Fraudsters Took Advantage of Injured Workers

Injured workers in California thought they were calling a hotline to help them navigate the workers’ compensation system. What they got instead was more pain. Rather than getting the help they needed, callers were set up with a group of corrupt doctors, attorneys, and patient brokers who lined their own pockets at the expense of injured workers.

For years, dozens of marketers, doctors, lawyers, and medical service providers conspired to buy and sell patients—and their individual body parts—like commodities for insurance and workers’ compensation purposes. The San Diego-based fraud ring cheated the California workers’ compensation system and private insurance out of more than $200 million. They also subjected patients to unnecessary, and sometimes painful, medical procedures and corrupted the doctor-patient relationship.

Yet thanks to an investigation by the FBI, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, and the California Department of Insurance, many of the fraudsters have been convicted and sentenced.

The network preyed predominantly on seasonal, migrant workers who travel back and forth between California and Mexico. Their work in heavy labor industries, such as agriculture, can sometimes result in injuries.

Fermin Iglesias and Carlos Arguello set up various patient recruiting and scheduling companies in Central America and Mexico to direct patients to medical service providers. Arguello operated several patient recruitment entities, including one called Centro Legal. Through billboards, flyers, advertisements, and business cards, Centro Legal recruited workers to seek workers’ compensation benefits. When an injured worker called the number on the billboard or card, a scheduling company took over to maximize the profits from that individual worker.

“The corrupt attorneys and doctors had the same goal—to bill as much as possible,” said Special Agent Jeffrey Horner, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “The attorneys wanted to get the largest possible settlement by any means necessary, which was traditionally based on total medical billing. The doctors wanted to make as much money as possible, without regard for the well-being of their patients.

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FBI, ICE find state driver’s license photos are a gold mine for facial-recognition searches

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have turned state driver’s license databases into a facial-recognition gold mine, scanning through millions of Americans’ photos without their knowledge or consent, newly released documents show.

Thousands of facial-recognition requests, internal documents and emails over the past five years, obtained through public-records requests by researchers with Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology and provided to The Washington Post, reveal that federal investigators have turned state departments of motor vehicles databases into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.

Police have long had access to fingerprints, DNA and other “biometric data” taken from criminal suspects. But the DMV records contain the photos of a vast majority of a state’s residents, most of whom have never been charged with a crime.

Neither Congress nor state legislatures have authorized the development of such a system, and growing numbers of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are criticizing the technology as a dangerous, pervasive and error-prone surveillance tool.

“Law enforcement’s access of state databases,” particularly DMV databases, is “often done in the shadows with no consent,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement to The Post.

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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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THE FBI WANTED A BACKDOOR TO THE IPHONE. TIM COOK SAID NO

IN 2016, TIM Cook fought the law—and won.

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, February 16, 2016, Cook and several lieutenants gathered in the “junior boardroom” on the executive floor at One Infinite Loop, Apple’s old headquarters. The company had just received a writ from a US magistrate ordering it to make specialized software that would allow the FBI to unlock an iPhone used by Syed Farook, a suspect in the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015 that left 14 people dead.

The iPhone was locked with a four-digit passcode that the FBI had been unable to crack. The FBI wanted Apple to create a special version of iOS that would accept an unlimited combination of passwords electronically, until the right one was found. The new iOS could be side-loaded onto the iPhone, leaving the data intact.

But Apple had refused. Cook and his team were convinced that a new unlocked version of iOS would be very, very dangerous. It could be misused, leaked, or stolen, and once in the wild, it could never be retrieved. It could potentially undermine the security of hundreds of millions of Apple users.

In the boardroom, Cook and his team went through the writ line by line. They needed to decide what Apple’s legal position was going to be and figure out how long they had to respond. It was a stressful, high-stakes meeting. Apple was given no warning about the writ, even though Cook, Apple’s top lawyer, Bruce Sewell, and others had been actively speaking about the case to law enforcement for weeks.

The writ “was not a simple request for assistance in a criminal case,” explained Sewell. “It was a forty-two-page pleading by the government that started out with this litany of the horrible things that had been done in San Bernardino. And then this . . . somewhat biased litany of all the times that Apple had said no to what were portrayed as very reasonable requests. So this was what, in the law, we call a speaking complaint. It was meant to from day one tell a story . . . that would get the public against Apple.”

The team came to the conclusion that the judge’s order was a PR move—a very public arm twisting to pressure Apple into complying with the FBI’s demands—and that it could be serious trouble for the company. Apple “is a famous, incredibly powerful consumer brand and we are going to be standing up against the FBI and saying in effect, ‘No, we’re not going to give you the thing that you’re looking for to try to deal with this terrorist threat,’” said Sewell.

They knew that they had to respond immediately. The writ would dominate the next day’s news, and Apple had to have a response. “Tim knew that this was a massive decision on his part,” Sewell said. It was a big moment, “a bet-the-company kind of decision.” Cook and the team stayed up all night—a straight 16 hours—working on their response. Cook already knew his position—Apple would refuse—but he wanted to know all the angles: What was Apple’s legal position? What was its legal obligation? Was this the right response? How should it sound? How should it read? What was the right tone?

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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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FBI thwarts Brinks armed car robbery outside Merrillville Aldi

HAMMOND — “Bingo,” a would-be robber told his accomplice as a Brinks armored truck pulled into their view in Merrillville Monday, federal authorities allege.

Traveling in a black Jeep Cherokee, the suspects began following the Brinks truck to various stops, with the ultimate plan of robbing it, federal prosecutors allege.

But the FBI was reportedly trailing them each step of the way.

A short time later, FBI agents thwarted the robbery by following and arresting the two men outside of the Aldi grocery store in Merrillville, the agency reported.

The men also are suspects in another $500,000 robbery of an armored truck in July, federal law enforcement officials said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. attorney’s office charged Reilly Jackson Jr., 23, of Griffith, with conspiracy to commit robbery after the Merrillville incident.

His alleged companion, Delvin Perkins, 23, of South Holland, was charged with being an armed felon.

Federal prosecutors allege in a criminal complaint that an ongoing FBI investigation of the suspects prompted agents to follow Jackson and Perkins on Monday.

The government alleges the men are suspects in a $500,000 robbery of a Thillens Cagistics armored truck July 25 in Blue Island, Illinois.

The government alleges that robbery was an inside job because Jackson was the armored car driver employed by Thillens Cagistics, and Perkins was the alleged robber.

The FBI said it found a photo in Jackson’s cellphone of Perkins wearing the same clothes in which he robbed that armed truck and concluded the pair worked together to commit the Blue Island robbery.

An FBI surveillance team was following the two defendants as they traveled in the Jeep Cherokee on Monday. Agents saw the men following a Brinks armed truck as it made multiple stops to collect money from local banks and businesses, the agency reported.

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Treasurer accused of stealing $410,000 from charity for families of slain NYPD officers

The treasurer of a charity that benefits the families of New York Police Department officers who are killed in the line of duty was charged Thursday with stealing more than $410,000 from the fund.

Lorraine Shanley, 68, was charged by federal prosecutors in New York with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. She will appear Thursday in court after prosecutors said she was stealing more than 20 percent of donations to the charity between 2010 to 2017 at least.

A person with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed to NBC News that Shanley acted as the treasurer for the nonprofit Survivors of the Shield.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said that Shanley spent the money in a variety of ways — $29,000 for her grandchild’s private school tuition, $32,000 for personal dental expenses, and $25,000 for landscaping.

Shanley is also accused of using about $63,000 of the stolen money to pay for her son’s legal expenses related to criminal cases, prosecutors said.

Her son was reportedly served about three years in prison on drug charges from 2006 to 2009. He was also charged in 2014 with second-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, resulting in death after he crashed his SUV in Manhattan, killing an activist, and fled. The manslaughter charges were dropped.

She also allegedly wrote $45,000 in checks to family members and other people, which she then endorsed herself and deposited into her own account. Prosecutors said Shanley, from Staten Island, also used $1,400 of the stolen money to buy Barbra Streisand tickets and $6,600 more on other event tickets.

According to court documents, 99 percent of the donations to Survivors of the Shield come from New York police officers, and on average, 5,500 NYPD employees donate to the charity each year.

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Former FBI Director Webster Assists Investigation

The heavily accented caller who promised William Webster a grand sweepstakes prize of $72 million and a new Mercedes Benz had done most of his homework on his potential fraud target.

“I know that you was [sic] a judge, you was a lawyer, you was in the U.S. Navy,” the caller told his elderly mark. “I do your background check. You are a big man.”

What the caller, Keniel Thomas, 29, of Jamaica, missed was possibly the most salient detail about his intended victim, who was 90 years old the time: William Webster had served as director of both the FBI and the CIA, and so had a pretty good radar for pernicious criminal schemes—in this case, a Jamaican lottery scam.

Thomas’ persistent calls in 2014 to Webster and his wife, Lynda, followed the familiar arc of scams that target the elderly: The caller promises riches but requires some form of payment to move the process forward. The caller demands more and more, and then resorts to intimidation when the cooperation tapers off.

In the Websters’ case, the former judge was told he had to pay $50,000 to get his prize. When the money wasn’t forthcoming, the frequent calls escalated to scary threats, which led the couple to contact the FBI.

“I don’t know how the conversation turned sour,” said Webster, 95, director of the FBI for a decade beginning in 1978. “But it did. And at that point, he shifted gears. Instead of sweet talk, he began to threaten her.”

In one expletive-filled recorded message left on the Websters’ phone, Thomas threatened to kill them and burn down their house if he didn’t get what he wanted. “You live at a very lonely place,” he said. “And the moment you arrive, I’m gonna put a shot in your head.”

Special agents from the FBI’s Washington Field Office enlisted the Websters’ help in nabbing the caller by recording their phone conversations to build a case and develop a clear picture of the scheme. The legwork ultimately led to Thomas’ arrest in 2017 and his sentencing last month in federal court in Washington, D.C., to nearly six years in prison. It also revealed that Thomas and his relatives in Jamaica had successfully scammed others in the U.S. out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Director Discusses FBI Approach at Cybersecurity Conference

With cyber threats to the United States and across globe reaching unprecedented levels, the FBI uses a full spectrum of expertise, technology, and partnerships to root out cyber criminals, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco yesterday.

“Today’s cyber threat is bigger than any one government agency—frankly, bigger than government itself,” Wray said in an on-stage interview at the cybersecurity conference. “But I think no agency brings the same combination of scope and scale, experience, tools, and relationships that the FBI has.”

From multinational cyber syndicates to foreign intelligence services, hacktivists, and insider threats, Wray explained that the FBI takes a multidisciplinary approach to combating threats. For example, the Bureau has an elite rapid deployment force and Cyber Action Teams that can respond to incidents anywhere in the world. In addition, the FBI has joined other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies on Cyber Task Forces to coordinate responses. Specially trained cyber agents are also embedded in FBI legal attaché offices in more than 60 countries worldwide.

In addition to law enforcement partnerships, Wray also stressed the importance of public-private partnerships, so prevention and response can be swift and coordinated.

“The key is having the private sector start to form relationships with their local field office beforehand,” Wray said.

As the FBI continues to grow its partnerships, the FBI is also developing its workforce’s cyber expertise. Wray spoke about the FBI’s success in recruiting special agents and professional staff over the past year.

“We’re dealing with the most sophisticated, toughest cyber actors in the world, and if you want the ability to take on those people, to be on the front lines of that battle, dealing with incredibly cutting-edge technology … you would be in the right place,” Wray said of FBI cyber careers.

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