FBI Warns of Posting Hoax Threats

Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is announcing a campaign to educate the public on the consequences of posting hoax threats to schools and other public places and reminds communities that these hoax threats are not a joke.

In the aftermath of tragic shootings such as the ones at Santa Fe High School in Texas and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the FBI and law enforcement around the country often see an increase in threats made to schools and other public forums.

The FBI and our partners follow up on every tip we receive from the public and analyze and investigate all threats to determine their credibility. Federal, state, and local law enforcement then employ a full range of tools to mitigate those threats that are deemed credible. Making false threats drains law enforcement resources and cost taxpayers a lot of money. When an investigation concludes there was a false or hoax threat made to a school or another public place, a federal charge could be considered, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If a federal charge is not warranted, state charges can be considered.

Public assistance is crucial to our efforts to curb these hoax threats. We ask that the public continue to contact law enforcement to report any potential threats or suspicious activity. If there is any reason to believe the safety of others is at risk, we ask that the public immediately reach out to their local police department by calling 911, or contact the FBI via tips.fbi.gov or over the phone (1-800-CALL-FBI). As always, members of the public can call their nearest FBI field office to report a tip.

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$43 Million Ponzi Scheme Fleeced Tennessee Friends and Neighbors

Nobody would have suspected that the affable Tennessee tractor salesman who was raised among them, tended their lawns in high school, and prayed beside them at Sunday services was scamming them by the millions. Indeed, that’s probably what made the man’s investment scheme so successful, investigators say.

Jeffery Gentry, 40, pleaded guilty in federal court last August to charges related to his $43 million scheme that bilked investors—including friends, family, neighbors, and fellow parishioners—out of more than $10 million. Gentry, who owned and operated Gentry Brothers Tractor Supply and Gentry Auto in the Middle Tennessee town of Sparta, was sentenced on May 14 in U.S. District Court in Nashville to three years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $10.4 million in restitution to his victims.

Gentry’s scam was a textbook Ponzi scheme that promised investors high guaranteed rates of return on investments. He told investors the funds would finance the purchase of mowers and farm equipment to satisfy lucrative state contracts. In return, investors could expect monthly proceeds as high as 10 percent, thanks in part to rebates from equipment manufacturers for cash purchases, according to investigators. But it was all a lie, sustained in large part by investors’ faith that a lifelong neighbor and friend would never purposely do them wrong.

“He kind of preyed on that aspect of it,” said Jeff Guth, chief of the Sparta Police Department in White County, a close-knit rural community of 26,000 residents where the median household income is about $36,000. “Most of these people were friends of his. A lot of them went to church with him. They wouldn’t believe that someone close to them like that would be doing that.”

Guth learned of the scheme a few days before Christmas in 2016, when the police station lobby filled up with distraught investors fearing they had been duped. Gentry’s tractor store—an informal gathering spot where many of the investment transactions occurred—had shut down without explanation, suddenly casting doubt on their guaranteed returns. At the police station, former farmers and other retirees waved handwritten statements revealing their six-figure outlays, much of it from savings and retirement accounts. Suspecting there would be still more victims, Guth called the FBI in nearby Cookeville—a satellite office of the Bureau’s Memphis Division—for support.

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Latest Internet Crime Report Released

Beginning in 2015, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) forwarded multiple complaints to the FBI’s Houston Field Office regarding fraudulent offers of investment opportunities by perpetrators who impersonated U.S. bank officials and financial consultants over the Internet and telephone. Victims in various countries, including the U.S., were deceived into believing they would receive millions of dollars from joint ventures with certain U.S. banks if they paid up-front fees—ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars—to participate. According to court documents, victims lost more than $7 million collectively in this scam.

The complaints submitted by victims to the IC3 helped investigators uncover this elaborate international advance fee and money laundering scheme, and in February of this year, six individuals were federally charged in Houston in connection with the scam.

The IC3, which has received more than 4 million victim complaints from 2000 through 2017, routinely analyzes complaints like these and disseminates data to the appropriate law enforcement agencies at all levels for possible investigation. The IC3 also works to identify general trends related to current and emerging Internet-facilitated crimes, and it publicizes those findings through periodic alerts and an annual report.

And today, the IC3 is releasing its latest annual publication—the 2017 Internet Crime Report—which reveals that the center received more than 300,000 complaints last year with reported losses of more than $1.4 billion.

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Multi-Million-Dollar Investment Fraud Scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cyber attackers target state of Indiana, 144 universities

Nine Iranians were accused Friday of orchestrating years of cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies, the state of Indiana and hundreds of universities and businesses here and abroad in one of the largest state-sponsored hacking cases ever charged by the Justice Department.

A series of federal indictments and financial sanctions against Iranian individuals were announced by Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, charging cyber activity against the United States. Federal prosecutors say the Iranians and an Iranian hacker network called the Mabna Institute illegally accessed Indiana state government computers and the computer systems of 144 U.S. universities.

Rosenstein and Justice Dept. officials would not name the 144 universities targeted by hackers in Iran, but numerous Midwestern universities are popular U.S. college destinations for Iranian students, including University of Illinois. At U of I, Iranian enrollment has jumped in recent years.

Federal agents said the hackers gained access to university databases and college library systems by using stolen login credentials belonging to university professors.

A spokesperson for U of I told the I-Team that as far as she knows, Illinois’ flagship university was not among those hacked.

American government officials said they’ve determined that the nine Iranians, in cooperation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, were behind the hacking effort.

Investigators found 320 universities around the world were attacked along with several U.S. government entities, including the Department of Labor, United Nations, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, they said. The Iranians allegedly targeted more than 100,000 email accounts of professors around the world. About half of the 8000 compromised accounts belonged to professors at U.S. universities.

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Sewerage & Water Board employees used fake handicap parking tags

More than two dozen Sewerage & Water Board employees have been using fake or unauthorized handicap tags to bilk parking meters near the utility’s main office on St. Joseph Street, according to a report drafted following an investigation by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General.

The report, sent to the city’s Department of Public Works last November, summarizes a two-day investigation probing an “allegation” that “able-bodied” utility employees had been using handicap tags to park their personal vehicles on metered spaces near the utility’s main office at 625 St. Joseph St. The handicap tags allow drivers to park up to three hours for free in downtown metered spaces, which otherwise would cost $3 per hour.

Office of Inspector General investigators ran the registrations of 40 vehicles displaying handicap tags near the St. Joseph Street main office and found 37 of those vehicles were registered to Sewerage & Water Board employees. Of those 37 employees, investigators found just 11 – less than a third – were authorized to have handicap tags, which are distributed by Louisiana State Police, according to the report.

In all, 26 Sewerage & Water Board employees parked with handicap tags that either belonged to a relative, belonged to someone else or were “invalid or unreadable.”

Additionally, investigators spotted 31 vehicles with handicap tags that also displayed parking receipts, ostensibly to cover meter fees beyond the maximum three hours of free time, but that those vehicles had receipts showing “usually a nickel” had been paid into the meter. While five cents would cover “only one minute of parking,” investigators found some of those vehicles were parked that way for entire work shifts. None were ticketed.

All together, the inspector general’s report estimated the invalid handicap tags and expired meter receipts that weren’t ticketed could cost the city around $197,000 a year in lost parking meter revenue.

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6 Howard University Employees Fired for Misappropriating Financial Aid

Six Howard University employees were fired last year after an internal investigation found the financial aid office had misappropriated university-based grants to some university employees, the school’s president said Wednesday.

According to a statement from Wayne Frederick, Howard University president, an outside auditor found that several university employees received grants in addition to discounts on tuition that exceeded the total cost of tuition and kept the difference.

Some students said they felt betrayed. Employees took financial aid funds as students prepare to spend years paying off their loans.

“I’m actually on the verge of transferring schools because I can’t afford to stay here because a grant was taken away from me,” one student said.

“It’s disappointing to actually come to terms with the reality of what’s going on,” senior Quencey Hickerson said.

Parent Cecily Johnson said she was disgusted.

“Someone could totally change their trajectory if they can’t pay tuition,” she said.

Frederick said he was told in December 2016 that there may have been “some misappropriation of university-provided financial aid funds,” and launched an internal investigation.

The auditor found that between 2007 and 2016, university grants were awarded to some university employees who also were receiving tuition remission. The grants and tuition remission equaled more than the total cost of attendance, which allowed the employees to receive “inappropriate refunds.”

The grants came from institutional funds that help low-income students pay tuition. Frederick said the grants came from the university and were not federal or donor funds.

Tuition remission allows eligible employees or their dependents to receive discounted tuition at the university. Full-time employees eligible to receive tuition remission can take two classes per semester for free, according to the university’s website. Tuition at Howard for the 2017-2018 school year was $12,061 per semester, not including room and board.

Frederick’s statement came after an anonymous post on Medium.com claimed financial aid employees at the university stole nearly $1 million in funds.

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Crooked Michigan Doctor Sentenced

From 2010 to 2015, Advanced Care Services (ACS), located in Southfield, Michigan—a suburb of Detroit—billed itself as a pain management clinic and HIV infusion center that primarily served Medicare recipients.

But as it turned out, ACS wasn’t serving anyone but itself. It was nothing more than a pill mill involved in the illegal sale and distribution of dangerous prescription medications, including opioids, into nearby communities. And if that wasn’t bad enough, ACS was also involved in a related multi-million-dollar health care fraud scheme. The lone doctor employed at the facility, Rodney Moret, personally enabled both of these conspiracies through his actions at the clinic.

Fortunately, law enforcement ultimately uncovered the actions of Moret and his four co-conspirators, and he was sentenced last month to a federal prison term on various drug and health care fraud charges after previously pleading guilty. Moret’s associates have also pleaded guilty in connection with their roles in the criminal activity and have been sentenced. All five were ordered to pay more than $2.5 million in restitution.

And ACS—a clinic that ostensibly offered medical care for a vulnerable population but instead broke its promise to the communities it served—was put out of business.

According to FBI case agent Larissa Kramer, the Bureau’s Detroit Field Office opened an investigation into ACS in December 2011 after receiving a referral from the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) concerning suspicious billings from a Dr. Rodney Moret. “Shortly after that,” Kramer explained, “an ongoing Detroit investigation into another pill mill led directly to the doorstep of Advanced Care Services, Moret’s employer. And our case, run jointly with HHS-OIG investigators, took a new direction.”

Kramer said that a variety of investigative techniques—including confidential informants, consensual recordings, analysis of financial records, and interviews with ACS employees and patients—uncovered the breadth and depth of the fraudulent activity being perpetrated by Moret and company.

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Las Vegas Doctor Arrested And Charged

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A pain management doctor practicing in Las Vegas was arrested today and charged with 29-counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl and for committing health care fraud, announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson of the District of Nevada, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dan Neill for the DEA’s Las Vegas field office, Special Agent in Charge Aaron C. Rouse for the FBI’s Las Vegas Division, and Special Agent in Charge Christian J. Schrank for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office Los Angeles Region.

Dr. Steven A. Holper, 66, is charged in an indictment with seven-counts of distribution of Fentanyl, a controlled substance, and 22-counts of providing a false statement relating to a health benefit program.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid painkiller that is 100 times more potent than morphine and 40 to 60 times more potent than 100% pure heroin. Fentanyl is available in various forms, including Subsys. Subsys is only available through the Transmucosal Immediate-Release Fentanyl (TIRF) Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Access program. The only FDA-approved indication for TIRF medicines are for use to manage breakthrough pain in adults with cancer. Dr. Holper routinely prescribed Subsys for his patients without cancer.

According to allegations contained in the indictment, which was unsealed today, from about July 19, 2015 through March 12, 2016, Holper allegedly prescribed Subsys to a patient without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice. The indictment further alleges that, from about November 21, 2013 through March 24, 2017, Holper knowingly made false statements to Medicare and private health insurance companies. Dr. Holper prescribed Subsys for patients without cancer and falsely represented 22 patients were cancer patients with breakthrough cancer pain, who were opioid tolerant and eligible for Subsys.

“Our great country has never before seen the levels of addiction and overdose deaths that we are suffering today. Sadly, some trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this crisis for cash—with devastating consequences. Our goals at the Department of Justice for 2018 are to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, the number of overdose deaths, and violent crime—which is often drug-related. That’s why I created the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and sent 12 top prosecutors to opioid hotspots around the country: to help us find the medical fraudsters who are flooding our streets with drugs. These prosecutors are already issuing indictments from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas. I want to thank the DEA, FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Henderson, Nevada Police Department, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kilby Macfadden for their hard work on this case. I am convinced that these efforts make drugs less available on the streets, send a message to criminals, and ultimately make our communities much safer,” said Attorney General Sessions.

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Two Sentenced in $10 Million Investment Fraud Scheme

The victims’ stories of losing their retirement savings in a $10 million investment fraud scheme were heartbreaking: some lost their homes, some had to declare bankruptcy, and many suffered—and continue to suffer—from physical and emotional ailments upon learning they had virtually nothing left to retire with.

The fraudsters responsible for this fallout—who lined their own pockets with the hard-earned money of working people trying to save for their golden years—were Merrill Robertson and Sherman Carl Vaughn, Jr., two Virginia businessmen. After a joint federal law enforcement investigation into the pair’s Ponzi-like scheme, the two were ultimately brought to justice for their crimes against more than 60 victims in multiple states. In light of Robertson’s earlier conviction at trial and Vaughn’s previous guilty plea, Robertson was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison, and Vaughn—who testified at Robertson’s trial—received 12 years. The men were also ordered to pay nearly $9 million in restitution to their victims.

Robertson is a former University of Virginia football star who had worked for a large broker-dealer and was licensed as a broker. Vaughn had a business degree from another Virginia college but has never been licensed as a broker. Together, in 2010, the pair formed Cavalier Union Investments, LLC, which claimed to be a “leading private investment firm” catering to IRA account holders and offering investment opportunities—with fixed annual returns of 10 to 20 percent—in restaurants, real estate, and alternative energy. Cavalier purportedly had a variety of divisions, investment funds, and investment advisers.

But in reality, Cavalier did not have any divisions, investment funds, or investment advisers—it was just Robertson and Vaughn. And what a pair they were—Robertson no longer had his broker’s license, and Vaughn had filed for personal bankruptcy four times, including the two times he did it while working at Cavalier. Shortly after the company was formed, Cavalier became insolvent and relied on cash from newer investors to stay afloat and pay back older investors who asked for their money back—the perfect Ponzi scheme, at least for a while.

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