Michael O’Donnell pleads not guilty to federal charges

By Rachel Skytta

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Update 2: p.m. Wednesday, May 9:

Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell pleaded not guilty to 12 counts against him Wednesday afternoon in federal court.

A federal indictment unsealed Friday alleges O’Donnell took money from his campaign accounts to put into his personal account and to give to his friends and covered it up by making false reports electronically to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

O’Donnell is charged with five counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of money laundering.

In court Wednesday, the judge imposed a $5,000 unsecured bond. As part of the condition, O’Donnell must forfeit his passport, an obligation the judge says he already fulfilled.

O’Donnell says he’s had the opportunity to look at the indictment detailing the charges against him, understands what the government is alleging and the potential penalties associated with the crimes for which he’s accused.

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Factfinder 12 continues to push for information on the federal charges against Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell.

O’Donnell was indicted on charges of fraud and money laundering. He’s set to make his first appearance in court Wednesday. He confirmed to Factfinder 12 he will be at the regular county commission meeting before his court appearance.

We tracked down O’Donnell as he was coming and going from his office at the Sedgwick County Courthouse. He said he couldn’t comment, and asked that we contact his attorney.

O’Donnell did confirm he plans to be at the next county commission meeting. Factfinder 12 also asked if he’s prepared to answer questions after the meeting.

“I do not know. It is up to my attorney to tell me. But yeah, I’ll definitely be there tomorrow.” said O’Donnell.

We also asked if he wanted to say anything to his constituents who are wondering what will happen to his district.

“We’ll know more later this week.”

The federal indictment unsealed Friday says O’Donnell transferred money from his campaign accounts to his personal account. It says he wrote checks to other people as campaign expenditures, then had those people give the money back and deposited it into his personal account.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau has already called for O’Donnell’s resignation. It’s unclear if other commissioners plan to bring up the charges against O’Donnell at Wednesday’s meeting. That meeting starts at 9 a.m. O’Donnell will be in federal court at 1:30 p.m.

Former Netflix VP Charged With Fraud, Money Laundering

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A lawyer for a former Netflix executive indicted in federal court in San Jose on charges of taking an alleged $690,000 in kickbacks said Wednesday his client “vigorously disputes the allegations of the indictment.”

Michael Kail “looks forward to vindication at trial where these allegations will be proven untrue,” said defense attorney Joseph Ainley.

Kail, 49, of Los Gatos, was vice president in charge of internet technology at the Los Gatos-based video streaming company from 2011 to 2014. His position gave him the authority to enter into contracts with outside technology companies providing services to Netflix.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Jose on April 26 on 29 counts of fraud and money laundering in connection with his alleged receipt of kickbacks in cash and stock options from nine technology companies that had contracts with Netflix.

The indictment was issued under seal and was unsealed after Kail was arraigned before a federal magistrate in San Jose Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

U.S. Magistrate Nathanael Cousins allowed Kail to remain free on a $200,000 property bond while awaiting trial.

Kail’s next court appearance is a status conference on July 10 before U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, the trial judge assigned to the case.

The indictment alleges Kail’s total gain from the kickbacks was $690,000.

The charges include 19 counts of wire fraud for documents sent electronically to and from the outside companies in 2013 and 2014, three counts of mail fraud for documents sent by postal mail and Federal Express, and seven counts of money laundering of alleged profits.

The fraud counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the money laundering counts 10 years, if Kail is convicted.

He could also be fined twice the amount of his gross gain from fraud.

The indictment additionally seeks forfeiture of any property Kail bought with the alleged proceeds, including his Los Gatos house.

The Los Gatos house served as the address of a one-person consulting company Kail set up called Unix Mercenary LLC. The indictment alleges Kail created the company for the purpose of having the kickbacks sent to its bank account. He allegedly then transferred the payments to his personal accounts.

Ainley said in his statement, “As a known technology leader in Silicon Valley, Mr. Kail frequently advises cutting edge startups on next generation technology.

“This indictment is unfounded and takes direct aim at the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that makes the valley such a vital part of the economy,” Ainley said.

After leaving Netflix in August 2014, Kail went to work for Sunnyvale-based Yahoo as chief information officer. He left that job the following May in the wake of a civil lawsuit filed against him by Netflix in Santa Clara County Superior Court in November 2014.

Netflix’s lawsuit included claims of fraud, unjust enrichment, fraudulent concealment and breach of fiduciary duty. It alleged that Kail fraudently took so-called “commissions” of 12 to 15 percent on the contracts he approved. The lawsuit was settled on a confidential basis in 2015.

After leaving Yahoo, Kail co-founded a Boston-based cyber security company called Cybric.

Houston megachurch pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell indicted for wire fraud and money laundering

A prominent Houston megachurch pastor is accused of fraud and money laundering in a scheme involving phony Chinese bonds.

Kirbyjon Caldwell, 64, is the senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church. The church is one of the largest protestant churches in the United States.

According to court documents, Caldwell and 55-year-old Gregory Alan Smith raised nearly $3.4 million through a Chinese bond scheme to defraud approximately 29 investors from April 2013 to August 2014.

The two allegedly promised high rates of return — sometimes up to 15 times the value.

“In reality, the bonds were mere collectible memorabilia with no investment value,” court documents stated.

Smith is accused of abusing his influence and status with the Smith Financial Group in Shreveport and Caldwell leveraging his status as pastor to lure investors in Historical Chinese bonds.

These bonds were issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949. They are not recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value.

None of the investors received any money back, court documents stated.

Caldwell and Smith are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering. Additionally, Smith and Caldwell are charged in two separate counts of money laundering.

Each face 20 years in prison for the conspiracy to commit wire fraud count and for the wire fraud counts. They also face 10 years in prison for the conspiracy to commit money laundering count and the money laundering counts. If found guilty, they also face a $1 million fine, restitution, forfeiture and five years of supervised release.

Caldwell once served as one of President George W. Bush’s spiritual advisors. He is currently listed as a limited partner with the Houston Texans.

The Texans released the following statement, “We have recently been made aware of a report involving Kirbyjon Caldwell. We are gathering more information and will have no further comment at this time.”

Sources told Eyewitness News that Caldwell is working with authorities to surrender in Louisiana within next week to 10 days.

Woman accused of leading double life sentenced for money laundering

By khou.com

HUMBLE, Texas – An Humble woman who prosecutors say led a double life was sentenced this month to 28 years in prison for money laundering and theft.

Ether Thomas, 54, pleaded guilty in a money laundering scheme in which more than $8 million was stolen from a Sugar Land engineering firm, says the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office.

During Thomas’ trial, prosecutors said that she led a double life. They said Thomas came from a good family and raised good children, tithed thousands of dollars to her church and performed charitable works. But she also began stealing when she was 18 years old and used the millions taken from the engineering firm for shopping and trips to casinos, prosecutors alleged.

The District Attorney’s Office says Andrea Davidson, Thomas’ partner in the theft from the Sugar Land company, was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2017.

http://www.khou.com/article/news/crime/woman-accused-of-leading-double-life-sentenced-for-money-laundering/285-529357491

UK Art Dealer Matthew Green Charged In $9 Million Picasso Money Laundering Scheme

US government officials have charged British art dealer Matthew Green with using a pricey Picasso painting to help launder more than $9.2 million (£6.7 million), a representative for the Department of Justice confirmed to artnet News. Green was arrested in the US last week and is currently being detained.

Investigators allege that the proposed Picasso sale was connected to a $50 million stock scam. Green, who is the son of prominent London dealer Richard Green and was a co-director of the Richard Green Gallery and, more recently, Mayfair Fine Art, is one of ten people and corporations named in the 29-page indictment. The indictment, which was unsealed by the US Attorney’s office on February 28, focuses on the stock manipulation scheme and violations of US law requiring citizens and taxpayers to report offshore and international holdings to the IRS.

 The indictments are the result of work by several undercover FBI agents who recorded their conversations with defendants regarding alleged stock manipulation, money laundering, and falsifying the ID’s of the various offshore account holders.

“As alleged in the indictment, the defendants engaged in an elaborate multi-year scheme to defraud the investing public of millions of dollars through deceit and manipulative stock trading, and then worked to launder the fraudulent proceeds through off-shore bank accounts and the art world, including the proposed purchase of a Picasso painting,” US Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in a statement.

Two of the other defendants, Beaufort Securities investment manager Peter Kyriacou and his uncle Aristos Aristodemou, suggested to an undercover FBI agent the possibility that he launder the proceeds of his illegal stock manipulation with an art transaction, according to the indictment. Kyriacou and Aristodemou then offered to introduce the agent to Green, and Aristodemou explained that the art trade is “the only market that is unregulated” and advised that art was a profitable investment because of “money laundering,” according to court papers.

The indictment alleges that between March 2014 and February 2018, Kyriacou, Aristodemou, and Beaufort were involved in defrauding investors in various publicly traded companies in the US “by concealing the true ownership” of the companies and “manipulating the price and trading volume in the stocks of those companies.”

Kyriacou, Aristodemou, and Green allegedly proposed that the undercover agent purchase, from Green, Pablo Picasso‘s Personnages (1965). Green “provided paperwork for the painting’s purchase. The money laundering scheme was halted prior to the transfer of ownership of the painting,” according to a statement from the Justice Department.

A Picasso painting matching that title and date was last offered publicly at an Impressionist and Modern evening sale at Christie’s London in 2010, according to the artnet Price Database. At the time it carried an estimate of £3 million to £5 million ($4 million to $7 million) and failed to sell.

Past owners of the painting, as listed in the provenance, or history of ownership, include a Paris gallery, a private collection in Switzerland, a private collection in Sweden, a Berlin gallery, and an unknown buyer who acquired it in 2000. It is not clear when Green acquired the painting or if he was the actual owner or was offering to sell it on behalf of a consignor. A source familiar with the work told artnet News that the painting is currently on loan to a museum in Denmark.

According to the indictment, on or about February 5, the agent met with Kyriacou, Aristodemou, and Green in London. During the meeting the undercover agent “once again explained his involvement in stock manipulation deals.” The defendants proposed that, after buying and maintaining ownership of the painting for an unspecified period of time, Green would arrange for the resale of the Picasso and then transfer proceeds back to the undercover agent through a bank in the US.

During the meeting, Green said that, in part, “it was important for him to make more than a five percent profit on the transaction so that he would not be asked why he was ‘in the money laundering business’,” according to the indictment. He further stated that he would address an invoice for the painting to a company that the undercover agent specified.

Indian authorities are probing a bank fraud case for potential money laundering

India’s Enforcement Directorate, a government agency that fights financial crime, will probe the possibility of money laundering in a $1.77 billion fraud case at the state-run Punjab National Bank (PNB), a finance ministry official said on Thursday.

PNB, the country’s second-largest state-run lender with assets of $120 billion, said in a regulatory filing that the fraud benefited “a few select account holders,” and that it has reported the matter to law enforcement agencies.

This was an isolated case of banking fraud and would be investigated by federal agencies, the finance official told Reuters. He declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media.

Separately, India’s Axis Bank said on Thursday that it had dealt in transactions that had been guaranteed with letters of undertaking from Punjab National Bank, but has since sold those transactions.

Shares in PNB, which fell 10 percent on Wednesday, were down more than 5 percent in early trading on Thursday.

A Louisiana man was arrested for allegedly swindling people out of thousands of dollars through a “Nigerian prince” email scam.

Authorities charged Michael Neu, 67, with 269 counts of wire fraud and money laundering after conducting an 18-month investigation, the Slidell Police Department said in a statement.

Police say Neu allegedly operated as the scam’s “middle man,” who wired money from his victims to his accomplices in Nigeria.

The investigation is still pending due to its international reach, but authorities said the money Neu allegedly stole had been wired to a third-party in Nigeria.

Authorities are well-aware of these types of scams.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s description of the Nigerian email scam, the phishing scam begins with the suspect posing as a Nigerian prince or other high-ranking official seeking money or personal information to access an alleged inheritance.

Although such scams are the butt of jokes on late-night television, people continue to be duped by these types of scams.

“Most people laugh at the thought of falling for such a fraud, but law enforcement officials report annual losses of millions of dollars to these schemes,” the Slidell police said in a statement.

Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal said that he hopes Neu’s arrest reminds the public not to fall prey to these schemes.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Fandal said in a statement. “Never give out personal information over the phone, through e-mail, cash checks for other individuals, or wire large amounts of money to someone you don’t know. 99.9 percent of the time, it’s a scam.”

How Obama let Hezbollah’s cocaine empire thrive ‘to save Iran nuclear deal’

 

A Politico investigation has revealed how the administration of former US President Barack Obama attempted to suppress a Drugs Enforcement Agency operation to expose a money-laundering scheme in which “proceeds from Latin American drug-running were being funneled to Hezbollah.”

According to the examination released this week, DEA agents working on an operation codenamed “Project Cassandra” were hoping to prosecute operatives from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering.

But in order to preserve the Iranian nuclear deal, a feature of the Obama legacy that the former administration prides itself on, the operation was “tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran,” the investigation has found.

The nuclear deal saw economic sanctions lifted on Iran in exchange for the alleged suspension of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

The eight-year-long DEA investigation saw agents using wiretaps, undercover operation and informants “to map Hezbollah’s illicit networks, with the help of 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies.”

Politico spoke with Project Cassandra agents, who claim that the Obama administration stifled or undermined the investigation, “allowing [the Hezbollah operatives] to remain active despite being under sealed US indictment for years.”

“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” David Asher, a financier who helped establish Project Cassandra.

“They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

Project Cassandra

Project Cassandra agents claim that officials at the Justice and Treasury departments repeatedly hindered Project Cassandra agents’ attempts to pursue “investigations, prosecutions, arrests and financial sanctions” against key figures in the scheme.

The operation, which made use of law enforcement agencies in seven countries, is believed to have uncovered “evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities,” Politico reported.

Project Cassandra highlighted the “the dangerous global nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism”

Hezbollah operatives allegedly used the drug money to buy weapons that have been used in Syria.

The Obama administration seemingly let Hezbollah “off the hook,” Politico surmises. This is despite the US Department of State declaring the Lebanese militia a foreign terrorist organization since 1997.

 http://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2017/12/20/How-Obama-let-Hezbollah-s-cocaine-empire-thrive-to-save-Iran-nuclear-deal-.html

The 2018 World Cup will only shed more light on corruption in Russia

By: Murad Hemmadi

Scandals have dominated the lead-up to the big event, and there’s little chance of the tournament itself going smoothly

At about 6 p.m. local time on June 14 at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, with Vladimir Putin in attendance and hundreds of millions tuning in around the world, a player will tap the ball to a teammate and kick off the 2018 FIFA World Cup. However the Russian team fares at home, the tournament will likely go down as a bad play by the ruling regime.

Nations treat the hosting of mega sporting events as a marker of “entering the global community [and] being a global player in terms of trade and economics,” says Simon Darnell, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. They’re looking to be recognized as “a country with international prestige, a leader, forward-looking.” The Putin regime must see the World Cup as a chance to showcase Russia’s resurgence. Instead, reputation-dinging scandals have dominated the lead-up, and there’s little chance of the tournament itself going smoothly.

There’s already the cost: a projected $13.8 billion in government spending. The total expenditure won’t be totted up until well after the tournament, but the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi cost four times as much as initially anticipated. The other side of the balance sheet is in bad shape, too—while the World Cup has traditionally been a commercial bonanza, FIFA has reportedly struggled to sign up large sponsors for 2018.

Meanwhile, European media outlets reported last summer that poorly paid and ill-treated North Korean labourers had been involved in building St. Petersburg’s Zenit Arena; according to a trade union, eight workers have perished on the site, among 17 killed at tournament venues in total.

The hosts have hardly been winning good press in other areas, either. Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren’s independent investigation for the World Anti-Doping Agency found an “institutional conspiracy” to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Russian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. As a result, the Russian team was banned in early December from competing at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Russian officials have vehemently denied these reports. But staging the World Cup is unlikely to illuminate Russia’s renewed relevance. Instead, it will shine the spotlight on a spectacular mess.

Turkish gold trader details money laundering scheme for Iran

Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Turkish-Iranian gold trader described in a U.S. court on Wednesday how he ran a sprawling international money laundering scheme aimed at helping Iran get around U.S. sanctions and spend its oil and gas revenues abroad.

Reza Zarrab, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in the criminal trial of a Turkish bank executive, told jurors in federal court in Manhattan that he helped Iran use funds deposited in Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank to buy gold, which was smuggled to Dubai and sold for cash.

The testimony, given through Turkish interpreters, came on the second day of the trial of Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, although only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities. Prosecutors have said the defendants took part in a scheme that involved gold trades and fake purchases of food to give Iran access to international markets, violating U.S. sanctions.

The case has fueled tensions between the United States and Turkey, which are NATO allies. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has said the case was fabricated for political reasons.

Standing before the jury in tan prison garb on Wednesday, Zarrab drew a multicolored diagram to illustrate the complex series of transactions he said he used to avoid scrutiny of U.S. banks and regulators. He explained how he falsified customs documents to make it appear that gold was bound for Iran, rather than Dubai.

Zarrab said Atilla was “the most knowledgeable person about the sanction rules” at Halkbank, and that he helped develop the scheme. He said Atilla and Halkbank’s then-general manager, Suleyman Aslan, instructed him how to carry it out.

“He made sure that the system and method worked,” Zarrab said of Atilla.

Zarrab said he began working with Halkbank on the scheme in 2012, after bribing Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, to broker a deal with Aslan. He said Aslan had initially refused to work with Zarrab because he was too well known.

Zarrab said he paid Caglayan bribes amounting to more than $50 million.

Caglayan and Suleyman have also both been charged in the case. Turkey’s government has previously said that Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law. Halkbank has said that all of its transactions fully complied with national and international regulations.

Zarrab testified that before working with Halkbank, he handled Iranian transactions through Turkey’s Aktif Bank. He said the bank initially refused to let him open an account, but relented after Zarrab asked Egemen Bagis, then Turkey’s minister of European Union affairs, for help.

 Zarrab said Bagis set up a meeting between him and Aktif Bank’s general manager and that he was then allowed to open an account. However, Aktif Bank later shut down the account after receiving a warning from the United States, Zarrab said.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach anyone at Aktif Bank for comment after working hours on Wednesday.

Zarrab is expected to continue testifying on Thursday.