Manhattan Doctor Pleads Guilty to $8.5 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Dr. Roberto Aymat, a medical doctor, pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to participating in a scheme to defraud Medicare out of approximately $8.5 million through the use of fraudulent HIV/AIDS clinics in New York. As part of the scheme, Aymat and others billed Medicare for medications that were never administered or that were administered but were medically unnecessary. He pled guilty before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels. Three other participants in the scheme, Asmed Barrera, Augusto Guzman, and Jorge Rivero, previously pled guilty.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Roberto Aymat used his medical license to perpetrate a multi-million-dollar fraud on Medicare—a program that provides a lifeline to its beneficiaries and that is struggling financially to stay afloat. His exploitation of this vital, taxpayer-funded program was egregious and with his plea today, he has been held to account.”

According to the complaint and the indictment filed in this case:

Aymat, along with Barrera, Guzman, Rivero, also a medical doctor, and others operated three medical clinics in New York City that purported to provide drug treatments to Medicare-eligible HIV/AIDS patients, but that were, in reality, health care fraud mills.

The defendants executed the fraudulent scheme by recruiting HIV/AIDS patients eligible for Medicare and paying them kickbacks in exchange for signing on as patients at the clinics. The defendants then used these patients’ status as Medicare beneficiaries to submit claims for reimbursement to Medicare for drugs that had been prescribed to these patients. In fact, these medications were never purchased and never administered, or were administered, but were medically unnecessary.

From January 2007 to April 2009, Aymat and his co-conspirators billed Medicare for more than 10 times the number of units of prescription drugs they actually purchased, defrauding the Medicare system of at least $8.5 million.

Aymat, 44, a resident of Manhattan, pled guilty to conspiring to commit fraud in connection with a health care benefits program and to committing healthcare fraud and mail fraud. He faces a penalty of up to 50 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Daniels on June 18, 2013.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, New York Region.

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Kan M. Nawaday and Jason H. Cowley are in charge of the prosecution.

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California Student Catches Alleged Thief on Camera: A Teacher

A California high school student was shocked at what she found when she decided to play detective and stop a string of thefts from backpacks during gym class.

Justine Betti said she decided to hide in a locker to see if she could catch the thief in action. She didn’t expect the alleged culprit to be her gym teacher.

After all of the students left the locker room, the teacher stayed behind, rummaged through backpacks and took money, Betti said.

“Something needed to be done. That’s not okay,” she told ABC News’ Sacramento affiliate KXTV. Betti is a sophomore at Linden High School in Linden, Calif., about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Betti decided to hide in the locker again — this time, with a cellphone camera to record what she saw. She set up a second camera in another locker to get two angles.

Once again, she said she saw the teacher go through the bags. Her video shows someone digging through the bags, and one video appears to show the person taking something out of a pink duffel bag.

“I didn’t want to believe that she would do something like that because she was so nice, but then she did it,” Betti said. “It was really scary. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I just got this on video.’”

Betti said she kept watching it “over and over” and eventually took the video to her principal with some friends.

“He said that he’ll investigate it and he told us to delete the video, but I had already sent it to my dad,” she said.

The teacher is on administrative leave, according to KXTV. The Linden School District told ABCNews.com that it is investigating the matter, but the superintendent did not immediately respond to requests for further information.

The teacher has not been identified, but is a 30-year teaching veteran described as a “great teacher” by many students.

Betti said she struggled with recording and sharing the video, but said classmates have supported her.

“They’ve been supportive and said that we did the right thing,” she said. “We feel like we did the right thing, but it’s still kind of hard.”

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The FTC says identity theft retains its throne as No.1 consumer scourge

The Federal Trade Commission’s annual look at its Consumer Sentinel Network database of complaints found that 2012 was the first year the agency got more than 2 million complaints overall.

And, has been true for the past 13 years, Identity theft was the top consumer complaint the commission received.

Eighteen percent or 369,132 of 2012′s complaints were related to identity theft. Of those, more than 43% related to tax- or wage-related fraud, the agency stated.

A closer look at the identity theft trend finds:

Government documents/benefits fraud (46%) was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by credit card fraud (13%), phone or utilities fraud (10%), and bank fraud (6%). Other significant categories of identity theft reported by victims were employment-related fraud (5%) and loan fraud (2%).

Complaints about government documents/benefits fraud increased 27 percentage points since calendar year 2010; tax or wage-related fraud accounted for the growth in this area, with 43.4% of identity theft victims reporting this problem in 2012. Employment-related fraud complaints, in contrast, have declined 6 percentage points since calendar year 2010.

Forty-two percent of identity theft complainants reported whether they contacted law enforcement. Of those victims, 68% notified a police department.

Fifty-four percent of these indicated a report was taken.

Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints, followed by Georgia and California.

Rounding out the Top 10 most complained about activities are:

-Debt collection 199,721 10%
-Banks and lenders 132,340 6%
-Shop-at-home and catalog sales 115,184 6%
-Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries 98,479 5%
-Impostor scams 82,896 4%
-Internet services 81,438 4%
-Auto-related complaints 78,062 4%
-Telephone and mobile services 76,783 4%
-Credit cards 51,550 3%

Steps taken

The Internal Revenue Service recently said it had taken a big shot at the identity theft problem completing what it called a massive national sweep targeting 389 suspects in 32 states and Puerto Rico. The IRS Criminal Investigation unit cited the total number of identity theft investigations to more than 1,460 since the start of the federal 2012 fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2011.

In addition to the criminal actions, IRS auditors and criminal investigators conducted a special compliance effort starting on Jan. 28 to visit 197 money service businesses to help make sure these businesses are not assisting identity theft or refund fraud when they cash checks. The compliance visits occurred in 17 cities the IRS labels “high-risk” such as New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, El Paso, Tucson, Birmingham, Detroit, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

The identity theft push over the last several weeks reflects a wider effort under way at the IRS. Among the highlights:

-The number of IRS criminal investigations into identity theft issues more than tripled in fiscal year 2012. The IRS started 276 investigations in fiscal year 2011, a number that jumped to 898 in fiscal year 2012. So far in fiscal year 2013, there have been more than 560 criminal identity theft investigations opened.

-Total enforcement actions continue to rapidly increase against identity thieves. This category covers actions ranging from indictments and arrests to search warrants. In fiscal year 2012, enforcement actions totaled 2,400 against 1,310 suspects. After just four months in fiscal 2013, enforcement actions totaled 1,703 against 907 suspects.

-Sentencing of convicted identity thieves continue to increase. There were 80 sentencing in fiscal year 2011, which increased to 223 in fiscal year 2012.

-Jail time is increasing for identity thieves. The average sentence in fiscal year 2012 was four years or 48 months—a four-month increase from the average in fiscal year 2011. So far this fiscal year, sentences have ranged from four to 300 months.

-By late 2012, the IRS assigned more than 3,000 IRS employees—over double from 2011—to work on identity theft-related issues and the IRS has trained 35,000 employees who work with taxpayers to recognize identity theft indicators and help people victimized by identity theft.

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2 hurt, 19 arrested in melee near Ford City Mall

Two people suffered minor injuries and police arrested 19 teenagers during a disturbance involving crowds of young people Saturday at Ford City Mall on the Southwest Side, authorities said.

About 4:45 p.m., a large group of disruptive teens ran yelling through the mall, which is located at 7601 S. Cicero Ave., according to a mall official.

Officials closed the mall minutes later, but the chaotic scene continued outside, where police found between 100 and 200 people damaging vehicles in the shopping center’s parking lot, according to a police report.

Two people were taken to hospitals, according to Chicago Fire Department Chief Joe Roccasalva, a department spokesman.

A CTA bus driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to Holy Cross Hospital, said Roccasalva, who said he did not know what happened to him.

A “kid” was also hurt, and that person was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, also in good condition, Roccasalva said.

About 50 police squad cars assigned to multiple South Side districts, including Chicago Lawn, Englewood and Deering, and a helicopter responded to the scene, police said.

Traffic came to a standstill as teenagers jumped on cars, both parked and moving, according to a police report obtained by the Tribune. Many of those involved ignored orders to disperse, and police arrested 19 people between the ages of 13 and 18, according to police.

One teenager was charged with battery, and another was charged with criminal trespassing, Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said. The 17 remaining teens were charged with mob action. All the charges are misdemeanors, police said.

Officers did their best to control the disturbance, “trying to get everyone out of there safely,” News Affairs Officer Veejay Zala said.

During the disturbance, the CTA had to reroute the No. 79 buses, which travel on 79th Street, as well as other buses in the immediate area.

Earlier in the afternoon, members of the teen band Mindless Behavior had appeared at the mall food court from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to promote their new release, “All Around the World,” said John Sarama, the mall’s senior general manager.

The band’s autograph signing drew approximately 1,000 parents and children, primarily mothers and girls between the ages of 6 and 13, Sarama said.

About 45 minutes after the band left, the chaos began, Sarama said.

“A group of older youths came into the mall with the intent of causing havoc and chaos and were running through the mall, screaming, yelling and so forth,” he said.

Security staff contacted the police department, and mall officials closed the mall about 5 p.m., Sarama said.

The mall did not sustain any property damage apart from a single broken planter, and it will reopen at 11 a.m. Sunday as usual, Sarama said.

In the meantime, mall officials are at a loss as they try to understand what happened.

“Ford City is a family-oriented mall,” he said. “We have not had an incident like this [in the past], and I’m still in a little bit of a state of shock actually.

“What would make these youths come here to try and cause this kind of commotion and trouble?” he continued. “I don’t know. But they did have a plan in mind.”

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Retailers struggle to curb shoplifting, fraud

Feb. 24–Fraud, theft and other preventable losses drain billions of dollars from retailers nationwide as shops confront increasingly sophisticated criminals bent on looting shelves.

A December study by the Centre for Retail Research on behalf of New Jersey-based Checkpoint Systems, a global leader in fighting retail crime, estimated that America’s shops lost $8.9 billion during the holiday season to shoplifters, vendor fraud, deceitful employees and other problems. That added $98 to each family’s shopping bill as stores tried to recoup losses.The research echoed the National Retail Security Survey published in June by the National Retail Federation and the University of Florida. It pegged losses for America’s 3.6 million retailers at $35 billion in 2011.

There is some good news: The losses in 2011 were down $3.5 billion from those in 2008, when the recession began. Experts credit an increase in shops’ spending on guards and anti-crime gadgets that were cut from corporate budgets during the recession.

“It’s a combination of things. We’re seeing more money spent on loss prevention. That’s been notching up every year,” said Richard Mellor, vice president for Loss Prevention at the Washington-based National Retail Federation.

Key security innovations include anti-theft alarms hidden in products; software that mines sales data, inventory logs and video footage to flag shoplifters and dishonest employees; and increased information sharing between retailers and law enforcement to identify criminal suspects before they strike again.

“Retailers are paying more attention to what shrinkage means to the bottom line,” said Dan Reynolds, vice president of North American Sales and Customer Service for Checkpoint Systems.

The rise of organized crime rings is harder to halt.

The National Retail Security Survey revealed that 96 percent of retailers were victimized by packs of professional pilferers in 2011, perhaps looting as much as $12 billion.

Moving from state to state, the shoplifters often distract employees before snatching consumer goods they can fenced easily, especially online. Their top targets: Alcohol, clothing, toys, perfume, DVDs, hardware, watches and chocolates, according to Checkpoint, which designed ways to identify the criminals’ tools when they enter a store.

“We have to keep one step ahead of them,” Reynolds said.Ross Township Police Department officers try to do just that.

Dramatic heists, such as an autumn spree that targeted the Best Buy electronics store on McKnight Road or the theft of handbags from the Louis Vuitton store in Ross Park Mall in November, attract media attention, but police spend most of their time working with stores to prevent crime and quickly investigate shoplifting bands, then disseminate information about them.”It’s an issue for any township or municipality that has the number of retail stores that we do. Our problem is no different than any other community with many strip malls, malls and others retail outlets,” said Ross police Sgt. Benjamin Dripps.

Best Buy’s theft ring remains at large but Dripps said police still are looking for them.”We do many large-scale investigations. But we always also work closely with the anchor stores at the malls and the shops in strip malls. They’re familiar with our policies and know what we can do with them when we arrive.”

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

Feb. 24–Fraud, theft and other preventable losses drain billions of dollars from retailers nationwide as shops confront increasingly sophisticated criminals bent on looting shelves.

A December study by the Centre for Retail Research on behalf of New Jersey-based Checkpoint Systems, a global leader in fighting retail crime, estimated that America’s shops lost $8.9 billion during the holiday season to shoplifters, vendor fraud, deceitful employees and other problems. That added $98 to each family’s shopping bill as stores tried to recoup losses.The research echoed the National Retail Security Survey published in June by the National Retail Federation and the University of Florida. It pegged losses for America’s 3.6 million retailers at $35 billion in 2011.

There is some good news: The losses in 2011 were down $3.5 billion from those in 2008, when the recession began. Experts credit an increase in shops’ spending on guards and anti-crime gadgets that were cut from corporate budgets during the recession.

“It’s a combination of things. We’re seeing more money spent on loss prevention. That’s been notching up every year,” said Richard Mellor, vice president for Loss Prevention at the Washington-based National Retail Federation.

Key security innovations include anti-theft alarms hidden in products; software that mines sales data, inventory logs and video footage to flag shoplifters and dishonest employees; and increased information sharing between retailers and law enforcement to identify criminal suspects before they strike again.

“Retailers are paying more attention to what shrinkage means to the bottom line,” said Dan Reynolds, vice president of North American Sales and Customer Service for Checkpoint Systems.

The rise of organized crime rings is harder to halt.

The National Retail Security Survey revealed that 96 percent of retailers were victimized by packs of professional pilferers in 2011, perhaps looting as much as $12 billion.

Moving from state to state, the shoplifters often distract employees before snatching consumer goods they can fenced easily, especially online. Their top targets: Alcohol, clothing, toys, perfume, DVDs, hardware, watches and chocolates, according to Checkpoint, which designed ways to identify the criminals’ tools when they enter a store.

“We have to keep one step ahead of them,” Reynolds said.Ross Township Police Department officers try to do just that.

Dramatic heists, such as an autumn spree that targeted the Best Buy electronics store on McKnight Road or the theft of handbags from the Louis Vuitton store in Ross Park Mall in November, attract media attention, but police spend most of their time working with stores to prevent crime and quickly investigate shoplifting bands, then disseminate information about them.”It’s an issue for any township or municipality that has the number of retail stores that we do. Our problem is no different than any other community with many strip malls, malls and others retail outlets,” said Ross police Sgt. Benjamin Dripps.

Best Buy’s theft ring remains at large but Dripps said police still are looking for them.”We do many large-scale investigations. But we always also work closely with the anchor stores at the malls and the shops in strip malls. They’re familiar with our policies and know what we can do with them when we arrive.”

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FBI battling ‘rash of sexting’ among its employees

Washington (CNN) — It sounds like the plot of a bad movie: bugging your boss’ office. Sending naked photos around to co-workers. Sexting in the office. Paying for sex in a massage parlor.

But it all happened in the federal agency whose motto is “fidelity, bravery, integrity” — the FBI.

These lurid details are outlined in confidential internal disciplinary reports obtained by CNN that were issued to FBI employees as a way to deter misconduct.

Read the FBI’s internal reports (PDF)

The FBI hopes these quarterly reports will stem what its assistant director called a “rash of sexting cases” involving employees who are using their government-issued devices to send lurid texts and nude photos.

“We’re hoping (that) getting the message out in the quarterlies is going to teach people, as well as their supervisors … you can’t do this stuff,” FBI assistant director Candice Will told CNN this week. “When you are given an FBI BlackBerry, it’s for official use. It’s not to text the woman in another office who you found attractive or to send a picture of yourself in a state of undress. That is not why we provide you an FBI BlackBerry.”

While the vast majority of the FBI’s 36,000 employees act professionally, the disciplinary reports issued by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility show serious misconduct has continued for years.

From 2010 to 2012, the FBI disciplined 1,045 employees for a variety of violations, according to the agency. Eighty-five were fired.

The internal reports over the last year don’t specify job titles, names or the location of the employees. Yet, they provide exact details of their misdeeds:

– One employee engaged in a “romantic relationship with former boyfriend (now husband) knowing he was a drug/user dealer. Employee also lied under oath when questioned during the administrative inquiry about her husband’s activities.”

– Another FBI worker “hid a recording device in supervisor’s office. In addition, without authorization, employee made copies of supervisor’s negative comments about employee that employee located by conducting an unauthorized search of the supervisor’s office and briefcase.” It said the employee “lied to investigators during (the) course of the administrative inquiry.”

– An FBI supervisor “repeatedly committed check fraud and lacked candor under oath.”

– One employee “was involved in a domestic dispute at mistress’ apartment, requiring police intervention. Employee was drunk and uncooperative with police” and “refused to relinquish his weapon, making it necessary for the officers to physically subdue him, take the loaded weapon and place employee in handcuffs.”

– In other cases, an employee was charged with DUI for the second time, one used a lost or stolen credit card to buy gas, and another was caught in a child pornography sting operation, according to the internal reports.

All of the employees in these cases were fired.

More FBI employees were disciplined for their transgressions, including one woman who — according to the reports — “used (a) personal cell phone to send nude photographs of herself to other employees” which “adversely affected the daily activities of several squads.” Another FBI worker e-mailed a “nude photograph of herself to ex-boyfriend’s wife.” Both employees received 10-day suspensions.

Another who visited a massage parlor “and paid for a sexual favor from the masseuse” received a 14-day suspension. And an employee who used a government-issued BlackBerry “to send sexually explicit messages to another employee” was suspended for five days.

Will expressed surprise at some of the behavior outlined in the reports.

“As long I’ve been doing this … there are days when I think ‘OK, I’ve seen it all,’ but I really haven’t,” Will said. “I still get files and I think, ‘Wow, I never would have thought of that.’”

Some of the recent cases follow what CNN uncovered in 2011 after obtaining several years of the internal disciplinary reports. Those reports included incidents involving FBI employees sleeping with informants, a sex tape made by an agent and his girlfriend, tapping into FBI databases for unauthorized searches, viewing pornography on bureau computers and other cases of drunk driving.

The FBI Agents Association — which advocates for active and former FBI agents — said the incidents should be considered in the proper context.

“It is important to note that the ratio of disciplinary issues among FBI agents are among the lowest in the federal government and private sector,” the association’s president Konrad Motyka told CNN.

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Private detectives filling gaps left by police budget cuts

CAMDEN, N.J. — In an office in a sleepy town in southern New Jersey, Harry Glemser’s phone rang. With no buxom secretary to take a message, he answered it himself.

It was a dame, looking to hire a private eye.

But this was no scene from a noir novel. The woman was calling because someone in a car kept lurking in her driveway, the engine running, when her husband wasn’t home. She’d called the police, but they couldn’t help. She hoped Glemser could.

Detectives like Glemser across cash-strapped states have been getting more calls like these as cities and towns cut their police forces to contend with deep budget cuts. New Jersey alone lost 4,200 officers from 2008 to 2011, according to the Policemen’s Benevolent Assn., which tracks the state’s most recent data. As police focus more on responding to crime rather than preventing it, private detectives and security firms are often taking on the roles that police once did, investigating robberies, checking out alibis, looking into threats.

“The public is frustrated by the police,” said Glemser, a retired cop of 63 whose gold chains, white hair and bulky body might make a stranger worry he’s on the wrong side of the law. “The citizenry is quick to say that the police don’t do anything for them. They should be saying the police can’t do anything for them because of this budgetary issue, this manpower problem, this directive we have that came down from the chief.”

Private detectives are just one piece of the private sector security and policing services that people are increasingly turning to as they worry about crime. The U.S. private security industry is expected to grow 6.3% a year to $19.9 billion by 2016, according to a study by security research group Freedonia Group Inc. Even some in the public sector are trying to tap into the industry to save money; one Tennessee power department laid off security officers last year and replaced them with security technology and private contractors.

In California, where many cash-strapped cities cut police budgets during the recession, residents are turning to detectives, security firms and even the Internet.

After police cuts in Oakland, resident Dabney Lawless encouraged 400 neighbors to sign up on a website so they could send alerts to one another when they noticed suspicious people around; she also pays extra to an alarm company to drive through the neighborhood. Ron Cancio, the manager of a Stockton security firm, said that since the city’s budget battles, residents often have called his firm for minor complaints, because they know he’ll respond more quickly than the police.

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Mexican authorities participated in civilian disappearances, report says

Describing what it called “the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades,” the U.S. organization Human Rights Watch issued a report Wednesday with grim implications for the thousands of Mexican civilians who have gone missing in the country’s shadowy drug fight.

While inquiring into the cases of 249 missing persons in Mexico, the group said, its researchers found credible evidence that soldiers or police participated in 149 of the disappearances.

The victims included husbands and fathers who went out for groceries and never came back and others dragged from their homes by uniformed men in the middle of the night, the rights group said. Many were last seen being stuffed into military trucks and police vehicles.

Claims of extrajudicial killings and other grave rights violations have dogged Mexican security forces for years. But the report released Wednesday is one of the most significant attempts to date to identify patterns of abuse during the anti-drug effort and to examine the degree to which Mexican authorities either fail to investigate disappearances or, in many instances, are responsible for them.

U.S. lawmakers have periodically threatened to withhold millions of dollars in security aid to Mexico over concerns that police and military abuses have worsened in recent years, and some funding was temporarily blocked in 2010. Congress has appropriated nearly $2 billion in assistance so far under the terms of the 2007 Merida Initiative, and 15 percent of the funds are supposed to be conditioned on rights improvements in Mexico.

“More and more Mexican military and security forces are involved in human rights abuses, and we shouldn’t be funding that. We should be condemning that,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chair of the human rights commission in the House, adding that he intends to hold hearings on the report’s findings.

The group presented its findings Wednesday to the administration of Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexican officials declined to comment on the report.

In its report, Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the 249 cases represent only a small and unscientific sampling of Mexico’s missing. An unpublished government database lists more than 25,000 people who have vanished since former president Felipe Calderon launched his U.S.-backed military offensive against the cartels in 2006. At least 60,000 have been slain in gangland violence over the same period.

Of the 149 instances in which Human Rights Watch found evidence of an “enforced disappearance” at the hands of Mexican authorities, 95 cases involved local police agencies. Their low-paid, poorly trained officers are often on the payroll of the gangsters; in some cases, they are the gangsters.

“For years the Calderon government responded to the mounting cases of disappearances like it did all human rights problems, by pretending they weren’t happening, and blaming the few cases it acknowledged on narcos,” said senior researcher Nik Steinberg, the report’s author.

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White House warns of dangers posed by WikiLeaks, LulzSec, other ‘hacktivists’

New Obama administration strategy says organizations such as WikiLeaks and hacking group LulzSec may conduct “economic espionage against U.S. companies.”

The White House warned today of the threat posed by WikiLeaks, LulzSec, and other “hacktivist” groups that have the ability to target U.S. companies and expropriate confidential data.

A new administration-wide strategy (PDF) disclosed at a high-profile event in Washington that included Attorney General Eric Holder says the theft of trade secrets is on the rise and predicts such theft will undermine U.S. national security unless halted.

It’s a “steadily increasing threat to America’s economy and national security interests,” Holder said at the event, which also featured officials from the State Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“Disgruntled insiders [may leak] information about corporate trade secrets or critical U.S. technology to ‘hacktivist’ groups like WikiLeaks,” the White House warns. Such groups could “develop customized malware or remote-access exploits to steal sensitive U.S. economic or technology information.”

It’s an unanticipated inclusion in a strategy that was expected to be focused on state-sponsored intrusions — especially in the wake of disclosures this week about the Chinese military’s involvement in penetrating the networks of U.S.-headquartered companies — and signals that the government’s interest in WikiLeaks has not abated. Vice President Joe Biden has called WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist,” and a grand jury has been empaneled in Alexandria, Va., as part of a criminal investigation of the group.

While WikiLeaks is probably best known for disclosing sensitive U.S. government files, it has also released internal bank documents (and once promised to release more) and has been the subject of a controversial funds blockade by Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal. For its part, LulzSec successfully targeted News Corp., HBGary, and Sony in 2011, but has been far less active since, especially after it was infiltrated by the FBI.

The White House strategy views both organizations as part of a broader problem of nongovernment groups taking aim at U.S. companies’ networks, and predicts:

Some intelligence services with less developed cyberprograms already use relationships with nominally independent hackers to augment their capabilities to target political and military information or to carry out operations against regime enemies. For example, the Iranian Cyber Army, a hacker group with links to the Iranian Government, has used social engineering techniques to obtain control over Internet domains and disrupt the political opposition…

Political or social activists also may use the tools of economic espionage against U.S. companies, agencies, or other entities. The self-styled whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks has already published computer files provided by corporate insiders indicating allegedly illegal or unethical behavior at a Swiss bank, a Netherlands-based commodities company, and an international pharmaceutical trade association. LulzSec — another hacktivist group — has exfiltrated data from several businesses that it posted for public viewing on its Web site.

In response to these threats, as well as to state-sponsored groups such as the ones Mandiant disclosed this week, the administration says it will increase “international law enforcement cooperation” and that the FBI and Justice Department will “prioritize these investigations and prosecutions.”

WikiLeaks’ Assange said in November in an appearance from Ecuador’s London embassy that prosecutors want alleged source Bradley Manning, who’s currently facing criminal charges inside the military justice system, to identify him as a party to the extraction and delivery of secret U.S. government files.

The Army wants, Assange said from his embassy room where he has sought refuge to avoid an extradition attempt, “to break him, to force him to testify against WikiLeaks and me” — an apparent reference to the Justice Department’s grand jury probe. If prosecutors allege conspiracy to commit computer crimes, they could avoid some of the free speech problems they’d face in an Espionage Act prosecution.

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Win an AR-15? Gun giveaways spark debate

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE Police chiefs in New Hampshire wanted more money for their youth training program. A youth hockey team in North Dakota needed more ice time.

Both saw giving away guns as the answer.

From car dealerships to political parties to hockey teams to yes, even police chiefs, gun giveaways are an attractive way to make money or draw in customers. But in the wake of the deadly shooting rampage in a Connecticut elementary school, such raffles are drawing criticism as the ease of obtaining firearms fuels a nationwide debate over gun control measures.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is raffling off a gun every day in May, including a Ruger AR-15-style rifle with a 30-round magazine similar to the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 children and six educators in December. The players in West Fargo’s Youth Hockey Association will raffle off 200 guns and an all-terrain vehicle next month. Up for grabs are shotguns, handguns, hunting rifles and semi-automatic rifles.

Both raffles were planned long before the shooting in Newtown invigorated calls for increased gun control. That didn’t stop critics from blasting the raffles as, at best, in poor taste and, at worst, criminal.

John Rosenthal, founder and director of the Massachusetts-based Stop Handgun Violence, called the chiefs’ raffle “insane” and “criminally irresponsible.”

“In 33 states – including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont – the winner of this AR-15 can turn around the same day and sell it to anyone without an ID or background check,” Rosenthal said. “They should cancel their raffle and give away a nice mountain bike or snowmobile.”

Jonathan Lowy, director of the legal action program at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said he knows of no state in which the raffle would be illegal. But “having these gun giveaways and gun raffles can trivialize the seriousness of firearms,” Lowy said.

In a letter posted on the chiefs association website, Salem Police Chief Paul Donovan extended his sympathies to the families of those killed in Newtown but stressed it and other tragic shootings “are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership.”

Donovan, who did not respond to interview requests, wrote that the raffle’s rules require that winners meet all applicable state and federal laws, including background checks. The goal of the raffle – to raise $30,000 to offset the cost of the weeklong police cadet training academy – has already been met. The 1,000 raffle tickets, at $30 apiece, sold out last month.

Three of the guns being raffled off are named on a list of weapons that would be prohibited under a proposed ban introduced by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the wake of the Sandy Hook rampage. That proposal would also ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

While the Newtown shooting has intensified the criticism of the chiefs’ raffle, other giveaways have had similarly inauspicious timing.

After a 2011 shooting rampage in Arizona wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, the county Republican Party raffled off a Glock handgun to raise money for voter outreach. Its slogan was “Help Pima GOP get out the vote and maybe help yourself to a new Glock.” The Republican Party’s interim county chairman said at the time he didn’t think there was anything inappropriate about the promotion.

Missouri state Rep. John McCaherty raised campaign funds last August by raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a month after a similar gun was used in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58. McCaherty didn’t return calls seeking comment.

The owner of an Atlanta-area sporting goods store doesn’t understand the outrage.

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