5 charged in human trafficking case after 18 immigrants are rescued in Houston

(CNN) Houston police arrested five men in a human trafficking investigation for allegedly holding 18 Latin American immigrants for ransom, police said.

The suspects face multiple charges, including engaging in organized crime by kidnapping, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Friday.

The investigation started June 5 after a family told police a relative was being held against his will. Kidnappers were demanding $4,700 for the man’s release, in addition to $300 that had been paid to someone in Mexico to help bring him into the country, police said in a criminal complaint.

The kidnappers told the family that the man would be killed if the money was not paid, the complaint said.

Officers responded to where they believed the victim was held, and they arrested several suspects and rescued two victims, Acevedo said.

Guns, cash and cocaine recovered

Police learned of a “stash house” with more victims and found 16 more victims in “deplorable conditions,” he said.

“Our investigation determined that women were held captive and sexually assaulted for 25 days,” he said. The victims were taken to hospitals after they were rescued.
Detectives also recovered guns, more than $10,000, and 19 grams of cocaine, police said.

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What It Costs to Be Smuggled Across the U.S. Border

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Shortly before dawn one Sunday last August, a driver in an S.U.V. picked up Christopher Cruz at a stash house in this border city near the Gulf of Mexico. The 22-year-old from El Salvador was glad to leave the one-story building, where smugglers kept bundles of cocaine and marijuana alongside their human cargo, but he was anxious about what lay ahead.

The driver deposited Mr. Cruz at an illegal crossing point on the edge of the Rio Grande. A smuggler took a smartphone photograph to confirm his identity and sent it using WhatsApp to a driver waiting to pick him up on the other side of the frontier when — if — he made it across.

The nearly 2,000-mile trip had already cost Mr. Cruz’s family more than $6,000 and brought him within sight of Brownsville, Tex. The remaining 500 miles to Houston — terrain prowled by the United States Border Patrol as well as the state and local police — would set them back another $6,500.

It was an almost inconceivable amount of money for someone who earned just a few dollars a day picking coffee beans back home. But he wasn’t weighing the benefits of a higher-paying job. He was fleeing violence and what he said was near-certain death at the hands of local gangs.

“There’s no other option,” Mr. Cruz said. “The first thought I had was, ‘I just need to get out of here at whatever cost.’”

The stretch of southwest border where he intended to cross has become the epicenter of the raging battle over the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. One clear consequence of the tightening American border and the growing perils getting there is that more and more desperate families are turning to increasingly sophisticated smuggling operations to get relatives into the United States.

Mr. Cruz’s story provides an unusually detailed anatomy of the price of the journey. The money paid for a network of drivers who concealed him in tractor-trailers and minibuses, a series of houses where he hid out, handlers tied to criminal organizations who arranged his passage, and bribes for Mexican police officers to look the other way as he passed.

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Border Patrol expands fingerprinting of migrant children

HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. border authorities say they’ve started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 years old and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy intended to restrict what can be collected from migrant youths.

A Border Patrol official said this week that the agency had begun a pilot program to collect the biometrics of children with the permission of the adults accompanying them, though he did not specify where along the border it has been implemented.

The Border Patrol also has a “rapid DNA pilot program” in the works, said Anthony Porvaznik, the chief patrol agent in Yuma, Arizona, in a video interview published by the Epoch Times newspaper.

Spokesmen for the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security did not return several messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on both programs.

The Border Patrol says that in the last year, it’s stopped roughly 3,100 adults and children fraudulently posing as families so they can be released into the U.S. quickly rather than face detention or rapid deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security has also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

“Those are kids that are being rented, for lack of a better word,” Porvaznik said.

But the Border Patrol has not publicly identified anyone arrested in a “child recycling” scheme or released data on how many such schemes have been uncovered. Advocates say they’re worried that in the name of stopping fraud, agents might take personal information from children that could be used against them later.

“Of course child trafficking exists,” said Karla Vargas, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. But she warned against implementing “a catch-all” policy that could reduce the rights of people who are legally seeking asylum.

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US government to give DNA tests at border to check for fraud

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin voluntary DNA testing in cases where officials suspect that adults are fraudulently claiming to be parents of children as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The decision comes as Homeland Security officials are increasingly concerned about instances of child trafficking as a growing number of Central American families cross the border, straining resources to the breaking point. Border authorities also recently started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy that restricts what can be collected.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t say where the DNA pilot program would begin, but they did say it would start as early as next week and would be very limited.

The DNA testing will happen once officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which manages border enforcement, refer possible instances of fraud to ICE, which usually manages interior enforcement. But teams from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations were recently deployed to the southern border to help investigate human smuggling efforts.

The rapid DNA test will take about two hours and will be obtained using a cheek swab from both the adult and child. The parent is to swab the child, officials said.

The testing will be destroyed and won’t be used as evidence in any criminal case, they said.

Generally, government officials determine a family unit to be a parent with a child. Fraud would occur if a person is claiming to be a parent when he or she is another type of relative, or if there was no relationship at all. ICE officials said they have identified 101 possible instances of fraudulent families since April 18 and determined one-third were fraudulent.

Since the beginning of the budget year, they say they have uncovered more than 1,000 cases and referred 45 cases for prosecution. The fraud could also include the use of false birth certificates or documents, and adults accused of fraud aren’t necessarily prosecuted for it; some are prosecuted for illegal entry or other crimes.

Homeland Security officials have also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

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Chicago-area man indicted on charges of smuggling, transporting and harboring illegal aliens

ROCKFORD, Ill. — An Illinois man was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on several counts of illegally bringing aliens to the U.S., transporting them and harboring them for his personal financial gain.

This indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr., Northern District of Illinois, and Special Agent in Charge James M. Gibbons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The DeKalb (Illinois) Police Department assisted in this investigation.

Luis Alfredo Delacruz, 49, from DeKalb, Illinois, was indicted on the following charges:

- two counts of bringing aliens into the United States at a place other than a designated port of entry for commercial advantage or private financial gain;
- two counts of bringing aliens into the U.S. at a place other than a designated port of entry;
- two counts of transporting illegal aliens within the U.S. for commercial advantage or private financial gain; and,
- eight counts of harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain.

As alleged in the indictment, in November 2015 and April 2016, Delacruz brought into the United States two aliens who had not received prior official authorization to enter. Delacruz did not bring them through immigration at a designated port of entry, the indictment states.

It is further alleged that on June 1, 2018, Delacruz illegally harbored eight illegal aliens in buildings or other places through employment at Alfredo’s Iron Works in Cortland. Delacruz allegedly harbored these aliens for commercial advantage and his own financial gain.

Each count of bringing aliens into the United States at a place other than a designated port of entry for commercial advantage or private financial gain carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum of 10 years.

Each count of bringing aliens to the U.S. at a place other than a designated port of entry carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Each count of transporting illegal aliens within the U.S. for commercial advantage or private financial gain, and each count of harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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Fraudsters Told Prisoners’ Families They Could Buy Sentence Reductions

The sales pitch was enticing: Families with loved ones in prison could hire investigators to provide information to the government that would result in a reduction in their family members’ sentences.

It sounded too good to be true—because it was.

A group of fraudsters who made this pitch to more than 20 inmates’ families were paid more than $4 million, but neither the prisoners nor their relatives ever received any benefit.

It is possible under certain circumstances for incarcerated individuals to get a sentence reduction for providing information to the government, but they never have to pay for that. Also, those cases typically involve an incarcerated person providing information regarding their own co-defendants.

Alvin Warrick and several co-conspirators set up a company called Private Services in Texas, but the word—and the scam—quickly spread across the country. Warrick and his associates communicated primarily through email and phone and used pseudonyms in an attempt to cover their tracks. They told the families their investigators were making undercover drug buys and that those “investigations” would lead to sentence reductions for their family members. They repeatedly lied to their clients, telling them that the investigations were ongoing and working their way through the legal system.

“That is just not how the system works, but many of these families didn’t know that,” said Special Agent Tracy Masington, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Houston Field Office along with the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Masington noted that at least one victim was in another country trying to get his son out of prison. Another victim was an elderly woman who, on her deathbed, made her daughter promise she’d continue paying Private Services to try to free her son from prison after her death.

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Evaluating the Use of Automated Facial Recognition Technology

Academics at Cardiff University have conducted the first independent academic evaluation of Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) technology across a variety of major policing operations.

The project by the Universities’ Police Science Institute evaluated South Wales Police’s deployment of Automated Facial Recognition across several major sporting and entertainment events in Cardiff city over more than a year, including the UEFA Champion’s League Final and the Autumn Rugby Internationals.

The study found that while AFR can enable police to identify persons of interest and suspects where they would probably not otherwise have been able to do so, considerable investment and changes to police operating procedures are required to generate consistent results.

Researchers employed a number of research methods to develop a rich picture and systematically evaluate the use of AFR by police across multiple operational settings. This is important as previous research on the use of AFR technologies has tended to be conducted in controlled conditions. Using it on the streets and to support ongoing criminal investigations introduces a range of factors impacting the effectiveness of AFR in supporting police work.

The technology works in two modes: Locate is the live, real-time application that scans faces within CCTV feeds in an area. It searches for possible matches against a pre-selected database of facial images of individuals deemed to be persons of interest by the police.

Identify, on the other hand, takes still images of unidentified persons (usually captured via CCTV or mobile phone camera) and compares these against the police custody database in an effort to generate investigative leads. Evidence from the research found that in 68 percent of submissions made by police officers in the Identify mode, the image was not of sufficient quality for the system to work.

Over the period of the evaluation, however, the accuracy of the technology improved significantly and police got better at using it. The Locate system was able to correctly identify a person of interest around 76 percent of the time. A total of 18 arrests were made in ‘live Locate deployments during the evaluation, and in excess of 100 people were charged following investigative searches during the first 8-9 months of the AFR Identify operation (end of July 2017-March 2018).

The report suggests that it is more helpful to think of AFR in policing as ‘Assisted Facial Recognition’ rather than a fully ‘Automated Facial Recognition’ system. ‘Automated’ implies that the identification process is conducted solely by an algorithm, when in fact, the system serves as a decision-support tool to assist human operators in making identifications. Ultimately, decisions about whether a person of interest and an image match are made by police operators. It is also deployed in uncontrolled environments, and so is impacted by external factors including lighting, weather and crowd flows.

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Woman in her 80s caught smuggling $870,000 worth of heroin

An older woman with United States citizenship attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday with 92 pounds of heroin in her car, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The 81-year-old woman attempted to enter the U.S. at the Tecate port of entry — located southeast of San Diego — with the drugs, which have an estimated street value of over $870,000, CBP reports.

The drugs were hidden inside a 2011 Chrysler 200 and were found by a K-9 team, according to a news release.

Cartels are known to manipulate people into carrying drugs over the border.

“CBP officers are aware of the many tactics used by the cartels and remain ever vigilant to stop anyone attempting to smuggle narcotics,” the release quotes Pete Flores, CBP director of field operations in San Diego.

One of those tactics: Drug cartels sometimes deceive elderly people into unknowingly carrying drugs across international borders, luring them with false promises and lies. The growing trend was documented in a 2016 New York Times report.

The woman was arrested and turned over to Homeland security officers. Her vehicle was seized, according to CBP.

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After 12 Years on the Run, Joseph Dibee Has Been Apprehended

Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, one of two remaining fugitives linked to a domestic terrorism group that carried out dozens of criminal acts in the late 1990s, ranging from vandalism to arson, has been apprehended.

The 50-year-old fugitive, a U.S. citizen who had been on the run for 12 years, made an initial court appearance in Portland, Oregon today. He faces additional federal felony charges in California and Washington State.

Federal authorities learned that Dibee was traveling through Central America on his way to Russia with a planned stop in Cuba, according to court documents. With assistance from Cuban authorities, he was detained there before boarding a plane bound for Russia and was returned to the United States.

Dibee fled the U.S. in December 2005. In 2006, he was indicted along with 11 co-conspirators as part of Operation Backfire, a long-running FBI domestic terrorism investigation. The conspirators, known as The Family, have been linked to more than 40 criminal acts between 1995 and 2001, including arson and vandalism, causing more than $45 million in damages. The Family’s 1998 arson attack on a ski resort in Vail, Colorado—which caused estimated damages of $26 million—was its most notorious act.

“The crimes they committed were serious and dangerous,” said Special Agent Tim Suttles, who has been working the Operation Backfire investigation from the FBI’s Portland Division since 2004. “Just because time passes doesn’t mean the FBI forgets. We are very gratified to have Dibee in custody.”

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Defense Security Is Overhauling the Entire Security Clearance Process

The Defense Security Service is preparing to take over all background investigations for civilian and defense agencies and doesn’t want to inherit stale and potentially broken processes, officials told Nextgov.

The Defense Department office is currently reviewing white papers obtained through an other transaction authority solicitation seeking innovative methods for conducting background checks of current and potential federal employees who need security clearances.

The project is not about the technology behind background investigations process but rather how to innovate the process itself—from when the SF-86 form is filled out to when the clearance decision is made by the agency—according to Tara Petersen, head of DSS Office of Acquisitions, and her deputy, Stephen Heath.

“We’re really looking broader at the process itself,” Petersen said. “We’re looking to prototype a process.”

“Don’t think of the prototype like a widget,” Heath said. “It’s looking at that whole process: Where can we improve on that, where can we potentially save costs, where can we save time and where can we bring technology advancements into the process that are already out there in the commercial marketplace?”

After the 2015 data breach of Office of Personnel Management that exposed the personal information on more than 20 million current and former federal employees, background investigation duties were transferred to a new agency, the National Background Investigation Bureau with technical support delegated to the Defense Department.

But the security clearance backlog grew to more than 700,000 and the Government Accountability Office added the investigations process to its High-Risk List this year. Congress also passed legislation last year requiring DSS to take over all defense clearances work currently done by NBIB. Now, the administration wants to shift responsibility for all government background checks—defense and civilian—over to the Defense Department. While the lawmakers work that out, DSS is getting ready.

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