@StateDept Settles Title VII Discrimination in Federal Employment For $500K

 

According to the Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund, the State Department paid $500,000 in settlement under 42-USC-2000e-16 for a Title VII Discrimination in Federal Employment.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
The payment under Control 202201949, Payment ID 017762022 was sent on January 25, 2022.
This was a case in the U.S. District Court of the District Court of Columbia (Agency File #18-3065). The data does not include the name of the payee. We have been unable to locate the 18-3065 file.

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Barrio Azteca Gunmen Charged With US Consulate Cd. Juarez Murders Found Guilty on All Counts

In February 2014, we blogged about the US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial in El Paso. The victims of that 2010 tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate.
On February 4, 2022, USDOJ announced that the Barrio Azteca Gunmen who committed the US Consulate Murders in Ciudad Juarez were found guilty on all counts. Excerpt below:

A federal jury in Texas yesterday convicted two members of the violent street and prison gang, Barrio Azteca, on all counts related to the murders of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband, and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee.

Jose Guadalupe Diaz Diaz, aka Zorro, 43, of Chihuahua, Mexico, and Martin Artin Perez Marrufo, aka Popeye, 54, of Chihuahua, Mexico, were found guilty at the conclusion of a 13-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division. The jury found Diaz and Marrufo guilty of conspiracy counts for racketeering, narcotics trafficking, narcotics importation, money laundering, and murder in a foreign country; three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and three counts of murder resulting from use and carrying of a firearm during and in relation to crimes of violence and drug trafficking.

Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that on March 13, 2010, Diaz and Marrufo served as gunmen on the hit teams that murdered U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Enriquez, her husband, Arthur Redelfs, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee. The victims were targeted by the hit teams after departing from a child’s birthday party in Juarez because they were mistaken initially for rival gang members. Diaz shot and killed Enriquez and Redelfs. Marrufo shot and killed Ceniceros.

“The murders of Leslie Enriquez, Arthur Redelfs, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros are a tragedy,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These convictions demonstrate the Department’s commitment to combating violent transnational criminal organizations. I want to thank the Mexican Government for its cooperation including extraditing both defendants to the United States to face criminal charges.”

“Although 12 years have passed since these senseless murders, our office has only strengthened its resolve to seek justice for victims of cartel violence,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff for the Western District of Texas. “These guilty verdicts demonstrate the diligent pursuit of our prosecutors and our commitment to protecting communities from ruthless brutality.”

“These convictions represent the FBI’s commitment to take aggressive action against anyone who takes the lives of innocent American citizens,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Even the most ruthless criminals, whether here or afar, cannot evade justice, and we will continue to hold those accountable who commit brutal acts of violence.”

“Today’s convictions serve as a stark warning to all drug traffickers that we will pursue and prosecute any and all who compromise the safety and health of Americans and those who support our U.S missions abroad,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “The hardworking women and men of DEA will continue to work with our domestic and global partners to rid our communities of the intimidation, violence, and drug abuse these criminal drug networks inflict.”

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Barrio Azteca is a transnational criminal organization engaged in money-laundering, racketeering, and drug-related activities in El Paso, Texas. The gang allied with other drug gangs to battle the Sinaloa Cartel, at the time headed by Chapo Guzman, and its allies for control of the drug trafficking routes through Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The drug routes through Juarez, known as the Juarez Plaza, are important to drug trafficking organizations because it is a principal illicit drug trafficking route into the United States.

A total of 35 defendants were charged in the third superseding indictment and are alleged to have committed various criminal acts, including the 2010 Juarez Consulate murders in Juarez, Mexico, as well as racketeering, narcotics distribution and importation, retaliation against persons providing information to U.S. law enforcement, extortion, money laundering, murder, and obstruction of justice. Of the 35 defendants charged, all have been apprehended and 28 have pleaded guilty. One was convicted by trial, one committed suicide before the conclusion of his trial and three are awaiting extradition from Mexico.

Diaz was extradited from Mexico on Nov. 13, 2019 and Maruffo was extradited from Mexico on Jan. 18, 2020. The extraditions were the result of close coordination between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities, who also cooperated in the investigation and prosecution of this case.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 9. Diaz and Maruffo face a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.

A lot of people who worked on this case deserves our gratitude:

Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Christina Taylor of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Spitzer of the Western District of Texas are prosecuting the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico and the Criminal Division’s Offices of International Affairs and Enforcement Operations provided significant assistance in this case.

The FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force located at the Texas Anti-Gang Center in El Paso, FBI Albuquerque Field Office, DEA Juarez and DEA El Paso investigated the case. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Federal Bureau of Prisons; U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; El Paso Police Department; El Paso County Sheriff’s Office; El Paso Independent School District Police Department; Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission; New Mexico State Police; Dona Ana County, N.M., Sheriff’s Office; Las Cruces, N.M., Police Department; Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility and Otero County Prison Facility New Mexico provided valuable assistance. 

 

DC Court Throws Out All Charges Against Former @StateDept Foreign Service Officer

The District of Columbia District Judge Trevor McFadden has thrown out all charges against former FSO Paul Guertin.
We’ve previously posted about this case in April 2021 based on the DOJ statement and the indictment. Given the court’s January 24 dismissal of the case, we’ve agreed to the request received for the removal of the blogpost.
Below via Clinton & Peed:
“In a landmark ruling for the District of Columbia, District Judge Trevor McFadden has thrown out all charges against C&P client Paul Guertin, a decorated former Foreign Service Officer.
The indictment alleged that Mr. Guertin withheld information on his Standard Form-86 (“SF-86”) during his periodic security clearance review process as part of his State Department employment. The government pursued an unusual and aggressive legal strategy, charging Mr. Guertin with wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343) on the theory that he fraudulently obtained his ongoing salary through the alleged omissions. The government also charged him with obstructing an official proceeding—his security clearance review—under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c).
Calling the government’s argument “tortured semantics,” the Court rejected the government’s “discredited, overbroad use of these statutes,” and dismissed the indictment in its entirety. In so doing, the Court became the first court in the District of Columbia to reject the “salary theory” of wire fraud and the first court anywhere to address the applicability of obstruction statutes to the security clearance process.
The Court did not address Mr. Guertin’s separate motion to dismiss the indictment due to misconduct in the grand jury room by the government through the testimony of its lead case agent, State Department OIG Agent Robin Leipfert. As described in the motion, the government’s grand jury presentation contained highly misleading false statements and material omissions regarding each of the key issues alleged in the indictment. Unfortunately, the grand jury issued its indictment based on this inaccurate picture, causing Mr. Guertin significant reputational harm.
Partner and lead trial counsel Matthew Peed called the ruling “a major victory for our client and an important precedent for stopping federal prosecutorial overreach.” He added, “While Mr. Guertin will not get a chance to prove his innocence in court, we are pleased that this misguided prosecution has come to an end.”
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USDOJ: Iraqi National Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud U.S. Refugee Program

 

Via USDOJ:

WASHINGTON – An Iraqi national, Aws Muwafaq Abduljabbar, pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States related to his role in a scheme to defraud U.S. refugee programs.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Dr. Joseph V. Cuffari, and U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Domestic Operations Mark A. Sullo.

Abduljabbar, 43, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras of the District of Columbia. He remains held without bond pending sentencing on June 24, 2022.

Abduljabbar is one of three defendants charged in an indictment that was unsealed on January 22, 2021. The indictment charges Abduljabbar and two other foreign nationals, Haitham Isa Saado Sad, 43, and Olesya Leonidovna Krasilova, 44, in connection with a scheme to defraud the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and, in particular, the Iraq P-2 program, which allows certain Iraqis to apply directly for refugee resettlement in the United States. Sad previously pleaded guilty and remains held pending sentencing. Krasilova remains at large.

According to the indictment and statement of facts agreed to by Abduljabbar as part of his guilty plea, from approximately February 2016 until at least April 2019, the three defendants, led by Abduljabbar, conspired to steal U.S. government records related to hundreds of USRAP applications. Sad was employed in Amman, Jordan from 2007 to 2016 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Krasilova held a similar position at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. As part of their duties, both defendants had access to the State Department’s Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS), a database containing sensitive, non-public information about refugee applicants and their family members, as well as the results of security checks and internal assessments by U.S. officials regarding applications.

Abduljabbar organized and led the conspiracy, and he relied on and paid Sad and Krasilova to steal WRAPS records and information so that Abduljabbar could assist applicants in gaining admission to the United States through fraudulent means. As outlined in the indictment and statement of facts, the theft of USRAP records creates a number of risks to public safety and national security while imposing significant costs on the U.S. government, its taxpayers, and otherwise legitimate refugee applicants negatively impacted by the scheme.

The charges in an indictment are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, a defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The indictment is available to read here.

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USDOJ: Government Contractor Indicted for Bribing Public Official at @USAGM

 

Via DOJ:

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment charging a North Carolina man with engaging in a bribery and fraud scheme with a former contracting officer for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) (now known as the U.S. Agency for Global Media).

According to court documents, William F. Snow, 70, of Jamestown, worked for a government contracting firm that previously provided professional staffing services to BBG. Between late 2014 and late 2016, Snow, in addition to a BBG contracting officer and others, allegedly agreed to hire and pay the contracting officer’s relative for a job involving minimal work and which resulted in payments to the relative that totaled more than $68,000. In exchange, the BBG contracting officer took official actions that benefitted Snow, the contracting firm, and another executive, Rita Starliper, who previously pleaded guilty for her involvement in the scheme. In particular, the contracting officer took official action and provided preferential treatment that included the awarding of a professional staffing contract to the contracting firm that was worth millions of dollars and the steering of the procurement process to benefit Snow, Starliper, and the contracting firm.

Snow is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services mail fraud, one count of bribery, and three counts of honest services mail fraud. The defendant will make his initial court appearance on Dec. 28. If convicted, Snow faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services mail fraud, fifteen years in prison for bribery, and twenty years in prison for each count of honest services mail fraud. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber of the Eastern District of Virginia; Special Agent in Charge Elisabeth Kaminsky of the Office of Inspector General for the Department of State; and Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of State and the FBI are investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heidi Boutros Gesch of the Eastern District of Virginia and Senior Litigation Counsel Edward P. Sullivan, and Trial Attorney Jordan Dickson of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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A Plot To Injure Or Kill Myanmar’s Ambassador to The United Nations

 

Via USDOJ:

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the guilty plea of YE HEIN ZAW, a citizen of Myanmar, for his role in a conspiracy to assault and make a violent attack upon Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.  ZAW pled guilty today in White Plains federal court before U.S. District Judge Philip M. Halpern.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As he admitted in court today, Ye Hein Zaw participated in a plot to injure or kill Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations in a planned attack that was to take place on American soil.  Zaw now awaits sentencing for his crime.  I commend the tireless efforts of our law enforcement partners at all levels of government to ensure the safety of foreign diplomats and officials in the United States and bring the perpetrators of this plot to justice.”

According to the Information to which ZAW pled guilty, the complaint that was filed in this case, and statements made during court proceedings:

Between at least in or about July 2021 through at least on or about August 5, 2021, ZAW, a citizen of Myanmar residing in New York, conspired with others to injure or kill Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (the “Ambassador”).  During the conspiracy, a co-conspirator communicated with an arms dealer in Thailand (the “Arms Dealer”) who sells weapons to the Burmese military, which overthrew Myanmar’s civilian government in or about February 2021.  In the course of those conversations, the co-conspirator and the Arms Dealer agreed on a plan in which the co-conspirator would hire attackers to hurt the Ambassador in an attempt to force the Ambassador to step down from his post.  If the Ambassador did not step down, then the Arms Dealer proposed that the attackers hired by the co-conspirator would kill the Ambassador.

Shortly after agreeing on the plan, ZAW contacted the co-conspirator by cellphone and, using a money transfer app, transferred approximately $4,000 to the co-conspirator as an advance payment on the plot to attack the Ambassador.  Later, during a recorded phone conversation, ZAW and the co-conspirator discussed how the planned attackers would require an additional $1,000 to conduct the attack on the Ambassador in Westchester County, and, for an additional payment, the attackers could, in substance, kill the Ambassador.  In response, ZAW agreed, in substance, to pay the additional $1,000 and to try to obtain the additional money.

ZAW pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to assault and make a violent attack upon a foreign official, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

ZAW is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Halpern on May 10, 2022.

Read more:

First Extradition From Cameroon to US: Fugitive to Serve an 80-Year Prison Sentence

 

Via USDOJ:

In the first extradition from the Republic of Cameroon to the United States, a Texas man was extradited to Houston on Friday to serve an 80-year prison sentence he received in absentia four years ago after he pleaded guilty in two separate cases to conspiracy, health care fraud, money laundering, and tax offenses.

According to court documents, in November 2016, Ebong Aloysius Tilong, 57, of Sugar Land, Texas, and his wife, Marie Neba, went to trial on the conspiracy, health care fraud, and money laundering charges. The trial evidence and court documents showed that between 2006 and 2015, Tilong, Neba, and their co-conspirators used Tilong and Neba’s company, Fiango Home Healthcare Inc. (Fiango), to corruptly obtain more than $13 million by submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for home health care services that Fiango’s patients did not need or receive. The trial evidence and court documents also showed that Tilong and Neba paid illegal kickbacks to patient recruiters to refer patients to Fiango, and that Tilong falsified and directed others to falsify medical records to make it appear as though Fiango’s patients met the Medicare qualifications for home health care. Additional evidence demonstrated that Tilong attempted to destroy evidence and blackmail and suborn perjury from witnesses. After the first week of trial, Tilong pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, three counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, three counts of payment and receipt of health care kickbacks, and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.

In June 2017, Tilong pleaded guilty in a separate case to two counts of filing fraudulent tax returns. In connection with this guilty plea, Tilong admitted that he created a shell company called Quality Therapy Services (QTS) to limit the amount of tax that he paid to the IRS on the proceeds that he and his co-conspirators stole from Medicare. According to Tilong’s plea agreement, in 2013 and 2014, Tilong wrote almost $1 million in checks from Fiango to QTS for physical-therapy services that QTS never provided to Fiango’s patients and deducted as business expenses. Tilong admitted that his tax fraud scheme caused the IRS a tax loss of approximately $344,452.

In August 2017, Neba was sentenced to 75 years in prison the Medicare fraud scheme at Fiango. The U.S. District Court scheduled Tilong’s sentencing for Oct. 13, 2017, but court records show that on the morning of his sentencing hearing, Tilong removed an ankle bracelet monitoring his location and failed to respond to phone calls from, or appear in, the U.S. District Court for his sentencing. On Dec. 8, 2017, the U.S. District Court sentenced Tilong in absentia to 80 years in prison for his role in the Medicare and tax fraud schemes.
[…]

In September 2021, the Republic of Cameroon President Paul Biya signed a decree ordering Tilong’s removal to the United States.

On Dec. 10, 2021, U.S. Marshals escorted Tilong from Cameroon to the United States.

The United States is grateful to the Government of Cameroon for its cooperation and support of this extradition request.

Read more:

Ex-@StateDept Employee Gets 12 Months, 1 Day in Prison For $156,950 Wire Fraud in Haiti

 

Via USDOJ:
Former State Department Employee Sentenced to Federal Prison for Embezzling more than $150,000 from Department of Defense

Charleston, South Carolina — Acting United States Attorney M. Rhett DeHart announced today that Roudy Pierre-Louis, 49, a citizen of Haiti and former State Department employee, was sentenced to more than a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to committing Wire Fraud.

Evidence presented to the court showed that from 2015 through August 2018, Pierre-Louis was an employee of the State Department who worked at the Embassy of Haiti as the sole budget analyst for the Security Coordination Office (SCO). In this role, Pierre-Louis was responsible for managing all lines of accounting for the State Department and Department of Defense (DoD) associated with the SCO, which included per diem cash advances for individuals travelling to United States Southern Command events. Pierre-Louis also was designated as the SCO’s Occasional Money Holder, allowing him to receive cash on behalf of other individuals who did not have full access to the Embassy in order to obtain cash advances for travel expenses, including, but not limited to, per diem, lodging, and air fare.

The Embassy maintained a vault, or “cash cage,” from which cash advances could be disbursed to employees providing documentation of supervisory approval. This cash cage was reconciled on a daily basis, as cash on hand along with approved disbursements were required to be reconciled and approved by a financial officer with the State Department in order to balance and replenish the cash supply.

Beginning in 2015 and continuing through at least August 2018, Pierre-Louis submitted fraudulent vouchers and supporting documents for cash advances in the names of Haitian Nationals that contained forged signatures of requesting and approving DoD supervisors.

Unaware of this fraud, the Department of State released these cash funds to Pierre-Louis, which were subsequently reimbursed by the Department of Defense. During the relevant time period, from 2015 to August 2018, Pierre-Louis embezzled at least $156,950 from his wire fraud scheme.

United States District Judge Richard M. Gergel sentenced Pierre-Louis to 12 months and one day in federal prison, to be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision, and ordered that Pierre-Louis pay full restitution in this case. There is no parole in the federal system.

The case was investigated by the State Department Office of Inspector General’s Charleston, South Carolina Field Office, and the Major Procurement Fraud Unit of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

Assistant United States Attorney Allessandra Stewart prosecuted the case.

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MSPB: Issues of performance and misconduct may overlap #precedentialdecision

 

This is a Precedential Court Decision for readers tracking precedence and types of cases.
Tribunal: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Case Number: 2021-1686
MSPB Docket Number: DE-0752-19-0297-I-2
Issuance Date: October 29, 2021
Adverse Actions; Performance and Misconduct; Harmful Error; Penalty/Frequently Repeated Offenses

The petitioner was a Passport Specialist for the agency, who in 2016 served a 3-day suspension for making inappropriate comments at work, and in 2018 served a 5-day suspension for failure to follow instructions and failure to protect personally identifiable information. Nevertheless, the petitioner received a fully successful performance rating for calendar year 2018.

On May 9, 2019, the agency removed the petitioner based on four charges:

(1) failure to follow instructions (eleven specifications), (2) failure to protect personally identifiable information (one specification), (3) failure to follow policy (five specifications), and (4) improper personal conduct (one specification). Some of this conduct occurred during the 2018 rating period.

The petitioner filed a Board appeal, and the administrative judge issued an initial decision affirming his removal. The administrative judge credited the agency’s distinction between issues of performance and misconduct, the former involving employees who “can’t do” and the latter involving employees who “won’t do.” Finding that the charges “presented an issue of misconduct more than performance,” the administrative judge declined to consider the 2018 performance evaluation as a rebuttal to the charges. He found that the agency proved its charges and established nexus and that the removal penalty was reasonable under the circumstances. The initial decision became final, and the petitioner sought judicial review.

Holding: Issues of performance and misconduct may overlap. The existence of a fully successful performance evaluation does not necessarily bar discipline for matters covered by that evaluation, but it still must be considered in determining whether the employee committed the offenses charged and the reasonableness of the penalty imposed.

1. The court explained that performance and conduct issues “may overlap.” In this case, the petitioner’s performance plan required that he follow instructions, and some of the specifications under the failure to follow instructions charge occurred during the period covered by the 2018 performance evaluation. Therefore, the administrative judge should have considered that evaluation in assessing that charge.

2. Nevertheless, the administrative judge’s failure to consider the 2018 performance evaluation did not constitute reversable error because the petitioner failed to show that it likely affected the outcome of the Board’s decision. The petitioner did not dispute that any of the events underlying the charges occurred, and five of the eleven specifications of failure to follow instructions occurred outside the 2018 performance year.

3. Even assuming that the administrative judge erred in failing to consider the 2018 performance evaluation in assessing the penalty, the petitioner did not show harmful error. First, the deciding official considered the evaluation in reaching his penalty determination, in the context of his thorough Douglas factor analysis. Second, even if the evaluation suggested that the 2018 specifications of failure to follow instructions were not serious in and of themselves, their seriousness was magnified in light of the petitioner’s prior discipline for similar infractions and his continued failure to follow instructions after the 2018 appraisal period ended.

Read in full here.

 

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US Embassy Belize: Resident Amcit Pleads Guilty in Crypto Laundering Service, Forfeits 4,400+ Bitcoins

 

This past summer, an Ohio resident who was apparently also a resident of Belize pleaded guilty to a money laundering conspiracy arising from his operation of Helix, a Darknet-based cryptocurrency laundering service. The plea deal includes the forfeiture of more than 4,400 bitcoin, valued at more than $200 million.
Via USDOJ: Ohio Resident Pleads Guilty to Operating Darknet-Based Bitcoin ‘Mixer’ That Laundered Over $300 Million

An Ohio man pleaded guilty today to a money laundering conspiracy arising from his operation of Helix, a Darknet-based cryptocurrency laundering service.

According to court documents, Larry Dean Harmon, 38, of Akron, admitted that he operated Helix from 2014 to 2017. Helix functioned as a bitcoin “mixer” or “tumbler,” allowing customers, for a fee, to send bitcoin to designated recipients in a manner that was designed to conceal the source or owner of the bitcoin. Helix was linked to and associated with “Grams,” a Darknet search engine also run by Harmon. Harmon advertised Helix to customers on the Darknet to conceal transactions from law enforcement.

“By holding Harmon accountable, the department has disrupted the unlawful money laundering practices of these dangerous criminal enterprises,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Justice Department, together with our law enforcement and regulatory partners, will continue to take enforcement actions to identify and impede those who use illicit means for financial gain, as well as those who use the Darknet to facilitate and obscure their criminal conduct.”

“Darknet markets and the dealers who sell opioids and other illegal drugs on them are a growing scourge,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “They may try to hide their identities and launder millions in sales behind technologies like Helix. But the department and its law enforcement partners will shine a light on their activities, dismantle the infrastructure such criminal marketplaces depend on, and prosecute and convict those responsible.”

“Criminals may think they can mask financial transactions by using services like Helix to conceal the source of illicit funds,” said Assistant Director Calvin A. Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our state, local, federal and international law enforcement partners are working together every day in a complex and ever-changing digital environment to protect the American people from sophisticated money launderers and financiers.”

“The Darknet is driven in part by the criminal marketplaces which peddle their nefarious goods and services,” said Chief James C. Lee of the IRS Criminal Investigation. “But these marketplaces thrive in large measure because of the infrastructure that supports them. Harmon profited by facilitating the back-channel support of these marketplaces and helped criminals launder money they received via illicit activities. He then hid those funds from the government. He admitted his role today in these activities and will now be held accountable.”

“Harmon admitted that he conspired with Darknet vendors to launder bitcoin generated through drug trafficking and other illegal activities,” said Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to infiltrate and shut down the cryptocurrency money-laundering networks that support cyber-criminal enterprises.”

Harmon admitted that Helix partnered with several Darknet markets, including AlphaBay, Evolution, Cloud 9 and others, to provide bitcoin money laundering services for market customers. In total, Helix moved over 350,000 bitcoin – valued at over $300 million at the time of the transactions – on behalf of customers, with the largest volume coming from Darknet markets. Harmon further admitted that he conspired with Darknet vendors and marketplace administrators to launder such bitcoins generated through illegal drug trafficking offenses on those Darknet marketplaces.

As part of his plea, Harmon also agreed to the forfeiture of more than 4,400 bitcoin, valued at more than $200 million at today’s prices, and other seized properties that were involved in the money laundering conspiracy. Harmon will be sentenced at a date to be determined and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, a term of supervised release of not more than three years, and mandatory restitution. Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accepted Harmon’s guilty plea and will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The IRS-CI Cyber Crimes Unit and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, the IRS’s Washington, Cincinnati and Oakland Field Offices, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Cleveland, Newark and San Francisco Field Offices, and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The Belize Ministry of the Attorney General and the Belize National Police Department provided essential support for the investigation, coordinated through U.S. Embassy Belmopan. The investigation was coordinated with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which assessed a $60 million civil monetary penalty against Harmon in a parallel action.

Trial Attorneys S. Riane Harper and C. Alden Pelker of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher B. Brown of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecuted the case. Additional assistance was provided by Trial Attorneys Emily Siedell and Brian Nicholson of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, former CCIPS Trial Attorney W. Joss Nichols and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Riedl of the Northern District of Ohio.