Friday, February 23, 2024

Modified Shotgun Linked to Alamogordo Police Officer Fatality

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dominic Cruz De La O, 27, of Alamogordo, appeared in federal court on charges related to possessing an unregistered weapon made from a shotgun. The weapon, a modified 12-gauge shotgun with a barrel length of 16 inches and an overall length of 25.5 inches, was allegedly used in the shooting death of Alamogordo Police Officer Anthony Ferguson during a traffic stop on July 15, 2023. De La O will remain in temporary custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for Feb. 22, 2024.

On July 26, 2023, ATF agents received information implicating Jonah Apodaca, 32, of Alamogordo, in providing the modified shotgun to De La O. Apodaca appeared in federal court on charges of possession of a firearm by a felon on Feb. 12, 2024. Both De La O and Apodaca are facing serious charges, with De La O potentially facing up to 10 years in prison and Apodaca facing up to 15 years if convicted.

The investigation into this case involved cooperation between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Alamogordo Police Department, New Mexico State Police, and the Otero County Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maria Y. Armijo and Ry Ellison.

It's important to note that a criminal complaint is merely an allegation, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Former Kentucky State Prison Sergeant Convicted of Violating Civil Rights of an Inmate and Obstruction of Justice

After a four-day trial, a federal jury yesterday convicted a former Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (EKCC) sergeant, Eric Nantell, on one count of deprivation of civil rights for his failure to intervene to stop the assault of an inmate, two counts of obstruction for misleading state investigators and one count of making false statements to a special agent of the FBI. Six other officers previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the assault and cover-up, and three of those officers testified for the government at trial.

“The jury’s verdict closes the book on an unfortunate chapter at this correctional center,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “All seven officers who participated in the brutal assault of an inmate or the coordinated cover-up that followed have now been brought to justice. The Justice Department will continue to hold law enforcement accountable for unlawful behavior that deprives those in our jails and prisons of their civil and constitutional rights.”

“Despite being a supervisor entrusted with the custody and care of others, Nantell stood by while officers beat a man, tried to cover up an investigation and lied to law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “This disgraceful conduct not only caused injury to a victim but was an unqualified breach of the public trust and a grave disservice to law enforcement. Holding these officers accountable is an important step in restoring the public trust in law enforcement and protecting the civil rights of everyone.”

“Nantell not only took an oath to protect the inmates who were under his watch, but as a supervisor, he held a position of authority within the prison. By allowing this assault on an inmate to occur and then attempting to cover it up, he blatantly abused his power,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Stansbury of the FBI Louisville Field Office. “The FBI will not stand for law enforcement officials who choose to violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect and, therefore, will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of wrongdoing and, ultimately, hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The evidence at trial established that the defendant was a supervisory sergeant at the facility when three officers, two of whom were members of the prison’s internal affairs department, assaulted a non-violent inmate who was lying face-down, wearing handcuffs and leg shackles and isolated in a prison shower cell. Nantell was standing at the door of the shower when the assault began, and he watched the officers repeatedly punch and kick the inmate in the head and back. After silently observing the beating for over 20 seconds, Nantell walked away while the officers continued to beat the inmate.

Within hours of the inmate reporting the abuse, supervisors of EKCC and state detectives of the Kentucky State Police opened an investigation. Nantell joined with other officers in a cover-up scheme to hide the truth. As part of that cover-up, he lied to officers of both agencies as well as a special agent of the FBI.

Six former officers have pleaded guilty in related cases. On July 26, 2023, former EKCC officer Randall Dennis pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of civil rights based on assault of the inmate and former EKCC officer Nathan Cantrell pleaded guilty to four counts of obstruction of justice for attempting to cover up the assault.

On April 10, 2023, former EKCC officer James Benish pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of civil rights based on his failure to intervene to protect the inmate and former EKCC supervisor Randy Nickell pleaded guilty to three counts of obstruction based on his efforts to cover up the same assault.

On Aug. 29, 2022, former EKCC officer Jeffery Havens pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of civil rights based on his assault of the inmate.

Finally, on July 11, 2022, former EKCC officer Derek Mays pleaded guilty to four counts of obstruction of justice based on his efforts to cover up the assault.

In a separate administrative investigation, the Kentucky Internal Investigations Branch (IIB) conducted an independent review of the inmate’s allegations. IIB determined that an assault occurred and that numerous officers had been untruthful about what they saw. As a result of their findings, numerous officers who were involved with the assault were terminated, demoted or voluntarily resigned their positions with the Kentucky Department of Corrections within a year of the incident.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 10. Nantell faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for the deprivation of rights offense, a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for obstructing state investigators and a maximum penalty of five years in prison for lying to the FBI. A federal district court judge will determine any sentences after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI Louisville Field Office investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Dembo and Mary Melton for the Eastern District of Kentucky prosecuted the case in partnership with Trial Attorney Thomas Johnson of the Civil Rights Division.

Retired FBI Special Agent in Charge Sentenced for Concealing Information from the FBI

Charles F. McGonigal Admitted to Receiving $225,000 Cash Payment

Charles F. McGonigal, 55, a former FBI Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office, was sentenced today to 28 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his undisclosed receipt of $225,000 in cash from an individual with ties to the Albanian government while McGonigal was supervising counterintelligence investigations. 

McGonigal pleaded guilty on Sept. 22, 2023, to one count of concealing material facts. In imposing the sentence, the court found that McGonigal’s conduct involved substantial interference with the administration of justice. 

According to papers filed with the court, McGonigal was responsible for overseeing counterintelligence and national security matters when he served as Special Agent in Charge of the FBI New York Field Office from August 2017 through his retirement from the FBI in September 2018. During this time, McGonigal concealed from the FBI the nature of his relationship with a former foreign security officer and businessperson who had ongoing business interests in foreign countries and before foreign governments. Specifically, McGonigal hid from the FBI that he received at least $225,000 in cash from the individual and traveled abroad with him and met with foreign nationals, in-part to advance their private business interests. 

The FBI arrested McGonigal on Jan. 21, 2023, at J.F.K. International Airport in New York. He was simultaneously indicted on charges by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of Columbia and the Southern District of New York. In December 2023, McGonigal was sentenced to 50 months in prison and ordered to pay a $40,000 fine for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and to commit money laundering in an unrelated case being prosecuted in the Southern District of New York.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Donald Alway of the Los Angeles Field Office and Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI Washington Field Office made the announcement.

The FBI Los Angeles and Washington Field Offices investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Aloi and Stuart D. Allen and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Friedman for the District of Columbia prosecuted the case, with assistance from Deputy Chief Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.