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Monday, September 30, 2019

Former Soldier Sentenced on Firearm Offense


RALEIGH – United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced that today in federal court, Senior United States District Judge W. Earl Britt sentenced JOSEPH RUSSEL GRAFF, 39, of Newport, North Carolina to 52 months imprisonment, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

“The success of our overseas war and reconstruction efforts is tied directly to the trust and respect established with the local populace,” said U.S. Attorney Higdon.  “Corruption in our military operations undermines those efforts and cannot be tolerated.”

GRAFF was named in a Superseding Indictment filed on April 10, 2018 charging him with several offenses, including his unlawful possession of machineguns.  On November 19, 2018, GRAFF pled guilty to that firearm offense.

According to Superseding Indictment and information in the public record, GRAFF was a Sergeant First Class (E-7) in the United States Department of the Army assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg.  GRAFF was a Special Forces Operator assigned to Operational Detachment - Bravo (“ODB”).  His military occupational specialty was a weapons sergeant.

During a search of his residence in North Carolina, law enforcement recovered 8 firearms, six of which were machineguns.  GRAFF told law enforcement that he brought the weapons back from Afghanistan, but falsely claimed that he had cleared all the firearms through his Command and U.S. Customs.  GRAFF did not have any permits to possess any National Firearms Act (NFA) firearms.   GRAFF never obtained a permit to import weapons.

During the ensuing investigation, law enforcement also uncovered evidence that GRAFF participated in a scheme to steal government property and have it sold on the black market by Afghan nationals.  GRAFF sent the money from the scheme back to the United States in a storage container.  GRAFF then used the money to make a down payment on a new home, install an indoor pool, and to buy vehicles for himself and his family.  GRAFF agreed to the forfeiture of $151,906.11 in connection with the fraud.

“This sentencing is the product of a thorough investigation and demonstrates the effectiveness of joint investigations by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and our law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig, Jr., DCIS Mid-Atlantic Field Office.  “DCIS will continue to vigorously pursue corrupt actors whose actions subvert the mission of our brave service members putting their lives on the line each day.”

“This crime involves a serious breach of trust," said Inspector General John F. Sopko. “SIGAR investigators will tirelessly pursue any crimes involving the abuse of the public trust and misuse of American taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan.”

“Today’s sentencing is a clear example that illegal actions such as this will not be tolerated,” said Frank Robey, director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command's Major Procurement Fraud Unit.   “Our special agents, who are strategically stationed throughout the world, will continue to aggressively investigate criminal allegations that ultimately affect the readiness of our Army.”

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command - Major Procurement Fraud Unit, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Senior Litigation Counsel Banumathi Rangarajan handled the prosecution on behalf of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Murray, Kentucky Child Predator Found Guilty by Jury


Twelve minor victims identified in the course of the investigation

PADUCAH, Ky. – A Calloway County, Kentucky, man, has been convicted today on 25 counts of production of child pornography, one count of receipt of child pornography, and one count of sex trafficking children. The jury convicted Jeffrey Desmond Carter, age 40, following a five-day jury trial after 2.5 hours of deliberation.

“When I talk about the feds being good partners to state and local law enforcement, this outcome is where words translated into a result with our kids as the beneficiaries,” said U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman. “What began with Murray PD, Calloway County SO, and the KY State Police was then ably-prosecuted by a talented federal prosecutor supported by a team of dedicated support professionals. More to come; we are committed to being good partners in serving all 53 counties of our district.”

Carter, of Murray, Kentucky, was charged on October 18, 2016, by a federal grand jury with 25 counts of production of child pornography, one count of receipt of child pornography, and one count of sex trafficking children.

According to a pretrial memo, on February 5, 2015, the Calloway County Sheriff’s Department was notified that a 15 year-old female had sent sexually explicit photos and videos of herself to Carter, through a Facebook messenger account under the name of Adam Bryan. The investigation soon merged with an investigation by the Murray Police Department.

At the same time the Calloway County report was made, another report was being made to the Murray Police Department that a 14-year old girl sent nude images to Carter. Through investigative techniques, Carter was identified and a search warrant was obtained for his Murray, Kentucky, apartment.

A search warrant for Carter’s apartment was executed on February 10, 2015, by law enforcement agents from the Murray Police Department, Calloway County Sheriff’s Department, and Kentucky State Police. A number of items were seized from the residence including electronic devices. Carter was present when the warrant was executed and was taken to the Murray Police Department for questioning. After waiving his Miranda rights, Carter admitted to using the “Adam Bryan” Facebook account and to contacting girls under the age of 18 and requesting nude images and videos from them. Further, Carter admitted to engaging in sexual acts with a number of minor females and to recording those encounters. Carter stated that he would pay money or provide gifts to the minor females in exchange for participating in the sex acts or for sending nude images or videos. In addition to his verbal confession Carter wrote out a confession; in this written confession, Carter specifically names six of the victims listed in the indictment, and provides a description of a seventh.

The Kentucky Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory performed an analysis on the devices seized during the search warrant; in reviewing the reports and data an FBI special agent and other authorities were able to identify at least 12 victims, including those already known to law enforcement.

Sentencing in this case is set for 11:00 AM Central time, on January 14, 2020, in Paducah, before Senior United States District Judge Thomas B. Russell. Carter faces a mandatory prison term of no less than 15 years and a maximum of 30 years for counts 1-22, 24, 25, & 27; no less than 5 years and a maximum of 20 years for count 23; no less than 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment for count 26; and up to and including a lifetime period of supervised release.  There is no parole in the federal system.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth A. Hancock and was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  In addition to the original investigative agencies including the Murray Police Department, Calloway County Sheriff’s Department, and the Kentucky State Police, assistance in the federal investigation was received from the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department; McCracken County Sheriff’s Department; Metropolis, Illinois Police Department; Murray State University Police Department; and the Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center.

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This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims.

Park Ridge Man Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Commit Extortion


ROCKFORD — A Park Ridge man was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Philip G. Reinhard to 14 years in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiring to commit extortion.

ROBERT PANOZZO, 59, pleaded guilty to the charge on June 19, 2019. According to a written plea agreement, from Jan. 1, 2005, through Dec. 20, 2009, Panozzo conspired with JOSEPH D. ABBOTT, 40, formerly of Park City, and others, to extort money from an individual by actual and threatened force, violence, and fear.

The sentence was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. The case was investigated by the Chicago office of the FBI.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott R. Paccagnini.

In 2005, Panozzo loaned money to the individual.  In 2006, the individual paid Panozzo in cash, which the individual believed was the last in a series of payments that satisfied his loans from Panozzo.  However, Panozzo told the individual that $100,000 was still owed as interest from the previous loans.  Panozzo admitted in the plea agreement that he recruited Abbott and others to cause harm to the individual and his property in order to coerce the individual to repay the loans from Panozzo.  On Oct. 5, 2006, Panozzo, Abbott and others confronted the individual at his place of business in McHenry County and demanded payment of the outstanding loans.  When the individual said he could not do so, Panozzo, Abbott and others struck the individual, causing injuries to his head and arms that required medical treatment.

Panozzo was incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections from Nov. 3, 2006, to Sept. 25, 2008.  Panozzo admitted that after his release from IDOC and throughout 2009, he repeatedly called and left voicemail messages for the victim, demanding that he either pay off his loans or meet with Panozzo to discuss repayment.  On Feb. 8 and 11, 2009, Abbott left a note at the victim’s residence in McHenry County, demanding repayment of the $100,000.  Later that month, Abbott used a flammable liquid to set fire to a Dodge Caravan that was parked in the driveway of the victim’s residence.  Panozzo admitted that he had paid Abbott to set fire to the victim’s van.  On March 3, 2009, Panozzo called the victim’s residence and left a voicemail message that announced Panozzo intended to arrive at the victim’s residence within one hour. In April 2009, Panozzo and the victim engaged in a series of conversations in which Panozzo demanded repayment. On April 8, 2009, Abbott used an incendiary device to set fire to the contents of several trash cans and the garage located at the victim’s residence.  Panozzo also admitted that he had paid Abbott to “blow up” the victim’s residence.

Abbott was sentenced on July 26, 2019, to six and a half years in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiring to commit extortion.