TSA experienced one of the busiest Thanksgiving weeks ever

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) experienced one of the busiest Thanksgiving travel weeks in its 16-year history. Sunday was the busiest day of the holiday week with more than 2.6 million passengers and crew members passing through TSA screening. It was the fifth busiest day since the agency was established immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

Half of the busiest days on record in the past 16 years occurred in the past few months.

Even though the volume of individuals screened was remarkably high, nationwide 98.1 percent of all passengers waited less than 20 minutes in a checkpoint line and 99.2 percent of passengers who were in a TSA Pre✓® lane waited less than 10 minutes in a security checkpoint line.

“Enhanced security screening measures and the use of TSA canine teams were in place during the busy Thanksgiving travel period to ensure security of air travel,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “I am very proud of our Transportation Security Officers for their work and attention to detail during a very hectic time, ensuring safe travel for all passengers,” he added.

From Friday, Nov. 17 through Sunday, Nov. 26, TSA screened 21,613,767 passengers and crew at airport checkpoints nationwide. More than 13.6 million checked bags were screened during the same time period. Typically, an average travel day would see TSA screen in the neighborhood of 2.1 million passengers and crew, but in the busiest days of the Thanksgiving travel week, TSA screened as many as a half million more passengers per day than usual.

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Bridgeport school security union gives back to help district

“School security officers in the city aren’t exactly giving students the shirt off their backs — just the cost of them.

James V. Meszoros, a security guard and president of NAGE Local R1-200, told the city school board Monday they are giving back $200 of a $424 uniform allowance to help the financially strapped school district.

The gesture will amount to $16,600 that Meszoros said he hopes the district will put toward the athletics program.

His announcement brought a round of applause in the room when the announcement was made.

“I know it goes back into the general fund but I was a coach at Bassick High School for 13 years,” Meszoros said.

Meszoros said he is hopeful Marlene Siegel, the district’s chief financial officer, can work the numbers so they can benefit athletics.

Last year, Meszoros said, the idea was raised by Police Lt. Paul Grech. After Meszoros became union president, he presented the idea to his members who liked it because it was something different.

Security guards make an average of just shy of $38,000 annually. The union contract calls for guards to get an allowance to cover four shirts and four pairs of pants every October. This year only, he said guards will get two and two.

Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson said she was ecstatic to hear of NAGE’s give back when the union president told her of it.
“It truly exemplifies all of us pulling together and rowing in the same direction for the betterment of our students,” Johnson said. “I️ sincerely thank each member of NAGE.”

The district is working to close a multi-million dollar gap between what officials say they need to run the system of 21,000 and the near flat operating funding it got from the state and city in the current fiscal year.”

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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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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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Clarion Security company founder named “Women Business Owner of the Year’

“The founder of a Memphis security guard firm has been named the “Women Business Owner of the Year” by the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Kim Heathcott was honored at the association’s four-day meeting in Minneapolis this week for growing her 8-year-old company, Clarion Security, into a $10 million business.

She founded the firm with one employee and no clients in 2009, and now it’s the largest woman-owned business in Memphis with 450 employees.

The national association was founded 42 years ago and has 26 chapters across the nation.

Before founding Clarion, Heathcott worked in financial services, with an emphasis in fraud auditing and control investigations. She served as president in 2013 of the Memphis Chapter of the National Association of Woman Owned Businesses.

She holds an undergraduate degree in economics from Vanderbilt University, with a minor in business administration, and received an MBA from Southern Methodist University.

Clarion has made a mark in part for the way it treats its employees. For example, concerned that Clarion’s security officers were eating most of their work-time meals out of vending machines, she and her husband, Larry, started providing a free meal to each employee every shift, the Heathcotts told The Commercial Appeal in 2011.

The couple even started attending the earlier Sunday morning church service so employees would not have to wait as long for the lunches, often delivered by the Heathcotts themselves.

Clarion contracted with a nursing company to provide monthly wellness clinics for employees.

For the security guard industry, Clarion has experienced a much lower-than-average turnover rate among employees.”

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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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Fake FEMA inspectors spotted in Houston neighborhoods

HOUSTON - Fake FEMA inspectors have been spotted in a couple of Houston neighborhoods. But they didn’t do their research very well.

The neighborhoods they’ve hit did not even flood. That was the first red flag when a man knocked on Kathy Horner’s front door.

“And he identified himself as a FEMA inspector,” said Horner.

She said the man even looked the part.

“He did have a very official looking badge,” said Horner.

But she knew her family never filed a claim for flood damage.Therefore, she never opened the door.

She also took a photo of the man’s white sedan before he left the neighborhood.

“I set the alarm and called the constable,” said Horner.

Horner posted a warning on the NextDoor app under the heading “FEMA Inspector Impersonator.”

Her story mirrors a post from a homeowner on 24th Street titled “Beware of supposed FEMA inspector.” The man in that case bolted when confronted with a camera.

“These are real bottom feeders,” said neighbor Michael Silverman.

He hates to think people would fall for such a scam, especially in areas unaffected by the flood.

“So any FEMA workers that would come around here would be very suspicious,” said Silverman. “And I would think they would be looking to take advantage of some people.”

According to FEMA, you should always ask to see an inspector’s badge up close. A FEMA shirt or jacket does not make them legitimate.

Another very important reminder is that inspectors never show up unannounced. They have no reason to be at a home if the owner did not file a claim or register for disaster assistance.

“Just be careful about who you talk to,” said Horner. “Don’t let anybody in your home.”

And be watchful of warnings from people who’ve encountered potential imposters.

Here’s a template of a federal ID that official inspectors will have. They may also say “contractor” on the bottom.


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TSA deploys hundreds of staff to assist with hurricane relief efforts

“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has deployed more than 1,100 members of its workforce to help with hurricane relief efforts in some of the hardest-hit areas.

About 500 employees were dispatched to assist with screening operations at impacted airports, while another 660 TSA workers volunteered to serve on the Department of Homeland Security’s “Surge

Capacity Force” to help deliver aid directly to storm survivors.

At Cyril King Airport in St. Thomas, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma, the TSA has had to use alternative screening methods — such as canine teams and hand-held metal detectors — to screen passengers for charter flights.

And in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the airport was so crippled by Hurricane Maria that Federal Aviation Administration technicians had to use chainsaws to clear a path in order to reach radar sites and restore the radar technology.

“I am proud and humbled by the spirit and dedication to service exhibited by the TSA workforce. Several TSA officers even walked miles from their homes in St. Thomas to reach the airport,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in a statement.

“Make no mistake, TSA stands ready to help reopen impacted airports following Hurricane Maria, and I am very gratified by the continued commitment to mission demonstrated by TSA employees across the country,” he said.

The TSA volunteers came from 20 airports around the country. The agency vowed to continue using local personnel and volunteers to help airports and airlines recover from the disaster.
The Hill”

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1st Armor security firm emphasizes local hiring, community relations

“Private security company 1st Armor Protection Services makes community service central to its policing approach and, so far, that philosophy seems to be working. The minority-owned and operated company reports that in the past four years no shots have been fired on any of the 1,000 or so properties it protects, and there have been only two arrests.

Several members of the firm’s leadership team sat down with the Banner at 1st Armor’s Dorchester-based headquarters, near the Field’s Corner T stop.

1st Armor provides ongoing security patrolling and services to more than 1,000 properties through contracts with roughly a dozen property management companies. Matt Breveleri, operations director, likens the firm’s role to that of university campus police, only in their case, they work on any property that hires them. Under Boston Police Department policy, such private firms have the same legal power to make arrests and function much like police.

Larry Celester, director and co-founder, says that one advantage to hiring 1st Armor is that while a more minor issue such as a residential noise complaint may be lower priority on the BPD’s long list of situations to which it responds, that complaint still matters to residents. Because it focuses only on its properties, 1st Armor can respond quickly. While residential security forms the bulk of the firm’s work, the team also serves commercial clients such as Hen House, McDonalds and Victoria’s Diner. It also provides event security.

While there are other private security companies, its focus on community service sets 1st Armor apart, according to Breveleri and Celester. The business only hires employees who live or grew up in Boston’s neighborhoods, in order to recruit those who understand the communities.

“We police a little differently because we were those kids,” Celester said. “It’s not that these [so-called gang member] kids are criminals or violent — they’re bored. … I was that poor kid in that neighborhood, bored with nothing to do. When security came around, then I had something to do.”

This summer, to keep kids out of trouble, 1st Armor used its 14-seater van to take youth to the beach, while staff continued to hold barbecues and seek out other events for kids to attend, Celester said.

Bringing ice cream or refreshments to community parties, hosting cookouts and helping out locally — for instance, offering to fix an off-kilter air conditioning unit — are critical parts of company strategy, as is getting out of the cruiser and walking or biking the areas, both Celester and Breveleri said.

Security officers need to establish positive relations and not be known locally only as impersonal figures that are there to lay down the law, Breveleri said.
“You can’t just show up and put handcuffs on people and leave, and then come back and expect to be well received,” he said.

While the BPD is a leader in its practice of community relations, especially in districts B2 and B4, Celester said, it lacks the type of resources that 1st Armor can provide.
the Bay State Banner”

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