Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Former Employee of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan Pleads Guilty to Soliciting Approximately $320,000 in Bribes From Contractors

A former employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) based in Afghanistan pleaded guilty today to soliciting approximately $320,000 in bribes from Afghan contractors in return for his assistance in U.S. government contracts.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick D. Hansen of the Central District of Illinois; Special Agent in Charge Sean Cox of the FBI’s Springfield Field Office; Special Inspector General John F. Sopko for Afghanistan Reconstruction; Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s (CID) Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU); and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) made the announcement.

Mark E. Miller, 48, of Springfield, Ill., was charged in an Information filed on July 18, in the Central District of Illinois with one count of seeking and receiving bribes.  He pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins in Springfield, Illinois.  Miller is scheduled to be sentenced on November 30, by U.S. District Judge Richard H. Mills.

During the hearing, Miller admitted that he worked for the USACE from 2005 until 2015, including in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.  During that time, Miller maintained a residence in Springfield.  From February 2009 to October 2011, Miller was assigned to a military base, Camp Clark, in eastern Afghanistan.  While in Afghanistan, Miller was the site manager and a contracting officer representative for a number of construction projects.

Miller further admitted that on Dec. 10, 2009, the USACE awarded a contract worth approximately $2.9 million to an Afghan construction company for the construction of a road from eastern Afghanistan to the Pakistani border.  This contract later increased in value to approximately $8,142,300.  Miller admitted that he oversaw the work of the Afghan company on this road project, including verifying that the company performed the work called for by the contract and authorizing progress payments to the company by the USACE.

Miller admitted that, in the course of overseeing the contract with the Afghan company, he solicited approximately $280,000 in bribes from the owners of the company, in return for assisting the company in connection with the road project, including making sure the contract was not terminated.  Miller further admitted that, after the contract was no longer active, he solicited an additional $40,000 in bribes in return for the possibility of future contract work and other benefits.

Miller will be sentenced on November 30 before Judge Mills.

This matter was investigated by the FBI, DCIS, SIGAR and Army CID-MPFU. Trial Attorney Daniel Butler of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris of the Central District of Illinois are prosecuting the case.

Five Fugitives Arrested in Connection With String of Violent Robberies

Five individuals have been arrested in connection with their suspected involvement in a series of violent robberies against traveling jewelry salesmen, one of which resulted in the death of the victim, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Eric K. Jackson of the FBI’s Dallas Division.

“Thanks to the efforts of our prosecutors, the FBI and our local and international partners, all five members of this alleged armed robbery organization have been apprehended,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. “We thank our Colombian law enforcement partners for their outstanding work. The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to working vigorously with our partners at home and abroad to apprehend and bring this and other armed robbery groups to justice.”

“I commend the extraordinary efforts of the FBI and our local and international law enforcement partners in apprehending these brazenly violent fugitives,” said U.S. Attorney Parker. “This extremely dangerous group of robbers is part of a larger organized South American theft group that has targeted members of the jewelry industry across this nation for a number of years. Our community is safer as a result of getting these people off our streets.”

“This case is a testament to the exemplary work of the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force,” said Special Agent in Charge Jackson. “The agents on our task force worked hand in hand with state, local and international partners to relentlessly investigate these crimes and, ultimately, identify, locate and apprehend these violent fugitives.”

Pedro Louis Alvarez, 32, of Honduras; and four Colombian nationals, Johnnattan Ramirez, 35; Robert Riveros, 25; Eslevy Vargas-Avila, 27; and Catherine Contreras-Beltran, 28, were charged in a federal superseding indictment in October 2016 with one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, two counts of interference with commerce by robbery and related firearms charges. Ramirez, Alvarez and Riveros are also charged with one additional count of interference with commerce by robbery and related firearms charges. Alvarez was arrested in New York City by the FBI and the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport Department of Public Safety on June 27, 2016.  Contreras-Beltran, Vargas-Avila, Ramirez and Riveros were all arrested in Colombia by the Colombian National Police, between December 2016, and July 19.

The indictment alleges that on April 27, 2016, Ramirez, Alvarez and Riveros robbed a traveling diamond and jewelry salesman at gunpoint, taking the victim’s rolling case and a Nikon digital camera, among other items, while Alvarez conducted surveillance. The indictment further alleges that on June 2, 2016, and June 9, 2016, Ramirez, Alvarez, Riveros, Vargas-Avila and Contreras-Beltran robbed two additional traveling diamond and jewelry salesmen at gunpoint, taking from the first victim a bag containing, among other items, a diamond scale and diamond gauge, and from the second victim a case containing jewelry. According to the allegations, when the second victim attempted to retrieve his case from Ramirez’s vehicle, Ramirez drove away with the victim partially inside the vehicle, and Ramirez, Alvarez, Riveros and Vargas-Avila then removed the victim from the vehicle and beat him, which contributed to his to death.

An indictment is an accusation by a federal grand jury, and the defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty.

The FBI Dallas Violent Crimes Task Force, the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport Department of Public Safety, Arlington Texas Police Department and the Garland Texas Police Department investigated the case, with assistance from the Colombian National Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Robinson and Trial Attorney Joseph Wheatley of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Member of International Child Exploitation Conspiracy Sentenced to 210 Months in Prison

A Wichita, Kansas man was sentenced to 210 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release, for production of child pornography based on his participation in a website that was operated for the purpose of coercing and enticing minors as young as eight years old to engage in sexually explicit conduct on web camera.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia; and Section Chief John J. Brosnan of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Section (VCACS) made the announcement.

Allan Cortez, 34, was charged on April 4, 2016, and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia on April 14.

According to admissions made in connection with the plea agreement, members of the conspiracy created false profiles on social networking sites popular with children, posing as young teenagers to lure children to two websites they controlled. Once on the conspirators’ websites, Cortez admitted that members of the conspiracy showed the children pre-recorded videos of prior minor victims, often engaging in sexually explicit conduct, to make the new victims think that they were chatting with another minor. Cortez further admitted that conspirators used these videos to coerce and entice children to engage in sexually explicit activity on their own web cameras, which could be viewed live by other members without the victim’s knowledge and which the website automatically recorded and made available for download later. Cortez admitted that he chatted with minors in furtherance of the conspiracy. The defendant also admitted that one of the websites ranked the efforts of the members to successfully coerce and entice children to engage in sexually explicit conduct on live web camera. Both websites have been disabled.
This case was investigated as part of Operation Subterfuge, a multinational investigation coordinated by members of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children (VCAC) International Task Force. VCAC special agents led the investigation with the assistance of the FBI’s Operation Rescue Me and the FBI’s Digital Analysis and Research Center and the Office of Victim Assistance. The South Africa Police Service, Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offenses, Gauteng; Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre; the Dutch Police Service Agency, KLPD; and the Australian Federal Police, Child Protection Operations, Sydney were active partners in Operation Subterfuge. To date, over 320 minor victims have been identified as part of this operation.

In addition to his prison sentence, the defendant was ordered to pay $15,215 of restitution.

Trial Attorney Lauren Britsch of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitney Russell of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.