Fingerprint Technology Helps Solve Cold Case

After the abduction and sexual assault of a young girl in the small community of Cairnbrook, Pennsylvania, law enforcement searched tirelessly for the perpetrator as the community feared for children’s safety.

But for nearly two decades, the offender eluded the FBI and the Pennsylvania State Police—until earlier this year.

After the September 19, 1999 assault, the state police, with FBI assistance, chased down every lead. They pulled over cars that matched the description the victim provided, searched through sex offender registries, and conducted forensic interviews with the victim.

Despite these efforts, the assailant could not be identified. But when the victim guided police to the exact location of her assault, police found key pieces of evidence, including a paper bag with the offender’s fingerprint.

Examiners at the FBI’s Laboratory tested the evidence, but there was no match on the partial fingerprint—another dead end for investigators.

Even after transferring to another job in the department about 10 years after the crime occurred, Pennsylvania State Trooper Jeffrey Brock continued to investigate this case for another decade. “There was a sense of duty to finish the investigation,” Brock said. “Any investigator has that one case they wish they’d finished, and that was mine. I just kept working on it. I wanted to get justice for that girl and her family.”

In trying to find new approaches to move the investigation forward, Brock asked a now-retired FBI agent for advice. As one of the investigative steps they tried, the agent had the fingerprint re-checked in fall 2018.

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Monthlong Sweep Targeted Sex Traffickers, Recovery of Minors

A month long FBI-led operation to identify and arrest sex traffickers and recover child victims has resulted in dozens of arrests across the country and the identification and recovery of more than 100 juveniles.

The initiative during the month of July, dubbed Operation Independence Day, relied on more than 400 law enforcement agencies working on FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces in each of the Bureau’s 56 field offices. The sweep included undercover operations and has led to the opening of five dozen federal criminal investigations. Agents and analysts at FBI Headquarters and in the field worked closely with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to identify young runaways, missing kids, and juveniles who may have been subjected to human trafficking.

In all, 103 juveniles were identified or recovered and 67 suspected traffickers were arrested. The sweep resulted in 60 new federal investigations.

“The FBI is fiercely focused on recovering child victims and arresting the sex traffickers who exploit them,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “Through operations like this, the FBI helps child victims escape the abusive life of sex trafficking.”

In past years, the FBI initiated weeklong coordinated nationwide sweeps under the name Operation Cross Country to arrest traffickers and recover underage victims. This year, FBI field offices had a longer time window to plan and execute operations as part of the national initiative, with the goal being to develop richer leads and intelligence, and more robust cases.

“We are here to rescue children, and we are here to build good cases against traffickers,” said Jeanette Milazzo, a special agent who led one of the Houston Field Office’s task force operations in early July. In that operation, undercover officers from the Houston Police Department scanned social media and escort sites looking for what appeared to be juveniles advertising for commercial sex. They set up fake dates, met at pre-arranged locations, and then brought individuals (and their pimps in some cases) in for interviews to determine if they were underage or trafficked or if they could help identify other victims or traffickers. In each case, FBI victim specialists ensure the individuals understand their situation and are made aware of the resources available to help them.

“If we have developed enough rapport with the victim, we build a case against their trafficker and hopefully charge them in federal court,” Milazzo said.

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Military Fraudster Sentenced

The charity sounded like a worthy and patriotic cause—an organization that would send military families on Disney vacations and pay travel costs for families to see their loved ones graduate from boot camp in South Carolina and California.

But the charity, known as “Marines and Mickey” was simply a front that fraudster John Shannon Simpson used to enrich himself. Thanks to an FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation, Simpson is now serving a prison sentence.

“Simpson presented himself as a retired master sergeant in the Marines, and people believed him. They had no reason to question a U.S. Marine,” said Special Agent Tiffany Baker, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Bluffton Resident Agency, which is part of the Columbia Field Office.

In fact, Simpson was actually a lower-level rank than he claimed, and he was court-martialed for going AWOL.

But claiming to be associated with the Marine Corps gave Simpson credibility, and donors gave nearly half a million dollars to his charity from its founding in 2014 until 2016.

Simpson befriended a Gold Star mother who had lost her son in a shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2015. Simpson and the Gold Star mother collaborated on fundraisers for Marines and Mickey.

People who knew the mother became suspicious of Marines and Mickey and dug into Simpson’s military record. A friend of hers contacted the FBI, who began looking into the charity.

While the purported charity claimed that 100 percent of funds were directed to help military families, investigators found that less than 20 percent of the donations were actually used for that purpose. Most of the money was simply pocketed for Simpson’s daily living expenses.

“Simpson even hosted a fundraiser that was to send a Marine’s child who was sick with cancer to Disney,” Baker said. “In fact, he did not direct any money toward that family.”

But Simpson was a good salesman. He knew enough about the military to ingratiate himself with Marines and their families. And for a long time, no one, including his volunteers, had any reason to question his military record or how he was spending the money he raised.

“It’s such an affront to the Marine Corps values that someone had the audacity to take advantage of their service members for financial gain—while pretending to have those same military values himself when he did not,” Baker said. “It’s just a really egregious case.”

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Google is not your friend, and with its Chrome browser and Maps, it could be your enemy

Depending how you feel about having your privacy being violated and getting scammed, you’re not going to like this latest information about Google.

Google Maps, which so many of us use to find locations and shop for services, is corrupted with false businesses, some of them scams, according to a lengthy Wall Street Journal investigation.

And Google Chrome, the Internet browser many of us switched to because it was faster and easier to use than Internet Explorer, is so cookie-friendly that the Washington Post calls it “surveillance software.”

There are ways around this.

Google Maps

First, let’s look at Google Maps.

Let’s say you need an emergency locksmith or a garage door repair company and you search Google. A map comes up as part of the search with virtual pins.

Only some of those pins aren’t for real businesses. They’re fronts for companies that ship leads to other companies, or, worse, they’re scam companies.

If you follow The Watchdog closely, this is not news to you. Two years ago, I shared the story of Shareen Grayson of Preston Hollow who unknowingly invited a convicted thief in to fix her freezer.

She found him on Google. A leads company had hijacked the phone number of a legitimate appliance business and passed it on to the thief.

Sad to say that two years later, Google hasn’t shut this scam down.

“The scams are profitable for nearly everyone involved,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Google included. Consumers and legitimate businesses end up the losers.”

WSJ calls this “chronic deceit.”

Hundreds of thousands of false listings are posted to Google Maps and accompanying ads each month, the newspaper found.

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Fraudsters Took Advantage of Injured Workers

Injured workers in California thought they were calling a hotline to help them navigate the workers’ compensation system. What they got instead was more pain. Rather than getting the help they needed, callers were set up with a group of corrupt doctors, attorneys, and patient brokers who lined their own pockets at the expense of injured workers.

For years, dozens of marketers, doctors, lawyers, and medical service providers conspired to buy and sell patients—and their individual body parts—like commodities for insurance and workers’ compensation purposes. The San Diego-based fraud ring cheated the California workers’ compensation system and private insurance out of more than $200 million. They also subjected patients to unnecessary, and sometimes painful, medical procedures and corrupted the doctor-patient relationship.

Yet thanks to an investigation by the FBI, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, and the California Department of Insurance, many of the fraudsters have been convicted and sentenced.

The network preyed predominantly on seasonal, migrant workers who travel back and forth between California and Mexico. Their work in heavy labor industries, such as agriculture, can sometimes result in injuries.

Fermin Iglesias and Carlos Arguello set up various patient recruiting and scheduling companies in Central America and Mexico to direct patients to medical service providers. Arguello operated several patient recruitment entities, including one called Centro Legal. Through billboards, flyers, advertisements, and business cards, Centro Legal recruited workers to seek workers’ compensation benefits. When an injured worker called the number on the billboard or card, a scheduling company took over to maximize the profits from that individual worker.

“The corrupt attorneys and doctors had the same goal—to bill as much as possible,” said Special Agent Jeffrey Horner, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “The attorneys wanted to get the largest possible settlement by any means necessary, which was traditionally based on total medical billing. The doctors wanted to make as much money as possible, without regard for the well-being of their patients.

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US Customs and Border Protection reportedly suspends subcontractor over cyberattack

The US Customs and Border Protection has reportedly suspended a subcontractor following a “malicious cyberattack” in May that caused it to lose photos of travelers into and out of the country. Perceptics, which makes license plate scanners and other surveillance equipment for CBP, has been suspended from contracting with the federal government, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

On June 12, CBP had confirmed that in violation of its policies, a subcontractor had “transferred copies of license plate images and traveler images collected by CBP to the subcontractor’s company network.” The subcontractor’s network was then compromised by a cyberattack that affected under 100,000 people who entered and exited the US in a vehicle through several specific lanes at one land border during a 1.5-month period.

Federal records showed CBP officials citing “evidence of conduct indicating a lack of business honesty or integrity,” Washington Post reported.

Passports and travel document photos weren’t taken in the cyberattack, but it was reported later in June that the hackers stole sensitive CBP data from Perceptics, including government agency contracts, budget spreadsheets and even Powerpoint presentations.

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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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Cellebrite Cracks All iOS Devices, Company Announces

The “arms race” of mobile forensics – ever-tougher encryption and the breakneck operations to crack it – has become more of a public tug-of-war than ever before.

Cellebrite, the largest player in the mobile-forensics industry, unveiled its UFED Premium last Friday. Along with the announcement came the bombshell: that it can now get into any Apple iOS device, and many of the high-end Android devices.

“An exclusive solution for law enforcement to unlock and extract data from all iOS and Android devices,” the company said in a tweet.

Those devices have historically been the toughest to crack – and Cellebrite’s newfound ability to perform a full-file system extraction on any iOS device in particular would allow law enforcement “to get much more data than what is possible through logical extractions and other conventional means.”

“Our certified forensic experts can also help you gain access to sensitive mobile evidence form several locked, encrypted or damaged iOS and Android devices using advanced in-lab only techniques,” the company added in its Friday announcement.

The latest tool works on Apple device running anything from iOS 7 to iOS 12.3, according to the company. Among the Android devices covered are the Samsung S6, S7, S8, and S9. Also supported are the most popular models of Motorola, Huawei, LG and Xiaomi.

The announcement follows the highly-publicized breakthrough of the GrayKey devices made by Grayshift more than a year ago. The GrayKey tool had exploited a low-power loophole in some iOS systems, one expert explained to Forensic Magazine. But Apple put in a fix to stop the access late last year, involving an iOS system to reconnect with a home device. Since then, GrayKey has made some inroads on some Apple devices – but not all of them, according to experts.

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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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FBI Investigators Thwarted Transfer of Trade Secrets to China

Wenfeng Lu was seemingly living the American dream—a comfortable life in Irvine, California, with his family and a career in medical device research and development.

Yet Lu’s secret goal was to use trade secrets stolen from his employer to strike it rich in his native China. However, thanks to an FBI investigation, his plan was thwarted, and Lu is now serving a 27-month prison sentence.

Lu worked for several different U.S. companies, all of which developed high-tech medical equipment, such as clot retrieval tools and balloon-guide catheters. In each job, Lu signed a non-disclosure agreement for his research and development work.

Despite signing the confidentiality agreement, Lu routinely did “data dumps” from his various medical research employers for about three years until his arrest in 2012. Lu transferred all of the data he could get his hands on to a personal laptop. Many of the hundreds of documents Lu stole had nothing to do with his own research; he took as much information as he could access, including proprietary information.

“He had access to so many files, not just for his own projects, and he downloaded files for a variety of different projects and took them home and to China,” said Special Agent Gina Kwon, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

One of Lu’s former employers noticed the unusual activity on their systems and reported the results of their internal investigation to the FBI. Investigators quickly proceeded to build their case and arrested Lu, just before he boarded a plane to China with the files.

The investigative team learned that Lu had planned to create and run his own medical device manufacturing company in China using the stolen technology and Chinese government funding. He had even applied for Chinese patents using technology stolen from the American companies. (China’s government creates policies that disadvantage American businesses, and hacking against American companies and interests is a common tactic.)

“Lu wanted his own business, and he thought there was a great market in China for this technology,” Kwon said.

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