IRS scam callers are going to jail for up to 20 years

With stiff sentences for 21 conspirators last week in the United States and a round of indictments in India, the Justice Department says it has broken up what appeared to be the nation’s first large-scale, multinational telephone fraud operation.

Over four years, more than 15,000 victims in the United States lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars to the sophisticated scam, and more than 50,000 individuals had their personal information misused, the department said Friday. The money was routed through call centers in India back to the ringleaders in eight states.

The fraudulent calls came suddenly and frequently while the scam was active from 2012 to 2016, according to court documents. A person posing as an Internal Revenue Service or immigration official was on the phone, threatening arrest, deportation or other penalties if the victims did not immediately pay their debts with prepaid cards or wire transfers.

The calls targeted the most vulnerable Americans, including immigrants and older people.

An 85-year old woman in San Diego paid $12,300 to people claiming to be I.R.S. employees who threatened her with arrest for tax violations.

A Chicago man paid $5,070 after being threatened with arrest and deportation by supposed state police and immigration authorities, the indictment said.

The words “U.S. Government” showed up as the caller I.D. on a number from which a New Hampshire woman was told to pay the I.R.S. $3,980 in payment cards, the court papers said.

In the announcement on Friday, the department said 21 people living in eight states — Illinois, Arizona, Florida, California, Alabama, Indiana, New Jersey and Texas — were sentenced last week in Houston to prison for up to 20 years for their role in the scheme.

Two other conspirators in Illinois were sentenced in February to between two years to just over four years for conspiracy, and a third person in Arizona was given probation in a plea agreement, it said.

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CBP and Otter Products Partner to Prevent Counterfeit Phone Cases

WASHINGTON—U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today a new formal partnership arrangement with Otter Products, LLC, maker of OtterBox and LifeProof brand phone cases, as part of the Donations Acceptance Program. Under its partnership with CBP, Otter Products will donate authentication devices for CBP officers and import specialists to use to quickly and accurately detect counterfeit Otter Products merchandise entering the United States.

“Building off the success of localized enforcement efforts, CBP is now working hand-in-hand with Otter Products to target and deploy authentication devices on a nation-wide scale,” said Todd C. Owen, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations. “CBP’s formal partnership with Otter Products will help us broadly deliver these highly effective tools to the front line officers and trade specialists who need them most.”

As part of its rigorous and ongoing brand protection efforts, Otter Products intends to partner with CBP for the long term by resupplying and, if necessary, upgrading authentication devices as CBP’s detection needs evolve.

“CBP’s formal partnership with Otter Products extends well beyond the initial deployment of authentication devices,” said Brenda B. Smith, Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Trade. “Our goal is to provide continuous, organized feedback to Otter Products pertaining to the ongoing use of these devices, their effectiveness, and opportunities to improve upon them so that we may jointly outpace those who seek to profit off counterfeit goods.”

The Donations Acceptance Program broadly enables CBP to accept donations of real property, personal property (including monetary donations) and non-personal services from public and private sector entities in support of CBP operations. Accepted donations may be used for port of entry construction, alterations, operations, and maintenance activities.

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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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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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“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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Sexual Assault Aboard Aircraft

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the FBI is taking that opportunity to alert the public about a serious federal crime that is on the rise: sexual assault aboard aircraft.

Compared to the tens of millions of U.S. citizens who fly each year, the number of in-flight sexual assault victims is relatively small, “but even one victim is unacceptable,” said FBI Special Agent David Gates, who is based at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and regularly investigates these cases. “We are seeing more reports of in-flight sexual assault than ever before,” he said.

Sexual assault aboard aircraft—which usually takes the form of unwanted touching—is a felony that can land offenders in prison. Typically, men are the perpetrators, and women and unaccompanied minors are the victims. “But at LAX,” Gates said, “we have seen every combination of victim and perpetrator.”

In fiscal year 2014, 38 cases of in-flight sexual assault were reported to the FBI. In the last fiscal year, that number increased to 63 reported cases. “It’s safe to say that many incidents occur that are not reported,” said Gates, one of the FBI’s many airport liaison agents assigned to the nearly 450 U.S. aviation facilities that have passenger screening operations regulated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In larger airports such as LAX, multi-agency task forces are on location to investigate a variety of criminal and national security matters, from sexual assaults to terrorism and espionage.

 Crimes aboard aircraft fall within the FBI’s jurisdiction, and in the case of in-flight sexual assaults, agents describe elements of these crimes as being strikingly similar. The attacks generally occur on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark. The victims are usually in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket. They report waking up to their seatmate’s hands inside their clothing or underwear.

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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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Pittsburgh Mortgage Broker Defrauded Banks, Borrowers to Enrich Himself

With hundreds of pages of paperwork and thousands of dollars on the line, getting a mortgage can be a complex and intimidating transaction for homebuyers, who often depend on experts to get them through the process.

Unfortunately for some mortgage applicants in Western Pennsylvania, dishonest real estate professionals took advantage of that trust with fraudulent practices.

As the real estate market boomed before the 2008 crash, Pittsburgh-based Century III Home Equity was a successful brokerage, closing an estimated $100 million in loans annually. As a broker, the company acted as a middleman between the mortgage applicant and the lender, but the company’s employees manipulated both sides to enrich themselves. The owner—James Nassida, IV—and his loan officers misleadingly sold customers mortgage products that were not always appropriate for their financial situation but racked up the most fees. The brokerage also fooled lenders by lying about applicants, doing things such as inflating income, misrepresenting home values, or not disclosing that down payments were actually borrowed money.

“There was massive fraud here. They were not looking out for their borrowers; they were looking out for themselves,” said Special Agent Neal Caldwell of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Division, who investigated the case with the U.S. Secret Service as part of the Western Pennsylvania Mortgage Fraud Task Force. The task force, which came together in 2008, looked holistically at the mortgage fraud threat throughout the Pittsburgh area as part of a multi-agency team involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, IRS Criminal Investigations, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and others, including state agencies. The task force’s work over a 10-year period led to 140 convictions, ranking the Western District of Pennsylvania as one of the most successful districts in the country in prosecuting mortgage fraud.

Nassida required his employees to do whatever it took to close a loan, even if it was dishonest or illegal. In many cases, the company would sell a borrower a loan with a temporary minimum payment option, designed for those with seasonal or fluctuating income, without fully disclosing the terms. In actuality, the temporary minimum payment didn’t even cover all of the interest each month, causing the loan to “negatively amortize,” or actually increase the balance of the loan. While some customers, such as house flippers, understood these products, others found them disastrous financially when they were not fully informed of the consequences of paying the lower amount over a longer period of time. This was especially difficult for borrowers once the housing market crashed in 2008—they could no longer rely on a consistent increase in their home values to keep them from going “underwater,” or owing more than their homes were worth.

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Wiretap investigation leads to seizure of more than 30 pounds of fentanyl

State and federal law enforcement officials announced Thursday they seized some 77 pounds of various illicit drugs in the Boston area — including more than 30 pounds of fentanyl — as the result of “Operation High Hopes,” according to a press release by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. They say it’s “one of the longest, most far-reaching, and most successful state wiretap investigations in Massachusetts history.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley says the investigation led to more than a dozen arrests and dismantled two Boston-area drug trafficking organizations. About $300,000 in alleged drug money was also seized. He added that fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and opiate tablets are believed to have originated from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.

Fentanyl is so powerful, Conley says, that mere milligrams can be lethal.

“The number of overdoses it could have caused is truly staggering,” Conley wrote in the press release. “Individuals who buy and sell at this level aren’t users. They’re not small time dealers, either. They’re certainly not selling to support a habit. They’re trafficking in addictive substances that claim more lives in Massachusetts than all homicides, all suicides and all car crashes, statewide, combined.”

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans heralded the successful sting in the written statement: “These arrests and seizures will have a tremendous impact on the quality of life in Boston and many other Massachusetts cities and towns,” Evans said. “I commend the work of my detectives and all our law enforcement partners who worked tirelessly over the past six months of Operation High Hopes.”

The DEA Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson echoed that sentiment: “Those responsible for distributing lethal drugs like fentanyl to the citizens of Massachusetts need to be held accountable for their actions. DEA’s top priority is combating the opioid epidemic by working with our local, county and state law enforcement partners to bring to justice those that distribute this poison.”

Wiretap investigation

Edward Soto-Perez, 43, of Roxbury, Nelson Catala-Otero, 37, of Brockton and Julio Cuello, 52, of Dorchester were arraigned in November on multiple drug trafficking charges after the execution of wiretap-based search warrants, according to the press release. They were held on bails ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 and will return to court Feb. 13.

Robert Contreras, 42, of Roxbury, is their alleged supplier and was one of more than a dozen people arrested Thursday. He’s being held on $1 million bail and will return to court Feb. 28.

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Stopping Human Trafficking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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