Thursday Justice File

Thursday Justice File

TENNESSEE ATTORNEY CHARGED WITH CONSPIRACY, FEDERAL BRIBERY, AND INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION IN AID OF BRIBERY

Jackson, Miss. – Errol Harmon, 47, of Memphis, Tennessee, has been charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy, bribery, and interstate transportation in aid of bribery, announced United States Attorney Mike Hurst, Michelle A. Sutphin, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Mississippi, Special Agent in Charge Neil Sanchez with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Inspector General, and Mississippi State Auditor Shad White.

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on August 25, 2020, and unsealed by the federal court on September 9, 2020, alleges that Errol Harmon, a Tennessee attorney, conspired with Cerissa Renfroe Neal, the former Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Education (“MDOE”), to defraud the State of Mississippi and the United States, along with three Tennessee businessmen, Joseph B. Kyles, David B. Hunt, and Lambert Martin.  Neal, Hunt, Kyles, and Martin have all been separately indicted and charged with federal crimes for their roles in the scheme, in which Neal used her position in the Mississippi Department of Education to steer contract awards to Kyles and his co-conspirators’ companies in return for bribery and kickbacks paid to Neal.

According to the indictment, Cerissa Neal was the Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Education during 2013-2016, when she conspired with Kyles, Harmon and the two other conspirators, to defraud the State of Mississippi and the United States by bid-rigging, false quotes, and altered purchase orders, in order to make money and profit by defrauding the Mississippi Department of Education into awarding contracts and purchase orders at inflated prices, directed to co-conspirators and their businesses. (Read Here)

BRIDGEPORT POLICE CHIEF AND PERSONNEL DIRECTOR CHARGED WITH FRAUD, FALSE STATEMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH CITY’S HIRING OF THE POLICE CHIEF

Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Acting Under Authority Conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 515, and David Sundberg, Special Agent-in-Charge, New Haven Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the arrest of ARMANDO J. PEREZ, the Chief of Police of the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut (the “City”), and DAVID DUNN, the City’s acting personnel director, for defrauding the City by rigging the 2018 police chief examination, mandated by the City’s Charter, to ensure PEREZ would be selected for the position.  PEREZ and DUNN were also charged with making false statements to federal agents in the course of the investigation.  Both defendants are expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel in Bridgeport federal court this afternoon.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Chief Perez and Personnel Director Dunn schemed to rig the purportedly impartial and objective search for a permanent police chief to ensure the position was awarded to Perez, and then repeatedly lied to federal agents in order to conceal their conduct.  Bridgeport’s citizens and police officers deserve leaders with integrity who are committed to enforcing, not breaking, the law, and we thank the FBI for their partnership in investigating and uncovering the scheme alleged.”

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge David Sundberg said:  “I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the members of the United States Attorney’s Offices in both the Southern District of New York as well as Connecticut for their professionalism and invaluable assistance in this case. Today’s arrest of city officials including a high ranking, long-time law enforcement officer is a stark reminder that the betrayal of public trust and community members by a public servant is not only unethical but often illegal. We recognize these arrests are not a reflection on the Bridgeport Police Department as a whole, but it is our responsibility to root out injustice and corruption by any and all elected and appointed officials entrusted to protect and serve with honor. We at the FBI will continue to aggressively pursue all those engaged in matters of public corruption throughout Connecticut.” (Read Here)

SEVEN CHARGED IN CONNECTION WITH OVER $750,000 MONEY LAUNDERING SCHEME INVOLVING FUNDS FROM PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM

Indictment Marks 50th PPP Case In the Country

Columbia, South Carolina —United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr., announced today that seven individuals were charged in an indictment with laundering over $750,000 of fraudulently obtained funds, including over $390,000 from a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. The defendants used a variety of methods to launder the money, including laundering the money through a casino. The indictment also identifies over $2.1 million in funds which agents seized from twelve different bank accounts allegedly associated with the overall fraud scheme. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the indictment marks the 50th PPP-fraud case to date across the country.

The case started as an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that targeted high-level heroin and methamphetamine traffickers located in Greenville. That initial investigation has also resulted in the indictment and arrest of eight other individuals on various drug trafficking and fraud-related charges.

“Criminals seek to take advantage of dire situations, and it is our job to stand in their way,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy. “I want to commend the federal agencies involved for their excellent work. In these unprecedented times, the Paycheck Protection Program has been a lifeline for businesses across the United States, and by extension the millions of Americans whose very livelihoods depend on these businesses. This office, in concert with our partners in law enforcement, will remain vigilant in its mission to protect our citizens, and we will prosecute those who seek to manipulate this essential program.” (Read Here)

PHYSICIAN AND SALES REPRESENTATIVE CHARGED IN $2.5 MILLION HEALTH CARE FRAUD AND WITH UNLAWFUL DISCLOSURE OF PATIENT INFORMATION

CAMDEN, N.J. – A federal grand jury has returned a 16-count indictment charging a physician and pharmaceutical sales representative with defrauding New Jersey state health benefits programs and other insurers out of more than $2.5 million by submitting fraudulent claims for medically unnecessary prescriptions, as well as unlawfully obtaining and disclosing individually identifiable patient health information protected by HIPAA, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Keith Ritson, 40, of Bayville, New Jersey, and Frank Alario, M.D., 63, of Delray Beach, Florida, are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, as well as individual acts of health care fraud and wire fraud. Both men are charged with a second conspiracy to wrongfully obtain and disclose patients’ individually identifiable health information. Alario is additionally charged with making false statements in a health care matter, and Ritson faces additional charges of conspiring to commit money laundering and substantive counts of money laundering.

The cases are assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden. The indicted defendants are expected to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio in Camden federal court via videoconference on Sept. 10, 2020. (Read Here)

PORTLAND RESIDENT CHARGED WITH CIVIL DISORDER AFTER PUNCHING LOCAL POLICE OFFICER

PORTLAND, Ore.—Laurielle Yvette Aviles, 29, of Portland, has been charged by criminal complaint with civil disorder, a felony, after punching a Portland Police Bureau officer in the face during a declared riot on July 3, 2020.

According to court documents, on July 2, 2020, the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team was conducting crowd control duties during a declared riot near the Multnomah County Justice Center and Mark O. Hatfield. U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland. Individuals in the crowd threw mortars, fireworks, glass bottles, rocks, and other objects at officers; blocked roads, and impeded traffic flow.

In the early morning hours of July 3, 2020, a Portland police officer was executing an arrest of a rioter when Aviles is alleged to have forcibly intervened. Aviles attempted to pull the officer off of the arrestee and punched the officer in the face. The arresting officer tried to gain control of the arrestee and Aviles, but was unable to do so. A second officer observed the struggle and saw Aviles throwing punches. The second officer intervened and was able to place Aviles under arrest. Aviles was later released by state authorities.

On September 8, 2020, Aviles surrendered to the U.S. Marshals Service. Today, Aviles made a first appearance in federal court before a U.S. Magistrate Judge and was released pending further proceedings. If convicted, Aviles faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

This case was investigated by the FBI. It is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon.

A criminal complaint is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

COUNCIL BLUFFS MAN CHARGED WITH BEING IN POSSESSION OF MOLOTOV COCKTAIL DURING RECENT OMAHA PROTESTS

United States Attorney Joe Kelly announced today the Indictment of Steven M. Fitch, age 25, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, charging him in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska for being in unlawful possession of a destructive device.  Fitch faces a maximum punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release.  An indictment is merely a charging document and is not a finding of guilt as defendants are presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

On May 31, 2020, Fitch, while in Omaha, Nebraska, is alleged to have possessed a destructive device, also known as a Molotov Cocktail, not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.  Fitch was arrested on May 31, 2020 during protests in downtown Omaha.

Fitch appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Michael D. Nelson on August 26, 2020, where he pleaded not guilty.  Judge Nelson ordered Fitch detained until trial.

This case is being investigated by the Omaha Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE/EASTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS CRIMINALLY CHARGING INDIVIDUALS WITH CARES ACT PPP AND ECONOMIC IMPACT PAYMENT FRAUD

BEAUMONT, Texas – The Department of Justice Criminal Division announced today that it has charged more than 50 people who allegedly committed fraud to obtain funds from the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP).

The PPP program is authorized by the CARES Act, which is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The CARES Act initially authorized up to $349 billion in forgivable PPP loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, and in April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding,

In partnership with the Criminal Division, the Eastern District of Texas has played a lead role in pursuing CARES Act fraud and has declared COVID-related fraud a top priority.

“When thieves and fraudsters steal CARES Act funding, they steal from all of us – the corner store, the dry cleaner, and the local grocer.  These are not simple or easy cases to investigate and charge.  They involve piecing together often-complex financial, payroll, and tax records for individuals and companies.  This makes it all the more remarkable that the men and women of the Department of Justice have been able to bring so many cases so quickly — against over 50 defendants in a matter of months — and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of federal prosecutors and agents and our partners across the U.S. government.” (Read Here)

ILLEGAL ALIEN SENTENCED FOR PRODUCING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

LAFAYETTE, La. –  Pedro Aguirre-Nunez, 39, a Duson, Louisiana resident, was sentenced in United States District Court for Production of Child Pornography, Acting United States Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook announced. United States District Judge S. Maurice Hicks, Jr. sentenced Aguirre-Nunez to spend 224 months (18 years, 8 months) in prison, followed by 5 years of supervised release.

On March 29, 2019, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a report of indecent behavior with a juvenile at a residence in Duson, Louisiana. Law enforcement officers learned that videos of Aguirre-Nunez molesting a minor girl had been discovered on the cloud account associated with his phone. Officers obtained a search warrant for the cloud account and found three videos. The videos were taken on a smart phone and synched with the cloud account associated with that phone.

A forensic review determined that the videos had been taken a few months prior to the discovery of them. All three of the videos were taken while the minor child was asleep. On October 17, 2019, Aguirre-Nunez admitted that he did in fact produce the visual depictions of conduct with the minor child by using his smart phone and pled guilty to Production of Child Pornography in federal court.

Aguirre-Nunez is a citizen and national of Mexico and did not have legal status in the United States on the dates these crimes were committed. (Read Here)

MAN WHO SHOT AT SWAT OFFICERS SENTENCED TO OVER 24 YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – On September 9, 2020, Samuel Weaver, 62, of Chattanooga, was sentenced by the Honorable Curtis Collier, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Weaver was sentenced to 295 months in federal prison for a multitude of drug and firearms related offenses.  Weaver fired upon members of the Chattanooga Police Department’s SWAT team when they attempted to serve a search warrant at his residence, which contributed to his lengthy sentence.

Officers received information that Weaver was a large-scale drug dealer who was storing drugs in his residence on Noah Street in Chattanooga.  A search warrant was issued for Weaver’s home and the SWAT officers were called to assist the Drug Enforcement Administration with the search of the residence.

On February 7, 2019, at least 20 SWAT officers arrived to serve the search warrant at daybreak. The Chattanooga SWAT unit Commander testified that multiple sirens were activated for “at least 10 – 12 seconds,” and announcements were made over a PA system notifying the occupants of the residence that police were present to serve the warrant. (Read Here)

CARBONDALE POST OFFICE EMPLOYEE INDICTED FOR EMBEZZLING MAIL

On Tuesday of this week, a federal grand jury for the Southern District of Illinois returned an indictment charging Athens A. Shorey (also known as “Athens A. DeMartini”), 33, of Cobden,Illinois, with embezzling mail.

Shorey worked as a letter carrier for the Carbondale Post Office. The indictment charges that on May 23, 2020, and again on May 27, 2020, Shorey embezzled mail that had been entrusted to her for delivery. According to the indictment, Shorey embezzled ten pieces of mail on May 23, 2020, and three additional pieces of mail on May 27. The indictment charges that two of the three pieces of mail embezzled on May 27 were sent by banks.

After the alleged embezzlements were discovered, Shorey voluntarily resigned from her position with the Postal Service. (Read Here)

NFL PLAYER CHARGED FOR ROLE IN $24 MILLION COVID-RELIEF FRAUD SCHEME

NFL Player Fraudulently Obtained $1.2 Million in Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program Loan

A National Football League (NFL) player has been charged for his alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $24 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Michael J. De Palma of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI) Miami Field Office, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of FBI’s Miami Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Kevin A. Kupperbusch of the U.S. SBA-Office of Inspector General (OIG), Investigations Division, Eastern Regional Office, made the announcement.

Joshua J. Bellamy, 31, of St. Petersburg, Florida, a player in the NFL, was charged in a federal criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of Florida with wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.  Bellamy was arrested this morning and will appear today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Tuite of the Middle District of Florida.

The complaint alleges that Bellamy conspired with others to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent PPP loans.  Early in the scheme, Phillip J. Augustin allegedly obtained a fraudulent PPP loan for his talent management company using falsified documents.  After submitting that application, Augustin then began to work with other co-conspirators, including Bellamy, on a scheme to submit numerous fraudulent PPP loan applications for confederate loan applicants, in order to receive kickbacks for obtaining the forgivable loans for them. (Read Here)

 

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