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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiretap investigation

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

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

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Restricted banking access spell a boom for security business

Industry reaction has been mixed since Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidelines on enforcing marijuana laws Jan. 4. Some entrepreneurs express concern and fear, while others carry on with business as usual.

But one thing insiders agree on is the move will make it more difficult for cannabis companies to find and secure banking relationships, without which businesses are left with a ton of cash on hand.

Despite being legal for recreational or medicinal use in more than half the country, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug and therefore illegal at the federal level. In 2013, Barack Obama’s administration issued the Cole Memorandum, which essentially directed federal law enforcement to allow businesses that are legal under state laws to operate. The memo also signaled banks could do business with these companies so long as they were in compliance with federal guidelines, although many have been hesitant.

In rescinding this policy, Sessions said future prosecutions of businesses and individuals who sell pot in states where it has been legalized will be left up to individual U.S. attorneys.

“The real sticking point here will be banking. Before, banks were very reluctant to do business based on the loosely defined Cole Memo,” said Matt Karnes, founder of industry analyst firm GreenWave Advisors. “This raises more uncertainty, and I think there is going to be a pullback.”

In a November 2017 report, GreenWave found that about 5 percent, or 368, of all financial institutions in the U.S. are on record with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), but only 1 percent are actually servicing these businesses. Many are credit unions and local and community banks. Karnes also said many marijuana businesses conceal the true nature of their business when establishing relationships, and once they are found out, the account is shut down.

“In the last report from FinCEN, 3,800 accounts were opened, but 3,700 were shut down. It’s very short-lived,” he said.

A report from Reuters Wednesday also indicated the action taken by Sessions came as a surprise to FinCEN, which was flooded with calls from banks on how to proceed. CNBC reached out to both the Department of Justice and FinCEN for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

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Violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), results in lawsuits

Chicago IL Jan 12 2018 A wave of class action lawsuits has been filed alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a statute aimed at regulating how companies use information based on “biometric identifiers” such as fingerprints and retina scans. Violating BIPA can be costly, so employers operating within Illinois should review their business practices to determine whether they are using “biometric information” and plan accordingly.

Although many of the early lawsuits filed under BIPA targeted technology companies for their use of facial recognition software, recent litigation has focused on employers that use fingerprint-scanning technology to allow employees to clock in and clock out. BIPA regulates a private entity’s ability to collect, store and disclose biometric information. The statute defines biometric information as that based on individual identifiers such as fingerprints, retina scans or voiceprints. As the statute explains, these cannot be changed, unlike other unique identifiers such as Social Security numbers.

Citing the public’s concern with the use of biometrics for business transactions and the “heightened risk of identity theft” biometric information entails, the Illinois legislature sought to protect individual privacy and encourage private entities to bolster information security by passing BIPA in 2008. The statute flew under the radar until the first surge of class action lawsuits in 2015. These private actions picked up steam in the latter half of 2017, with dozens of new class action suits filed since July. And it’s easy to see why the plaintiffs’ bar has taken notice: The penalties associated with BIPA range from $1,000 to $5,000 per violation and include attorneys’ fees.

Fortunately for employers, compliance with BIPA is fairly straightforward. At minimum, entities that use biometric information must:

Adopt a written policy with a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the information, and make this policy available to the public.

Obtain informed, written consent from any employee whose biometric information is obtained.

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Feds crack down on birth tourism at ‘maternity hotels’

Federal Homeland Security agents raided 20 alleged “maternity hotels” in Southern California where pregnant Chinese women pay tens of thousands of dollars to live to ensure a “made in America” baby, reports said.

The feds raided locations in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties on Tuesday, targeting three competing birth-tourism schemes, officials told NBC News, which was on the scene of one of the raids.

One of the properties was the ultra-deluxe Carlyle building in Irvine, California, which housed pregnant women and new moms for fees ranging between $40,000 and $80,000 to ensure their children would have American citizenship, the outlet reported.

“I am doing this for the education of the next generation,” one of the women told NBC News.

None of the moms or moms-to-be were arrested. Police treated them as material witnesses and paramedics were standing by during the raids in case any of the women went into labor.

It’s not illegal to have a child in the US while in the country with a tourist visa, but lying to obtain the visa is illegal.

“If you lie about your reasons for coming here, that’s visa fraud,” Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Los Angeles, told NBC News.

Cops focused their efforts on the ringleaders behind the scheme. Court papers allege the fraudsters pocketed hundreds of thousands of tax-free dollars to help Chinese nationals get visas and a pampered life once they arrived, up until their delivery date in an American hospital.

The organizers allegedly used a website to attract customers, drawing in expecting mothers with the attractive benefits of a child with US citizenship: 13 years of free education, low-cost college financial aid, less pollution and a path for the entire family to emigrate when the child turns 18.

The women were advised on what lies to tell to obtain a tourist visa; how to fly through Hawaii, Las Vegas or Korea to avoid the suspicions of immigration officers at Los Angeles International Airport; and how to disguise their pregnancy during their trip, court documents allege.

The women’s handlers escorted them to doctors’ visits and trips to restaurants and shops, the court papers say. One agent followed one of the suspects to Target and Babies R Us.

While birth-tourism schemes are nothing new, investigators believe the practice is growing, NBC reported. Court papers cited a study that found 40,000 children are born to women in the US on a travel visa each year.

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U.S. bars drones over nuclear sites for security reasons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it will bar drone flights over seven major U.S. nuclear sites, including Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The move is the latest in a series of growing restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles over U.S. sites that have national security implications.

The new restrictions begin Dec. 29 and include the Hanford Site in Washington State, Idaho National Laboratory, Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina, Pantex Site in Texas and the Y-12 National Security Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The FAA said it is considering additional requests from other federal security agencies to bar drones.

Earlier this year, the FAA banned drone flights over 133 U.S. military facilities. The Pentagon said in August that U.S. military bases could shoot down drones that endanger aviation safety or pose other threats.

The FAA also banned drone flights over 10 U.S. landmarks in September, including the Statue of Liberty in New York and Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, at the request of national security and law enforcement agencies.

It separately barred drone flights over the USS Constitution in Boston, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. The list also includes Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, Hoover Dam in Nevada and Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said a September collision between a small civilian drone and a U.S. Army helicopter was caused by the drone operator’s failure to see the helicopter because he was intentionally flying the drone out of visual range.

The incident between a U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter and a DJI Phantom 4 drone near Staten Island, New York occurred as concerns mount over the rising number of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace.

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Drone pilot arrested after multiple NFL stadium incidents

A California man was arrested Sunday for flying a drone over two NFL stadiums and attempting to drop anti-media pamphlets into the crowd.

Tracy Mapes, a 55-year-old Sacramento resident, was cited and released by Santa Clara police for flying the drone in violation of a local municipal code, department spokesperson Dan Moreno told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

The drone appeared at Levi’s Stadium during the second quarter of the San Francisco 49ers’ 24-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and was later seen over Oakland Coliseum, where the Oakland Raiders were playing the Denver Broncos.

Moreno said the message on the leaflets was “anti-local news media, and TV news stations specifically.” The charge was a misdemeanor, he said.

There is also an ongoing federal investigation and Mapes may face additional charges, according to Moreno, because the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits the flying of drones within five miles of an airport. Both Levi’s Stadium and Oakland Coliseum are within that range.

The San Francisco Chronicle added that the drone was a relatively ineffective messenger because “most of the drone-dropped leaflets were carried away by the win.

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‘Hacker-for-hire’ cases going federal in Minnesota

“In the first Minnesota case to address a new and growing form of cybercrime, federal prosecutors have charged a former state resident with employing “hackers-for-hire” to sabotage the website of a local business.

The case reflects concern among law enforcement officials nationwide that hackers ranging from disgruntled ex-employees to enemy nation states are ramping up attacks on an ever-expanding array of personal digital devices connected to the web.

Prosecutors say John Kelsey Gammell, 46, paid hacking services to inflict a year’s worth of “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks to bring down websites affiliated with Washburn Computer Group, a Monticello business where he used to work.

DDoS attacks overwhelm a network with data, blocking access for legitimate users and even knocking web services offline. Washburn, a point-of-sale system repair company, told prosecutors that Gammell’s attacks cost it about $15,000.

Authorities say Gammell didn’t stop there: He is accused of paying $19.99 to $199.99 in monthly payments to try to bring down web networks that included those of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, Hennepin County and several banks.

“As a society that is increasingly reliant on network-connected devices, these types of cyberattacks pose a serious threat to individuals, businesses, and even our nation’s critical infrastructure,” Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Brooker in Minneapolis said, speaking generally about the new forms of crime.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported more than $11 million in losses to victims of DDoS attacks last year.

“We have a growing trend where the sophistication of the dark web and the sophistication of certain professional hackers to provide resources is allowing individuals — and not just experienced individuals — to conduct hacks and conduct DDoS,” said FBI Supervisory special agent Michael Krause, who leads the FBI’s cyber squad in Minneapolis.

Devices such as digital video recorders and home appliances recently have been marshaled by cyber criminals to carry out massive operations like last year’s flooding of a prominent web infrastructure company that affected sites like Amazon and Netflix. In a separate attack, in June 2016, the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s website went down for 10 days, alarming local officials because so many government services have at least some nexus to the web.

“A lot of people think it’s just a nuisance,” said Chris Buse, Minnesota’s chief information security officer. “But it’s not. If you look at what government does — basic critical services — if those services don’t continue, people can literally die.”

Minnesota IT Services, which administers the state’s computer systems, said state networks field an average of more than 3 million attempted cyberattacks daily. Officials say the state still hasn’t experienced a major attack on par with a 2012 South Carolina breach that exposed personal data for 3.7 million residents and cost the state $20 million.

But with hackers able to take over hundreds of millions of unsecured devices worldwide to flood networks in a single DDoS attack, security professionals are trying to stay ahead of the threat.

“In our environment it’s pretty clear now that every organization needs some sophisticated and expensive tools to mitigate these DDoS attacks,” Buse said.

‘We will do much business’

The government’s case against Gammell underlines the difficulty of linking any suspect to the daily torrent of attacks often carried out by far-afield hackers who advertise their services online. Authorities might not have caught Gammell without tracing taunting e-mails he allegedly sent after attacks.

One of his preferred hacking-for-hire services was called vDOS, which was shuttered last year after the arrests of two alleged operators in Israel. The FBI obtained files from vDOS that included records of Gammell’s purchases, attacks and communications with vDOS administrators and customers.

One day in 2015, according to a criminal complaint, Gammell eagerly wrote the company boasting of his success in blowing past a “DDoS mitigation” program to kick an unnamed network offline for at least two days. “We will do much business,” Gammell allegedly wrote. “Thank you for your outstanding product.”

According to an FBI agent’s sworn affidavit, Gammell sought out seven sites offering DDoS-for-hire services and paid monthly fees to three to carry out web attacks from July 2015 to September 2016.

Charges are also expected out of Colorado and New Mexico for firearms offenses stemming from searches in the case.

Appearing in a Minneapolis courtroom last week, Gammell confirmed that he rejected a plea offer that would have resolved all charges and capped his possible prison sentence at a mandatory 15 to 17 years. A federal magistrate is reviewing motions filed by Gammell’s attorney, Rachel Paulose, to dismiss the case or suppress evidence.

On Monday, Paulose told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Schultz that evidence the FBI obtained from an unnamed researcher should be thrown out and suggested the data could itself have been retrieved by hacking.

Paulose, who did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story, also argued in pretrial motions that Gammell didn’t personally attack Washburn.

“The government has failed to charge a single one of those ‘cyber hit men’ services, named and evidently well known to the government,” Paulose wrote. “Instead the government’s neglect has allowed the professional cyber hit men for hire to skip off merrily into the night.”

Addressing Schultz last week, Paulose described the attacks on Washburn as “essentially a prank on a dormant site not doing business.”

“Even if Mr. Gammell thinks it’s a prank,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Rank replied, “it’s a criminal prank.”

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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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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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