Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Union County Man Admits Distributing over One Kilogram of Fentanyl

TRENTON, N.J. – A Union County, New Jersey, man today admitted distributing and conspiring to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Jhon Rodriguez-Acosta, 34, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl and one count of knowingly and intentionally distributing of 400 grams or more of fentanyl. 

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From April 2018 through Feb. 13, 2019, Rodriguez-Acosta conspired with others to distribute narcotics. On Feb. 12, 2019, Rodriguez-Acosta provided a conspirator with over one kilogram of fentanyl. On or about Feb. 13, 2019, Rodriguez-Acosta and a second conspirator traveled to the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Elizabeth to collect payment for the fentanyl he distributed.

The counts to which Rodriguez-Acosta pleaded guilty each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10 million. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 28, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Francesca Liquori of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force/Narcotics Unit in Newark.

San Antonio Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Distribution, Receipt and Possession of Child Pornography

In San Antonio this morning, a federal judge sentenced 53–year-old Elton Vallare of San Antonio to 20 years in federal prison for distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography, announced U.S. Attorney John F. Bash and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered Vallare to pay a total of $29,000 in restitution to seven identified victims and to be placed on supervised release for a period of ten years after completing his prison term.

“For the second day in a row, our office obtained a significant sentence in a child-pornography case. I’m grateful for the amazing work the FBI’s San Antonio field office in this case and so many others.  We will stop at nothing to protect kids,” stated U.S. Attorney Bash.

On January 30, 2020, jurors convicted Vallare of two counts of distribution of child pornography, one count of receipt of child pornography and two counts of possession of child pornography.  On June 14, 2017, FBI agents arrested Vallare following the execution of a search warrant at his residence.  During the search warrant, investigators recovered two laptop computers and various computer related equipment.  A forensics review of the seized items revealed the presence of numerous video and image files depicting child pornography which the defendant downloaded and distributed via the internet.

“Today's sentencing sends a strong message that there are serious consequences for those who would harm children by distributing and trading images of child pornography,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Combs. “It is impossible to measure the suffering these victims have endured. In this case, the defendant will have to pay restitution to the victims - and hopefully this will help them on their long road to recovery. The FBI is committed to finding perpetrators of this terrible crime and seeking justice for all who have been victimized.”

International Gun-Trafficker Pleads Guilty to Role in Straw Purchase Scheme

NORFOLK, Va. – A New Jersey resident and citizen of the Dominican Republic pleaded guilty today to helping arrange the straw purchase of multiple handguns.

“Straw purchasers are often literally arming criminals,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We will continue to aggressively pursue these cases, seek to obtain felony convictions, and work with local federally licensed firearms dealers and our partners at the ATF to stop the flow of illegally purchased firearms from hitting the street.”

According to information before the court, Greilin Eurinio Santana-Munoz, 31, a carnival worker and convicted felon, used several straw purchasers to obtain at least 25 handguns from federally licensed gun stores in Virginia and Georgia, which he then shipped out of the country to the Dominican Republic. He had an associate straw purchase 10 handguns from Virginia gun stores in Chantilly, Manassas, and Virginia Beach. He was arrested in Georgia after ATF agents watched another straw purchaser buy four handguns at yet another gun store and deliver them to him while he was waiting outside the store in his vehicle.

Santana-Munoz pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting a co-conspirator causing a federally licensed gun store to maintain false records. He faces a maximum of five years in prison when sentenced on Sept. 18, 2020. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

“The intent of straw purchasing firearms is clear - to provide weapons to individuals who cannot possess them legally, generally for the commission of crimes,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “This defendant’s plea concludes a multi-state and international investigation into his illegal activities, and we are grateful to the U.S. Attorney and our law enforcement partners for this successful outcome.”

This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. Click here for more information about Project Guardian.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Washington Field Division; and Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of Virginia State Police, made the announcement after U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence R. Leonard accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson is prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:20-cr-029.

Two Brothers Plead Guilty For Their Roles In A Contraband Tobacco Scheme Which Produced Nearly 30 Million Unlicensed Cigarettes

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Joseph Thompson, 39, and his brother, Jonathan Thompson, 41, both of the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian Reservation, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa, to wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Marangola, who is handling the case, stated that the defendants worked with others to acquire “cut rag tobacco” which would be used to manufacture contraband cigarettes. Monies to purchase the cut rag tobacco were wired from Rochester, NY to CanStar International Inc., a tobacco broker, in the state of Florida. Once purchased, the cut rag tobacco was delivered to buildings and warehouses controlled by the defendants in Awkwasasne, NY. The defendants then used the cut rag tobacco to manufacture unlicensed cigarettes and distribute the cigarettes to various Indian Reservations in the United States.

Between June 2016 and December 2018, the defendants ordered approximately 72,500 pounds of cut rag tobacco from CanStar, which was used to manufacture approximately 27,923,077 unlicensed cigarettes. This resulted in a loss to the United States of approximately $1,405,368.46 in federal taxes.  

The pleas are the culmination of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent-in-Charge; Homeland Security Investigations - Border Enforcement Security Team, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Unit, under the direction of Director Brian Manaher; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – Office of Field Operations, under the direction of Assistant Administrator Nicholas Colucci; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge John B. Devito, New York Field Division.

Sentencing is scheduled for August 27, 2020, before Judge Siragusa.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Red Lake Felon Indicted On Methamphetamine And Firearm Charges

United States Attorney Erica H. MacDonald today announced the unsealing of a federal indictment charging ARLIN MAURICE THUNDER, 46, with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. THUNDER made his initial appearance today before Magistrate Judge Jon T. Huseby in U.S. District Court in Bemidji, Minnesota. THUNDER was ordered to remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday, May 26, 2020.

According to the allegations in the indictment, on May 13, 2019, THUNDER was found to be in possession of methamphetamine and a firearm, specifically a Star Bonifacio Echeverria Firestar M43 9 mm caliber pistol. Because THUNDER has a prior felony conviction, he is prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms at any time.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Red Lake Tribal Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea A. Walcker is prosecuting the case.

Four Metro Denver Men Arrested And Charged Following Smash And Grab Burglary Of Arvada Gun Store

DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announced that four defendants have been charged and arrested in connection with a smash and grab burglary at the Eagles Nest Armory, a gun store in Arvada.  The defendants were charged with conspiracy to receive, possess, conceal, store, or sell, a stolen firearm.  They appeared before a U.S. Magistrate Judge yesterday afternoon where they were advised of their rights and the charges pending against them.  The ATF as well as the Arvada and Denver Police Departments joined in today’s announcement.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, on April 28, 2020, Daniel Esquivel, Tristan Molinar, and two other individuals drove to the Eagles Nest Armory, arriving at 3:45 a.m. in a black Mitsubishi SUV to steal firearms.  The defendants forced entry through the back door of the store and stole twenty-one firearms in less than five minutes before fleeing the scene.  Daniel Esquivel then enlisted the help of Norberto Valdez-Esquivel and Víctor Valdez-Esquivel to sell some of the stolen firearms.

Ultimately, a law enforcement agent working in an undercover capacity was able to purchase three of the stolen firearms from Norberto Valdez-Esquivel, Victor Valdez-Esquivel, and Daniel Esquivel.  The stolen weapons were being stored in the back of a box truck outside Norberto Valdez-Esquivel’s Denver residence.  Daniel Esquivel, Norberto Valdez-Esquivel, and Víctor Valdez-Esquivel shared in the profits from the sale.  

On May 19, 2020, search warrants were executed, and two more firearms that had been stolen from the Eagles Nest were located within the box truck outside Norberto Valdez-Esquivel’s Denver residence. Daniel Esquivel, Tristan Molinar, Norberto Valdez-Esquivel, and Víctor Valdez-Esquivel were then arrested.

If convicted, the defendants face not more than 5 years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the ATF with substantial support from the Arvada and Denver Police Departments.  The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Minser.

A criminal complaint is a probable cause charging document.  Anyone charged by complaint has a Constitutional right to be indicted by a federal grand jury.  The charges contained in the criminal complaint are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Georgia couple indicted on multiple federal child pornography charges

Charges carry penalty of up to 30 years in prison

SAVANNAH, GA:  A Georgia couple has been indicted on multiple child pornography charges in a virtual U.S. District Court grand jury session necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Paul Joseph Keegan, 29, of Midway, Ga., is charged with three counts of Production of Child Pornography, and one count each of Receipt of Child Pornography and Possession of Child Pornography, while Sharon Elizabeth Keegan, 28, of Midway, Ga., is charged with one count each of Production of Child Pornography, Distribution of Child Pornography, and Possession of Child Pornography, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The most serious charges carry a penalty of up to 30 years in prison, along with substantial financial penalties followed by a period of supervised release.

There is no parole in the federal system.

“This case represents a substantial cooperative effort between local and federal law enforcement agencies in investigating and bringing charges,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “Together with our law enforcement partners we are shining our light in the dark corners where vulnerable victims need our help most.”

Undercover agents monitoring messaging applications were alerted to images of child pornography and notified Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), leading law enforcement agencies to the Keegans’ residence and the subsequent discovery of images exploiting two minor victims on electronic devices in possession of the Keegans.

“The production of child pornography and the associated victimization of the child in producing such material tears at the heart of every parent out there,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in Georgia and Alabama. “HSI and all of its partners will continue to prioritize production investigations as there is always a child in the shadows crying out for help to escape.”

“This indictment shows the dedicated work of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes against children,” said Vic Reynolds, Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is committed to working with our local, state, and federal partners to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation.”

Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This investigation took place under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood, and was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Richmond Hill Police Department. The case is being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Kirkland and Project Safe Childhood Coordinator Tara M. Lyons.