Dallas officers arrest nightclub magnate who laundered money

DALLAS -Alfredo Hinojosa ran an “empire” of nightclubs across North Texas, according to a federal indictment, raking in more than $100 million from 2014 to 2016.

At the same time, Hinojosa allowed dealers to sell cocaine in his clubs’ bathrooms to keep business booming and then helped launder money for a Mexican band’s tour bus.

Hinojosa, 57, pleaded guilty this week to charges of conspiracy to manage a drug premises and conspiracy to structure transactions to evade reporting requirements, according to court documents.

The case was initially filed in October 2016, and a new indictment was filed against Hinojosa and 10 other defendants on Tuesday.

Hinojosa has not yet been sentenced. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to forfeit $200,000, a Ferrari F355, a Land Rover Range Rover, a Hummer H2, a Mercedes-Benz and a Gillig Motorhome, the court documents said.

His attorney, Frank Perez, declined to comment on the case Wednesday.

The case also involved two former Dallas police officers, Eddie Villarreal, 48, and Craig Woods, 60, who worked security at Hinojosa’s clubs. Villarreal and Woods pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI this week for lying about their involvement with Hinojosa.

Their attorneys could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

It was unclear Wednesday night which of the remaining defendants have been taken into custody.

‘Man, they got to do business’

Hinojosa owned more than 40 nightclubs across the state, including the Far West, Medusa and OK Corral clubs in Dallas and the OK Corral club in south Fort Worth, on the north side of La Gran Plaza. The clubs were still open this week, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

At each location, Hinojosa allowed a crew of “certain selected” dealers to sell cocaine in $20 baggies in the restrooms. In a recording obtained by authorities, Hinojosa said, “we can’t really clean it [up] because then we lose business,” the indictment said.

“Man, they got to do business,” Hinojosa said in the recording. “I told them we don’t care . . . we just don’t want for everybody to see him . . . They want it [cocaine] right there. They don’t want to go looking downtown.”

The indictment named the dealers, who face drug charges in the case: Eloy Alvarado Montantes, 36, of Grand Prairie; Jose Omar Santoyo Salas, 32, of Arlington; Erick Johan Lopez Cuellar, 30, of Fort Worth; Raul Nunez, 25, of Grand Prairie; and Cesar Mendez, 27, of Dallas.

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Florida may require businesses to verify employees through

A panel of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission unanimously backed a proposal (P 29) that would require all employers in Florida to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Employment Authorization Program, known as E-Verify, to determine the eligibility of new employees.

Commissioner Rich Newsome, an attorney from Orlando who sponsored the proposal, said the measure has widespread support from the public. However, he said the issue has failed to garner legislative support in past years because powerful special interests tied to agriculture and construction make it “impossible” to advance.

“Everybody knows why it can’t pass the Legislature despite the fact that if you polled the Republican base of the folks that are in power, it’s off the chart,” Newsome said.

Adam Blalock, representing the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, told the commission’s General Provisions Committee that if E-Verify is put in place, the agriculture industry would suffer a short-term labor shortage that would result in lost and unharvested crops.

“There must be a replacement labor for agriculture before E-Verify is established,” Blalock said.

“The federal government this year is working on legislation to better the H-2A guest worker program to try to remove some of the problems that agriculture faces to allow a more legal work force to be in the United States,” Blalock continued. “But domestic supply of agriculture workers, it’s not there to replace those who would inevitably be not able to work if E-Verify was put into place. There is just not that population of people that is willing to do the hard work to get the food on your table. And that’s not a popular opinion, but it is reality.”

Newsome said he offered a carve-out for agriculture interests that use guest-worker visas, but a number of mid-sized farmers are concerned about covering housing, transportation and health-care costs.

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Father/Son Tutoring Company Executives Sentenced for Fraud

“The father-and-son executives of two suburban Chicago tutoring companies have been sentenced to federal prison for orchestrating an $11 million fraud scheme that bilked more than 100 school districts around the country, including Illinois.

From 2008 to 2012, JOWHAR SOULTANALI and his son, KABIR KASSAM, fraudulently obtained funds from the school districts by misrepresenting the nature of their companies’ tutoring services and falsely inflating invoices for tutoring work that was never performed. Soultanali and Kassam also paid bribes to school officials and teachers to make sure the fraud was not detected. The bribes included a Caribbean cruise for an assistant principal in Texas and an outing to a gentleman’s club for a state education official in New Mexico.

Soultanali, 62, of Morton Grove, Ill., and Kassam, 38, of Wheeling, Ill., each pleaded guilty last year to one count of mail fraud. U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve on Friday sentenced Soultanali to six years in prison, and Kassam to five years and ten months in prison.

The sentences were announced by Joel R. Levin, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; John P. Selleck, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Thomas D. Utz Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the North Central Region of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General. The Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General assisted in the investigation.

“Defendants abused the trust that the Department of Education placed in them to carry out a massive fraud that was not merely extensive, but also egregious,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kruti Trivedi and Barry Jonas argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “The fraud in this case had a significant impact on both the failing school districts that allocated their federal funds to defendants and on the students at those school districts.”

Soultanali served as director of operations for BRILLIANCE ACADEMY INC. and its wholly owned subsidiary, BABBAGE NET SCHOOL INC., both based on Niles, Ill. Kassam was the president of both companies. The firms contracted with school districts to provide tutoring services to students on-site at schools and via laptop computers.

According to the charges, Soultanali and Kassam furnished the school districts with false applications and marketing materials that fraudulently inflated the companies’ services. The companies falsely stated that they provided pre-testing of enrolled students, created customized tutoring programs, provided ongoing progress reports to schools and parents, and compiled accurate student improvement results after the tutoring was completed. In total, Brilliance and Babbage received $33 million from more than 100 school districts and small schools throughout the country.

The fraud scheme also involved numerous bribes paid to some school officials, with the expectation that the officials would assist in procuring federal funds for the tutoring services.

In addition to Soultanali and Kassam, the investigation resulted in criminal charges against Brilliance and Babbage, as well as three school officials in Texas and one state education official in New Mexico
who pocketed the bribes.”

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Connecticut Group Staged Car Accidents for Insurance Money

“After a autumn evening of drinking and using drugs in 2013, a group of friends got into an Audi A6 and drove to the remote Wilderness Road in Norwich, Connecticut. The car slid off the road, hitting a tree.

Everyone in the car survived, but this seemingly typical crash was no accident.

Despite their impairment, the driver and passengers had purposely planned the crash to collect the insurance money. It was one of many crashes that a group of Connecticut residents were connected to over several years—contributing to higher car insurance premiums for all drivers and wasting public resources like ambulance responses.

In the October crash, driver Mackenzy Noze got out of the Audi and drove away in a getaway car, while his friend, Jacques Fleurijeune, climbed into the driver’s seat of the damaged Audi and called 911. Fleurijeune told police he had hit the tree while swerving to avoid a deer—though no witnesses or police ever saw the alleged deer.

The four passengers were all taken to the hospital and eventually received insurance settlements for their injuries, which were fake. Fleurijeune also received payment for the value of the car, and others in the car gave some or all of their injury payouts to Noze and Fleurijeune.

This scenario played out numerous times with various combinations of co-conspirators from 2011 through 2014, with insurance companies paying out $10,000 to $30,000 per crash in about 50 crashes. Many of them happened under similar circumstances—late-night, single-car crashes on remote roads without witnesses. In the fall, the drivers would claim to have swerved hitting a deer. In the winter, they said they lost control on a snowy street. To up their payout, they used older, European cars, which tend to hold their value over time.

For the insurance companies, these repeat crashes raised red flags. So the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a non-profit organization that serves as a liaison between law enforcement and insurance companies, shared crash data with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. The NICB’s suspicious accident data helped investigators hone in on the worst offenders.

“It was just a good, old-fashioned case, conducting interviews and reviewing documents—such as police reports and insurance company records—looking for patterns,” said Special Agent Daniel Curtin, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s New Haven Division. “With a lot of these staged crashes, the fraudsters made interstate telephone calls to file the insurance claims, and the calls were recorded, forming the foundation for many of the wire fraud counts.”

Noze, 33, the group’s ringleader, was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and sentenced last month to four years in prison. Six others, including Fleurijeune, have been charged and convicted.

While insurance fraud may seem to be a victimless crime, that’s far from the case.

Estimates show car insurance fraud costs the average policyholder about $300 per year in higher premiums, according to NICB Supervisory Special Agent John Gasiorek, who assisted the FBI with the investigation.

Additionally, staged accidents are a safety hazard, both to those involved and other drivers. While in this ring, the conspirators generally did not involve other motorists, criminals sometimes do stage accidents involving unsuspecting drivers.

“You never know who’s going to come around the corner. You could hit an innocent person. It’s really a public safety issue,” Gasiorek said, noting that even willing participants in the staged accidents are unexpectedly injured.

“When insurance companies pay fraudulent claims, everyone’s premiums go up,” Curtin said. “More importantly, the staged crashes pose risks to first responders. You had police officers and EMTs rushing to crash scenes. The wasted time of medical professionals was also a concern with ER doctors and nurses treating these fraudsters for non-existent injuries. It took time away from other patients who really needed medical attention.”

At least in the local region, Curtin said word has gotten out that law enforcement is working these cases and bringing perpetrators to justice.

“The insurance companies have said that suspicious claims, especially those involving single-car accidents on remote roads, are down in southeastern Connecticut,” Curtin said. “They’re not seeing these types of suspicious accidents because this case has sent a message.”

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Security officers capture Utah murder suspect after tip from alert librarian

“As Austin Jeffrey Boutain stepped out of an elevator at Salt Lake City Main Library Tuesday afternoon, an alert librarian recognized him as the man officers had sought in a massive overnight hunt after the fatal shooting of a University of Utah student.

The librarian greeted Boutain — as he does everyone who visits the third floor — then waited until Boutain was out of earshot and called security, according to City Library Communications Director Andrew Shaw.

Within minutes, security officers apprehended Boutain, who had appeared to be unarmed, in a restroom, Shaw said.
“A big shout out to a librarian,” Salt Lake City police Chief Mike Brown said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, announcing Boutain, 24, had been taken into custody at about 1:10 p.m.

Brown said Boutain was being questioned and would be booked into the Salt Lake County jail in connection with the Monday night shooting death of 23-year-old ChenWei Guo, an international student at the U. Guo, who is from China, was killed during an attempted carjacking near Red Butte Canyon, police said.

University authorities have declined to say whether Guo was alone in the vehicle when he was shot.

Also Tuesday, University police Chief Dale Brophy announced that Boutain and his wife, 23-year-old Kathleen Elizabeth Rose Boutain, may be connected to a recent suspicious death in Golden, Colo.

Salt Lake City officers had asked Golden police to check on the owner of a green 2000 Ford pickup truck with Colorado plates that Boutain was allegedly driving in Utah.

When Golden officers arrived at the Clear Creek RV Park, they found 63-year-old Mitchell Bradford Ingle dead inside a trailer, the department said in a Tuesday news release. “Preliminary investigations indicate that the man had been deceased for a few days,” the release said.

There were obvious signs of trauma to Ingle, who had been staying at the RV park on a short-term lease, and the Boutains are considered persons of interest in the case, Golden police said.

The stolen pickup truck was still being sought by Salt Lake City area police on Tuesday.

Events in Utah began at about 8:15 p.m. Monday, when Kathleen Boutain went to the U. campus and reported that her husband had assaulted her while they were camping in Red Butte Canyon, Brophy said. She was being treated for an unspecified injury just before 9 p.m. when Guo was shot, Brophy said.

Kathleen Boutain admitted to police that she was “traveling in a stolen vehicle which contained stolen firearms,” according to a probable cause statement filed with the Salt Lake County jail.

She was arrested Monday night and booked into the jail, where she was being held without bail on suspicion of theft by receiving stolen property and drug possession charges. Police said she had a prescription bottle of generic Ambien that was not labeled and other drug paraphernalia.

Police are still stitching together a timeline of how Boutain got from the foothills above the university on Monday night to the library, at 200 East and 400 South, and how long he had been in the library Tuesday before he was spotted.

The earliest Boutain could have been in the library is 9 a.m., when it opened, Shaw said. It had closed at 9 p.m. the night before, at around the time of the homicide.

In an interview Tuesday, security guard Johann Gonzalez-Rubio described approaching Boutain in the library’s restroom on the third floor. He said Boutain nonchalantly told him, “Hey man, I just need to use the restroom real quick and then you can arrest me.”

Boutain appeared calm and unarmed, Gonzalez-Rubio said. Because a bystander also was in the restroom, the guard said, he stepped outside to wait for backup to arrive and for the other man to leave. Then he and another security guard went back in together.

“Hey, you got me,” Boutain said, as he knelt down and put his hands behind his back, according to Gonzalez-Rubio.

The Boutains had been in Utah “a couple days,” Brophy said. Their campsite in Red Butte Canyon was located Monday night, Brown said, and police recovered a rifle and ammunition cans. Police were not sure if the rifle was the same weapon used in the U. slaying.

Police and prosecutors from Golden investigating Ingle’s death were expected to travel to Utah on Tuesday to gather more information, which could include interviewing Kathleen Boutain.

Boutain reportedly has family in Minnesota and as recently as 2015 lived in the Cincinnati suburb of Millvale, in Ohio, according to Fox 19 TV. The station noted that he entered a guilty plea in May 2015 to “obstructing official business” in exchange for a disorderly conduct count being dismissed.

Fox 19 reported that he had been accused of fleeing police in connection with an unspecified disturbance at Cincinnati’s Good Samaritan Hospital.

Alabama court records system show Boutain was arrested in March in Marion County on drug manufacturing charges, according to WAFF 48 TV in Huntsville, Ala. He also was arrested in February 2016 on charges of theft and attempting to elude in another state. Court records also show he is a registered sex offender who failed to notify officials in Marion County when he moved there in 2016, WAFF 48 TV reported.

On Monday night in Utah, the hunt for Boutain initially focused on an area east of Mario Capecchi Drive. Classes were canceled and that area of campus — which includes the school’s main residence halls, medical complex and research buildings — was locked down until about 3 a.m.”

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Commodities Fraud Sentencing

Self-professed investment professional Pedro Jaramillo was a pro at promoting himself and his financial prowess. Through a slickly produced online video, phony office space on Wall Street, and promises of unrealistic financial returns, this Peruvian national living in New York managed to convince more than two dozen investors to trust him with more than $1.2 million of their hard-earned money.

Jaramillo, however, never invested a dime of their money—instead, he used it to line his own pockets and keep his Ponzi scheme going. Even his claim to be an investment professional was false—he wasn’t licensed to do anything remotely connected to financial advising and/or investing.

But, as with most Ponzi scheme operators, Jaramillo eventually ran out of funds to keep his fraud scheme afloat, and two unhappy investors reported their concerns to the FBI. After an intensive investigation by the FBI’s New York Field Office—in close coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York—Jaramillo was arrested and charged with commodities fraud in December 2016, pleaded guilty in April 2017, and was sentenced last month to 12 years in federal prison.

Investigators determined that, beginning at least in January 2014 until his arrest, Jaramillo—using his Latin American heritage as a common bond—had been soliciting potential victims mostly from Latin American immigrant communities in the U.S. to invest in commodity futures contracts. He told would-be investors that their money would be invested in short-term commodities contracts with a guaranteed (and unrealistically high) rate of return.

And he established his financial bona fides with potential clients using various methods.

His online video, done in Spanish, opened with flashy depictions of Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Then, Jaramillo himself made his pitch to potential investors, telling them, “Money is being earned on every transaction. All you have to do is work with a proven winner.” He delivered all sorts of promises about how client investments would be handled—including being set up in individually managed and federally protected accounts. Unfortunately for his investors, none of what Jaramillo said in the video was true.

To further impress potential investors, Jaramillo met with many of them in rented office space on Wall Street, where he touted his prior financial successes and his relationship with a well-known global investment bank. Again, this “relationship” with the bank proved to be non-existent, and he had no prior Wall Street investment successes.

Jaramillo also created and handed out documents with simple charts and graphs that purported to illustrate past successes and his high rates of return. This were yet more false facts he fed to his victims.

The FBI investigation included numerous interviews with the victims of Jaramillo’s scheme. Many of these people—including retirees, working professionals, and manual laborers—lost their life savings, retirement money, or homes.

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Virtual Kidnapping A New Twist on a Frightening Scam

“Law enforcement agencies have been aware of virtual kidnapping fraud for at least two decades, but a recent FBI case illustrates how this frightening scam—once limited to Mexico and Southwest border states—has evolved so that U.S. residents anywhere could be potential victims.

Although virtual kidnapping takes on many forms, it is always an extortion scheme—one that tricks victims into paying a ransom to free a loved one they believe is being threatened with violence or death. Unlike traditional abductions, virtual kidnappers have not actually kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart.

Between 2013 and 2015, investigators in the FBI’s Los Angeles Division were tracking virtual kidnapping calls from Mexico—almost all of these schemes originate from within Mexican prisons. The calls targeted specific individuals who were Spanish speakers. A majority of the victims were from the Los Angeles and Houston areas.

“In 2015, the calls started coming in English,” said FBI Los Angeles Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot, “and something else happened: The criminals were no longer targeting specific individuals, such as doctors or just Spanish speakers. Now they were choosing various cities and cold-calling hundreds of numbers until innocent people fell for the scheme.”

This was significant, Arbuthnot said, because the new tactic vastly increased the potential number of victims. In the case he was investigating, which became known as Operation Hotel Tango, more than 80 victims were identified in California, Minnesota, Idaho, and Texas. Collective losses were more than $87,000.

The incarcerated fraudsters—who typically bribe guards to acquire cell phones—would choose an affluent area such as Beverly Hills, California. They would search the Internet to learn the correct area code and telephone dialing prefix. Then, with nothing but time on their hands, they would start dialing numbers in sequence, trolling for victims.

When an unsuspecting person answered the phone, they would hear a female screaming, “Help me!” The screamer’s voice was likely a recording. Instinctively, the victim might blurt out his or her child’s name: “Mary, are you okay?” And then a man’s voice would say something like, “We have Mary. She’s in a truck. We are holding her hostage. You need to pay a ransom and you need to do it now or we are going to cut off her fingers.”

Most of the time, Arbuthnot said, “the intended victims quickly learned that ‘Mary’ was at home or at school, or they sensed the scam and hung up. This fraud only worked when people picked up the phone, they had a daughter, and she was not home,” he explained. “But if you are making hundreds of calls, the crime will eventually work.”

“The scammers attempt to keep victims on the phone so they can’t verify their loved ones’ whereabouts or contact law enforcement. The callers are always in a hurry, and the ransom demand is usually a wire payment to Mexico of $2,000 or less, because there are legal restrictions for wiring larger amounts across the border.

Although victims were typically instructed to wire ransom payments, two individuals in Houston were coerced into paying larger amounts—totaling approximately $28,000—that could not be wired. The victims were directed to make money drops, and they believed they were being watched as they were directed to the assigned location. When the drops were made—in specified trash cans—a Houston woman, 34-year-old Yanette Rodriguez Acosta, was waiting to pick up the ransom money. After taking her portion of the payment, Acosta wired the rest in small amounts to several individuals in Mexico to transfer to the Mexican prisoner believed to be running the virtual kidnapping scheme.

Acosta was taken into custody for her involvement in the scam, and in July 2017, a federal grand jury in Houston returned a 10-count indictment against her. Among the charges were wire fraud and money laundering.

Arbuthnot noted that the Mexican prisoners who carry out virtual kidnappings use the ransom money to pay bribes and to make their lives behind bars easier. “And sometimes they use the money to buy their way out of jail. That’s the ultimate goal.”

He added that virtual kidnapping cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute because almost all of the subjects are in Mexico, and the money is wired out of the country and can be difficult to trace. The charges against Acosta represent the first federal indictment in a virtual kidnapping case. In addition, many victims do not report the crime, either because they are embarrassed, afraid, or because they don’t consider the financial loss to be significant.

Regardless, Arbuthnot said, “victims of virtual kidnapping scams are traumatized by these events, because at the time, they believe that a loved one has been kidnapped and is in real danger.”

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Clifton NJ worker stole dead man’s Social Security money

“CLIFTON NJ Sept 29 2017 -A city employee who worked at senior citizen’s center was arrested Wednesday on charges she used a dead man’s debit card to withdraw Social Security funds from his bank account.

Jacklyn Delillo, 31, is charged with theft by deception and identity theft, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes said in a statement.

Delillo worked at the Clifton Senior Citizens Center, which is run by city government. It was at the center where she befriended an elderly man, Valdes said.

“When the elderly individual died, Social Security checks continued to be deposited into the individual’s bank account,” Valdes said.

“It is alleged that Ms. Delillo used the decedent’s debit card to make purchases after his death, utilizing Social Security funds,” Valdes said.

Delillo stole about $2,500, the prosecutor alleged.

Delillo salary is $21,726 and has worked for the city for about a year, according to state pension records.

Local authorities were assisted in the investigation by the Social Security Administration Inspector General’s Office, Valdes said.

After her arrest, Delillo was released on a summons to appear in court on Oct. 20, the prosecutor said.”

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Va State Police warns of automated traffic ticket email scam

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia State Police is warning citizens about an “automated traffic ticket email scam” being used by scammers to demand money for unpaid traffic tickets.

“The email scam is just one of numerous tactics used by scammers to harass individuals under the guise of being the Virginia State Police,” a VSP spokesperson wrote.

State Police said they do not use or issue digital/automated traffic tickets or summonses.

The department is warning anyone who receives the email to not click on any links provided and delete it immediately.

This scam notice comes one month after the department warned citizens about state police phone numbers being cloned by scammers demanding money and/or threatening individuals with arrest warrants.

State Police advised residents who received the calls to hang up immediately.

Here are some tips from VSP to protect you from similar scams:

Never open or click on a link in an email from an unknown email address, individual or organization.

To check the validity of an email, locate the entity’s website and call to determine if it is a legitimate email. The same goes for an individual.

Never give out personal information, credit card numbers, bank account information, etc. to an unknown individuals or entities via the phone or email.

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22 indicted in ICE-led probe into multimillion dollar theft ring

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego federal grand jury has indicted 22 defendants following a long-term probe spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) into a highly organized, often violent theft ring suspected of stealing more than $20 million worth of merchandise from upscale shopping malls in the San Diego area and nationwide.

Twelve of the defendants named in the indictment were arrested Wednesday morning during a carefully coordinated operation in the San Diego area involving more than 250 federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Three of those charged in the cases were already in custody. The other seven individuals named in the indictment remained at large as of early Wednesday afternoon. The defendants who are in custody are scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court Thursday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Lynn Major.

As part of Wednesday’s enforcement actions, investigators searched three homes in Lemon Grove, Chula Vista, and San Diego. The searches resulted in the confiscation of approximately $30,000 in cash, along with about a dozen large trash bags filled with new clothing, the merchandise tags and security devices still attached. The goods included items from Victoria’s Secret, Hollister Co., Guess, Express, and Abercrombie & Fitch, and brands such as Calvin Klein, Hurley, Armani, Adidas, Kenneth Cole, and Puma. Agents also recovered piles of new Louis Vuitton shoes and boxes of security sensors that had been removed from clothing.

The indictment alleges the defendants formed crews of thieves to steal merchandise from retail stores throughout the U.S. The stolen items were then transported across state lines and sold in Mexico. According to the indictment, on Oct. 23, 2013, defendant Maria Angelica Mendez Valdivia had more than $480,000 worth of merchandise stolen from at least 57 retailers. The indictment states the goods were then transported to Mexico and sold to an alleged “fence,” defendant Sara Portilla, who is accused of selling the merchandise from a store she operates in Tijuana.

The highly organized ring, which investigators believe has been in operation for over a decade, assigned members of its theft crews specific roles. Team leaders selected the stores to target, scouted the locations, and choreographed the actions of other team members using cell phones and hand signals. The team’s so-called “mules” smuggled the stolen merchandise out of stores in “booster bags” fitted with metallic linings designed to defeat anti-theft sensors. And finally, the team’s “blockers” prevented store employees from seeing the ongoing theft, either by obstructing their view, distracting them, or by physically preventing the employees from responding.

When necessary, court documents state, the teams used force against store employees, customers, and law enforcement to escape. For example, the indictment alleges that in November 2009 defendant Sergio Manuel Montano Nava knocked over an infant in its stroller and injured the child’s father to avoid being arrested for a theft at a Hollister store in Schaumburg, Illinois. In November 2012, defendants Jose Damazo Herrera, Robin Macias, and others allegedly drove vehicles through a crowd while fleeing a theft from a Hollister store in the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego. In yet another incident in March 2013, one of the defendants allegedly grabbed a loss prevention officer by the throat and threw her to the ground while running from a theft at Abercrombie & Fitch at the Plaza Bonita Mall in National City.

“The mall is supposed to be a safe place for families to shop, eat and enjoy themselves,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson. “Instead, a prolific and violent group of thieves has stolen millions of dollars in merchandise as well as peace of mind from mall employees and customers. With today’s action, we are protecting customers and businesses both physically and economically, and we are restoring and preserving the safety of our community gathering spots.”

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