Feds charge 11 for laundering $40M from metro Atlanta to Mexico

Federal investigators have charged 11 people with laundering more than $40 million worth of drug money to Mexico through metro-Atlanta area money transfer services.

The Northern District of Georgia’s US District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that the charges came following a three-year investigation focused on money remittance businesses. The nine people in custody are from Gwinnett County, DeKalb County and Atlanta. Two Mexican nationals have been indicted but not yet caught.

The feds began investigating individuals in the metro-Atlanta area in 2014 for suspicion of sending drug money to Mexico, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. Federal agent sources infiltrated networks used in small businesses that were funneling money out of the country via money remittance services, the release said. These small businesses allow customers to wire funds to individuals in other countries without using traditional bank accounts.

In exchange for a kickback, managers and employees of nine different businesses allegedly agreed to launder purported drug funds to Mexico by breaking the transactions into smaller amounts and by listing fake sender names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The investigation revealed that the nine money remitters allegedly transmitted more than $40 million over a roughly four-year timeframe.

The release indicates that the suspects tried to conceal the source of the funds by circumventing the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions – including money remitters – to monitor their clients for suspicious conduct and to obtain valid identification for high dollar remittances. Multiple suspects were listed as Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) compliance officers.

“Using money remitters to launder illegal drug proceeds is just one more way drug cartels fuel their criminal enterprises,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said in the press release. “The business model of many Mexican cartels requires a means to get their cash profits across the border and into the hands of the supervisors and sellers. This investigation shows that they may have found an effective means through unscrupulous money remitters. We hope these cases will help to close this pipeline.”

Nick Annan, a special agent for ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta, said in the release that the criminal network uncovered by this investigation laundered money “provided direct support to the drug trafficking organizations plaguing the region with dangerous illicit narcotics and the violence associated with drug trafficking activities.”


Photo: Thinkstock



Cuban man accused of laundering $238 million in Medicare payments must face trial

A Cuban businessman charged with laundering $238 million in illicit Medicare payments through South Florida will have to face trial now that a federal judge has rejected his motion to dismiss a massive money laundering case against him.

The motion by Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales to dismiss the indictment was highly unusual because the 52-year-old is considered a fugitive after fleeing to Spain.

Through his Miami defense attorney, the absent Perez asked a magistrate judge to throw out the case, claiming he was running a legitimate remittance company outside the United States so he couldn’t have committed a crime.

But this month, Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt denied his motion, saying the U.S. money-laundering conspiracy charge filed five years ago extends beyond the boundaries of this country because the alleged offense happened here.

“If he wishes to contest the charges in this case, [Perez] will have to first submit to the court’s jurisdiction,” Hunt wrote in a nine-page ruling. “If he would like to go to trial, the door to the federal court, as always, remains open.”

Perez’s attorney, Stephen Golembe, has until Friday to appeal the judge’s ruling. It came in response to an unusual hearing in March, when the judge, Golembe and federal prosecutor Ron Davidson debated whether Perez is a fugitive — a thorny legal issue arising from the fact that he has yet to be arrested on the money-laundering conspiracy charge. His lawyer said he isn’t; the prosecutor said he is.




Ohio to train investigators to identify human trafficking

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio plans to train the undercover agents who investigate liquor, tobacco and food stamp violations to identify and help victims of human trafficking.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced Monday that the Ohio Investigative Unit has formed anti-regional human trafficking groups to help youths and adults who may be potential victims.

The agents will be trained to identify and support potential human trafficking victims they may encounter through regular law enforcement work.

The initiative is part of ongoing work by the governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, created in 2012.

Ohio’s Department of Public Safety oversees the investigators. The agency said earlier this year the number of Ohio human trafficking cases reported to a national hotline has risen sharply, with the state now fourth in call volume.



Deputies: Stolen guns recovered when swiped iPad found

DELTONA, Fla. — A stolen iPad led deputies to an even larger theft in Deltona.

The investigation began Sunday when a woman called the Sheriff’s Office to report her iPad was stolen while it was in her son’s possession outside a Publix supermarket.

“Just beware and be careful,” Rosa Campbell said about the theft.

She told WESH 2 her son was trying to do something nice for a man in need, but that man then took advantage.

“My son went into the store to buy him a sub-sandwich because he said he was homeless,” Campbell explained, “then he took the iPad … he distracted him.”

Campbell and her son then decided to investigate. She called her cellphone service provider and enabled the “Find My iPad” app.

She watched as the device’s GPS was sending back signals from all over town.

Once the movement stopped, she called the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

Within an hour, deputies moved in on their suspect and arrested him. He’s identified as 28-year-old Raymond Ingberg.

“(We) found him in possession of various items that were stolen in another case,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Andrew Gant said.

Gant told WESH 2 the other items found in a bag Ingberg was holding had been taken during a recent home break-in.

Along with the iPad, deputies also recovered jewelry and five stolen guns.

“We’re thankful we were able to get those guns quickly off the street before they became involved in some other kind of crime,” Gant said.

Campbell said she’s glad she was able to track her iPad and help deputies find it and the suspect as well.

“Even though it may look minor you have to think what they might do to someone else,” Campbell said. “That minor thing can lead to big things, remember these people that do these crimes, they start little and then they keep getting big.”

Ingberg was booked into the Volusia County Jail on several charges under a bond of $55,000.



ICE Agents Are Lurking At Human Trafficking Court

The news cycle may be dominated to an absurd degree by the Russia probe, but never forget that new terrors are insinuating themselves into life every day. On Friday, a WNYC reporter witnessed federal immigration agents in a Queens human trafficking courtroom, searching for a woman they sought to arrest.

The outlet reports that Legal Aid lawyers panicked when they saw agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Queens Criminal Courthouse:

The lawyers said they learned from the judge that ICE wanted a young Chinese woman in the Human Trafficking Intervention Courtroom. They said she’d been charged with working illegally as a masseuse, and was about to receive an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal after completing a program with a community group — a goal of human trafficking court.

The attorneys got their client out by asking the judge to grant bail, and hustled her from the building before she could be detained.

Others weren’t so lucky: An ICE spokesperson confirmed that officers arrested three people outside the courthouse, though no one inside.

ICE’s website lays out that arrests are not typically made (though there are exceptions) in certain sensitive locations, like schools, healthcare facilities, places of worship, religious ceremonies or during public demonstrations, like rallies or parades. However, it stipulates the courthouses do not qualify as “sensitive,” meaning arrests may indeed be made there.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is hoping to change that. In a statement to WNYC, she wrote:

“We are committed to the safety and security of all New Yorkers who use our courthouses throughout the state,” she said. “In a continuing dialogue, we have met with federal officials on a local and national level to convey our concerns and request that they treat courthouses as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship. We are meeting again next week with Homeland Security officials to further voice our concerns.”

ICE’s FAQ also testily answers the question of why it seems as though courthouse arrests are becoming more and more frequent.

In the past, local authorities were more likely to turn people over to ICE upon their release from jail, it says. Now:

Now that some law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers, the arrestee, and members of the community are substantially diminished. In such instances where ICE officers and agents seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.


Photo: Getty Images 







Skimming device found at Cocoa Beach gas station

Cocoa police showed off the devices that were helping thieves steal money at a gas station pump.

A maintenance worker discovered credit card skimmers at the Chevron station at 2700 U.S. Highway 1.

Police are not sure how long the device may have been in place.

Authorities are asking customers who made fuel purchases there to contact their credit card company to verify all recent transactions.

Additionally, they are asking people to be on the alert for any other devices that may be in place in the area.



U.S. Accuses Chinese Company of Money Laundering for North Korea

TOKYO — United States prosecutors accused a Chinese company on Thursday of laundering money for North Korea and said they would seek $1.9 million in civil penalties, as American efforts to put pressure on the isolated country continue to affect Pyongyang’s neighbor and biggest benefactor.

Prosecutors said the company, Mingzheng International Trading Limited, operated as a front company for North Korea’s state-run Foreign Trade Bank, which since 2013 has been the target of American sanctions intended to choke off funds connected to the country’s nuclear weapons program. The penalty, if approved by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, would be “one of the largest seizures of North Korean funds by the department,” according to a statement from prosecutors.

In their statement, prosecutors said Mingzheng was created to “surreptitiously move North Korean money through the United States.” In a filing with the court, prosecutors said the funds were being held in a bank account in the United States.

Calls to a Mingzheng phone number in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city where the company is registered, were not answered.

The United States has increasingly targeted North Korea’s money sources with the outside world to help tame its ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. That effort has led American officials to focus on companies in China, which acts as North Korea’s protector and is its most important trading partner.

Last year, the United States Treasury said it would cut off from the American financial system any bank or company conducting banking transactions with North Korea. Experts said the move could hit smaller regional banks in China, especially those along its border with North Korea.

China has opposed the effort, saying the United States is imposing its own domestic laws on other countries.

Citing confidential informants, prosecutors said Mingzheng was operated by a Chinese citizen with ties to the Foreign Trade Bank. It did not name the citizen.

Mingzheng’s corporate filings in Hong Kong listed its sole shareholder as Sun Wei, a resident of Benxi, an area near the Chinese city of Shenyang in Liaoning Province. Mr. Sun could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors told the court that Mingzheng’s financial transactions were closely linked to another Chinese company called Dandong Hongxiang. Last year, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against its top executive and several of her colleagues, accusing them of violating American sanctions through a similar, covert money-transfer scheme.

Citing a confidential informant, prosecutors also said Mingzheng played a role in payments between a North Korean telecommunications company and ZTE, a Chinese maker of telecommunications equipment. In March, ZTE agreed to plead guilty and pay $1.19 billion in fines as part of a settlement for breaking United States sanctions and selling electronics to North Korea and Iran.

The United States Justice Department said the $1.9 million was the amount that Mingzheng transferred on North Korea’s behalf in October and November 2015.

Those payments, made in dollars, were cleared through the United States, the prosecutors said, who are seeking permission from the court to seize the funds.


Photo: Associated Press

Former Eatonville mayor asks for new trial in voting fraud case

Former Eatonville mayor Anthony Grant’s defense attorney asked a judge for a new trial Tuesday in his voting-fraud case, in part because one of the jurors may have not been able to hear some of the proceedings.

Grant was found guilty May 19 of felony election violation, voting fraud, and misdemeanor absentee-voting violation. When a court official tried to poll the jury — a routine proceeding asking every juror in open court if the verdict that was just read is the one he or she chose — one juror sitting in the courtroom did not respond.

Another juror said that the juror’s hearing aid was not working properly at that moment, so she could not hear them.

Grant’s lawyer, Gary Dorst, filed a motion May 24 asking for a new trial. But that would require evidence that the juror indeed could not hear the evidence, arguments, and deliberations.

In this case, the only evidence Dorst had was what happened in court after the jury delivered its verdict. Without speaking with the juror, he said, he would have no way of knowing how much of the trial she could or could not hear.

But Florida case law does not allow attorneys to interview jurors about a verdict without evidence that there are legal grounds to challenge the verdict or proof of jury misconduct, Circuit Judge Keith Carsten said in court Tuesday, citing case law.

It comes down to one of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure: “If no reason is found to believe that the verdict may be subject to challenge, the court shall enter its order denying permission to interview.”

Dorst filed another motion Monday, arguing that the jury’s guilty verdict on the voting fraud charge contradicts the weight of the evidence.

Grant, who was sent to the Orange County Jail after the guilty verdict, sat quietly in his navy blue jail-issued clothing during the hearing, listening to the proceedings. He did not speak.

Jurors last month also convicted former campaign aide Mia Nowells of coercing a voter, acquitting her of three other charges she faced. They found another campaign aide, James Randolph, not guilty.

Grant was Eatonville’s mayor from 1994 to 2009.

He ran again in 2015 against Bruce Mount, getting 15 fewer votes at the polls but winning in absentee votes, getting 196 to Mount’s 69. Mount sued, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation that ended in Grant’s arrest.


Anti-gang cops arrest nine following year-long probe into illegal gambling

Nine people have been arrested by B.C.’s anti-gang task force after a year-long investigation involving illegal gambling houses and millions of dollars in laundered money in Metro Vancouver.

In May 2016, an integrated unit within the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit started a probe into a criminal organization allegedly operating illegal gambling houses, loan sharking, carrying out money laundering for drug traffickers, kidnappings, extortions and other violent acts.

“During the investigation, it was apparent there were multiple roles filled by different people (who) enabled or facilitated the organization in laundering large amounts of money through casinos,” said CFSEU Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett at a news conference Tuesday at RCMP “E” Division headquarters in Surrey.

Hackett pegged the amount of money laundered into the “millions.” He declined to name any of the casinos, but said they are all in the Lower Mainland.

The investigation by the joint illegal gambling investigation team also uncovered that the Lower Mainland-based organized crime group had operations that extended to China and other countries, he said.

A search of six homes led to the seizure of cash, drug paraphernalia, cellphones, computers, and a number of luxury vehicles, including one that had a sophisticated hidden compartment. Some of the items seized — stacks of bills in clear plastic bags, scales and bill-counters — were on display at the news conference.

The suspects have not been charged but face possible charges of money laundering, drug trafficking and proceeds of crime. They are not in custody. None of them were employed by the casinos.

Peter Goudron, executive director of the B.C. Gaming Industry Association, said it is concerned by the CFSEU’s assertion that large amounts of money were laundered through casinos.

“Given the robust (anti-money laundering) procedures in place at B.C. casinos we are unaware how this could have taken place and expect to learn more about their allegations in the near future,” he said in a statement.

The association said B.C. casinos are required to report any cash buy-in over $10,000 and all suspicious transactions to the B.C. Lottery Corporation and Fintrac, Canada’s money-laundering watchdog.

The task force also executed a raid Monday night at an illegal gambling house in Richmond believed to be associated with the group, said Hackett. About three or four such venues were uncovered during the investigation. Some of them were located in homes.


Photo: Jason Payne PNG 

GOLDMAN SACHS: Bitcoin is looking ‘heavy’

Bitcoin has had a blistering start to 2017. It’s up about 180% so far this year. However, its near-term outlook isn’t looking so hot, according to a note released on Monday by Goldman Sachs head of technical strategy Sheba Jafari.

“The market has come close (enough?) to reaching its extended (2.618) target for a 3rd of V-waves from the inception low at 3,134,” Jafari wrote. “It’s on track to forming a bearish key day reversal if today’s close settles below 2,749.”

Bitcoin hit a lifetime high of nearly $3,000 a coin on Monday, but was unable to hold onto those gains. The cryptocurrency finished the day at $2,599, well below the key technical threshold of $2,749 that was singled out by Jafari.

Now, traders should be paying close attention to $2,475 on a weekly basis, as a close below there would cause even more damage to the technical picture, according to Jafari. “Both daily/weekly oscillators are diverging negatively. All of this to say that the balance of signals are looking broadly heavy.”

Jafari isn’t alone in calling for at least a near-term top in the cryptocurrency. “I think it’s in a bubble,” tech billionaire Mark Cuban tweeted last Tuesday. “I just don’t know when or how much it corrects. When everyone is bragging about how easy they are making $=bubble.” Cuban did not say how far he thought bitcoin would fall.

So where will bitcoin go from here? “Wary of a near-term top ahead of 3,134, Jafari concludes. “Consider re-establishing bullish exposure between 2,330 and no lower than 1,915.”