release

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    McALLEN, Texas – A 55-year-old man who formerly resided in Weslaco has been ordered to prison following his conviction of one count of conspiracy to transport aliens within the United States, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. Former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer Sabas Salinas pleaded guilty Nov. 1, 2017. 

    Today, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez handed Salinas a 24-month sentence to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. In handing down the sentence, Judge Alvarez noted that Salinas was entrusted with authority from the people - the citizens of the community. She noted that one of his specific job responsibilities was to ensure that individuals who were not authorized to come into the U.S. were prevented from doing so, and he did the exact opposite. Additionally, in spite of his good background, and regardless of whether he was getting paid for his actions, she found his participation in the offense to be corrupt.    

    Salinas had admitted that while on duty at the Progreso Port of Entry, he was going to allow Juana Sifuentes-Villagomez, 48, a lawful permanent resident of Donna, to transport an illegal alien into the U.S. 

    On Aug. 14, 2017, Sifuentes-Villagomez arrived at the Progreso Port of Entry with Asiano Uresti-Segundo, 46, of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Salinas was attempting to conduct the initial inspection and planned to allow them entry in to the U.S., knowing Uresti-Segundo was an illegal alien and not permitted to do so. However, other CBP officers discovered Uresti-Segundo was a citizen of Mexico who had been previously deported and did not have permission to re-enter the country. Both Sifuentes-Villagomez and Uresti-Segundo were arrested that day.  

    The investigation led to the discovery that Uresti-Segundo was going to pay Sifuentes-Villagomez for smuggling him illegally into the U.S. through a port of entry and transporting him to Donna. 

    Salinas was later arrested for his part in the conspiracy on Sept. 14, 2017.   

    Salinas has been and will remain in federal custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. 

    Sifuentes-Villagomez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens within the United States and is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28, 2018. Uresti-Segundo entered a guilty plea to unlawfully attempting to enter the U.S. after being previously removed and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 11, 2018. They also remain in custody pending those hearings.  

    The Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with the assistance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and CBP – Office of Field Operations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Requénez prosecuted the case.

    DHS Agency
  • Former Treasurer of Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department Pleads Guilty for Embezzlement

    For Information Contact

    SDWVNews  

    For Immediate Release

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    HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A Hurricane woman pleaded guilty today for embezzling over $75,000 from the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department, announced United States Attorney Carol Casto. Kathy Sue Gwinn, 52, entered her guilty plea to theft from a program receiving federal funds. 

    Gwinn formerly served as the Treasurer of the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department. As Treasurer, she generated payroll checks for firefighters and signed the payroll checks on a fire department bank account. Gwinn admitted that she volunteered for the fire department, and had no authority to write herself checks, nor was she entitled to wages, salary, or compensation for her role as Treasurer. She further admitted that beginning in October 2014, and continuing through March 2017, she printed and wrote herself unauthorized checks from the fire department’s payroll account, noting on the memo line of the checks that the checks were for payroll, overtime, or tax preparation. She admitted that she moved money from one fire department bank account into the bank account primarily used for payroll, and when she transferred those funds, she inflated the amount of the transfer to include enough to cover the unauthorized checks she planned to write to herself. Over the course of her scheme, she embezzled $75,356.70. As part of her plea agreement, Gwinn has agreed to pay this amount in restitution.

    During the period Gwinn embezzled funds, the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department received grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security. These grants allowed the fire department to pay firefighters and to purchase and maintain equipment.

    Gwinn faces up to 10 years in federal prison when she is sentenced on April 9, 2018.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations conducted the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Meredith George Thomas is in charge of the prosecution. The plea hearing was held before United States District Judge Robert C. Chambers.

  • Former Federal Agent Pleads Guilty to Accepting Bribes to Dismiss Indictment Against Colombian Narcotics Kingpin

    For Information Contact

    Public Affairs (202) 254-4100

    For Immediate Release

    Download PDF (142.28 KB)

    A former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) Special Agent pleaded guilty today to accepting bribes in exchange for securing the dismissal of a drug trafficking indictment filed against a Colombian cocaine trafficker, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

    According to admissions in his plea agreement, Christopher V. Ciccione II, 52, of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, accepted cash and other things of value and used his official position to cause a drug trafficking indictment against Colombian national Jose Bayron Piedrahita Ceballos to be dismissed and to obtain official authorization for Piedrahita and his family to enter the United States.  Piedrahita and Colombian national Juan Carlos Velasco Cano, 49, gave Ciccione approximately $20,000 in cash, as well as dinner, drinks and prostitution during an extended hotel stay in Bogota, Colombia, in exchange for official acts that resulted in the dismissal of the indictment against Piedrahita.  Velasco, who previously pleaded guilty, served as the intermediary between Ciccione and Piedrahita. 

    Ciccione admitted that in furtherance of this scheme to obstruct justice, he misled the U.S. Attorney’s Office and HSI management and altered law enforcement records to represent to decision makers that Piedrahita was a “former” suspect of a closed investigation, rather than a “current” subject, who was “never positively identified” and that his case should be dismissed— all while maintaining contact with Piedrahita.  Ciccone also falsified the concurrence of several other federal agents and attempted to parole Piedrahita into the United States.  

    Ciccione will be sentenced on Feb. 9, 2018, before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. of the Southern District of Florida.  Piedrahita is currently incarcerated in the Republic of Colombia. 

    The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Piedrahita as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act on May 3, 2016.  

    ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI investigated the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the Office of the Judicial Attaché in Colombia and the Drug Enforcement Administration provided valuable assistance to the investigation.  The Colombian Attorney General’s Office also provided invaluable support.  Trial Attorneys Luke Cass and Jennifer A. Clarke of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

  • Last Defendant in the United States Pleads Guilty in Multimillion Dollar India-Based Call Center Scam Targeting U.S. Victims

    For More Information, Contact

    Public Affairs (202) 254-4100

    For Immediate Release

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    All 24 Defendants in the United States Have Pleaded Guilty; 61 Charged in Total

    An Illinois man pleaded guilty today to money laundering conspiracy, joining six other defendants who recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for their roles in liquidating and laundering victim payments generated through a massive telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by a network of India-based call centers responsible for defrauding U.S. residents of hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Acting Deputy Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General John Roth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) made the announcement.

    Miteshkumar Patel, 42, most recently residing in Willowbrook, Illinois; Sunny Joshi, 47, of Sugar Land, Texas; Jagdishkumar Chaudhari, 39, of Montgomery, Alabama; and Rajesh Bhatt, 53, of Sugar Land, each pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy.  Raman Patel, 82, of Gilbert, Arizona; Praful Patel, 50, of Fort Myers, Florida; and Jerry Norris, 47, of Oakland, California, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offenses.  The pleas were entered before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas between Sept. 22 and Nov. 13, except for Raman Patel’s plea, which was entered before U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Burns in the District of Arizona on Nov. 6.  Six of the men have been in federal custody since their arrests in October 2016 and will remain detained until their pending sentencing dates.

    According to admissions made in connection with their pleas, Miteshkumar Patel, Raman Patel, Joshi, Jagdishkumar Chaudhari, Bhatt, Praful Patel, Norris and their co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams, in a ruse designed to defraud victims located throughout the United States.  Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators targeted U.S. victims who were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government.  Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing general purpose reloadable (GPR) cards or wiring money.  Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the United States to liquidate and launder the fraudulently obtained funds.

    Based on admissions in Miteshkumar Patel’s plea, beginning in or around 2013, Miteshkumar Patel managed a crew of a half dozen domestic runners involved in the criminal scheme, liquidating as much as approximately $25 million in victim funds for conspirators from India-based call center and organizational co-defendant HGLOBAL.  Patel communicated about the fraudulent scheme with various domestic and India-based co-defendants via email, text messaging and WhatsApp messaging.  Miteshkumar Patel and his runners purchased reloadable GPR cards that were registered using the misappropriated personal identifying information (PII) of unsuspecting victims that were later used to receive victims’ funds, and used those reloadable cards containing victims’ funds to purchase money orders and then deposit those money orders into bank accounts, as directed, while keeping a portion of the scam proceeds as profit.  Miteshkumar Patel also trained the runners he managed on how to conduct the liquidation scheme, provided them with vehicles to conduct their activities in Illinois and throughout the country, and directed a co-defendant to open bank accounts and limited liability companies for use in the conspiracy.  Miteshkumar Patel further admitted to using a gas station he owned in Racine, Wisconsin to liquidate victim funds, and possessing and using equipment at his Illinois apartment to make fraudulent identification documents used by co-defendant runners in his crew to receive wire transfers directly from scam victims and make bank deposits in furtherance of the conspiracy.

    According to admissions in Raman Patel’s guilty plea, from in or around 2014, Patel served as a domestic runner in and around south-central Arizona, liquidating victim scam funds per the instructions of a co-defendant.  Patel also served as a driver for two co-defendants in furtherance of their GPR liquidation and related activities and sent bank deposit receipts related to the processing of victim payments and fraud proceeds to an India-based co-defendant via email and document scan services offered at various retail stores.

    Based on admissions in Joshi and Bhatt’s guilty pleas, beginning in or around 2012, Joshi and Bhatt worked together as runners in the Houston, Texas area along with a co-defendant.  They admitted to extensively communicating via email and text with, and operating at the direction of, India-based conspirators from organizational co-defendant CALL MANTRA call center to liquidate up to approximately $9.5 million in victim funds, including by purchasing GPR cards and using those cards, funded by co-conspirators with scam victim funds, to purchase money orders and deposit them in third party bank accounts, while keeping a percentage of the scam proceeds for themselves as profit.  Joshi has also agreed to plead guilty to one count of naturalization fraud pursuant to a federal indictment obtained against him in the Eastern District of Louisiana, based on fraudulently obtaining his U.S. citizenship.

    Jagdishkumar Chaudhari admitted in his plea that between April 2014 and June 2015, he worked as a member of a crew of runners operating in the Chicago area and elsewhere throughout the country, at the direction of Miteshkumar Patel and others.  In exchange for monthly cash payments, Jagdishkumar Chaudhari admitted to driving to hundreds of retail stores to purchase GPR cards to be loaded with victim funds by co-conspirators in India, purchasing money orders with GPR cards that had been funded with victim proceeds, depositing money orders purchased using victim scam proceeds at various banks, and retrieving wire transfers sent by victims of the scheme.  Jagdishkumar Chaudhari is an Indian national with no legal status in the United States, and has agreed to deportation after he serves his sentence as a condition of his guilty plea.

    In his plea, Praful Patel admitted that between in or around June 2013 and December 2015, he was a domestic runner who liquidated funds in and around Fort Myers, Florida for conspirators from India-based call center and organizational co-defendant HGLOBAL.  Praful Patel communicated extensively via WhatsApp texts with his conspirators.  For a percentage commission on transactions he conducted, Praful Patel admitted to purchasing reloadable GPR cards that were registered using the misappropriated PII of unsuspecting victims that were later used to receive victims’ funds, using those reloadable GPR cards containing victims’ funds to purchase money orders and depositing those money orders into bank accounts as directed, and using fake identity documents to receive wire transfers from victims.

    According to Norris’ guilty plea, beginning in or around January 2013 continuing through December 2014, he was a runner who worked with conspirators associated with India-based call center and organizational co-defendant HGLOBAL, and was responsible for the liquidation of victim scam funds in and around California.  Norris admitted he communicated extensively via WhatsApp and email with India-based co-defendants including Sagar “Shaggy” Thakar, purchased GPR cards used in the scheme, sent lead lists to conspirators in India that were then used by callers located in the call centers to target potential victims in the telefraud scheme, received scam proceeds via wire transfers using fictitious names, and laundered scam proceeds from GPR cards via ATM withdrawals.

    To date, Miteshkumar Patel, Raman Patel, Joshi, Jagdishkumar Chaudhari, Bhatt, Praful Patel, Norris, 49 other individuals and five India-based call centers have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016.  Including the pleas announced today, a total of 24 defendants have pleaded guilty thus far in relation to this investigation.  Defendants Bharatkumar Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Harsh Patel, Nilam Parikh, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Viraj Patel, Dilipkumar A. Patel, Fahad Ali, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, Montu Barot, Nilesh Pandya, Dipakkumar Patel, Nisarg Patel, Rajesh Kumar, and Dilipkumar Ramanlal Patel previously pleaded guilty on various dates between April and September 2017.

    Miteshkumar Patel is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7, 2018.

    The remaining defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    ICE – Homeland Security Investigations, DHS-OIG and TIGTA led the investigation of this case.  Also providing significant support were: the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs; Ft. Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office; police departments in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, Illinois, and Leonia, New Jersey; San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection and Elder Abuse Unit; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; USCIS; U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Middle District of Alabama, Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, District of Nevada and District of New Jersey.  The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau also provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.

    Senior Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels and Trial Attorney Mona Sahaf of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), Trial Attorney Amanda Wick of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Mark McIntyre and Craig M. Feazel of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting this case.  HRSP’s Ann Marie Ursini and Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Kennedy of the Eastern District of Louisiana prosecuted the naturalization fraud case against Joshi.

    A Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims and the public.  Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via this website.

    Anyone who wants additional information about telefraud scams generally, or preventing identity theft or fraudulent use of their identity information, may obtain helpful information on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website.

  • Middle District Of Florida, Along With Three Other U.S. Attorney Offices In Districts Affected By Hurricane Irma, Establishes Task Force To Combat Disaster Fraud And Urge The Public To Be Vigilant In Reporting Suspected Fraud

    For Immediate Release

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    Tampa, FL - The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, along with U.S. Attorney Offices in the District of Puerto Rico, Southern District of Florida, and Northern District of Florida announced the formation of task forces comprised of local, state and federal agencies in our respective areas to combat Hurricane Irma related illegal activity. The NCDF and U.S. Attorneys in these districts urge residents and businesses to immediately report suspected fraudulent activity relating to recovery and cleanup operations, fake charities claiming to be providing relief for victims, individuals submitting false claims for disaster relief and any other disaster fraud related activity.

    The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.

    While compassion, assistance, and solidarity are generally prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters, unscrupulous individuals and organizations also use these tragic events to take advantage of those in need. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the NCDF has already received more than 400 complaints. Examples of illegal activity being reported to the NCDF and law enforcement include:

    • Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials;
    • Identity theft;
    • Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government;
    • Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving;
    • Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investment returns from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts;
    • Price gouging;
    • Theft, looting, and other violent crime

    “Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,” said Acting Executive Director Corey R. Amundson of the National Center for Disaster Fraud. “Once the NCDF receives a complaint, it routes the complaints to the appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency in the appropriate jurisdiction. In the process, we are able to de-conflict and identify trends, national schemes, and offenders operating in multi-jurisdictions. The Justice Department will aggressively pursue those who commit disaster fraud.”

    “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who seeks to defraud or exploit the federal assistance programs established to help individuals, families, or businesses that have lost so much as a result of Hurricane Irma,” said Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the Middle District of Florida. “Our Office will continue to protect the rights of our honest citizens affected by this disaster and ensure that they receive the necessary public and charitable assistance they deserve. If you suspect any fraud, we urge you to call the NCDF Hotline. Our efforts to combat fraud associated with Hurricane Irma will supplement the outstanding and ongoing efforts by the State of Florida and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.”

    “Our efforts are directed at enforcing a zero tolerance policy,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico. “In the midst of the distress and losses caused by Hurricane Irma and the attending need for recovery and rebuilding, there can be no place for fraud and abuse.”

    “As our South Florida community recovers from Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and our law enforcement partners stand ready to investigate and prosecute in federal court anyone who seeks to re-victimize, defraud or exploit the individuals and businesses in need,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida. “Our united enforcement front will work hard to combat criminal activity, including fraud schemes associated with the hurricane’s devastation. Our mission is to ensure that federal, state and local programs, as well as reputable public and charitable assistance initiatives reach those struck by the impact of our recent natural disaster and are not fraudulently diverted to the criminals’ pockets.”

    “We do not tolerate fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova for the Northern District of Florida. “Individuals, families, and businesses have suffered, and will continue to suffer, tremendous losses. Emergency funds are needed to help them get back on their feet. Dozens of agencies, investigators, and prosecutors are ready to respond to credible allegations of fraud and abuse. If you are aware of fraud, we urge you to call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline.”

    Members of the public who suspect fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, or believe they have been the victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also fax information to the Center at (225) 334-4707, or email it to disaster@leo.gov (link sends e-mail).

    Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims. Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and similar methods. Learn more about the NCDF at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud. Tips for the public on how to avoid being victimized of fraud are at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tips-avoiding-fraudulent-charitable-contribution-schemes.

  • The United States Attorney’s Office Announces Formation Of A Task Force To Fight Hurricane Irma-Related Illegal Activity

    For Immediate Release

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    SAN JUAN, P.R. – United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez is urging Puerto Rico residents and businesses to be aware of and report suspected fraudulent activity related to disaster relief operations and federal funding for victims. The USAO for the District of Puerto Rico, in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security-Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG), the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice have formed a task force to investigate and prosecute illegal activity stemming from Hurricane Irma.

     

    While compassion, assistance, and solidarity are generally prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters, unscrupulous individuals and organizations also use these tragic events to take advantage of those in need. Examples of typical illegal activity under the jurisdiction of each of the agencies in the working group include:

     

              • Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials

              • Identity theft

              • Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government

              • Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving

              • Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investment returns from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts

              • Price gouging

              • Theft, looting, and other violent crime

     

    “Our efforts are directed at enforcing a zero tolerance policy,” said United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “In the midst of the distress and losses caused by Hurricane Irma and the attending need for recovery and rebuilding, there can be no place for fraud and abuse.”

     

    “With our federal and state partners, we have a long history of tracking down and prosecuting those who attempt to defraud the government of monies that have been set aside to help victims of natural disasters,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas A. Leff of the FBI, San Juan Field Office. “The FBI will do everything in its power to protect taxpayer funded relief programs that have been created to help people who have suffered actual losses.”

     

    “The DHS OIG takes any and all allegations of fraudulent activity seriously and intends to hold accountable those who try to use this disaster to take advantage of others,” said Special Agent in Charge Jay H. Donly of the DHS OIG Miami Field Office. “The DHS OIG will use all of its investigative resources to stop those who use this unfortunate situation for personal and illegal gain.”

     

    Hector Pesquera, Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, assured that “his department has been tasked by the Governor of Puerto Rico to join these efforts to investigate and process any individual that engages in fraud or acts of corruption as related to hurricane victims. For those purposes, we have made available to the Task Force all of our resources.”

     

    The Puerto Rico Disaster Fraud Task Force will be in close collaboration with the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF). The NCDF receives from members of the public reports of fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations. It has been fully operational since its inception following Hurricane Katrina and is specifically designed to be ready for situations like Harvey and Irma. NCDF has an excellent staff of investigators, analysts, call center operators, and managers preparing to handle the anticipated volume. Since 2005, the NCDF has processed over 70,000 complaints. NCDF operates a call center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to take disaster fraud complaints through a national hotline number (1-866-720-5721) and via email (disaster@leo.gov (link sends e-mail)). This hotline serves, in essence, as a national 911 for disaster fraud. Learn more about the National Center for Disaster Fraud at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud. Tips on avoiding fraudulent charitable contribution schemes are at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tips-avoiding-fraudulent-charitable-cont….

     

    Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims. Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and similar methods.

  • Authorities Announce Formation of Working Group to Fight Hurricane Harvey-Related Illegal Activity

    Department of Justice
    U.S. Attorney’s Office
    Southern District of Texas

    For Immediate Release

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    HOUSTON - Representatives from numerous federal and state law enforcement agencies have formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Harvey.

    Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez made the announcement along with Acting U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson of the Middle District of Louisiana who serves as the Acting Executive Director of the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), Harris County District Attorney (DA) Kim Ogg, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Director Shamoil T. Shipchandler of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) -Fort Worth Regional Office, Special Agent in Charge PerryeK. Turner of the FBI, Special Agent in Charge David Green of the Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG), Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of IRS – Criminal Investigations (CI), Special Agent in Charge Douglas W. Thigpen of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Regional Director Dama Brown of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

    “This disaster has brought and will continue to bring unprecedented human and financial loss to our communities, and victims of this event have already suffered staggering devastation,” said Martinez. “The last thing that victims of this damage need is to be victimized again. Under the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, we bring a comprehensive law enforcement focus to combat any criminal activity arising from the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the rebuilding efforts underway.”

    While each of these agencies has a history of working together, bringing them together into one focused group is an optimal way to address the varied threats resulting from Hurricane Harvey. The working group will involve all levels of law enforcement and includes representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, NCDF, Harris County DA’s Office, Texas Attorney General’s Office, SEC, FBI, DHS-OIG, HSI, IRS-CI, USSS, FTC and the ATF.  Authorities are already receiving calls about scams in our area and have forwarded complaints to the relevant agencies.

    “We intend to use all of the resources at our disposal to both help our registrants and to hold those accountable who try to use this disaster to take advantage of other people,” said Chairman Jay Clayton of the SEC. “There is no place for fraud or shady practices in the rebuilding and recovery of the communities in Texas and Louisiana that have been affected by Hurricane Harvey.”
    "As we all work to rebuild the Houston/Gulf Coast region and look for ways to help, it's important to perform due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations or individuals offering to provide assistance to those affected by Harvey, whether the solicitations are in person, via email or telephone,” said Turner. “The FBI is dedicated to investigating and preventing this type of fraud, especially when it involves preying on individuals during times of great need.”

    “As we have witnessed throughout this disaster, the best of the American spirit shines through with neighbors and strangers helping one another. Sadly, at the same time, these situations also bring out those that would try to prey upon those who are willing to give of themselves to help out,” said Dawson. “Rest assured that HSI will, in coordination with our fellow law enforcement partners, bring its investigative resources to bear to stop those that would seek to take advantage of this situation for their personal and illegal gain.”

    Natural disasters often bring out the best in human compassion and spirit, they can also lead to unscrupulous individuals and organizations taking advantage of those in need of and/or providing government services. Examples of typical illegal activity under the jurisdiction of each of the agencies in the working group include:

    • Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials
    • Identity theft
    • Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government
    • Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving
    • Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investmentreturns from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts
    • Price gouging
    • Theft, looting, and other violent crime

    Consumers also can report scams and other consumer issues to the FTC and get help if they think they may be a victim of identity theft.

    Members of the public are encouraged to contact the NCDF to report all types of disaster fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice established the NCDF following Hurricane Katrina when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster and includes more than 30 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The team includes law enforcement agents who review those reports and make referrals to the appropriate investigative agencies. The NCDF provides de-confliction, coordination and expertise in handling disaster fraud matters and is focused on protecting disaster victims and any funds dedicated to disaster victims.

    The Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721 and is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members of the public can also send an email or fax information to 225-3344707.

    In addition, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking Texans to please contact their Consumer Protection Division and file a complaint if they feel they have encountered price gouging or have been scammed or fall victim to a charities fraud. They can call the toll-free hotline at 800-621-0508, send an email or file a complaint on via the web.

    The SEC provided this information yesterday and continues to monitor the market impact of Hurricane Harvey and encourage affected entities and investment professionals to contact Commission staff with questions and concerns.
    For additional information, you may also visit FEMA’s Hurricane Harvey resource page.

    The Department of Justice also announced yesterday Tips on Avoiding Fraudulent Charitable Contribution Schemes.

    Various personnel will also be available for any additional information, comments or interviews regarding this effort. Members of the media wishing to speak with anyone are asked to send an email with your request and preferred times and the office will respond accordingly.

     

  • Former Secret Service Agent Pleads Guilty To Money Laundering

    Department of Justice
    U.S. Attorney’s Office
    Northern District of California

    For Immediate Release

    www.justice.gov/usao/md

    Download PDF (201.68 KB)

    SAN FRANCISCO - A former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service pleaded guilty today to charges of money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington D.C. Field Office Cyber Crimes Unit Special Agent in Charge Kimberly A. Lappin, Special Agent in Charge John Bennett of the FBI’s San Francisco Division, and Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General Houston Field Office David Green.

    Shaun W. Bridges, 35, of Laurel, Md., pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California. Sentencing has been set for November 7, 2017. Bridges had been a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service for approximately six years in the Baltimore Field Office. Between 2012 and 2014, he was assigned to the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force, a multi-agency group investigating illegal activity on the Silk Road, a covert online marketplace for illicit goods, including drugs. Bridges’ responsibilities included, among other things, conducting forensic computer investigations in an effort to locate, identify and prosecute targets of the Silk Road Task Force, including Ross Ulbricht, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts,” who ran the Silk Road from the Northern District of California. In 2015, Bridges pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of obstruction of justice related to his theft and diversion of over $800,000 in digital currency over which he gained control as part of his role on the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force. In December 2015, Bridges was sentenced to 71 months in prison on those charges.

    Prior to reporting to prison to begin serving his sentence for the 2015 conviction, Bridges was arrested and taken into custody on new charges related to another theft of approximately 1,600 bitcoin, valued at the time of the theft at approximately $359,005, (approximately $6.6 million today) from a digital wallet belonging to the U.S. government. According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea in this case, Bridges admitted to using a private key to access a digital wallet belonging to the U.S. government, and subsequently transferring the bitcoin to other digital wallets at other bitcoin exchanges to which only he had access. In the course of the investigation, U.S. agents were able to locate and seize approximately 600 of the stolen bitcoin and, as part of his plea, Bridges agreed to turn over the remaining stolen bitcoin.

    The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen and Trial Attorney Richard B. Evans of the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section with assistance from Bridget Kilkenny. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Countryman is handling asset forfeiture aspects of the case. The case is being investigated by the FBI’s San Francisco Division, the IRS-CI’s Washington D.C. Field Office Cyber Crimes Unit, and the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General.

     

    DHS Agency
  • Former Government Employee Sentenced To 15 Months In Prison For Receipt Of Illegal Gratuities And Impersonation Of A United States Immigration Officer

    For More Information, Contact

    Elizabeth Morse - 410-209-4885

    For Immediate Release

    www.justice.gov/usao/md

    Download PDF (185.74 KB)

    Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge George L. Russell sentenced John Theis, age 40, of Sparrows Point, Maryland, today to 15 months in prison, followed by 1 year of supervised release for the receipt of illegal gratuities and impersonation of a United States officer.

    The sentence was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Stephen M. Schenning; Special Agent in Charge Mark Tasky of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG); Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Lappin of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office.

    According to his plea agreement, from January 2015 through his resignation in September 2015, Theis worked at the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) in Baltimore, Maryland. Theis was an Immigration Services Officer (ISO), whose duties and responsibilities included adjudicating immigration and citizenship cases and granting permanent residence status.

    Theis was required to obtain approval for any outside employment and no such requests had been submitted by Theis seeking or gaining such approval.

    From 2014 and through his departure from federal service, Theis accepted cash in return for promising favorable immigration adjudications for a number of aliens. On one occasion, while working at USCIS, Theis advised an alien on the documents needed for a green card approval. Additionally, Theis took photos of the applicant’s case file from a USCIS database. In exchange, Theis received approximately $500 from the alien applicant.

    Beginning in December of 2014 through February 2015, Theis and a co-conspirator agreed to work together in an immigration business to assist immigrants with getting their paperwork approved through USCIS. Theis would do presentations at an immigration program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). There, Theis would wear clothes that identified him as an immigration officer in order to influence new clients into paying him for assistance with immigration paperwork.

    In April 2015, Theis went on disability leave after making false statements about his ability to work. He also took various forms of paid leave and never returned to the USCIS.

    On September 29, 2015, Theis resigned from government service and left for Brazil in October 2015. He continued to do immigration work in Brazil while holding himself out to be a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until his return to the United States and arrest in December 2016.

    The approximate value of gratuities Theis received was over $15,000. He also received over $1,600 in disability benefits to which he was not entitled. Judge Russell ordered Theis to pay $1,600 in restitution to the Department of Labor.

    Acting United States Attorney Stephen M. Schenning commended DHS OIG, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Professional Responsibility, USCIS, FBI, and IRS for their work in the investigation. Mr. Schenning thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra Wilkinson and Paul E. Budlow, who prosecuted the case.

     

  • Two More Defendants Plead Guilty in Multimillion Dollar India-Based Call Center Scam Targeting U.S. Victims

    Department of Justice

    Office of Public Affairs

    For Immediate Release

    Download PDF (114.44 KB)

    An Indian national and a Texas man each pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges this week for their respective roles in liquidating and laundering victim payments generated through a massive telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by India-based call centers.

    Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General John Roth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) made the announcement.

    Montu Barot, 30, an Indian national most recently residing in Glendale Heights, Illinois, and Nilesh Pandya, 54, of Stafford, Texas, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offenses, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 371. The pleas were entered before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Barot agreed to deportation following his sentence. Sentencing dates are pending.

    According to admissions made in connection with their respective pleas, Montu Barot, Nilesh Pandya, and their co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams, in a ruse designed to defraud victims located throughout the U.S. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators targeted U.S. victims who were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government. Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing stored value cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the U.S. to liquidate and launder the fraudulently-obtained funds.

    According to Barot’s guilty plea, beginning in or around June 2012, Barot served as a runner and coordinated the liquidation of victim scam funds by other runners per the instructions of conspirators from both India-based call centers and within the United States. Barot communicated via phone, text and email in furtherance of the criminal scheme with both domestic and India-based associates, and he and his conspirators used reloadable cards containing funds derived from victims by scam callers to purchase money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts as directed, in return for cash payments or commissions. Barot also admitted to sending financial ledgers to his conspirators detailing the movement of scam victim funds.

    Based on admissions in Nilesh Pandya’s guilty plea, beginning in or around March 2014, Pandya served as a runner liquidating victim scam funds within the Southern District of Texas. At the direction of two of his co-defendants, Pandya used stored value cards that had been loaded with victim funds to buy money orders and then deposit them into various bank accounts.

    To date, Montu Barot, Nilesh Pandya, 54 other individuals and five India-based call centers have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016. Including this week’s pleas, a total of thirteen defendants have pleaded guilty thus far in this case. Co-defendants Bharatkumar Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Harsh Patel, Nilam Parikh, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Viraj Patel, Dilipkumar A. Patel, Fahad Ali, Bhavesh Patel and Asmitaben Patel previously pleaded guilty on various dates between April and July 2017.

    The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    HSI, DHS-OIG and TIGTA led the investigation of this case. Also providing significant support were: the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs; Ft. Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office; police departments in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, Illinois, and Leonia, New Jersey; San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection and Elder Abuse Unit; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; USCIS; U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Middle District of Alabama, Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, District of Nevada and District of New Jersey. The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau also provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.

    Senior Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels and Trial Attorney Mona Sahaf of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Amanda Wick of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Mark McIntyre and Craig M. Feazel of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.

    A Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims and the public. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via this website.

    Anyone who wants additional information about telefraud scams generally, or preventing identity theft or fraudulent use of their identity information, may obtain helpful information on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website.