8 arrested in retail theft ring ‘Operation Loot and Scoot’

Jacksonville FL May 30 2018

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has successfully arrested eight people in connection with an organized retail theft ring that they believe stole more than $500,000 worth of merchandise.

Following a two-year investigation which involved undercover officers, police arrested Natasha Soukseunchay, Latoya Shurman, Jennifer Upton, Chiquita Moorehead, Brian Harris, Deedra Berry, Dantavia Berry and the man they credit with being the leader of the ring, Antoun “Tony” Arbaji.

Sheriff Mike Williams told the media in a press conference that Arbaji sold upwards of $300,000 dollars of stolen merchandise on websites he maintained.

He would pay people for the stolen items either $10 per item or 20% of the total worth. Sherriff Williams said the suspects would enter stores with a large box and conceal stolen items within it and would walk out only having paid for the item printed on the box or having not paid at all.

“There’s a method that these suspects know what stores do or won’t do and they take advantage of that at the end of the day,” said Williams.

This investigation was difficult and took two years due to the merchandise being sold not only online but also across state lines. The investigation led police as far away as Tallahassee and St. Marys, Georgia and everywhere in between, according to the Sheriff.

When police arrest Arbaji they seized $53,000 in stolen merchandise and $11,000 in cash.

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Millions of Dollars at Stake When Bank Heists Go Digital

“Get down, this is a robbery!” That’s something no bank employee or patron wants to hear. In the past, bank robberies have resulted in thousands, even millions of dollars stolen in cash and gold (although the average yield for a bank robbery in the United States is only about $3,500, according to the FBI).

However, as money has become less physical and more digital, with credit cards and cryptocurrency rapidly replacing cash and coins, bank heists too have evolved from criminals physically breaching the walls of a bank with weapons and physical force, to hackers silently infiltrating the cyber infrastructure and funneling millions into their own accounts.

In one recent heist in Mexico, suspected to be a cyberattack, thieves stole as many as 300 million pesos ($15.4 million) through “phantom orders” to fake accounts, according to Reuters. This week, cybersecurity company Positive Technologies released a report describing how gangs execute sophisticated hacking campaigns against banks by taking advantage of social engineering and flawed security systems. The report also reveals the results of the company’s own penetration tests to show where these institutions may be falling short on protecting their networks and ultimately their funds.

This week I spoke with practice lead for governance, risk and compliance at TrustedSec, Alex Hamerstone, who works closely with large financial institutions doing cyber assessments and developing defense methods based on penetration test results, to gain more insight into bank vulnerabilities and security measures.

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FBI Warns of Posting Hoax Threats

Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is announcing a campaign to educate the public on the consequences of posting hoax threats to schools and other public places and reminds communities that these hoax threats are not a joke.

In the aftermath of tragic shootings such as the ones at Santa Fe High School in Texas and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the FBI and law enforcement around the country often see an increase in threats made to schools and other public forums.

The FBI and our partners follow up on every tip we receive from the public and analyze and investigate all threats to determine their credibility. Federal, state, and local law enforcement then employ a full range of tools to mitigate those threats that are deemed credible. Making false threats drains law enforcement resources and cost taxpayers a lot of money. When an investigation concludes there was a false or hoax threat made to a school or another public place, a federal charge could be considered, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If a federal charge is not warranted, state charges can be considered.

Public assistance is crucial to our efforts to curb these hoax threats. We ask that the public continue to contact law enforcement to report any potential threats or suspicious activity. If there is any reason to believe the safety of others is at risk, we ask that the public immediately reach out to their local police department by calling 911, or contact the FBI via tips.fbi.gov or over the phone (1-800-CALL-FBI). As always, members of the public can call their nearest FBI field office to report a tip.

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Mobile County forms task force to fight “skimming”

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and The Attorney General Office of Alabama are forming a partnership to combat Cyber Crimes in the Mobile Area.

According to the sheriff’s office, the purpose of a partnership between the two offices would allow for investigative support when needed for large-scale Cyber Crimes such as; electronic financial crimes that occur from skimming devices on ATM’S, gas pumps and any other devices where credit/debit is used.

“Cybercrime seems like it would be a fairly open and shut case-a cybercriminal commits a crime, law enforcement steps in and catches the bad guy and the case is closed,” says Sheriff Sam Cochran. “Since the method of how they commit these crimes are so complicated, law enforcement usually has to coordinate with government agencies, international partners, and private corporations and that is why this partnership will be such an asset. Our Deputies will be provided the forensic training in order to capture the evidence immediately without compromising the investigation.”

Back in February, the Alabama Attorney General announced the launch of a cybercrime lab with federal and state law enforcement. Marshall announced the initiative with prosecutors and Secret Service, FBI and Homeland Security officials in Montgomery on Wednesday. He says the lab will use cutting-edge tools to investigate cybercrime like online sexual exploitation, human trafficking and data breaches.

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$43 Million Ponzi Scheme Fleeced Tennessee Friends and Neighbors

Nobody would have suspected that the affable Tennessee tractor salesman who was raised among them, tended their lawns in high school, and prayed beside them at Sunday services was scamming them by the millions. Indeed, that’s probably what made the man’s investment scheme so successful, investigators say.

Jeffery Gentry, 40, pleaded guilty in federal court last August to charges related to his $43 million scheme that bilked investors—including friends, family, neighbors, and fellow parishioners—out of more than $10 million. Gentry, who owned and operated Gentry Brothers Tractor Supply and Gentry Auto in the Middle Tennessee town of Sparta, was sentenced on May 14 in U.S. District Court in Nashville to three years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $10.4 million in restitution to his victims.

Gentry’s scam was a textbook Ponzi scheme that promised investors high guaranteed rates of return on investments. He told investors the funds would finance the purchase of mowers and farm equipment to satisfy lucrative state contracts. In return, investors could expect monthly proceeds as high as 10 percent, thanks in part to rebates from equipment manufacturers for cash purchases, according to investigators. But it was all a lie, sustained in large part by investors’ faith that a lifelong neighbor and friend would never purposely do them wrong.

“He kind of preyed on that aspect of it,” said Jeff Guth, chief of the Sparta Police Department in White County, a close-knit rural community of 26,000 residents where the median household income is about $36,000. “Most of these people were friends of his. A lot of them went to church with him. They wouldn’t believe that someone close to them like that would be doing that.”

Guth learned of the scheme a few days before Christmas in 2016, when the police station lobby filled up with distraught investors fearing they had been duped. Gentry’s tractor store—an informal gathering spot where many of the investment transactions occurred—had shut down without explanation, suddenly casting doubt on their guaranteed returns. At the police station, former farmers and other retirees waved handwritten statements revealing their six-figure outlays, much of it from savings and retirement accounts. Suspecting there would be still more victims, Guth called the FBI in nearby Cookeville—a satellite office of the Bureau’s Memphis Division—for support.

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Public officers pan private police force plan

Lansing — Michigan law enforcement groups on Tuesday panned a new Senate plan to that would allow businesses, schools or other entities to contract with private security police forces that could carry weapons and make misdemeanor arrests.

The legislation could “de-professionalize” policing, reduce transparency and create a system where public safety services could vary depending on the wealth or resources of private entities, critics said.

But sponsoring Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, said he’ll invite police to a work group in hopes of improving legislation that advanced out of the Government Operations Committee in a 4-1 vote. His bill is a second effort after a private policing bill last year drew similarly harsh criticism.

“The main intent is getting more law enforcement on the ground in areas where there isn’t any available,” Kowall said.

Senate Bill 924 would expand a 1968 law that allows entities to create their own private police agencies, giving them the option to instead contract with a third-party vendor for the service.

The Detroit Medical Center, Detroit school district, General Motors Co. and the Henry Ford Health System are among 13 entities that already operate private security police agencies in Michigan.

Public law enforcement groups say expanding the law to third-party contractors heightens concerns over transparency, accountability and logistics.

“Under this law, any apartment complex could have their own private policing,” said Bob Stevenson, a retired Livonia police chief now with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

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IL Senate moves bill to allow medical cannabis at schools

In a 9-1 vote Wednesday, the Illinois Senate Education committee approved a measure that would allow parents or guardians to medicate their children with cannabis while they’re at school. On Thursday, the full Senate is expected to vote on the bill, which sailed through the Illinois House last month.

The measure, dubbed “Ashley’s Law,” was named for 11-year-old Ashley Surin whose family filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Illinois and Schaumburg School District 54 for failing to include public schools among the places people can possess medical cannabis. Surin has been prescribed medical cannabis to treat seizures related to a leukemia diagnosis.

In January, a judge ruled in favor of Surin’s family, allowing the girl to bring her medication to school.

Sen. Cristina Castro (22nd) expects the bill to pass based on its bipartisan support in committee. Castro, who is co-sponsoring the measure, noted that Ashley and her family would be making the trip to Springfield for the vote.

“They will be my guests in the gallery,” Castro said. “They are very excited.”

Despite claims that cannabis legalization will create a windfall of tax revenue, a new report from Moody’s Investors Services shows that taxes from pot sales “provide only modest budget relief” in states that have legalized the drug for recreational use. According to the report, revenues generated by legalization “are a marginal credit positive” for the nine states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legal recreational cannabis laws.

Nevertheless, Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker is continuing to push his plan to make pot fully legal in Illinois. Asked about the Moody’s study, Pritzker’s campaign defended his proposed policy.

“Legalizing marijuana will not just bring tax revenue to the state, but it will help reform a broken criminal justice system that has disproportionately harmed communities of color for far too long,” said campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen. “JB knows we can legalize marijuana in a safe way that will benefit communities across Illinois and he is ready to do that as governor.”

The billionaire has said he believes legalization could bring in between $350 million and $700 million in revenue, a figure anti-marijuana groups have disputed.

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Hillsborough security plan: trained armed guards in 100 more elementary schools

TAMPA — With scarce dollars and a mandate to provide armed protection for all students, some Tampa Bay area school officials have started to make use of a state initiative they once disparaged.

Named for a coach who was slain in the Feb. 14 Parkland massacre and enacted after opposition to an earlier proposal to arm teachers, the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program is a way to qualify other school employees to carry weapons and defend campuses against lethal intruders.

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister was among those who earlier this year scoffed at the idea of arming teachers, which was first proposed by President Trump. And the guardian program never caught on among educators and law enforcement as the best way to protect schools.

But Chronister stood with Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Thursday to unveil a security plan that relies on trained security officers, including many who already work in Hillsborough schools.

“As much as I am opposed to arming our educators,” Chronister said, “there is a unique reality here in Hillsborough with an almost 40-year-old, established agency of security personnel that we can take advantage of. I can feel comfortable that they are going to provide the level of professionalism, safety and security to keep our children safe.”

Florida’s school security mandate has officials in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties scrambling to place an armed person on every campus by the new school year, which begins in August.

The hurdles are time and money, with not enough of either for districts to meet the mandate as they would like. The favored option among most educators is to hire school resource officers, or SROs, who are certified law enforcement officers. But that is proving expensive, with not enough money from the state to offset the cost.

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“Bait Bike” Program Helps University Public Safety Catch Thieves

While students spent this school year rushing to and from classes, Pacific’s Department of Public Safety spent the past eight months hard at work protecting students and their belongings.

The officers at Public Safety are a proactive group who have gotten creative when it comes to curbing crime at Pacific. Perhaps the best display of that creativity is the Department’s response to one of the most common issues plaguing campus over the years: bike theft.

A 26-year veteran of the force, Lieutenant Wayne Germann of Public Safety told The Pacifican that officers could do very little about bike theft for a long time.

“It’s been very hard to have a progressive and proactive approach to bike theft because we have so many bike racks on campus that we can’t put enough people or enough cameras around to actually protect the bikes,” Germann said. “So either students have to be taught how to lock them up properly, so people can’t steal them, or we have to take other measures.”

One of the other measures Germann is referring to is something called the “bait bike” program. Spearheaded by Sergeant Nick DeMuth, this program addresses the bike theft problem by leading officers directly to the thieves themselves. Officers place decoy bikes around campus that contain GPS tracking devices, then simply wait for the bikes to be stolen.

“[We] take the bike out to an area where it’s known bikes are being stolen, or parts of bikes are being stolen, and purposely lock it up with a cable lock, which is one of the easiest locking mechanisms to cut and steal the bike,” Germann said. “The moment that somebody comes over and touches the cable lock… it will set off the GPS. Then it flashes up onto the screen for dispatch, which tells them where the bike is at, where it’s going, and so forth.”

Dispatch will then begin sending officers to the location of the bike to place the suspect under arrest.

The program has been in place for approximately two years, since Sergeant DeMuth learned about it from a department in the Las Vegas area. DeMuth knew it would be perfect for Pacific, and put in a request to take one of the bikes in the evidence room and turn it into a “bait bike.”

“Then he ordered the GPS unit and stuck it in the seat, and the rest was history. We were just knockin’ the heck out of them,” Germann said.

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Latest Internet Crime Report Released

Beginning in 2015, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) forwarded multiple complaints to the FBI’s Houston Field Office regarding fraudulent offers of investment opportunities by perpetrators who impersonated U.S. bank officials and financial consultants over the Internet and telephone. Victims in various countries, including the U.S., were deceived into believing they would receive millions of dollars from joint ventures with certain U.S. banks if they paid up-front fees—ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars—to participate. According to court documents, victims lost more than $7 million collectively in this scam.

The complaints submitted by victims to the IC3 helped investigators uncover this elaborate international advance fee and money laundering scheme, and in February of this year, six individuals were federally charged in Houston in connection with the scam.

The IC3, which has received more than 4 million victim complaints from 2000 through 2017, routinely analyzes complaints like these and disseminates data to the appropriate law enforcement agencies at all levels for possible investigation. The IC3 also works to identify general trends related to current and emerging Internet-facilitated crimes, and it publicizes those findings through periodic alerts and an annual report.

And today, the IC3 is releasing its latest annual publication—the 2017 Internet Crime Report—which reveals that the center received more than 300,000 complaints last year with reported losses of more than $1.4 billion.

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