Commodities Fraud Sentencing

Self-professed investment professional Pedro Jaramillo was a pro at promoting himself and his financial prowess. Through a slickly produced online video, phony office space on Wall Street, and promises of unrealistic financial returns, this Peruvian national living in New York managed to convince more than two dozen investors to trust him with more than $1.2 million of their hard-earned money.

Jaramillo, however, never invested a dime of their money—instead, he used it to line his own pockets and keep his Ponzi scheme going. Even his claim to be an investment professional was false—he wasn’t licensed to do anything remotely connected to financial advising and/or investing.

But, as with most Ponzi scheme operators, Jaramillo eventually ran out of funds to keep his fraud scheme afloat, and two unhappy investors reported their concerns to the FBI. After an intensive investigation by the FBI’s New York Field Office—in close coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York—Jaramillo was arrested and charged with commodities fraud in December 2016, pleaded guilty in April 2017, and was sentenced last month to 12 years in federal prison.

Investigators determined that, beginning at least in January 2014 until his arrest, Jaramillo—using his Latin American heritage as a common bond—had been soliciting potential victims mostly from Latin American immigrant communities in the U.S. to invest in commodity futures contracts. He told would-be investors that their money would be invested in short-term commodities contracts with a guaranteed (and unrealistically high) rate of return.

And he established his financial bona fides with potential clients using various methods.

His online video, done in Spanish, opened with flashy depictions of Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Then, Jaramillo himself made his pitch to potential investors, telling them, “Money is being earned on every transaction. All you have to do is work with a proven winner.” He delivered all sorts of promises about how client investments would be handled—including being set up in individually managed and federally protected accounts. Unfortunately for his investors, none of what Jaramillo said in the video was true.

To further impress potential investors, Jaramillo met with many of them in rented office space on Wall Street, where he touted his prior financial successes and his relationship with a well-known global investment bank. Again, this “relationship” with the bank proved to be non-existent, and he had no prior Wall Street investment successes.

Jaramillo also created and handed out documents with simple charts and graphs that purported to illustrate past successes and his high rates of return. This were yet more false facts he fed to his victims.

The FBI investigation included numerous interviews with the victims of Jaramillo’s scheme. Many of these people—including retirees, working professionals, and manual laborers—lost their life savings, retirement money, or homes.

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22 indicted in ICE-led probe into multimillion dollar theft ring

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego federal grand jury has indicted 22 defendants following a long-term probe spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) into a highly organized, often violent theft ring suspected of stealing more than $20 million worth of merchandise from upscale shopping malls in the San Diego area and nationwide.

Twelve of the defendants named in the indictment were arrested Wednesday morning during a carefully coordinated operation in the San Diego area involving more than 250 federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Three of those charged in the cases were already in custody. The other seven individuals named in the indictment remained at large as of early Wednesday afternoon. The defendants who are in custody are scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court Thursday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Lynn Major.

As part of Wednesday’s enforcement actions, investigators searched three homes in Lemon Grove, Chula Vista, and San Diego. The searches resulted in the confiscation of approximately $30,000 in cash, along with about a dozen large trash bags filled with new clothing, the merchandise tags and security devices still attached. The goods included items from Victoria’s Secret, Hollister Co., Guess, Express, and Abercrombie & Fitch, and brands such as Calvin Klein, Hurley, Armani, Adidas, Kenneth Cole, and Puma. Agents also recovered piles of new Louis Vuitton shoes and boxes of security sensors that had been removed from clothing.

The indictment alleges the defendants formed crews of thieves to steal merchandise from retail stores throughout the U.S. The stolen items were then transported across state lines and sold in Mexico. According to the indictment, on Oct. 23, 2013, defendant Maria Angelica Mendez Valdivia had more than $480,000 worth of merchandise stolen from at least 57 retailers. The indictment states the goods were then transported to Mexico and sold to an alleged “fence,” defendant Sara Portilla, who is accused of selling the merchandise from a store she operates in Tijuana.

The highly organized ring, which investigators believe has been in operation for over a decade, assigned members of its theft crews specific roles. Team leaders selected the stores to target, scouted the locations, and choreographed the actions of other team members using cell phones and hand signals. The team’s so-called “mules” smuggled the stolen merchandise out of stores in “booster bags” fitted with metallic linings designed to defeat anti-theft sensors. And finally, the team’s “blockers” prevented store employees from seeing the ongoing theft, either by obstructing their view, distracting them, or by physically preventing the employees from responding.

When necessary, court documents state, the teams used force against store employees, customers, and law enforcement to escape. For example, the indictment alleges that in November 2009 defendant Sergio Manuel Montano Nava knocked over an infant in its stroller and injured the child’s father to avoid being arrested for a theft at a Hollister store in Schaumburg, Illinois. In November 2012, defendants Jose Damazo Herrera, Robin Macias, and others allegedly drove vehicles through a crowd while fleeing a theft from a Hollister store in the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego. In yet another incident in March 2013, one of the defendants allegedly grabbed a loss prevention officer by the throat and threw her to the ground while running from a theft at Abercrombie & Fitch at the Plaza Bonita Mall in National City.

“The mall is supposed to be a safe place for families to shop, eat and enjoy themselves,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson. “Instead, a prolific and violent group of thieves has stolen millions of dollars in merchandise as well as peace of mind from mall employees and customers. With today’s action, we are protecting customers and businesses both physically and economically, and we are restoring and preserving the safety of our community gathering spots.”

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Authorities Are Toughening Penalties To Would-Be Looters

In flooded Houston, with scores of businesses closed and homes evacuated, authorities are sending a message to those thinking of looting or price gouging: Taking advantage of the situation won’t be tolerated.

Police are beefing up security over reports of looting during and after Hurricane Harvey. That includes imposing a curfew and stiffening penalties for crimes committed in the stricken area.

“We’re city that is about diversity and opportunity and all kinds of justice,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “But we’re not a city that’s going to tolerate people victimizing people that are at the lowest point in their life.”

Acevedo said additional police officers were heading into the Houston area and described the curfew as a “tool to assess the intentions of people that are out there.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew is intended to prevent criminal activity. It “exempts flood relief volunteers, those seeking shelter, first responders, and those going to and from work.”

It’s not clear how many criminal incidents have occurred in areas hit by flooding, and the police chief declined to provide statistics. “I don’t have the numbers. I can just tell you … we’re nipping it in the bud,” Acevedo said.

Fourteen people accused of looting were arrested in the past 48 hours, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement released Tuesday. They will face “heftier penalties” if they are found to have broken the law in the disaster area. Burglarizing a home could mean life in prison.

“People displaced or harmed in this storm are not going to be easy prey,” Ogg said. “Anyone who tries to take advantage of this storm to break into homes or businesses should know that they are going to feel the full weight of the law. … Offenders will be processed around the clock without delay.”

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HACKERS SPY ON HOTEL GUESTS AND TARGET NORTH KOREAN ORGANIZATIONS

“A security firm linked a recent wave of hacked hotel Wi-Fi networks to one of the groups suspected of breaching the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, according to Wired.

The group, known as Fancy Bear or APT28, used tools allegedly stolen from the National Security Agency to conduct widespread surveillance on higher-end hotels that were likely to attract corporate or other high-value targets, the cybersecurity firm FireEye reported. FireEye has “moderate confidence” Fancy Bear was behind such a surveillance campaign in 2016, and others in recent months at hotels in Europe and one Middle Eastern capital. The campaign’s target, however, is unclear.

FireEye said the hackers used phishing emails to spread attachments infected with the alleged NSA exploit Eternal Blue. They eventually worked their way to corporate and guest Wi-Fi networks, where they could intercept guest information and collect credentials.

The Wired article suggested travelers should bring their own hotspots and avoid connecting to hotel networks.

Security Researchers: North Korea Hit with Malware Campaign

An unknown group has targeted North Korean organizations with malware that would allow repeated access to systems.

Security researchers say the latest campaign—after a July 3 intercontinental ballistic missile test—is at least the fifth attack in three years, Dark Reading reported. That campaign used a copy-pasted news article about the missile launch to trick recipients into launching the malware, the security firm Talos reported.

At first, the Konni malware used in the campaign only gathered information, but it later evolved to include the ability to remotely take control of some seized accounts, according to Talos and another security firm Cylance. The malware is capable of logging keystrokes, capturing screens and uses advanced techniques to avoid detection, the firms reported.

“The motivation behind these campaigns is uncertain, however it does appear to be geared towards espionage against targets who would be interested in North Korean affairs,” Cylance researchers said.”

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Sanford security company develops alarm system to prevent thefts

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. July 29 2017- A Sanford security company said it has come up with a solution to stop thieves from trying to rip people off at the gas station with skimmers, devices used to steal credit and debit card numbers.

Chris Gilpin with SignalVault told Channel 9 anchor Jamie Holmes that he’s developed a device that will sound an alarm if a gas pump is opened.

The alarm alerts gas station owners when someone opens the door on a gas pump to install a skimmer device.

The system also sends out an alert through an app to let the gas station owner know that a particular pump has been compromised.

“The pump can be inspected immediately afterwards and the skimmer can be removed from the gas pump before any credit or debit card numbers are stolen,” Gilpin said.

State investigators announced Wednesday that they’ve seen an increase in the number of skimmers found at gas pumps. Nearly 300 devices have been found in Florida this year, but that number is deceiving, investigators said.

“That doesn’t really cover the scope of how bad it actually is because the gas pumps are only inspected every 12 – 16 months, so there are hundreds more skimmers,” Gilpin said.

Gilpin said the bigger problem is the law. Florida only requires gas station owners to put red tape around the pump access panel and the tape is hardly a real deterrent for a thief.

Gilpin said his device constantly monitors skimming activity and although he’s still in the testing phase, he hopes the state eventually does more to really pump the brakes on this crime.

“We can’t stop these criminals from installing gas station skimmers. However, we can stop those skimmers from stealing credit and debit card numbers,” Gilpin said.

Gilpin will meet with state agriculture officials in a couple of weeks to show off his product.

He’s been on the ABC show “Shark Tank,” and has a similar consumer protection product used by a 500,000 people worldwide.

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Facebook post leads to arrest of alleged Macy’s shoplifter

PARAMUS – An alert security guard who spotted a Facebook user selling designer watches told police the man resembled a shoplifter who stole merchandise from Macy’s, authorities said Thursday.

The man, Alfredo “Freddy Vega,” 49, was arrested Wednesday and now faces shoplifting and other charges, according to Paramus Police Chief Kenneth R. Ehrenberg.

The theft of several Tommy Hilfiger watches occurred April 7 at the Westfiled Garden State Plaza, Ehrenberg said in a statement.

“The security manager at Macy’s found an Internet posting that the stolen watches were being sold online by a male with a Facebook profile identified as ‘Freddy Vega,’” Ehrenberg said.

“The Facebook picture resembled the suspect in the theft,” the chief said.

Paramus Police Det. Mark sent out an all-points bulletin that included surveillance photos and the Facebook photo of Vega, Ehrenberg said.

After receiving the bulletin, Lt. Michael Cumiskey of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office recognized Vega from previous times Vega had been jailed, Ehrenberg said.

“Based upon this information a warrant was issued for Mr. Vega,” Ehrenberg said.

About 6 p.m. on April 27, a suspect later identified as Vega shoplifted several pairs of men’s shoes from J. Crew in the Bergen Towne Center, police said.

The suspect ran from the scene before police arrived.

On May 3, Paramus Police Officer David Betancourt was flagged down by a security officer at Westfield Garden State Plaza. The security officer told Betancourt that a man who had shoplifted from Sunglasses Hut the day before was again at the mall.

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9 accused in organized $102K theft from Safeway

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A group of 9 people is accused of stealing more than $102,000 from Safeway-Albertson stores, according to police.

The 5-week investigation into the suspect organized retail crime (ORC) began in October 2016.

ORC typically involves more than one individual, said Scott Chapman, the Director of Asset Protection for Albertson-Safeway. He said the groups usually steal merchandise and sell it on the black market.

“They’re in business to make money, whether it be for drugs (or) whether it be for re-selling,” Chapman said.

ORC can result in higher prices for consumers and less taxes for state and local governments, he said.

The thieves will steal in bulk quantity. Loss prevention officers showed KOIN 6 News the lengths the thieves will go.

Some will use what’s known in the industry as a “booster bag,” which is typically a large handbag lined with tinfoil. Other thieves will load up a shopping cart and simply leave without paying. Those are called “push outs.”

Chapman said ORC investigators are seeing thieves steal high-value items that are popular across a wide demographic of individuals such as laundry detergent, teeth whiting strips, allergy medicine and nutritional supplements.

“It’s a quick turn for them,” Chatman said. “They can sell it quickly.”

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Woman charged with 130 counts of forgery, credit card and ID theft

MESA, AZ - A woman from California racked up $16,000 in charges using identities stolen from 18 people across the country.

Court records show that the woman took the identities of eighteen people, created multiple credit card accounts from four department stores where she purchased items on a weekly basis.

Mesa police report that between June 1, 2016, and February 1, 2017, Maria Del Carmen Ramos, age 37, used stolen identities to create and use credit cards accounts to buy items at 15 different Kohl’s stores in Maricopa County.

Police say Ramos received personal profiles of 18 people from a friend in California. Ramos allegedly used these profiles to create credit card accounts at Kohl’s, Macy’s, Toy ‘R’ Us and JC Penney.

Loss prevention officers at Kohl’s say they have video evidence showing Ramos using the fake cards to make 36 purchases totaling over $16,000. Police say the total benefit value to Ramos could rise as high as $100,000.

So far police have identified 18 victims whose identities were stolen. One of the victims set up a password on her account after seeing fraudulent purchases. This hold, police say, allowed them to capture Ramos at the Kohl’s store near McKellips and Hayden roads on February 1.

Ramos reportedly told police that she was making purchases weekly, buying mostly clothing for her family, as well as shoes, electronics, and gift cards because they were easy to sell. Police say they found multiple identifications in her purse when she was arrested.

Police are contacting the victims, five of who are from New York.

Ramos has been charged with 130 counts of forgery, identity theft and fraudulent schemes.

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Arlington Heights police warn about ‘grandkid scam’

Arlington Heights police are warning residents to be wary of calls seeking money to bail loved ones out of jail after an elderly woman was taken for $4,000 last week in a so-called “grandkid scam.”

A scammer phoned the woman on Thursday, claiming to be her grandson, with another person saying her grandson needed money to get out of jail, according to Crime Prevention Officer Brandi Romag.

The woman then followed the scammer’s instructions to go to a local Target store and buy gift cards totaling $4,000, Romag said.

“The sooner they get you moving, the sooner they’ve got you,” Romag said.

She said the scammers told the woman to call them back with details about the gift cards she purchased.

“They ask for the gift cards’ numbers and the PIN, and instantly, the money is gone,” Romag said.

The “grandkid scam” typically begins with a call in which an elderly person is told his or her grandchild needs money for bail, for a medical bill or to get out of some other kind of trouble, according to the Federal Trade Commission website www.ftc.gov. The victim is commonly told the matter is urgent and must be kept a secret, the site says.

“Scammers are good at pretending to be someone they’re not,” the website says. “They can be convincing, sometimes using information from social networking sites or hacking into your loved one’s email account to make it seem more real. And they’ll pressure you to send money before you have time to think.”

Officials advise that anyone receiving such a call should hang up immediately, then call his or her grandchild’s phone number or another family member to determine whether the problem is legitimate. But the scammers can be very persuasive, authorities say.

“Sometimes these callers are very adamant, and they tell the victim they’ll stay on the line with them or will call them back in 10 minutes,” Romag said.

She said often the phone scams involve an easily obtained gift card.

“These offenders prey on your emotions,” Romag said. “It doesn’t make any sense that you’d need to buy a gift card in these situations, but the elderly victims are being told that their grandchildren are in trouble and by the time they figure out something’s not right, it’s too late.”

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U-Haul truck filled with ATMs found by police

WASHINGTON (ABC7) — D.C. Police say they discovered ATM machines inside an abandoned U-Haul truck Monday, and now they are working with police in neighboring Prince George’s County to see if they include some of the five machines recently stolen there.

A resident of a Southeast Washington neighborhood called in to report the abandoned U-Haul, which was blocking parking spaces in an area near 2021 38th Street SE.

When police looked inside, they say they saw at least four ATM machines and a safe.

The area where the U-Haul was found is just a couple blocks from the border with Prince George’s County, where police say five ATM machines have been stolen in the last month.

Prince George’s County did not give the exact locations where the ATM machines were stolen but did say they were scattered in different parts of the county.

ABC7 News confirmed with an employee at a Mobil Corner Mart on Livingston Road in Fort Washington that an ATM had been stolen from outside the store last week.

The employee expressed hope that the machine had been found.

The employee says surveillance video shows that the thieves tied the ATM machine to a white truck and then yanked it from its place outside the store. The theft happened this past Wednesday.

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