Stopping Human Trafficking

Jaboree Williams was a pimp and drug dealer who brutally abused and psychologically tortured his victims. And thanks to the joint efforts of the FBI and local law enforcement, he will spend the next 30 years in federal prison.

“He preyed on vulnerable women who were having difficult times in their lives,” said Special Agent Maria Miller, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division as part of the office’s Human Trafficking Task Force. “He started by being more of a ‘Romeo’ pimp—he would act like a boyfriend and make them think they were doing this for their future as a couple.”

However, shortly after the women began working for Williams, he would take all or nearly all of their earnings, beat them, and limit their access to food. Williams also took the women’s identification, cell phones, and money to make it difficult for them to escape. When one victim tried to leave, he severely beat her with a belt and threatened to kill her children. With another, he beat her beloved dog to keep her under his control.

The investigation began in 2015 when a woman contacted the Racine Police Department saying she could not find her sister, whose photo appeared on a prostitution website. The police department collaborated with the FBI’s Wisconsin Human Trafficking Task Force to begin an investigation.

Racine Police Department Investigator Neal Lofy, who works human trafficking cases for his department and also serves on the local FBI task force, explained the importance of taking a collaborative approach in human trafficking cases and using the FBI’s available resources, such as administrative subpoenas of prostitution websites.

“Trafficking is a very transient crime; there’s a lot of movement between jurisdictions,” Lofy said. “Partnering with the FBI and having access to FBI databases and records, as well as the ability to travel to other jurisdictions, has been very helpful in these cases. Also, the clarity and penalties of the federal laws, as opposed to individual state laws, ensure convicted human traffickers can receive the punishments they deserve.”

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Online Predator Used Familiar Tactics to Victimize 12-Year-Old Girl

A 32-year-old Georgia man who pretended to be someone else online is behind bars after using familiar predatory tactics to coerce a 12-year-old girl to produce child pornography and send it to him.

The victims of this type of crime—commonly referred to as sextortion—are almost always vulnerable teenagers who are tricked online and then find themselves in a nightmare situation: They are afraid to tell their parents or friends what is happening, and believe complying with their abuser is the only solution.

“The predators typically pretend to be teenagers online and lurk on popular social media sites,” said Special Agent Kevin Orkin, who investigated the case from the FBI’s Atlanta Division. “The victims—striving for attention, maybe having issues with their parents, as teens often do—are easily manipulated.”

The predators establish an online relationship, flirt, and in time convince the victims to send them a sexually provocative picture. “That initial image might not be too incriminating by today’s standards,” Orkin said, but the predators use the image to blackmail the victims. If they don’t send more explicit material, the victims are told, the image will be shared online with their friends and family to humiliate them.

“The victims are too scared to tell anyone what’s going on,” Orkin said, “and before they know it, they are in way over their heads.”

In the case of the Georgia man, Gerardo Uribe, he masqueraded online as a 13-year-old boy, and later as a 25-year-old man. After the young victim sent a partially nude image of herself at his request in 2014, Uribe was eventually able to take over one of her social media accounts by resetting her password and then locking her out.

With access to all her information, including the initial compromising image, Uribe coerced the girl into providing more sexually explicit material—four images that met the federal definition of child pornography.

The girl’s parents discovered the crime and reported it to the local sheriff’s office, which referred the matter to the FBI. Through various investigative methods, Uribe was located in Georgia and charged with child pornography offenses.

He pleaded guilty in August 2017, and in November 2017 was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A Mexican citizen who was living in the United States as a permanent resident, Uribe will be deported after he completes his prison term. Investigators said that Uribe had tried to victimize at least one other girl.

“Sextortion is a growing problem on social media sites,” Orkin said, and although it may be easy to blame the victims of sextortion for the predicament they find themselves in, he explained, “we are talking about children being manipulated by adults. It’s clear that these criminals are preying on their victims and taking advantage of them in the worst way.”

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Radford University freshman ran ‘mini-syndicate’ prosecutor says

RADFORD — The brief drug-dealing career of a Radford University freshman brought him his own apartment with $25,000 in a safe beneath the kitchen sink and a 9mm pistol in a drawer — but it also brought threats to his family in Northern Virginia and the possibility of decades in prison for the one-time business major, attorneys and relatives said Friday.

“This isn’t some sandal-wearing hippie we caught here,” Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Rehak said during a circuit court sentencing hearing for Gabriel Eduardo Yus-Baez, 18. “This is a major player in some kind of drug organization.”

Yus-Baez pleaded guilty in November to three counts of possessing drugs with the intent to distribute them — one each for cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana — and to possessing a gun while possessing drugs.

On Friday, Judge Joey Showalter sentenced Yus-Baez to 35 years in prison, then suspended the term after Yus-Baez serves five years and five months. The judge imposed a $4,000 fine, suspended Yus-Baez’s driver’s license for 18 months after his release, and ordered supervision by the probation office for five years.

Before the sentence was pronounced, Yus-Baez said that he knew he had earned punishment but after a year in jail, was more than ready to turn his life around.

“I still plan — even though this is going to get in the way for a moment — to move forward and start something better … Please find it in your heart to let me go out there and make a better life for myself,” Yus-Baez said.

He agreed with defense attorney Jimmy Turk of Radford that he had been “young, dumb and stupid,” but was enticed by the idea of fast money and a showy lifestyle.

Wanda Baez, Yus-Baez’s mother, took the witness stand to speak for the half-dozen or so relatives in the courtroom. “You have put us in the most difficult situation of our lives,” she said to her son.

To Showalter, Baez said that she hoped her son could emerge from whatever punishment was imposed and realize the potential he had shown in high school.

“I hope and pray he has the opportunity to prove he can do better,” she said.

Questioned by Turk, Baez said that the family has felt threatened by people apparently connected to Yus-Baez’s drug cases, which include the Radford charges and another case in Northern Virginia.

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Theft of Federal Funds for Housing

Alternatives Living, Inc., was a non-profit organization in the New Orleans area with a stated mission of providing affordable housing to the elderly, homeless families, and individuals with mental disabilities. And through the state of Louisiana, the non-profit received funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to carry out its noble work—assisting about 660 clients annually, enabling them to live successfully within their communities.

Unfortunately, the chief financial officer (CFO) of Alternatives Living—Rickey Roberson—had another purpose as well: to use some of the funds from HUD, specifically earmarked for needy individuals, for his own personal gain. And as a result, there were clients who were not able to get the services that they needed.

How did this all start? In 2010, HUD had contracted with the state of Louisiana to administer its Community Development Block Grants in order to implement affordable housing programs throughout the state. Alternatives Living was one of the organizations selected by the state to provide housing support services to qualified residents.

However, fast forward to 2015. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor, a state government entity, released a public report which concluded that executives at Alternatives Living may have used public funds for personal gain. Based on that report, the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office—after notifying its partners at HUD’s Office of Inspector General—opened a joint investigation.

And what the FBI and HUD investigators uncovered, after looking into the finances of both Alternatives Living and Roberson personally, seemed to validate the findings of the audit report.

As CFO at Alternatives Living, Roberson was entitled to use the non-profit’s credit cards, and he had signature authority on Alternatives Living bank accounts. He used both payment methods to assist clients, but the accounts were also used to pay for his kids’ cell phone bills and some school tuition as well as personal travel, satellite radio, concert tickets, sports tickets, cruise expenses, repairs to his luxury automobiles, and even medical bills for the family dog.

In June 2016, Roberson was indicted on various charges, and in September 2017, in light of the evidence uncovered during the investigation, he pleaded guilty to theft of federal grant funds and agreed to pay more than $84,000 in restitution. Last month, he was sentenced to a federal prison term.

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International Fraud and Money Laundering Scheme

A Texas businesswoman and a Texas lawyer were recently sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms for their roles in an international money laundering conspiracy that defrauded dozens of victims across the U.S. Both were also ordered to pay restitution of more than $3.7 million to their victims.

Last October, Priscilla Ann Ellis—after being convicted by a federal jury—received 40 years in prison, while attorney Perry Don Cortese received 25. Ellis’ daughter, Kenietta Rayshawn Johnson—who took part in the conspiracy as well—was sentenced to 40 months. Three additional individuals were also indicted as part of the conspiracy—one pleaded guilty and two are awaiting extradition from Canada. And eight other individuals have been charged separately.

And for Ellis, as if a 40-year prison term wasn’t long enough, she—while being temporarily held at a local jail right after her conviction in the money laundering conspiracy—tried to solicit other inmates to help her hire a hit man to murder several witnesses who had just testified again her at trial (and then attempted to undertake another financial fraud scheme to pay for the hit man). She was convicted on those charges in March of last year, and on January 4 of this year, she received an additional 65 years in prison—a term that will run consecutively to the 40 years she got for the original case.

The money laundering investigation was run by Special Agent Deven Williams out of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office—one of the original subjects was operating out of the Tampa area and had opened more than 80 bank accounts there.

According Williams, the investigation began when the FBI Atlanta Field Office—with a fraud victim who had wired money to a bank account in Tampa—sent a lead to Tampa requesting an interview with the owner of the bank count. “Also,” explained Williams, “a law firm in Tampa had been targeted by fraud and it approached the Tampa Police Department, who then referred it to the FBI. From there, we were able to link the two together.”

Here’s what investigators uncovered:

From at least January 2012 to around September 2015, the conspirators defrauded dozens of victims across the United States and then laundered the funds, much of which were sent overseas.

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Super Bowl Security

On the wintry streets of downtown Minneapolis, ice crunches underfoot. The wind is whipping, and the temperature hovers in the teens. The weather will be one of the many topics under discussion inside the city’s convention center, where officials from every local, state, and federal organization involved with security at this year’s Super Bowl have gathered to put their planning and preparation to the test.

With the big game just around the corner, participants at this recent daylong exercise—the first time everyone has come together under one roof—will be asked to simulate their agency’s responses to a variety of scenarios, from an active shooter event to reuniting a missing child with a parent to keeping fans and first responders warm in the frigid Minnesota winter.

Nearly two years of planning has taken place, largely behind the scenes, to make sure that Super Bowl LII—and the 10 days of events leading up to the kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4—is safe and secure. Nothing has been left to chance, not even the weather.

“An event like this is about planning, about preparation, and about partnerships,” said Rick Thornton, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis Division. “Each organization brings its unique abilities to the table, but it requires tremendous teamwork and cooperation to pull everything together into a unified whole.”

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) is the lead agency for security at this year’s Super Bowl, and they are being supported by an impressive team that includes dozens of local police departments and public safety organizations, along with federal agencies including the FBI and multiple components of the Department of Homeland Security.

“I think we have done our best to think of just about every contingency, natural or manmade,” said MPD’s Scott Gerlicher, overall public safety coordinator for Super Bowl LII. “The Super Bowl is just a massive operation, and very complicated,” he explained, “especially in our area.”

Few northern cities play host to the Super Bowl, and dealing with the likely extreme February cold is a necessity for police officers and first responders who will have to brave the elements out of doors (warming huts will be located near the venues). Fans attending the game will be pre-screened at indoor locations, such as the Mall of America, so they won’t have to wait outside the stadium. Securing the stadium itself is challenging because, unlike in many cities, U.S. Bank Stadium is located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, making the establishment of a secure perimeter difficult.

Today’s exercise, a security dry run, of sorts, is a simulated opportunity for the entire team to come together to work through these and other issues as if it is game day.

“We make sure everybody understands what their roles and responsibilities are,” Gerlicher said, “and talk through some scenarios to make sure that between now and when we go live with our full, 10-day operational period in late January, we can identify any gaps and deal with them.”

Gerlicher’s counterpart at the FBI is Joe Rivers, an assistant special agent in charge in the Minneapolis Division who for the past two years has led a dedicated team of agents and professional staff to make sure the Bureau’s piece of the Super Bowl security puzzle is complete—and fits seamlessly into MPD’s overall plan.

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Sex traffickers are on many websites. Why is police action so rare?

HADLEY MA Jan 17 2018 — Prosecutors painted a squalid picture of what went on inside the little house on busy Russell Street: The Asian women were kept there night and day, providing sexual services for a fee, sleeping where they worked, and rarely venturing outside except to take out the trash.

The customers themselves led law enforcement to the address in 2016, by writing detailed reviews of the services they received at Hadley Massage Therapy — services that went far beyond massage. On a controversial website called Rubmaps.com, they described their sexual experiences in detail, including how much they paid, what services they received, and their level of satisfaction with the women’s performance.

“These are reviews on victims of human trafficking,’’ said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office led the investigation into the alleged sex traffickers who ran centers in Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Framingham. “It’s terrible, their depiction of women. . . . It’s just truly appalling.”

The now-closed Hadley Massage Therapy is one of hundreds of erotic massage centers described on Rubmaps.com in Massachusetts alone — and there are some 7,000 nationwide.

But even though law enforcement officials can easily find other suspected sex-trafficking operations on Rubmaps.com and other so-called John boards, listings on these sites seldom lead to prosecution.

That’s because of the sheer number of businesses and the legal resources needed to take each one down. Shutting them down is not as simple as rounding up the men and women in the massage parlor. State and local officials say they don’t want simply to arrest women workers — who are increasingly considered victims — but to take down the business operators who often run multiple storefronts.

Healey said her office will continue to go after the massage businesses described on the review boards. But even when law enforcement moves against erotic massage parlors, conviction of alleged traffickers is no slam dunk. The women, many of them fearful of deportation and unable to speak English, often make reluctant and poor witnesses. After being questioned, they often leave the state. The New England Center’s efforts to reach alleged victims from recent busts proved unsuccessful.

Donna Gavin, head of the human trafficking unit for the Boston Police Department, said police scrutinize review boards during investigations when they get tips about problematic addresses. But they have to be selective because investigations can be labor intensive, she said.

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Restricted banking access spell a boom for security business

Industry reaction has been mixed since Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidelines on enforcing marijuana laws Jan. 4. Some entrepreneurs express concern and fear, while others carry on with business as usual.

But one thing insiders agree on is the move will make it more difficult for cannabis companies to find and secure banking relationships, without which businesses are left with a ton of cash on hand.

Despite being legal for recreational or medicinal use in more than half the country, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug and therefore illegal at the federal level. In 2013, Barack Obama’s administration issued the Cole Memorandum, which essentially directed federal law enforcement to allow businesses that are legal under state laws to operate. The memo also signaled banks could do business with these companies so long as they were in compliance with federal guidelines, although many have been hesitant.

In rescinding this policy, Sessions said future prosecutions of businesses and individuals who sell pot in states where it has been legalized will be left up to individual U.S. attorneys.

“The real sticking point here will be banking. Before, banks were very reluctant to do business based on the loosely defined Cole Memo,” said Matt Karnes, founder of industry analyst firm GreenWave Advisors. “This raises more uncertainty, and I think there is going to be a pullback.”

In a November 2017 report, GreenWave found that about 5 percent, or 368, of all financial institutions in the U.S. are on record with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), but only 1 percent are actually servicing these businesses. Many are credit unions and local and community banks. Karnes also said many marijuana businesses conceal the true nature of their business when establishing relationships, and once they are found out, the account is shut down.

“In the last report from FinCEN, 3,800 accounts were opened, but 3,700 were shut down. It’s very short-lived,” he said.

A report from Reuters Wednesday also indicated the action taken by Sessions came as a surprise to FinCEN, which was flooded with calls from banks on how to proceed. CNBC reached out to both the Department of Justice and FinCEN for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

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Violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), results in lawsuits

Chicago IL Jan 12 2018 A wave of class action lawsuits has been filed alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a statute aimed at regulating how companies use information based on “biometric identifiers” such as fingerprints and retina scans. Violating BIPA can be costly, so employers operating within Illinois should review their business practices to determine whether they are using “biometric information” and plan accordingly.

Although many of the early lawsuits filed under BIPA targeted technology companies for their use of facial recognition software, recent litigation has focused on employers that use fingerprint-scanning technology to allow employees to clock in and clock out. BIPA regulates a private entity’s ability to collect, store and disclose biometric information. The statute defines biometric information as that based on individual identifiers such as fingerprints, retina scans or voiceprints. As the statute explains, these cannot be changed, unlike other unique identifiers such as Social Security numbers.

Citing the public’s concern with the use of biometrics for business transactions and the “heightened risk of identity theft” biometric information entails, the Illinois legislature sought to protect individual privacy and encourage private entities to bolster information security by passing BIPA in 2008. The statute flew under the radar until the first surge of class action lawsuits in 2015. These private actions picked up steam in the latter half of 2017, with dozens of new class action suits filed since July. And it’s easy to see why the plaintiffs’ bar has taken notice: The penalties associated with BIPA range from $1,000 to $5,000 per violation and include attorneys’ fees.

Fortunately for employers, compliance with BIPA is fairly straightforward. At minimum, entities that use biometric information must:

Adopt a written policy with a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the information, and make this policy available to the public.

Obtain informed, written consent from any employee whose biometric information is obtained.

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Feds crack down on birth tourism at ‘maternity hotels’

Federal Homeland Security agents raided 20 alleged “maternity hotels” in Southern California where pregnant Chinese women pay tens of thousands of dollars to live to ensure a “made in America” baby, reports said.

The feds raided locations in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties on Tuesday, targeting three competing birth-tourism schemes, officials told NBC News, which was on the scene of one of the raids.

One of the properties was the ultra-deluxe Carlyle building in Irvine, California, which housed pregnant women and new moms for fees ranging between $40,000 and $80,000 to ensure their children would have American citizenship, the outlet reported.

“I am doing this for the education of the next generation,” one of the women told NBC News.

None of the moms or moms-to-be were arrested. Police treated them as material witnesses and paramedics were standing by during the raids in case any of the women went into labor.

It’s not illegal to have a child in the US while in the country with a tourist visa, but lying to obtain the visa is illegal.

“If you lie about your reasons for coming here, that’s visa fraud,” Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Los Angeles, told NBC News.

Cops focused their efforts on the ringleaders behind the scheme. Court papers allege the fraudsters pocketed hundreds of thousands of tax-free dollars to help Chinese nationals get visas and a pampered life once they arrived, up until their delivery date in an American hospital.

The organizers allegedly used a website to attract customers, drawing in expecting mothers with the attractive benefits of a child with US citizenship: 13 years of free education, low-cost college financial aid, less pollution and a path for the entire family to emigrate when the child turns 18.

The women were advised on what lies to tell to obtain a tourist visa; how to fly through Hawaii, Las Vegas or Korea to avoid the suspicions of immigration officers at Los Angeles International Airport; and how to disguise their pregnancy during their trip, court documents allege.

The women’s handlers escorted them to doctors’ visits and trips to restaurants and shops, the court papers say. One agent followed one of the suspects to Target and Babies R Us.

While birth-tourism schemes are nothing new, investigators believe the practice is growing, NBC reported. Court papers cited a study that found 40,000 children are born to women in the US on a travel visa each year.

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