Three Sentenced in Public Corruption Case

An Alabama legislator who was bribed by a corporation to represent the company’s interests—instead of his constituents’—is now serving prison time, and the two men who paid him will be serving time as well.

Former state representative Oliver Robinson, Jr., 58, agreed to a community outreach contract with a law firm that represented Drummond Company, Inc., a Birmingham, Alabama-based coal company. The contract paid Robinson $375,00 over two years. While the contract itself was not illegal, Drummond executive David Roberson and lawyer Joel Gilbert used it as a bribe to induce Robinson to take official action as a state legislator promoting the interests of the company he was secretly representing—a violation of public corruption law.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had previously informed a Drummond-owned company of its potential responsibility for environmental pollution in North Birmingham—a liability that could cost the company tens of millions of dollars. So Drummond, along with its attorneys, started a public relations campaign to oppose the EPA’s actions. The company and its representatives told local residents not to allow the EPA to test their soil and that their housing values would plummet if the EPA placed the community on its Superfund National Priorities List. Part of the overall strategy was the outreach contract with Robinson to help the company get those messages out.

In early February 2015, Robinson signed a letter (secretly authored by Gilbert) in his official legislative capacity to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission against the EPA’s actions. Later that month, Robinson signed the contract and received his first check from Gilbert’s law firm for $14,000. Four days later, he represented Drummond’s position at an Alabama Environmental Management Commission public meeting, where he claimed to be representing his constituents and did not disclose his financial relationship with the coal company or law firm.

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A Tennessee clinic swindled the military out of $65M. This is how it got caught

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. — Bill Schneid stood in his home office, holding a package of skin cream worth more than gold. He didn’t know exactly what he had stumbled on, but he was pretty sure it was illegal.

It was March 2015. A few weeks before, Schneid, 72, a curmudgeonly private investigator, had been snooping around Southern California military bases when a Marine he knew mentioned he had a strange source of side income.

The Marine was being paid to get medicine he didn’t need. A Tennessee doctor he had never met wrote him a medicinal cream prescription, which was being filled by a pharmacy in Utah. The military covered the bill and the Marine got a cash kickback from somebody. When the creams arrived in the mail, the Marine didn’t actually use them.

He was in it for the money, not the medicine, after all.

Suspicious, Schneid launched a ruse to investigate, persuading the Marine to reroute the shipments to his house. Soon, Schneid received a shoebox-sized parcel that held several tubes of cream about the same size and consistency as sunscreen that was supposedly used to treat pain and scars.

This medicine had been prescribed, supplied and delivered seemingly for no reason at all. Nobody needed it. Nobody wanted it. So what was the point?

“After the second delivery, I realized this was some kind of fraud,” Schneid said in an interview. “I believed there were about a dozen Marines involved, and they were being actively recruited to be prescribed this cream.

“It was a conspiracy, and it was growing, but I just didn’t know how huge.”

Today, court records make clear the enormity of the conspiracy. The scheme that Schneid stumbled upon in 2015 stretched from California to Tennessee, involving people and companies from at least four states. In Tennessee, two doctors and a nurse practitioner have pleaded guilty to defrauding a military insurance program, called Tricare, out of $65 million. At least two more suspects are still facing charges. Federal prosecutors also are attempting to seize swaths of East Tennessee farmland, a strip mall, and a large estate they argue was purchased with health care fraud profits.

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FBI Takes Victim-Centered Approach to Combating Trafficking

Late one night in April 2016, Antonio Hawkins noticed a crying teenage girl walking down the street in Houston, Texas. She was a runaway from out of state with nowhere to go, and he told her he would help her.

Instead, Hawkins brought the girl to Tennessee, where he spent two weeks trafficking the 15-year-old for sex in the Memphis area. He brutally beat her to keep her in line and stole all of her earnings. Hawkins was also trafficking three other women at that time, using violence and threats to control them as well.

“He recruited girls and women who were down on their luck,” said Special Agent Jaime Corman, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Memphis Field Office. “He told his victims he would take care of them, but he violently kept them in check and controlled every aspect of their lives.”

Instead of trafficking the young women online, as many pimps do today, he had them walking an area of Memphis known for prostitution. A Memphis police officer found her there and notified the FBI, who was able to assist her and help find and stop her trafficker.

While agents investigated the case, specialists from the FBI’s Victim Services Division helped the girl find resources to rebuild her life. Since then, she has found an apartment and a job, and she overcame her fear of Hawkins to testify against him at his trial.

“These guys target the most vulnerable—runaways, foster kids, kids who come from difficult circumstances,” Corman said. “They commit crimes against these girls, making them sell their bodies. We want to show these young women that there’s something else out there for them, and they don’t have to continue down this path.”

Last July, Hawkins was convicted of five sex trafficking charges, and in November, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Corman said the FBI works closely with local law enforcement to stop traffickers and help victims. Local police are often the first to interact with the victims, while the FBI brings national resources to these cases, which often span multiple states and jurisdictions. In this case, after being contacted by a local officer, the FBI helped not only track down the pimp but also manage the complexity of bringing in victims from other parts of the country to participate in his trial.

“Local law enforcement are the people who come in contact with these victims, and we count on them to recognize human trafficking and call us,” Corman said.

Although January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the FBI and its partners work to end human trafficking all year long. The FBI’s approach is a victim-centered one, working to get pimps off the streets and help the victims move forward with their lives. In addition to the investigative work, the Bureau’s Victim Services Division works with hundreds of victims of human trafficking each year—notifying them about the status of their offenders’ cases and connecting them with resources to unify them with their families, find jobs, find housing, obtain drug treatment if necessary, and more.

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Cyberstalking

Children and young adults seem particularly susceptible to sextortion—when a victim is threatened with the release of private and sensitive information unless sexual favors, nude photos, or other demands are met.

But two unrelated cyberstalking crimes committed months apart and hundreds of miles away from each other serve as a reminder of the dangers of compromising personal photos being in the wrong hands, no matter the age of the victim.

In Houston, Heriberto Latigo repeatedly used nude photos of his ex-girlfriend to coerce her to have sex with him. In Crescent, Oklahoma, Troy Allen Martin similarly blackmailed his victim for $50,000.

Both men were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison for their crimes under federal cyberstalking statutes. The harm they caused their victims, however, may never be undone. Such crimes are occurring more frequently, especially among younger victims.

Latigo not only demanded sex, he also sent his victim horrible images and threatening messages. He sent the nude photos to the victim’s sister and male co-workers, and created a disturbing Facebook page that included deeply personal information about the victim.

“It’s a violent crime; he just used cyber tools to carry it out,” said Special Agent Christopher Petrowski of the FBI’s Houston office, who worked the Latigo case.

Latigo’s victim approached local police several times. The case was complicated and the victim’s story changed a number of times, in part because of pressure from Latigo, Petrowski said, making it difficult for local authorities to help effectively. She turned to the FBI, visiting the Houston office in person in spring 2015.

“When someone walks in with a story like that, it’s very emotional and difficult to figure out right away,” Petrowski said. “They’re hurting. This went on for more than a year.”

It took some time for the FBI and federal prosecutors to determine that Latigo had likely violated federal cyberstalking laws. The FBI sent letters to social media companies to preserve certain records in order to prevent Latigo from covering his tracks. Agents also served search warrants, seizing computer equipment from his home.

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Financial Fraud

A 77-year-old former landfill owner and investment banker from Pennsylvania who came up with a surefire way to make money—by illegally charging high interest rates on loans made to those who could least afford them—will likely spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Charles Hallinan, dubbed by prosecutors as the “godfather of payday lending” because his tactics to circumvent state laws and hide his long-running scheme paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, recently received a 14-year federal prison sentence for his role in collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in short-term loans with interest rates that approached 800 percent.

Prosecutors portrayed Hallinan as a ruthless loan shark who enriched himself by trapping his victims in an endless cycle of debt. His scheme was simple: make small loans with fixed fees that borrowers agreed to pay back quickly, typically when their next payday arrived—hence, the name payday loans. A borrower might take out a $300 loan to cover an emergency car repair and agree to pay it back, along with a $90 fee, within two weeks. But if the loan was not repaid within that time, new fees were applied and the principal was not reduced.

For example, if a person borrowed $300 and agreed to pay a $90 fee with a two-week due date but failed to repay the loan for eight weeks, his or her fee would then be $360, and the original $300 loan would still be due.

“Anyone who didn’t have a desperate need for money would not take out one of these loans,” explained Special Agent Annette Murphy, who investigated the case from the FBI’s Philadelphia office. “People with limited resources were getting sucked into a cycle of paying fees and not paying down the principal.”

That was how Hallinan collected an astonishing amount of money from what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of low-income victims from around the country. According to court documents, Hallinan was in the payday loan business from at least 1997 to 2013. The documents also revealed that between 2007 and 2013, Hallinan loaned $422 million and collected $490 million in fees. “During that period alone,” Murphy said, “he netted $68 million.”

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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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Prolific Fraudster Sentenced to 40 Years

He was, in the words of the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting him, a “financial predator.” And the federal judge he recently stood before called his long-term fraud crime spree “outrageous” and “despicable,” noting the more than 500 victims ensnared by his latest scheme.

The individual in question is Harris Dempsey “Butch” Ballow, a Texas man who had seemingly made a career out of separating people from their hard-earned money through various financial scams—starting back in the 1980s. But that career has finally come to end: The 75-year-old Ballow was sentenced in May to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding investors in a Nevada company. He was also ordered to pay more than $37 million in restitution to those investors.

And according to FBI Houston Special Agent Kendall Hopper, who worked the case, what made this particular criminal scheme even worse was that Ballow had perpetrated it while he was a fugitive from justice hiding out in Mexico. “Ballow fled the United States in late 2004, right around the time he was scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on a previous federal conviction for fraud-related money laundering,” said Hopper, “but instead of keeping a low profile, he brazenly continued his criminal ways.”

In this most recent scheme that netted him the 40-year prison term, Ballow and co-conspirators were able to buy up the majority of the publicly traded shares of a Nevada company called E-SOL International Corporation and install fictitious people as company officers. At the time, E-SOL had almost no assets and conducted no business. Ballow then rebranded E-SOL as a holding company for a couple of phony businesses—of course controlled by him and his associates—and got to work soliciting investors.

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Violent Gang Leader Orders Eyewitness Murdered

On the evening of October 23, 2014, Douglas and Deborah London of York County, South Carolina—just across the border from North Carolina—were watching television in their home when the doorbell rang. When they opened the door, she was immediately shot in the head by a man standing outside, and her husband was shot multiple times. Their adult son, who was also present, made a frantic call to 911, but the couple died next to each other on the floor of their home.

As the York County Sheriff’s Office began to investigate the double homicide, they asked the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office for help.

In the coming months, the investigative team of FBI special agents and task force officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department uncovered a web of violence that stretched across state lines and beyond local prison cells.

Turned out that the Londons had been specifically targeted—they were the owners of a mattress store in Pineville, North Carolina that had been robbed at gunpoint by three men five months earlier. Jamell Cureton, the leader of the Valentine Bloods—a hood, or set, of the national and exceedingly violent United Blood Nation (UBN) gang—had gone into the store and pulled his gun on Douglas London, who had his own gun. The two exchanged gunfire, and Cureton was hit. Also at the scene that day were Nana Adoma, the lookout who was just inside the door; and David Fudge, the getaway driver in the car outside.

The three escaped and drove Cureton to a hospital, but all three were taken into custody shortly afterward by local police and faced state charges.

Realizing that Douglas London was the only eyewitness who could identify him in the mattress store robbery, Cureton—who was in state custody at the time—discussed the “elimination” of London with other gang members through a series of phone calls, letters, and in-person visits.

Valentine Bloods member Malcolm Hartley was to be the triggerman. He was driven to the Londons’ home by fellow gang member Briana Johnson, rang the couple’s doorbell, and murdered them both in cold blood. “And then,” said FBI Special Agent Chad Pupillo, “Johnson drove him back to Charlotte, where they met with other gang members, disposed of the evidence—including burying the murder weapon—and celebrated the victims’ murders.”

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IRS scam callers are going to jail for up to 20 years

With stiff sentences for 21 conspirators last week in the United States and a round of indictments in India, the Justice Department says it has broken up what appeared to be the nation’s first large-scale, multinational telephone fraud operation.

Over four years, more than 15,000 victims in the United States lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars to the sophisticated scam, and more than 50,000 individuals had their personal information misused, the department said Friday. The money was routed through call centers in India back to the ringleaders in eight states.

The fraudulent calls came suddenly and frequently while the scam was active from 2012 to 2016, according to court documents. A person posing as an Internal Revenue Service or immigration official was on the phone, threatening arrest, deportation or other penalties if the victims did not immediately pay their debts with prepaid cards or wire transfers.

The calls targeted the most vulnerable Americans, including immigrants and older people.

An 85-year old woman in San Diego paid $12,300 to people claiming to be I.R.S. employees who threatened her with arrest for tax violations.

A Chicago man paid $5,070 after being threatened with arrest and deportation by supposed state police and immigration authorities, the indictment said.

The words “U.S. Government” showed up as the caller I.D. on a number from which a New Hampshire woman was told to pay the I.R.S. $3,980 in payment cards, the court papers said.

In the announcement on Friday, the department said 21 people living in eight states — Illinois, Arizona, Florida, California, Alabama, Indiana, New Jersey and Texas — were sentenced last week in Houston to prison for up to 20 years for their role in the scheme.

Two other conspirators in Illinois were sentenced in February to between two years to just over four years for conspiracy, and a third person in Arizona was given probation in a plea agreement, it said.

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