FBI Investigators Thwarted Transfer of Trade Secrets to China

Wenfeng Lu was seemingly living the American dream—a comfortable life in Irvine, California, with his family and a career in medical device research and development.

Yet Lu’s secret goal was to use trade secrets stolen from his employer to strike it rich in his native China. However, thanks to an FBI investigation, his plan was thwarted, and Lu is now serving a 27-month prison sentence.

Lu worked for several different U.S. companies, all of which developed high-tech medical equipment, such as clot retrieval tools and balloon-guide catheters. In each job, Lu signed a non-disclosure agreement for his research and development work.

Despite signing the confidentiality agreement, Lu routinely did “data dumps” from his various medical research employers for about three years until his arrest in 2012. Lu transferred all of the data he could get his hands on to a personal laptop. Many of the hundreds of documents Lu stole had nothing to do with his own research; he took as much information as he could access, including proprietary information.

“He had access to so many files, not just for his own projects, and he downloaded files for a variety of different projects and took them home and to China,” said Special Agent Gina Kwon, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

One of Lu’s former employers noticed the unusual activity on their systems and reported the results of their internal investigation to the FBI. Investigators quickly proceeded to build their case and arrested Lu, just before he boarded a plane to China with the files.

The investigative team learned that Lu had planned to create and run his own medical device manufacturing company in China using the stolen technology and Chinese government funding. He had even applied for Chinese patents using technology stolen from the American companies. (China’s government creates policies that disadvantage American businesses, and hacking against American companies and interests is a common tactic.)

“Lu wanted his own business, and he thought there was a great market in China for this technology,” Kwon said.

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Couple Sentenced for Arson and Fraud in Fire That Resulted in First Responder’s Death

A Kentucky couple nearly escaped prosecution for setting a fire that burned their rented home to the ground and led to the death of a firefighter until a new FBI agent’s search for fresh evidence helped bring them to justice.

Steve Allen Pritchard, 44, was found guilty by a federal jury of arson and insurance fraud and was sentenced on November 1, 2018, to 30 years in prison. His wife, Brandi Pritchard, who was his girlfriend at the time of the fire, was sentenced to 121 months after pleading guilty to the same crimes.

“This case has stayed with me because it was just so senseless,” said FBI Special Agent William Kurtz of the arson investigation he supported through the FBI’s Bowling Green Resident Agency out of the Louisville Field Office.

According to case records, on June 24, 2011, Brandi Pritchard purchased a $50,000 renter’s insurance policy for the furniture and possessions within the rented Columbia, Kentucky, home she shared with Steve Pritchard. In the early morning hours of June 30, 2011, prosecutors charge that one or both of the Pritchards set fire to the home and then fled the scene.

As firefighters arrived just past 3 a.m., the structure was engulfed in flames. First responders had just succeeded in bringing the fire under control when Columbia/Adair County Fire Department Assistant Chief Charles Sparks, 49, suffered a heart attack.

When firefighters turned their focus to aiding their ill colleague, Kurtz reported, “the fire rekindled and burned the house to the ground.” Sparks died eight days later at a Louisville hospital. Firefighter fatality investigators determined the physical exertion involved in responding to the fire may have triggered his heart attack.

The firefighter’s death prompted an investigation of the fire, but “because the house burned to the ground, any forensic evidence that could have pointed to an arson was destroyed,” said Kurtz.

Immediately after the fire, Brandi Pritchard made a claim against the renter’s insurance policy. She admitted later that Steve Pritchard directed her to invent or inflate the value of items lost during the fire in order to receive the full $50,000 in the policy.

The Kentucky State Police opened an arson investigation after members of the community reported hearing Steve and Brandi Pritchard brag about setting the fire, but investigators had little to go on beyond hearsay.

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Fake Microsoft employee scams $25k from couple in remote access heist

Computer hackers pretending to be from a giant tech company are calling consumers, and gaining access to their bank accounts. One hacker even swindled nearly $25,000 from one local couple.

“They’re so savvy that they can get into your computers and figure out passwords just by the click of the keys,” said Nancy Isdale.

Isdale and her husband George say they thought they were getting money from Microsoft until they were swindled out of $24,600. The hacker, who told the couple his name was Sean, made it seem like he was a tech support expert and that he was refunding the couple $400 on behalf of Microsoft, but instead he was fooling them into giving him remote access to their computer.

“Once they get into the computer you can see the mouse going around so they are into your computer,” explained George.

Then the couple said the scammer gained access to their money on their computer by saying they could help them set up online access for all of their bank accounts compromising their accounts.

“So that’s what they did, they took the money out of my savings, [and] put it in his checking account,” said Nancy.

Without them knowing, “Sean” took $25,000 from Nancy’s savings account and transferred it to George’s checking. Then the scammer said he mistakenly gave George a $25,000 Microsoft credit instead of that $400 credit, and that George needed to send $24,600 back.

“He was like crazy, he was like ‘oh my god this isn’t your money this is Microsoft’s money you need to get to the bank right away and wire transfer this’,” said Nancy.

What they ended up doing is sending their own hard earned money to that scammer in Bangkok, Thailand.

“You know I was nervous, I didn’t want to be responsible for $25,000 dollars to Microsoft so, you know, we went to the bank,” explained Nancy.

Just when they thought it was the end of it, the thief called them back a few days later demanding even more money.

“He wanted us to send $40,000 to Bangkok Thailand again,” explained Nancy.

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New Forensic Technology Examines Fingerprints Once Considered Too Old

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) - New technology allows investigators to examine fingerprints that were once considered too old or compromised to analyze.

A vacuum metal deposition instrument is now in the hands of Cumberland County to better collect fingerprints and DNA. This equipment is only the second of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of 14 in the entire country.

“Gold will deposit on the substrate and then I will run zinc, and zinc doesn’t attach anywhere else except to a different metal and then it will attach to the gold that I’ve placed,” said Carol McCandless, the lead forensic investigator for Cumberland County.

The vacuum sucks all the air and water out of a chamber, then the machine coats the evidence with a very thin metal film under a high vacuum, all done in less than five minutes.

“The metallic substances don’t land on the top of the ridges of anything. It goes in between so that the top of the ridge is touched and that’s where the DNA is,” said Skip Ebert, Cumberland County District Attorney.

This machine locates fingerprints from items that were previously tough or impossible to extract before, things like paper, waxy substances, and clothing.

“What we did in this machine of the actual victim’s face being suffocated and on the opposite side of the pillowcase, the actual hands that were pushing it down on his face. You cannot beat that kind of evidence anywhere,” said Ebert.

This not only helps current and future cases.

“I have received several cold cases, one from 1983 and one from 1995,” said McCandless.

The Cumberland County Forensic Lab is expected to be fully accredited in the fall, thanks largely to this new technology, made possible through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

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US government to give DNA tests at border to check for fraud

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin voluntary DNA testing in cases where officials suspect that adults are fraudulently claiming to be parents of children as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The decision comes as Homeland Security officials are increasingly concerned about instances of child trafficking as a growing number of Central American families cross the border, straining resources to the breaking point. Border authorities also recently started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy that restricts what can be collected.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t say where the DNA pilot program would begin, but they did say it would start as early as next week and would be very limited.

The DNA testing will happen once officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which manages border enforcement, refer possible instances of fraud to ICE, which usually manages interior enforcement. But teams from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations were recently deployed to the southern border to help investigate human smuggling efforts.

The rapid DNA test will take about two hours and will be obtained using a cheek swab from both the adult and child. The parent is to swab the child, officials said.

The testing will be destroyed and won’t be used as evidence in any criminal case, they said.

Generally, government officials determine a family unit to be a parent with a child. Fraud would occur if a person is claiming to be a parent when he or she is another type of relative, or if there was no relationship at all. ICE officials said they have identified 101 possible instances of fraudulent families since April 18 and determined one-third were fraudulent.

Since the beginning of the budget year, they say they have uncovered more than 1,000 cases and referred 45 cases for prosecution. The fraud could also include the use of false birth certificates or documents, and adults accused of fraud aren’t necessarily prosecuted for it; some are prosecuted for illegal entry or other crimes.

Homeland Security officials have also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

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Case Study: 30-Year-Old Cold Case Fingerprints Come to Light

Latent fingerprints are left with trace sweats and oils from unique patterns, providing the first great forensic human identifier about a century ago.

One of the few problems, however: the fingermarks can dehydrate over long periods of time. Cold cases may thus be a challenge.

But a team at the Sûreté du Québec police force in Canada has put together a methodology involving fuming, dyes and lasers which produced a clear fingerprint on a challenging plastic bag surface from a double-homicide scene from the 1980s, as they report in the journal Forensic Science International.

“The current case presents a uniqueness due to the age of the revealed fingermark, and the paired success of cyanoacrylate fuming,” writes the Canadian team. “It would thus be of great interest of future cold case analysis using this technique to identify the factors having made this revelation possible.”

The plastic bag was found at the crime scene, and had been preserved in a paper evidence bag for decades.

Since the plastic bag is non-porous, it also further fostered the dehydration process in the roughly 30 years it was left untreated in storage. Its lack of texture also “eased the deposition process.”

The Sûreté forensic experts decided to try fuming with superglue: namely E-Z Bond Instant Glue (Thin), with cyanoacrylate.

Hanging the bag in a sealed cabinet, a small amount of the glue was poured into an aluminum cup, which was then placed near a heater set to 80 degrees Celsius. A 1500 mL beaker with near-boiling water was set at the bottom of the cabinet—and a tube emitting air was placed into the water to bubble it.

For 12 minutes, the process continually attached cyanoacrylate vapors to the residues on the bag within the enclosed space.

Then came the staining.

The solution of Rhodamine 6G and methanol was mixed with a magnetic stirrer until completely dissolved, creating a bright orange mix.

Under a fume hood, the solution was sprayed over of the superglue patterns, and the excess was flushed away with pure methanol.

The treatment process thus rehydrated the marks left from the fingerprint decades before, and locked them in permanent patterns, the experts write.

The evidence was then left to dry in the fume hood, according to the paper.

Once dry, an Arrowhead 532 nm laser was used to examine the patterns. Through orange-stained goggles, pictures are taken with a Nikon D7000 camera mounted with an orange-curved barrier filter.

A good fingerprint was thus produced for the first time from the two homicides.

No suspect has yet matched the fingerprint from the double-murder scene, the team reports. However, the cold-case technique could crack open it and other cases in the near future, they report.

“It also reiterates the importance opening cold cases in order to treat and reassess their exhibits,” they write. “Despite the age of a fingermark, cyanoacrylate combined with rhodamine 6G and visualized with a laser can provide new evidence … This opens the possibility of making an identification and ultimately change the course of the investigation.”

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Woman indicted for posing as an immigration attorney in Tampa, Chicago

TAMPA, Fla. – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tampa is looking for additional potential victims of a Tampa woman indicted Tuesday on four counts of wire fraud and three counts of wrongfully using government seals in connection with a scheme in which she fraudulently represented herself as an immigration attorney to take money from victims for services she never provided in the Tampa and Chicago areas. This case was investigated by HSI and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

According to the indictment, Erika Paola Intriago, 44, of Tampa, who is not a licensed attorney, fraudulently portrayed herself as an immigration attorney offering immigration-related services on social media targeting persons from Spanish-speaking countries seeking immigration-related services.

Victims retained and paid Intriago to represent them in immigration-related matters before USCIS and other agencies. Intriago is accused of then creating fraudulent letters, emails, receipts, documents, and communications to send her victims to falsely portray the records as legitimate communications with U.S. government agencies when in fact she never filed or completed the necessary immigration paperwork for which she was paid.

Intriago is also accused of threatening and intimidating victims who complained about her conduct by telling them that she would report their immigration status to U.S. immigration authorities, which Intriago claimed would result in the victims being deported.

If convicted, Intriago faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for each count of wire fraud and up to five years in federal prison for each count of wrongfully using government seals.

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Chicago-area man indicted on charges of smuggling, transporting and harboring illegal aliens

ROCKFORD, Ill. — An Illinois man was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on several counts of illegally bringing aliens to the U.S., transporting them and harboring them for his personal financial gain.

This indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr., Northern District of Illinois, and Special Agent in Charge James M. Gibbons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The DeKalb (Illinois) Police Department assisted in this investigation.

Luis Alfredo Delacruz, 49, from DeKalb, Illinois, was indicted on the following charges:

- two counts of bringing aliens into the United States at a place other than a designated port of entry for commercial advantage or private financial gain;
- two counts of bringing aliens into the U.S. at a place other than a designated port of entry;
- two counts of transporting illegal aliens within the U.S. for commercial advantage or private financial gain; and,
- eight counts of harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain.

As alleged in the indictment, in November 2015 and April 2016, Delacruz brought into the United States two aliens who had not received prior official authorization to enter. Delacruz did not bring them through immigration at a designated port of entry, the indictment states.

It is further alleged that on June 1, 2018, Delacruz illegally harbored eight illegal aliens in buildings or other places through employment at Alfredo’s Iron Works in Cortland. Delacruz allegedly harbored these aliens for commercial advantage and his own financial gain.

Each count of bringing aliens into the United States at a place other than a designated port of entry for commercial advantage or private financial gain carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum of 10 years.

Each count of bringing aliens to the U.S. at a place other than a designated port of entry carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Each count of transporting illegal aliens within the U.S. for commercial advantage or private financial gain, and each count of harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police

When detectives in a Phoenix suburb arrested a warehouse worker in a murder investigation last December, they credited a new technique with breaking open the case after other leads went cold.

The police told the suspect, Jorge Molina, they had data tracking his phone to the site where a man was shot nine months earlier. They had made the discovery after obtaining a search warrant that required Google to provide information on all devices it recorded near the killing, potentially capturing the whereabouts of anyone in the area.

Investigators also had other circumstantial evidence, including security video of someone firing a gun from a white Honda Civic, the same model that Mr. Molina owned, though they could not see the license plate or attacker.

But after he spent nearly a week in jail, the case against Mr. Molina fell apart as investigators learned new information and released him. Last month, the police arrested another man: his mother’s ex-boyfriend, who had sometimes used Mr. Molina’s car.

The warrants, which draw on an enormous Google database employees call Sensorvault, turn the business of tracking cellphone users’ locations into a digital dragnet for law enforcement.

The Arizona case demonstrates the promise and perils of the new investigative technique, whose use has risen sharply in the past six months, according to Google employees familiar with the requests. It can help solve crimes. But it can also snare innocent people.

Technology companies have for years responded to court orders for specific users’ information. The new warrants go further, suggesting possible suspects and witnesses in the absence of other clues. Often, Google employees said, the company responds to a single warrant with location information on dozens or hundreds of devices.

Law enforcement officials described the method as exciting, but cautioned that it was just one tool.

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Federal Partnerships Key to Dismantling Online Drug Markets

When Knoxville first responders found a man dead in his home, there was clear evidence on the scene of the heroin that caused his overdose. Also nearby were clues to how the deadly drugs had reached him. Investigators found a padded manila envelope with postage and markings that provided them another link back to the online drug sellers who have proliferated on the Darknet in recent years.

Drug traffickers are increasingly using anonymous online networks to sell narcotics, including potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl, to buyers who can order and receive the drugs without ever leaving home. What can appear to be a regular e-commerce transaction is one of the delivery channels fueling a deadly nationwide epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drug overdose deaths have been on an upward climb for several years, across the United States and across all demographic groups. In 2017 alone, 70,237 people in this country died of a drug overdose; two-thirds of those deaths involved an opioid.

As part of a government-wide effort to address the epidemic, the Department of Justice created the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team in 2018 to leverage the power of federal and international partnerships to combat the complex and deadly threat of online drug sales.

Now in its second year, J-CODE is delivering results through coordinated efforts and the commitment of the nation’s law enforcement agencies to address opioid sales on the Darknet. Building on the success of last year’s Operation Disarray, the J-CODE team led Operation SaboTor between January and March of this year. These concentrated operations in the United States and abroad led to 61 arrests and shut down 50 Darknet accounts used for illegal activity. Agents executed 65 search warrants, seizing more than 299 kilograms of drugs, 51 firearms, and more than $7 million ($4.504 million in cryptocurrency, $2.485 million in cash, and $40,000 in gold).

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