Archive for January, 2012

Texting Scam Targets Bank Customers

Residents of southeast Indiana are being warned about a scam involving text messages purportedly from their bank.

Several residents of Batesville said they’ve received text messages from what they believed was Indiana Bank and Trust.

“It’s a phishing scam,” said Detective Mike Benjamin with Batesville police. “When people call the number,… there is a recording… telling people their credit card account has been locked, and asking them to enter their credit card information along with their pin number to unlock it.”

Benjamin said at least one person has already fallen for the scam.

“There was actually a few unauthorized credit transactions on their credit card,” he said. “That victim was actually out about $600.”

Police said people who do get the text messages should contact their bank first, then call police.

“Never respond and give out your personal information, your account information, any type of information,” Benjamin said.

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No Warrant Needed for GPS Monitoring, Judge Rules

A Missouri federal judge ruled the FBI did not need a warrant to secretly attach a GPS monitoring device to a suspect’s car to track his public movements for two months.

The ruling, upholding federal theft and other charges, is one in a string of decisions nationwide supporting warrantless GPS surveillance. Last week’s decision comes as the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue within months in an unrelated case.

The ruling from Magistrate David Noce mirrored the Obama administration position before the Supreme Court during oral arguments on the topic in November. In short, defendant Fred Robinson, who was suspected of fudging his time sheets for his treasurer’s office job for the city of St. Louis, had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his public movements, Magistrate Noce said.

The GPS tracking in 2010, Noce continued, “corroborated that Robinson’s employment time sheets were false.”

Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben told the Supreme Court in November oral arguments that federal authorities employ warrantless GPS monitoring “in the low thousands annually.” Dreeben also said the government could affix GPS devices, without warrants, to the vehicles of the nine members of the Supreme Court.

Many of the justices were skeptical of the government’s position, saying the United States could evolve into a surveillance state if the Supreme Court sides with the government.

Justice Stephen Breyer told Dreeben, “If you win this case, there is nothing to prevent the police or government from monitoring 24 hours a day every citizen of the United States.”

Noce ruled PDF

***Here, installation of the GPS tracker device onto defendant Robinson’s Cavalier was not a ‘search’ because defendant Robinson did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the exterior of his Cavalier. Agents installed the GPS tracker device onto defendant’s Cavalier based on a reasonable suspicion that he was being illegally paid as a ‘ghost’ employee on the payroll of the St. Louis City Treasurer’s Office.

Installation of the GPS tracker device was non-invasive; a magnetic component of the GPS tracker device allowed it to be affixed to the exterior of the Cavalier without the use of screws and without causing any damage to the exterior of the Cavalier. The GPS tracker device was installed when the Cavalier was on a public street near defendant’s residence. Installation of the GPS tracker device revealed no information to the agents other than the public location of the vehicle. Under these circumstances, installation of the GPS tracker device was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.***

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Earlier this week we discussed the case of a St. Louis City Treasurer’s Office employee who is accused of timesheet fraud. Federal investigators followed the man around after hearing reports that he was collecting a salary despite not doing any work. After the investigation the man was charged with wire fraud and federal program theft. The main question that remains is whether the evidence against the employee was obtained illegally.

The government is not allowed to use evidence against a person that is the result of an unreasonable search and seizure. It is unclear whether the FBI’s decision to clip a GPS tracking device to the man’s car constituted an illegal search and the issue is currently before the Supreme Court.

FBI agents tracked the man’s car movements and compared the movements with his timesheets. Although the admissibility of the GPS tracking information is unclear, challenging the validity of a search is one of first things that an experienced criminal defense attorney will consider when devising a comprehensive defense strategy against federal charges. The inadmissibility of key evidence may destroy the government’s case and result in the dismissal of charges against a defendant.

It is unclear what the government’s case against the man will consist of if the GPS evidence is deemed inadmissible. There is also a separate issue of whether the man’s job was necessary in the first place. It appears that the treasurer’s office outsourced many of the functions of the man’s job. The Post Dispatch also reported that the man has not been suspended despite the federal charges against him.

The man is also accused of embezzling $250,000 in public funds from the Paideia Academy charter school which he used to run.

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To his supervisors, Fred Robinson must have seemed the ideal employee.

Every weekday that he worked in 2010 except one, the St. Louis City Treasurer’s Office employee started work at precisely 7:30 a.m., his time sheets say.

But an FBI agent testified Thursday that Robinson typically had a much more relaxed schedule, leaving his house at 9 a.m., spending an hour at a local diner, then driving between his second job as the head of a charter school and his third job, starting his own day care. The FBI gleaned those details largely from a GPS tracking device that agents had hidden on his car.

Special Agent Monique Comeau never mentioned Robinson doing any of the work that he claimed to be doing on the time sheets that he submitted to his bosses – slowly cruising city streets, looking for broken parking meters or illegally parked vehicles that hadn’t been ticketed.

Robinson was indicted in September on one count of wire fraud and seven counts of federal program theft. He was accused of looting more than $250,000 of public money from the now defunct Paideia Academy charter school to use for his day care business and as much as $175,000 from his so-called no-show or “ghost employee” job with Treasurer Larry C. Williams’ office.

Comeau’s testimony came during a hearing called to challenge the FBI’s use of the GPS tracking device without a court order – an issue that is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robinson’s lawyers also are asking U.S. Magistrate Judge David Noce to separate the criminal case into two parts, saying that there is nothing that connects the alleged theft from Paideia to the alleged no-show job with the city.

Noce said that he would take the motions by Robinson’s lawyers “under advisement.”

Comeau said that agents began investigating Robinson when they heard that he was a ghost employee. After some interviews in late 2009, a team of agents began tailing Robinson on his daily rounds. Then they slipped into his St. Louis neighborhood in the early morning darkness on Jan. 22 and surreptitiously attached a tracking device to his car.

Two months later, they removed it. Comeau said that the GPS records showed that Robinson’s time sheets were false.

The Post-Dispatch asked for copies of Robinson’s time sheets and work reports for 2010 after his indictment, but an outside lawyer for the treasurer’s office refused, saying that they were exempt under Missouri’s open records law. A different lawyer for the office eventually relented and provided the records.

Those time sheets not only contradict the GPS tracking data, but statements by the treasurer’s office about Robinson’s job duties and Robinson’s own version of his job.

Lawyer Bill Kuehling told the Post-Dispatch in September that Robinson was the office’s field security officer, investigating reports of large coin transactions that may have come from parking meter money.

He also said that Robinson was not a no-show employee and was free to work the hours he chose.

Robinson told the Post-Dispatch after his arrest that he checked parking meters for possible theft, saw to it that meters were working and ensured that drivers were paying to park on lots.

The 2010 time sheets indicate that Robinson spent each week cruising a different section of St. Louis.

Robinson listed the areas of the city that he covered. On the first week of the year, for example, Robinson wrote, “During this period visited Chippewa to S. city limits and Grand to Broadway.”

Most of the time, for 42 of 52 time sheets, he records that he spotted nothing amiss, writing, “observed no apparent violations.” On nine occasions, Robinson noted that he had spotted expired meters with unticketed vehicles on his tour. Once, he reported an inoperable meter.

He never mentioned checking city parking lots or conducting employee investigations.

Those time sheets raise questions because most parking meter operations were outsourced by the treasurer’s office in 2009. The request for proposals specifically mentions meter maintenance and “rigorous meter revenue & security controls,” but treasurer’s office staff did not respond to questions Thursday about whether Robinson’s job functions had been outsourced.

Also unclear is the value of notifying the office about an unticketed vehicle at an expired meter as much as a week after it had been spotted, and without identifying the make or model of the vehicle.

Last month, the treasurer’s office refused to release Robinson’s employment status, claiming the information was part of his personnel record, and not required for release.

But the treasurer’s discipline policies don’t allow for paid suspension and records show Robinson, a longtime friend of Treasurer Larry Williams, is still getting paid.

In court Thursday, while objecting to prosecutors referring to Robinson as a ghost employee, lawyer Diane Dragan said that he had been showing up for work and doing his job.

“Despite a federal indictment, the city has found him worthy of a paycheck,” she said.

Responding several minutes later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said, “That may be. Stranger things have happened.”

Lawyers on both sides declined to comment on the case after the hearing.

Williams has declined to comment on the case, as has Robinson’s supervisor, Roy White.

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