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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brandon James Sentenced to 81 Months in IRS Fraudulent Refund Scheme

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; and Daniel C. Alexander, Chief, Boca Raton Police Department, announce that Brandon James, of Miami, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley to 81 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. James was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $382,444 and a special assessment of $300.

According to court documents and statements made in court, James was involved in cashing out fraudulent federal income tax refunds that had been placed electronically onto debit cards. James and his co-conspirators, Laron Larkin and Eric Fussell, attempted to defraud the IRS of more than $862,000 in fraudulent income tax refunds based on at least 121 stolen identities. The IRS paid approximately $382,484 on these refund requests.

James pled guilty earlier to conspiracy to steal government monies, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 (count one), theft of government funds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641 (count four), and aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A (count nine).

Co-defendant Larkin was sentenced on October 7, 2013, to 36 months and one day in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Larkin pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to steal monies of the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641, the conspiracy being a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371; and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A.

#Chiraq - Gangs Have Turned Chicago into a War Zone, #MurderCapitalUSA, 45 Shot on Easter Weekend, 37 More the Weekend Before

President Obama may have gotten our troops out of Iraq, but the gunfire in his hometown of Chicago is still earning it a searing nickname coined by young people who live there.

Chiraq.

On Easter weekend, 45 people were shot in the city, six of them children. Five youngsters under the age of 15—four girls and a boy—were shot in a playground where they had gone after Easter services at a nearby church.

Witnesses agree that a car pulled up and one of the occupants asked the youngsters if they were in a gang. There is some dispute about whether the youngsters even got a chance to say no before the people in the car started shooting.

The most seriously wounded, 11-year-old Tymisha Washington, was listed in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds. She is expected to survive.

“Prayers Going Up Blessings Coming Down,” read a posting on her aunt’s Facebook page.

A Facebook argument had apparently sparked a completely unrelated shooting at the start of the weekend. Best friends Jordan Means, 16, and Anthony Bankhead, 18, got into the online spat with a man in his 30s. The man is said to have followed his final post by appearing in the flesh and shooting the two teens to death.

Two other men were fatally shot later in the weekend as they sat in a car that was also occupied by two kids, ages 3 and 7. The children were physically unharmed but no doubt will join those who are as mentally scarred by living in Chicago as were some combat veterans who returned from the war in Iraq. And this bloody Easter weekend was preceded by a weekend in which 37 people were shot, four of them fatally.

FBI Director James Comey happened to be in Chicago the following Monday, and he ascribed much of the violence to the gang culture so deeply ingrained in the city. But Comey had little to say about what Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy recognizes as the core problem.

“Until we do something about guns, don’t expect things to change overnight,” McCarthy said at a press conference that same day.

McCarthy noted that Chicago cops have seized 1,500 illegal guns so far this year, but the people caught with the weapons are all too often back on the street all too soon. “It’s like running on a hamster wheel,” McCarthy said of the effort to grapple with the problem. “We’re drinking from a fire hose, seizing these guns, and people are back out on the street. They’re not learning that carrying a firearm is going to have a serious impact on their lives.”

McCarthy invoked the memory of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was killed by a stray round in 2013, just days after performing at Obama’s second inauguration. McCarthy noted that her suspected killer had been at liberty despite having been convicted of illegal gun possession just two months before.

“If he’s not out on the street, Hadiya Pendleton is out there being an honor student and continuing on with her life,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy emphasized that the Chicago Police Department is pursuing a wide range of strategies to stem the violence, much of which is gang-related. And the murder rate is actually down this year. But even the smartest policing by the most dedicated cops can only do so much in the absence of effective gun laws.

“If you don’t go to jail for gun possession, you continue to carry guns,” McCarthy said. “You continue to carry guns, and people get shot.”

Other people who have gotten shot in Chicago in recent days include 17-year-old Ronald Hayes, who was expected to be the first in his family to graduate from high school and who had promised to take his mother to the prom because she never had the opportunity to attend one. He was gunned down in February as he shoveled snow outside a neighbor’s home.

There was also 17-year-old Gakirah Barnes. Her Twitter moniker was @tyquannassassin, apparently in honor of a 13-year-old relative named Tyquann Tyler who was killed by a stray bullet in 2012. Barnes reportedly was allied with the rapper Lil Jay and the late rapper Lil JoJo, who was killed in 2012 by a not at all stray round after releasing video dissing Chief Keef, the rapper. Keef’s 30-year-old cousin Mario “BigGlo” Hess was shot to death on April 9. Barnes tweeted a reference to a Notorious B.I.G. lyric the next day.

“u Nobody until Somebody kill u u dats jst real Shyt.”

A friend quickly responded.

“More bodies BITCH This Chiraq.”

The following afternoon, Barnes was herself shot to death, hit as many as nine times. She was to be buried near her father, who reportedly was shot death on an Easter 16 years and thousands of murders ago.

Her death was followed by the April 15 shooting of Lil Jojo’s 16-year-old cousin Keno Blass. Keef’s cousin was buried on Friday, with the star rapper serving as a pallbearer. But if a rap war of sorts is behind some of the recent killings and gang rivalries are behind many more and a Facebook spat led to two of the murders, the common denominator in all the shootings is guns.

The war that now demands the president’s attention is the one in Chiraq.

Thanks to Michael Daly.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)is a riveting true-life tale of newspaper noir and Japanese organized crime from an American investigative journalist.

Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where for twelve years he covered the dark side of Japan: extortion, murder, human trafficking, fiscal corruption, and of course, the yakuza. But when his final scoop exposed a scandal that reverberated all the way from the neon soaked streets of Tokyo to the polished Halls of the FBI and resulted in a death threat for him and his family, Adelstein decided to step down. Then, he fought back. In Tokyo Vice he delivers an unprecedented look at Japanese culture and searing memoir about his rise from cub reporter to seasoned journalist with a price on his head.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Following Mass Shooting Incidents, Attorney General Holder Urges Congress to Approve $15 Million to Train Law Enforcement Officers for 'Active Shooter' Situations

Following the recent tragedies at a Jewish Community Center outside of Kansas City and at Ft. Hood, Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress to approve $15 million in funding for active shooter training for law enforcement officers to ensure they have the tools they need to effectively respond to threats, protect themselves, and save innocent lives.

“In the face of this urgent and growing threat – when the lives of innocent people are at stake – those who stand on the front lines need our full and unwavering support," Holder said in a video message posted on the Justice Department's website. "This critical funding would help the Justice Department ensure that America’s police officers have the tools and guidance they need to effectively respond to active shooter incidents whenever and wherever they arise."

“Over the last decade, the Justice Department and the FBI have helped provide cutting-edge active shooter training to 50,000 front-line officers.  In the video message, Holder said continuing this training is critical since the patrol officers who arrive first on the scene are increasingly being relied on to respond directly to active shooters rather than wait for SWAT teams.”

The complete text of the Attorney General’s video message is below:

“Between 2000 and 2008, the United States experienced an average of approximately five active shooter incidents every year.  Since 2009, this annual average has roughly tripled.  Earlier this month, Fort Hood suffered the second mass shooting that community has experienced in just five years.  And in a separate incident over the weekend, a gunman opened fire at a Jewish Community Center just outside of Kansas City.

“The Justice Department has concluded that federal hate crimes charges are appropriate in this case, and in the months ahead, we will do everything in our power to ensure that justice is served for every victim.

“But each of these tragic events is a heartbreaking reminder that mass shootings are all too common.  And they have become increasingly deadly.

“As a nation, we must confront this alarming rise and all of its underlying causes – honestly, factually, and without regard for political consequence.  We must deal with these incidents whenever they happen – but, just as importantly, we must prevent them whenever we can.
“Today’s Department of Justice committed to doing just that.  We’re more determined than ever to prevent mass shootings.  The FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center, which supports state, local and campus safety stakeholders, has worked diligently to respond to a nearly 200 percent increase in requests for assistance in the last year, and to help detect and mitigate potential active shooter situations.

“But we must also be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to active shooter incidents if and when they do occur.  And in today’s world, the first response must often be led not by SWAT teams or specialized police units – but by the very first patrol officers to arrive on the scene.

“That’s why all law enforcement officers must have the best equipment and most up-to-date training to confront these situations – to stop active shooters in their tracks, to protect themselves, and to save innocent lives.

“Over the last decade, the Justice Department and the FBI have helped provide cutting-edge active shooter training to 50,000 front-line officers, more than 7,000 on-scene commanders, and over 3,000 local, state, and federal agency heads.  This vital work must continue – but to provide training, we need adequate funding.

“Today, I am urging Congress to approve President Obama’s request for $15 million for active shooter training and other officer safety initiatives.  This critical funding would help the Justice Department ensure that America’s police officers have the tools and guidance they need to effectively respond to active shooter incidents whenever and wherever they arise.

“Every day, America’s federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials perform their duties with integrity, courage, and extraordinary valor.  In the face of this urgent and growing threat – when the lives of innocent people are at stake – those who stand on the front lines need our full and unwavering support.  The safety of the American people demands it.  And the men, women, and children whose lives are impacted by active shooters every year deserve nothing less.”


Friday, April 18, 2014

Terrance Brown, Mastermind of Violent Robbery Crew, Convicted of Robbery Murder and Weapons Charges

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce that Terrance Brown, 41, of Miami, was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery, two counts of attempted Hobbs Act robbery, and three counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

According to the indictment and evidence presented at trial, Brown was the mastermind of a seven-man robbery crew that conspired in 2010 to rob armored Brinks trucks. In July 2010, the crew planned to rob a Brinks truck at a Bank of America in Lighthouse Point. However, that robbery did not occur because the Brinks truck did not arrive at the bank at the time that the crew planned to rob it. In September 2010, the crew attempted to rob another Brinks truck at a Bank of America in Miramar. That robbery also did not occur because a police vehicle drove through the bank parking lot just prior to the planned robbery, causing members of the crew to run from the scene. Finally, in October 2010, the crew returned to the same Bank of America in Miramar to once again rob the Brinks guard as he was delivering currency to the bank. During that robbery, the gunman fatally shot the guard in the head while Brown and his accomplices acted as lookouts. The gunman was arrested at the scene and one year later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Thereafter, in July 2013, a jury convicted Brown and three other co-defendants of several charges, including conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery. However, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on several other charges, which resulted in a retrial for the charges for which defendant Brown was just convicted.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “We are gratified that the jury reached a unanimous verdict finding Terrance Brown guilty of robbery murder and related weapons charges. Brown was the mastermind of a violent robbery crew that resulted in the senseless murder of a Brinks guard. Today our community can sleep sounder knowing that Brown is off our streets and that justice has been served.”

“Terrance Brown is a violent and greedy criminal who was bent on hitting armored truck couriers during their deliveries,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “In July 2010, Brown and his robbery crew fatally shot a Brinks guard during the course of his duties. For this brutal and cowardly act, Brown is now being held accountable.”

Ceasar Huerta Cantu Granted Clemency by President @BarackObama

President Barack Obama granted clemency to the following individual:

Ceasar Huerta Cantu, also known as Cesar Huerta Cantu – Katy, Texas

Offenses:  Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana;
money laundering (Western District of Virginia)

Sentence:  180 months’ imprisonment (as amended), five years’ supervised release
(May 11, 2006)

Commutation Grant:  Prison sentence commuted to 138 months’ imprisonment

Shaamel "Buck" Spencer, Enforcer for #DirtyBlock Gang, Admits Participating in Heroin Trafficking Conspiracy

An Atlantic City, New Jersey man admitted to engaging in a conspiracy to distribute heroin with the Dirty Block criminal street gang that allegedly used threats, intimidation, and violence to maintain control of the illegal drug trade in Atlantic City.

Shaamel Spencer, a/k/a “Buck,” 30, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas in Camden federal court to a superseding information charging him with one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and one count of being a previously convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

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

During the period of the conspiracy Spencer acted as an “enforcer” on behalf of Mykal Derry, 33, of Atlantic City, helping Dirty Block to control the heroin trafficking trade in and around the public housing apartment complexes of Stanley Holmes, Carver Hall, Schoolhouse, Adams Court, and Cedar Court in Atlantic City. Spencer assisted in the distribution of heroin to Dirty Block customers.

Spencer was arrested on October 30, 2012, and found to be in possession of a firearm at the time of the arrest. On February 12, 2013, Spencer was charged federally with being a previously convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. A search warrant executed at Spencer’s residence at the time of his arrest revealed approximately $4,500 in suspected drug proceeds, as well as a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and approximately 44 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

Spencer and other members of the Dirty Block gang—a number of them previously convicted felons—travelled to a shooting range in Lakewood, New Jersey, where they were photographed firing handguns.

As part of his guilty plea, Spencer admitted to distributing heroin. He also admitted to being a previously convicted felon who possessed firearms and ammunition and that specifically, he took a handgun to an Atlantic City casino where he believed Derry was involved in a violent fight with his rivals. Spencer also agreed to forfeit the proceeds of his drug trafficking, as well as his firearms and ammunition.

The drug conspiracy charge carries a minimum penalty of five years in prison, a maximum potential penalty of 40 years in prison, and maximum $5 million fine. The felon-in-possession charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for July 22, 2014.

Village of Stone Park Place Convicted Mob Felon on Pension Board, Trustees Hide and Sneak Out Back Door, When Asked About It

Gritty Stone Park doesn't seem like the kind of place where you would find magic, but amazingly the entire Village Board vanished when FOX 32 News started asking questions about its pension fund.

Federal court documents revealed that in the 1980s and 90s, the late Chicago mob boss Anthony Centracchio handed out thousands of dollars in bribes to Stone Park officials.

"It had gone on for a long time," said Former Federal Prosecutor Scott Levine. Levine worked on the organized crime unit that nailed then-Stone Park Mayor Robert Natale, and Former Stone Park and Northlake Police Chief Seymour Sapoznik. Both men pled guilty to taking monthly payoffs to protect the mob's illegal multi-million dollar video poker business.

Levine said Sapoznik took it a step further. "He was tasked with warning his organized crime compatriots about government investigations when he learned of them in his role as police chief," added Levine.

At Sapoznik's sentencing, another former Stone Park police chief, Harry Testa, who was doing prison time for dealing coke, testified he, too, took money from the mob. So, imagine our surprise when FOX 32 discovered the three ex-cons are still drawing pensions from Stone Park, totaling more than $43,000 a year.

"It is fairly unusual," Louis Kosiba said. Kosiba runs the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which provides pensions to virtually all village governments in Illinois. Because of its tiny size, Stone Park is not required to join IMRF and instead runs its own pension fund. Kosiba said nearly all Illinois public pensions include an important rule designed to discourage corruption. "Any felony conviction related to or arising out of your employment will terminate your pension," added Kosiba.

However, not only is Former Chief Sapoznik still receiving a pension, amazingly Stone Park Mayor Ben Mazzula and village trustees appointed Sapoznik to sit on Stone Park's pension board.

"You literally have a person who's being entrusted with the financial future of the participants of that pension plan. He or she needs to be as clean as Caesar's wife, so to speak," said Kosiba.

Mayor Mazulla wouldn't talk on camera, so FOX 32 went to a recent village board meeting to ask why they would appoint a mob-connected felon to the pension board.

"Chief please have everybody clear the room so we can have--yeah."

Trustees went into executive session to discuss personnel issues, so FOX 32's Dane Placko patiently waited outside. However, when it seemed to be going a little long, Dane asked a village official to take a peek. The trustees had disappeared. The parking lot was empty too, except for a car driven by Trustee Loretta Teets.

"Hi trustee. Why'd you guys sneak out the back door?" asked FOX 32's Dane Placko.

Teets pulled away and left without responding.

"If I was a taxpayer in Stone Park, and knew my tax dollars were going to support pensions for felons, not to mention one of these felons sits on the pension board, I'd be irate," said Patrick Rehkamp of the Better Government Association.

Only one of the ex-cons, Harry Testa, returned our calls. He declined to comment.

There's no law against putting a felon on a pension board, but experts said it's extremely unusual.

Thanks to Dane Placko.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Federal Judge Not Interested in Being Pen Pals with Steven Mandell

Former death row inmate Steven Mandell may have been convicted of plotting to torture, murder and dismember a suburban businessman, but he wants the federal judge who oversaw his sensational trial to know he wouldn’t hurt a fly.

In an April 4 letter written from his jail cell and made public this week, Mandell claimed the only time he’d ever been remotely violent in his life was in an altercation with his girlfriend on Christmas Day in 1983 and that the domestic abuse charges were later dropped.

Mandell said in the three-page letter to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve that prosecutors have conjured up a false picture of him as a dangerous threat to keep him in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal Loop jail.

“I have never ever bothered anyone in my entire life. No one! Not a soul!” Mandell, a Chicago police officer decades ago, wrote in neat cursive. “There is NO danger. There NEVER was a danger.”

In a court hearing last week, St. Eve called the letter inappropriate and revealed that since his conviction in February Mandell had sent several other letters, including one to the Highland Park police. While details of that letter weren’t discussed, Highland Park was the site of a spectacular 2012 fire that killed restaurateur Giacomo Ruggirello. The blaze was labeled a possible arson, and last year Mandell’s lawyers mysteriously subpoenaed records about the investigation.

Mandell also sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur, who is presiding over a pending lawsuit alleging the FBI framed Mandell’s alleged partner, Gary Engel, in a 1984 kidnapping in Missouri.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu has told St. Eve that some of the materials sent by Mandell in the letters violated her protective order sealing certain information in the case. Bhachu said that if Mandell continued to send such materials he could face charges.

Last month, Mandell’s attorneys alleged in a court filing that he was simply expressing his “deeply held conviction” that the key informant in his case, Northwest Side real estate mogul George Michael, was involved in criminal activities that should be investigated.

Mandell claimed in the filing that prosecutors used his letters to justify returning him to the jail’s Special Housing Unit, where he is on 24-hour lockdown and has restricted access to email and other communications.

He was first placed in solitary confinement last fall after prosecutors alleged he tried to arrange Michael’s murder while in the jail’s general population. But prosecutors have denied any involvement in Mandell’s current placement in the jail.

Mandell, 63, was convicted Feb 21 on charges he plotted to kidnap, torture, kill and dismember Riverside landlord Steven Campbell. The jury acquitted him of a separate plot to kill an associate of a reputedly mob-connected strip club. Mandell faces up to life in prison.

Michael secretly wore a wire for the feds and pretended to go along with the plan to outfit a Devon Avenue storefront with an industrial sink, butcher table and other equipment needed to drain Campbell’s body of blood and chop it to pieces.

Years ago Mandell – who then went by the name Steven Manning -- had been sent to death row for the drug-related 1990 slaying of a trucking firm owner. After his murder conviction was overturned on appeal, he won a landmark $6.5 million verdict in his suit against the FBI. A judge, however, later threw out the verdict, and Mandell never collected a penny.

Thanks to Jason Meisner.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lloyd B. Lockwood to Serve 10 Years in Prison for Placing Pipe Bomb in Decatur

Senior U.S. District Judge Harold A. Baker sentenced Lloyd B. Lockwood, 47, of Bloomington, Illinois, to serve the statutory maximum 10 years in federal prison for placing a pipe bomb in a Decatur, Illinois mailbox in March 2011, as announced by U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis, Central District of Illinois.

On August 14, 2013, a jury convicted Lockwood for placing a pipe bomb in a mailbox at a Decatur home on March 30, 2011. Lockwood was charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device and being a felon in possession of a destructive device.

Lockwood was arrested and charged in the case in September 2012. He was released on bond with special conditions including home detention. In January 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge David G. Bernthal revoked Lockwood’s bond after Lockwood violated an order of protection filed against him in McLean county court. Lockwood has been detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service since January 2013 and was remanded to the U.S. Marshals Service.