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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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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Woman posed as lawyer, duped immigrants and filed petitions

“A Lynwood woman who allegedly stole the identity and bar license number of an attorney is expected to face a federal judge today on charges she filed immigration petitions on behalf of foreign nationals who believed she was a legitimate lawyer.

Jessica Godoy Ramos, 36, was arrested late Wednesday pursuant to a criminal complaint that charges her with mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

According to the criminal complaint, Ramos accepted thousands of dollars from several dozen aliens who sought her services in an attempt to obtain legal status in the United States. The complaint affidavit alleges that Ramos filed immigration petitions on the behalf of some aliens, but in other cases she never performed any services for her clients.

In at least one instance, Ramos created counterfeit immigration parole documents which a client was able to use to enter the United States, the government alleges.

The complaint alleges that Ramos’ clients initially believed she was a legitimate immigration attorney, but several became suspicious when Ramos directed them to appear at U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services offices for interviews — but they did not have any scheduled appointments.

“The crimes alleged in this case victimized dozens of immigrants who were attempting to realize the American dream by paying someone they thought was a lawyer,” said acting U.S. Attorney

Sandra R. Brown. “This type of scam, which unfortunately targets new immigrants too often, undermines our immigration system and can shatter dreams of obtaining legal status to remain in the United States.”

If convicted, Ramos would face up to 20 years in federal prison for the mail fraud count and a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for the aggravated identity theft charge.

“Unscrupulous immigration practitioners not only exploit the trust of their often-unwitting victims, but by filing fraudulent immigration applications they create a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security
Investigations in Los Angeles.

Federal authorities began investigating Ramos in February after the HSI- led Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force received a tip from USCIS about five of Ramos’ clients who went to USCIS offices in downtown Los Angeles expecting to pick up their non-existent “green cards.”

“People who wish to file for benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have a right to proper representation,” said USCIS Los Angeles District Director Donna Campagnolo. “This
case is a good example of all agencies involved working together to ensure that the integrity of the program is preserved and individuals are able to retain proper representation to aide them through the process.”

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Clifton NJ worker stole dead man’s Social Security money

“CLIFTON NJ Sept 29 2017 -A city employee who worked at senior citizen’s center was arrested Wednesday on charges she used a dead man’s debit card to withdraw Social Security funds from his bank account.

Jacklyn Delillo, 31, is charged with theft by deception and identity theft, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes said in a statement.

Delillo worked at the Clifton Senior Citizens Center, which is run by city government. It was at the center where she befriended an elderly man, Valdes said.

“When the elderly individual died, Social Security checks continued to be deposited into the individual’s bank account,” Valdes said.

“It is alleged that Ms. Delillo used the decedent’s debit card to make purchases after his death, utilizing Social Security funds,” Valdes said.

Delillo stole about $2,500, the prosecutor alleged.

Delillo salary is $21,726 and has worked for the city for about a year, according to state pension records.

Local authorities were assisted in the investigation by the Social Security Administration Inspector General’s Office, Valdes said.

After her arrest, Delillo was released on a summons to appear in court on Oct. 20, the prosecutor said.”

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Va State Police warns of automated traffic ticket email scam

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia State Police is warning citizens about an “automated traffic ticket email scam” being used by scammers to demand money for unpaid traffic tickets.

“The email scam is just one of numerous tactics used by scammers to harass individuals under the guise of being the Virginia State Police,” a VSP spokesperson wrote.

State Police said they do not use or issue digital/automated traffic tickets or summonses.

The department is warning anyone who receives the email to not click on any links provided and delete it immediately.

This scam notice comes one month after the department warned citizens about state police phone numbers being cloned by scammers demanding money and/or threatening individuals with arrest warrants.

State Police advised residents who received the calls to hang up immediately.

Here are some tips from VSP to protect you from similar scams:

Never open or click on a link in an email from an unknown email address, individual or organization.

To check the validity of an email, locate the entity’s website and call to determine if it is a legitimate email. The same goes for an individual.

Never give out personal information, credit card numbers, bank account information, etc. to an unknown individuals or entities via the phone or email.

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Facebook shuts down 1 million fake accounts per day

Facebook turns off more than 1 million accounts a day as it struggles to keep spam, fraud and hate speech off its platform, its chief security officer says.

Still, the sheer number of interactions among its 2 billion global users means it can’t catch all “threat actors,” and it sometimes removes text posts and videos that it later finds didn’t break Facebook rules, says Alex Stamos.

“When you’re dealing with millions and millions of interactions, you can’t create these rules and enforce them without (getting some) false positives,” Stamos said during an onstage discussion at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday evening.

Stamos blames the pure technical challenges in enforcing the company’s rules — rather than the rules themselves — for the threatening and unsafe behavior that sometimes finds its way on to the site.

Facebook has faced critics who say its rules for removing content are too arbitrary and make it difficult to know what types of activity it will and won’t allow.

Political leaders in Europe this year have accused it of being too lax in allowing terrorists to use Facebook to recruit and plan attacks, while a U.S. Senate committee last year demanded to know its policies for removing fake news stories, after accusations it was arbitrarily removing posts by political conservatives.

Free speech advocates have also criticized its work.

“The work of (Facebook) take-down teams is not transparent,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for free speech online.

“The rules are not enforced across the board. They reflect biases,” says Galperin, who shared the stage with Stamos at a public event that was part of Enigma Interviews, a series of cybersecurity discussions sponsored by the Advanced Computing Systems Association, better known as USENIX.

Stamos pushed back during the discussion, saying “it’s not just a bunch of white guys” who make decisions about what posts to remove.

“When you turn up the volume on hate speech, you’ll get more false positives, (and) catch people who are just talking about it,” rather than promoting it, Stamos said.

The company also must operate within the laws of more than 100 countries, some of which use speech laws to suppress political dissent, he said.

“The definition of hate speech in some countries is problematic,” Stamos said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the company will hire 3,000 extra workers to monitor and remove offensive content.

That effort continues apace, according to Stamos, who said the company is “massively expanding our team to track threat actors.”

Still, “you can’t do all that with humans,” he said, which is why Facebook also relies on artificial intelligence software to judge whether someone trying to log in is a legitimate user.

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Sanford security company develops alarm system to prevent thefts

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. July 29 2017- A Sanford security company said it has come up with a solution to stop thieves from trying to rip people off at the gas station with skimmers, devices used to steal credit and debit card numbers.

Chris Gilpin with SignalVault told Channel 9 anchor Jamie Holmes that he’s developed a device that will sound an alarm if a gas pump is opened.

The alarm alerts gas station owners when someone opens the door on a gas pump to install a skimmer device.

The system also sends out an alert through an app to let the gas station owner know that a particular pump has been compromised.

“The pump can be inspected immediately afterwards and the skimmer can be removed from the gas pump before any credit or debit card numbers are stolen,” Gilpin said.

State investigators announced Wednesday that they’ve seen an increase in the number of skimmers found at gas pumps. Nearly 300 devices have been found in Florida this year, but that number is deceiving, investigators said.

“That doesn’t really cover the scope of how bad it actually is because the gas pumps are only inspected every 12 – 16 months, so there are hundreds more skimmers,” Gilpin said.

Gilpin said the bigger problem is the law. Florida only requires gas station owners to put red tape around the pump access panel and the tape is hardly a real deterrent for a thief.

Gilpin said his device constantly monitors skimming activity and although he’s still in the testing phase, he hopes the state eventually does more to really pump the brakes on this crime.

“We can’t stop these criminals from installing gas station skimmers. However, we can stop those skimmers from stealing credit and debit card numbers,” Gilpin said.

Gilpin will meet with state agriculture officials in a couple of weeks to show off his product.

He’s been on the ABC show “Shark Tank,” and has a similar consumer protection product used by a 500,000 people worldwide.

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GLOBAL POLICE SPRING A TRAP ON THOUSANDS OF DARK WEB USERS

“WHEN ALPHABAY, THE world’s largest dark web bazaar, went offline two weeks ago, it threw the darknet into chaos as its buyers and sellers scrambled to find new venues. What those dark web users didn’t—and couldn’t—know: That chaos was planned. Dutch authorities had already seized Hansa, another another major dark web market, the previous month.

For weeks, they operated it as usual, quietly logging the user names, passwords, and activities of its visitors–including a massive influx of Alphabay refugees.

On Thursday, Europol and the US Department of Justice jointly announced the fruits of the largest-ever sting operation against the dark web’s black markets, including the seizure of AlphaBay, a market Europol estimates generated more than a billion dollars in sales of drugs, stolen data, and other illegal goods over its three years online. While Alpabay’s closure had previously been reported as an FBI operation, the agency has now confirmed that takedown, while Europol also revealed details of its tightly coordinated Hansa takeover.

With Hansa also shuttered as of Thursday, the dark web looks substantially diminished from just a few short weeks ago—and its denizens shaken by law enforcement’s deep intrusion into their underground economy.

“This is likely one of the most important criminal cases of the year,” attorney general Jeff Sessions said in a press conference Thursday morning. “Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity by ‘going dark.’ This case, pursued by dedicated agents and prosecutors, says you are not safe. You cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network. And we will prosecute you.”

The Sting

So far, neither Europol nor the Department of Justice has named any of the administrators, sellers, or customers from either Hansa or AlphaBay that they plan to indict. The FBI and DEA had sought the extradition from Thailand of one AlphaBay administrator, Canadian Alexandre Cazes after identifying him in an operation they called Bayonet. But Cazes was found hanged in a Bangkok jail cell last week in an apparent suicide.

Still, expect plenty of prosecutions to emerge from the double-takedown of Hansa and AlphaBay, given the amount of information Dutch police could have swept up in the period after Alphabay’s closure.

“They flocked to Hansa in their droves,” said Interpol director Rob Wainwright. “We recorded an eight-times increase in the number of new users on Hansa immediately following the takedown of Alphabay.” The influx was so large, in fact, that Hansa put up a notice just last week that it was no longer accepting new registrations, a mysterious development given that Dutch police controlled it at the time.

That surveillance means that law enforcement likely now has identifying details on an untold number of dark web sellers—and particularly buyers. Europol claims that it gathered 10,000 postal addresses of Hansa customers, and tens of thousands of their messages, from the operation, at least some of which were likely AlphaBay customers who had migrated to the site in recent weeks.

Though customers on dark web sites are advised to encrypt their addresses so that only the seller of the purchased contraband can read it, many don’t, creating a short trail of breadcrumbs to their homes for law enforcement when they seize the sites’ servers.”

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