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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Court Says Border Agents Need Suspicion to Search Cellphones

U.S. border authorities cannot search the cellphones of travelers without having some reason to believe a particular traveler has committed a crime, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in the case of a Turkish national who was arrested at Dulles International Airport after agents found firearm parts in his luggage.

A lower court judge refused to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of Hamza Kolsuz’s phone.

The 4th Circuit upheld that ruling and found that a forensic search of electronic devices requires “individualized suspicion” of wrongdoing. The court said agents had that suspicion because Kolsuz had made two previous attempts to smuggle weapons parts out of the U.S.

The Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to obtain warrants based on probable cause. But courts have made an exception for searches at airports and U.S. ports of entry, finding that the government can conduct warrantless border searches to protect national security, prevent transnational crime and enforce immigration and customs laws.

The American Civil Liberties had urged the 4th Circuit to find that the government should be required to obtain a warrant or at least a determination of probable cause that evidence of a crime is contained on electronic devices before agents can search them at airports.

The 4th Circuit said it did not have to reach the question of whether probable cause or a warrant is required. Reasonable suspicion is a lower legal standard.

Claire Gastanaga, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said the group is pleased that the appeals court “recognized correctly that border agents can’t conduct invasive searches on a traveler’s cell phone or other electronic devices just because the person is crossing the border.”

Last year, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit claiming warrantless border searches are unconstitutional because of the vast amount of private personal and business information stored on electronic devices.


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South Carolina’s correction facilities to have help from State Guardsmen

COLUMBIA, S.C. March 2 2018 –  Still unable to use jamming technology to stop smuggled cellphones, South Carolina’s corrections officials are enlisting State Guardsmen to help them combat the devices they call the top security threat behind bars.

On Tuesday, Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order allowing South Carolina State Guardsmen to help patrol the perimeters of the state’s prisons, watching for people trying to smuggle in contraband including cellphones.

The program is starting at one of the state’s high-security prisons, with the goal of expanding to other facilities. Bryan Stirling, the state’s Corrections director, said the program will allow him to move his officers back inside the prison, keeping institutions safer.

The partnership is the latest anti-cellphone step taken by Stirling, who has long argued that being able to jam signals from the smuggled phones — used by inmates to plan crimes and acts of violence — would be the best way to keep his employees and the public safer. Each year, Stirling’s agency seizes thousands of cellphones, smuggled inside prison by visitors, errant employees, and even delivered by drone.

Wireless service providers have said that, while they support efforts to cut out inmates’ illegal calls, they worry signal-blocking technologies could thwart legal calls.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation’s airwaves, has said it can’t permit jamming in state prisons, citing a decades-old law that prohibits interruption of the airwaves at state-level institutions. But the agency has been softening on the issue, thanks to persistent pleas from officials including Stirling and McMaster, as well as members of Congress including Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff.

Stirling recently met in Washington with his counterparts from other states, along with wireless industry and FCC officials, to discuss ways to potentially use technology like signal jamming to fight the phones.

While continuing to push for that ability, Stirling has implemented increased searches, scanners, and even used dogs specially trained to sniff out cellphones. Last month, he announced a partnership with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, paying Lott’s deputies to patrol woods near a maximum-security prison in Columbia, arresting people for trying to smuggle in contraband.

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Alabama lawmakers push to arm school security volunteers

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Any trained school employee or citizen volunteer could join an armed security force in Alabama schools under a bill lawmakers are considering — one of several such measures being proposed in U.S. states after the Florida high school massacre.

Rep. Allen Farley, a Republican and former law enforcement officer, filed the bill on Thursday, and it has been referred to a committee for consideration. It replicates a local law in north Alabama’s Franklin County that was twice vetoed by the governor before becoming law in 2013. Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, a Republican who sponsored the local law, said it was needed because rural schools couldn’t afford School Resource Officers (SROs) and the emergency response time could be 30 minutes.

“We wanted to give students out there in remote rural schools with no resource officer a fighting chance,” Morrow said at a news conference Tuesday.

It’s not clear whether the law is actually being implemented in that county, however. Morrow said he doesn’t know how many school employees or citizen volunteers are armed and the school district wouldn’t confirm numbers for security reasons.

Under the law, school principals can request a volunteer armed security force. They submit names of individuals who are vetted and trained by the sheriff’s department to become reserve deputy sheriffs.

Heath Grimes, superintendent of Russellville City Schools in Franklin County, said not all principals are familiar with the law and none in the city schools he oversees had requested a security force because they have school resource officers. He originally opposed the local law but now supports an individual school’s decision to arm a security force.

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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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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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