Court Says Border Agents Need Suspicion to Search Cellphones

U.S. border authorities cannot search the cellphones of travelers without having some reason to believe a particular traveler has committed a crime, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in the case of a Turkish national who was arrested at Dulles International Airport after agents found firearm parts in his luggage.

A lower court judge refused to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of Hamza Kolsuz’s phone.

The 4th Circuit upheld that ruling and found that a forensic search of electronic devices requires “individualized suspicion” of wrongdoing. The court said agents had that suspicion because Kolsuz had made two previous attempts to smuggle weapons parts out of the U.S.

The Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to obtain warrants based on probable cause. But courts have made an exception for searches at airports and U.S. ports of entry, finding that the government can conduct warrantless border searches to protect national security, prevent transnational crime and enforce immigration and customs laws.

The American Civil Liberties had urged the 4th Circuit to find that the government should be required to obtain a warrant or at least a determination of probable cause that evidence of a crime is contained on electronic devices before agents can search them at airports.

The 4th Circuit said it did not have to reach the question of whether probable cause or a warrant is required. Reasonable suspicion is a lower legal standard.

Claire Gastanaga, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said the group is pleased that the appeals court “recognized correctly that border agents can’t conduct invasive searches on a traveler’s cell phone or other electronic devices just because the person is crossing the border.”

Last year, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit claiming warrantless border searches are unconstitutional because of the vast amount of private personal and business information stored on electronic devices.


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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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$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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International Criminal Enterprise Dismantled

Owen Hanson, who often went by his nickname, “O-Dog,” led a charmed life. He had been a popular high school athlete who found some athletic success—and even more popularity—at the University of Southern California.

After graduating with a business degree, he got his real estate license and, over time, undertook several seemingly successful business ventures that enabled him to buy a luxury home in Redondo Beach and a number of vacation properties elsewhere, drive expensive cars, travel routinely to Las Vegas to gamble, and party with professional athletes and celebrities.

However, as law enforcement came to discover, Hanson’s most productive “business venture” turned out to be a violent international drug trafficking, sports gambling, and money laundering enterprise that operated in the U.S., Central and South America, and Australia from 2012 to 2016. And late last year, Hanson was sentenced in U.S. district court in San Diego to more than 21 years in federal prison for heading up that criminal enterprise. He was also ordered to pay a $5 million criminal forfeiture, which included $100,000 in gold coins, his luxury vehicles, jewelry, vacation homes, a sailboat, and interests in several businesses.

Twenty-one of Hanson’s associates were also charged in this crime ring, and all have pleaded guilty—the most recent one in April 2018.

So how did a one-time talented and well-liked school athlete turn into the mastermind behind a major criminal operation?

The story of Owen Hanson’s illicit activities actually began in the early 2000s in college, when he sold recreational drugs and steroids to his teammates. But it wasn’t until early 2014—on the heels of an international sports gambling investigation that the FBI worked in partnership with the New South Wales Police Force in Australia—that some of Hanson’s post-graduate activities got the attention of federal law enforcement. And once again, investigators from the FBI and New South Wales joined forces to uncover a second gambling—and, ultimately, drug trafficking—enterprise that would lead all the way to Hanson.

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Obstruction of Justice in Missouri regarding Restitution

The general concept of criminal restitution—perpetrators having to repay their victims any losses caused by their illegal actions—has been around for ages.

In the U.S., there are various restitution laws at both the state and federal level. One of the more significant federal laws on restitution was the Mandatory Restitution Act of 1996, which established procedures for determining the amount of restitution to which a victim may be entitled and made restitution mandatory for many types of federal crimes.

Restitution is an attempt to make crime victims whole again—basically to “restore” them to the same condition they were in before being victimized. Which makes the recent case of a Liberty, Missouri lawyer charged with obstruction of justice by stealing victim restitution funds seem all the more abhorrent.

Attorney Robert J. Young was legally representing a Missouri man who had been indicted and convicted in federal court of a fraudulent scheme to steal money from his employer. The defendant—who worked as the director of information technology at a Midwest construction company—stole hundreds of thousands of dollars by using his company credit card to purchase unnecessary equipment and then reselling it for personal profit. The defendant used the illegal proceeds to buy such luxury items as customized motorcycles, a boat, jet skis, and a large motor home.

Young’s client, who was ultimately sentenced to a federal prison term, had also been ordered to pay a total of $442,000 in restitution to his company. His initial sentencing hearing had been set for January 2016, and Young had made it known to court personnel in advance that his client would be making a partial restitution payment at that hearing.

Before the January hearing, the defendant’s wife had given Young more than $62,000 for her husband’s partial restitution payment through several deposits to the lawyer’s client trust account and business account as well a personal check. But at the January 2016 sentencing hearing, Young did not make the partial restitution payment on behalf of his client. Instead, he told the court that the funds were still in his client trust account, so the hearing was postponed until March 2016.

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Des Plaines woman charged in murder-for-hire plot

DES PLAINES, Ill. (WLS) — A Des Plaines woman was charged after allegedly contracting a “dark-web” company to murder the wife of a man with whom she had an affair, according to the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Tina Jones, 31, was charged with one felony count of solicitation of murder. Judge George Bakalis ordered her held in lieu of $250,000 bond on Wednesday.

On April 12, the Woodridge Police Department received a tip that a woman in Woodridge was the subject of an alleged murder-for-hire plot. In January, Jones paid a dark-web company more than $10,000 via bitcoin to have the woman murdered, according to investigators.

“In January of this year, Tina Jones had gone on this website, Cosa Nostra International,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin.

Jones, investigators said, had been jilted by a married coworker-turned-lover. They worked together at Loyola Medical Center.

“She went on this website which apparently bills itself as a murder-for-hire type website, and she paid the money assuming that this was going to happen, and had paid over $10,000 to have this woman killed,” Berlin said.

Prosecutors said Jones spelled out very specific orders.

“This woman not only paid over $10,000, but she left specific instructions on the website as to when the woman’s husband would be at work, so they would know when this woman would be alone,” Berlin said. “She left instructions not to hurt the husband and also to make it look like it was an accident.”

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Multi-Million-Dollar Investment Fraud Scheme

In May 2013, the FBI’s Atlanta Division received an allegation of fraud against an Atlanta-area businessman and the woman he had hired to manage his business finances. An investor who partnered with the pair claimed that the millions of dollars he had contributed to their business ventures was never properly invested, and he suspected that some of it had ended up in the pockets of his two associates.

The FBI, joining forces with investigators from the Internal Revenue Service, opened a case and began looking into the allegation against businessman Franklin Trell and his financial manager, Cynthia Vinson.

According to Atlanta FBI case agent William Cromer, Trell had quite an interesting history in the business world. “This wasn’t the first time he had been accused of fraud—Trell had been named in several previous lawsuits alleging fraud and other sorts of financial misconduct in his business dealings,” Cromer explained. “And the stories behind the lawsuits were strikingly similar to the current allegation—wealthy investors solicited by Trell to serve as silent partners in his business ventures ended up losing everything.”

Cromer said that Trell always blamed the failures of his businesses—and his inability to pay back his investors—on a variety of circumstances beyond his control. “But in reality,” he added, “investors lost their money mostly because Trell wasn’t investing his share of the funding needed for the new business ventures, and because some of the ‘businesses’ he claimed to be creating were only shells.”

Shell companies are often used by fraudsters to help themselves to money that isn’t theirs. These companies aren’t real—they have no assets and no viable business activities. They exist only on paper and are often a front for criminal activity like tax evasion and money laundering.

FBI and IRS investigators learned that from 2006 to 2013, Trell’s most recent scheme worked like this:

Trell entered into an agreement with a wealthy investor to develop medical software and medical imaging businesses, with the understanding that he and the investor would each contribute a significant amount of capital to these ventures. The only problem was that Trell had no intention of investing any of his own money—so the legitimate businesses failed, and, of course, the shell companies never even got off the ground.

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Williamsburg police arrest 10 people

Ten people — including eight College of William & Mary students and a professor — were arrested this week on narcotics distribution charges following a monthslong investigation, Williamsburg police said.

Police said the operation, a joint investigation by Williamsburg authorities and the Tri-Rivers Drug Task Force, seized LSD, cocaine, psilocybin (mushrooms), opioids, amphetamines, steroids, hashish and marijuana. Roughly $14,000 in cash was also recovered, authorities said.

Williamsburg police Maj. Greg Riley said the drugs were being sold on or around the William & Mary campus.

“We have no indication that these individuals were working together,” Riley said.

The criminal investigation began after authorities were told that there were unreported sexual assaults occurring because of increased drug activity on or around the William & Mary campus, Williamsburg police said.

“We were told the assaults were occurring because of increased drug use,” Riley said.

Police looked into the drug activity, which led to this week’s arrests, he said.

Police identified the professor arrested as Gi Sang Yoon, 40, who is facing two felony marijuana distribution charges and one count of possessing hashish. The other nonstudent charged was Timothy Tyrone Pryor, 27 — an employee at William & Mary who is facing a felony marijuana distribution charge.

Yoon is a visiting biology professor and Pryor works in dining services, said Suzanne Seurattan, a William & Mary spokeswoman.

In addition to facing drug distribution charges, the eight students are facing charges of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.

Police identified the students charged as Alexander Patrick Foley, 20; Biloliddin Tulamirza, 18; Daniel Jacob McBride, 20; Devin Moore, 20; Jacob Selmonosky, 18; Keegan Paugh, 22; Nicolas George Manuel, 22; and Shannon Cannaday, 20.

Riley could not provide where the students lived before attending the college. Seurattan said William & Mary has the following mailing addresses on file for the students: Foley, Bel Air, Md.; Tulamirza, Falls Church; McBride, Williamsburg; Moore, Springfield; Selmonosky, Falls Church; Paugh, Rapid City, S.D.; Manuel, Arlington; and Cannaday, Leesburg.

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Nationwide Law Enforcement Action Targets Online Drug Trafficking

A nationwide law enforcement action aimed at shining a light on those who use the dark web to buy and sell illegal opiates has resulted in hundreds of interactions and arrests of individuals who may have considered their seemingly anonymous online transactions beyond the reach of authorities.

The FBI-led enforcement action last week, named Operation Disarray, is part of a recently launched Department of Justice initiative to disrupt the sale of opioids online and was the first operation of its kind to occur simultaneously in all 50 states.

“The point of Operation Disarray,” said Special Agent Chris Brest, who helped organize the effort from FBI Headquarters, “is to put drug traffickers on notice: Law enforcement is watching when people buy and sell drugs online. For those who think the Darknet provides anonymity,” he explained, “you are mistaken.”

Darknet marketplaces resemble legitimate e-commerce sites, complete with shopping carts, thousands of products, sales promotions, and customer reviews. But the Darknet sites’ drop-down menus direct customers to cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and other illegal drugs.

The marketplaces are accessed through a type of software that claims to make the buyer and seller anonymous. Drug users anywhere in the world can sit in front of a computer screen and, with a click of the mouse, buy narcotics without having to risk a face-to-face interaction. “Drug trafficking is changing,” Brest said. “The environment is moving from real-world to the virtual realm, and it’s on the rise.”

Such unfettered access to illegal drugs, said Special Agent Eric Yingling, who specializes in Darknet investigations from the FBI’s Pittsburgh Division, “can accelerate someone’s addiction because the drugs are so easy to obtain. It also facilitates a low barrier of entry to becoming a trafficker,” he explained. “We see a number of individuals go from consuming to becoming distributors because they’ve become comfortable using the marketplaces. Anyone who owns a computer could potentially be involved in this type of activity.”

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Nurse accused of stealing nearly $2,600 from patient

WAUKESHA – A patient walked into Waukesha Memorial Hospital with a wallet containing $2,585 in cash, which is placed in a bag for storage in a security room.

When the patient is discharged six days later and the security bag is opened in his presence, the only items found inside are a white board eraser and a box of tissues, neither of which belonged to him. No cash.

According to a criminal complaint filed March 28, an investigation by hospital security officials pointed to Jay Reiners, a 33-year-old nurse from Hartland, who was reportedly seen on surveillance video entering an area where the security bag was temporarily placed before it was moved to more secure area.

As a result of an investigation conducted separately by hospital security and the Waukesha Police Department, Reiners was charged in Waukesha County Circuit Court with one count of theft of movable property worth between $2,500 and $5,000.

Reiners was one of four hospital staff members aware of the large sum of money the patient had brought to the hospital prior to an undisclosed medical treatment on Jan. 6, according to the complaint. Three of them — a nursing assistant and two nurses, including Reiners — were identified in surveillance video as the money was first being counted and placed in the security bag.

According to the complaint, that bag was moved to a “cubby area,” loosely described as a place where patients’ belongings are kept before they are turned over to security personnel. The area is in view, though apparently not fully, of a surveillance camera.

In video reportedly viewed by hospital security and Waukesha police, Reiners was seen entering the cubby area, where he appeared to grab some items off the counter there, though it isn’t clear what they were, the complaint said. About five minutes later, he returned to the area, but this time, as he was leaving, he appeared to be holding his left arm tightly against his body, then entered a bathroom down the hallway.

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