A former special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration plead guilty Tuesday to stealing fraud proceeds that she had been assigned to recover on behalf of fraud victims, officials said.
Artemis Papadakis, 57, of Richmond, California, plead guilty to theft by a government official.
Sentencing has been scheduled for Sept. 11.
According to the plea agreement, Papadakis admitted that she was stationed by the DEA in Nicosia, Cyprus, between 2008 and 2014.
While in Cyprus, Papadakis was assigned to help the U.S. Government recover the proceeds of an American fraud scheme that had been frozen in the banking system in northern Cyprus.
When Papadakis was transferred from Cyprus to San Francisco in June 2014, the funds had not yet been recovered.
Papadakis admitted that she was told not to pursue the matter regarding the funds following her transfer.
But when she was in Cyprus in October 2015 on personal business, Papadakis took possession of $310,000 of the funds without notifying anyone at the DEA or in the U.S. Government that she had done so.
According to the plea agreement, Papadakis mailed approximately $230,000 of those funds from Cyprus to her home address in California and later took possession of an additional $20,000 of those funds from a third party when he visited her in the U.S.
Papadakis admitted that she hid the $250,000 in her flower pots at her home in California, and did not disclose to anyone at the DEA or in the U.S. Government that she had taken possession of the fraud proceeds.
Papadakis further admitted that on or about Feb. 22, 2016, she surrendered the $250,000 to the U.S. government under the false cover story that she had just received it via an unexpected package from Cyprus.
DEA and other federal officials announced Friday the arrest of Kassim Tajideen, a prominent financial supporter of the Hizballah terror organization.
Tajideen is charged with evading U.S. sanctions imposed on him because of his financial support of Hizballah, officials said.
DEA and other federal officials today announced the arrest of Kassim Tajideen, a prominent financial supporter of the Hizballah terror organization.
Tajideen is charged with evading U.S. sanctions imposed on him because of his financial support of Hizballah.
Tajideen, 62, of Beirut, Lebanon, was arrested overseas on March 12.
He is facing an 11-count indictment unsealed Friday in federal court.the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia following his arrival to the United States.
Tajideen has plead not guilty and was ordered held pending a detention hearing set for March 29.
The arrest and indictment are the result of a two-year investigation.
The arrest is part of DEA’s Project Cassandra, which targets Hizballah’s global criminal support network – dubbed by the DEA as the Business Affairs Component that operates as a logistics, procurement and financing arm for Hizaballah.
“Kassim Tajideen posed a direct threat to safety and stability around the world,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Raymond Donovan. “A prominent money man for Hizballah, Tajideen acted as a key source of funds for their global terror network. DEA and our partners are unrelenting in our pursuit of the world’s most dangerous terror and criminal networks and their many facilitators who threaten the rule of law and innocent lives.
The indictment charges Tajideen with one count of willfully conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, seven counts of unlawful transactions with a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
The indictment also indicates that the government will seek a forfeiture money judgment against the defendants.
According to the indictment, Tajideen allegedly presided over a multi-billion-dollar commodity distribution business that operates primarily in the Middle East and Africa through a web of companies, partnerships, and trade names.
The indictment further alleges that Tajideen and others engaged in an elaborate scheme to do business with U.S. companies while concealing Tajideen’s involvement in those transactions.
The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control named Tajideen a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on May 27, 2009.
According to the indictment, between approximately July of 2013 until the present day, the conspirators illegally completed at least 47 individual wire transfers, totaling over approximately $27 million, to parties in the United States.
During the same time period, the conspirators caused dozens of illegal shipments of goods to leave U.S. ports for the benefit of Tajideen, without obtaining the proper licenses from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty, according to officials.
Federal charges were filed against a Dallas-area man for his role in selling the heroin that caused a young woman’s overdose death at a McDonald’s restaurant in Farmers Branch in June 2016, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Two other men were charged by federal criminal complaints stemming from their trafficking of illegal narcotics, according to officials.
“Tragically, heroin deaths like this are not isolated events anymore,” said U.S. Attorney John Parker. “We obviously can’t bring this life back, but we can, together with our state and local partners, bring the full weight of law enforcement to bear on finding and prosecuting those who sell this poison. We will find you.”
Specifically, the complaint charges Rogelio Bernal, 20, of Dallas, and Zachariah Michael Wolf, 29, of Greenville, Texas, with conspiracy to distribute heroin in November of 2016, and separately charges Bernal with conspiracy to distribute heroin in June of 2016.
The penalty for the offenses charged in these criminal complaints is not more than 20 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine, according to authorities.
In a separate complaint, Steven Gomez, 18, of Dallas, Texas, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine on March 9, 2017, after having been found sharing a residence with Rogelio Bernal.
Gomez made his initial appearance in federal court on March 9, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Renee Harris Toliver who ordered that he remain in custody pending trial.
According to the affidavit filed against Bernal and Wolf, on Nov. 9,investigators learned that Bernal distributed heroin in the Farmers Branch, Texas, area.
Bernal had been the source of supply of heroin in the area since at least April 2016, and supplied Nancy Pineda, who was previously charged in a separate complaint for her role in the conspiracy.
Investigators discovered Bernal had several text conversations with co-conspirators coordinating meetings to conduct illegal drug transactions.
On Nov.17, Farmers Branch Police Department observed Bernal arrive at a shopping center parking lot in Dallas, Texas. Officers observed a white male get into the front passenger seat of Bernal’s vehicle. The white male was later identified as Wolf.
Approximately five to ten minutes later, Wolf exited Bernal’s vehicle and Bernal departed the location.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 18, a Greenville Police officer observed a green 1994 Chrysler Concord, traveling east on Templeton Street in Greenville, Texas. The vehicle was stopped after committing multiple traffic violations, and the driver was identified as Wolf.
Wolf was eventually arrested and the Greenville Police Department located a safe in the vehicle containing digital scale, several small clear zip lock style baggies, a syringe, a spoon with possible heroin residue, Suboxone sublingual packs, a half pill of alprazolam, a plastic baggie containing suspected cocaine, a plastic baggie containing suspected methamphetamine, and a plastic baggie containing suspected heroin.
Texas Department of Public Safety Laboratory Analysis of the drugs seized from the safe revealed 11.20 gross grams of heroin and 1.77 gross grams of methamphetamine. Two glass pipes, a wooden stick, and 50 packaged syringes were also found in the vehicle.
According to the affidavit filed with the Gomez complaint, a federal search warrant was executed on March 9, 2017, at the residence of Bernal and Gomez. A search of Gomez’s room revealed a number of weapons, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Specifically, 490 gross grams of crack cocaine, 2,036 gross grams of suspected methamphetamine, and multiple firearms were located.
The defendants are presumed innocent unless he is found guilty.
A 28-year-old woman arrested Tuesday at Los Angeles International Airport has been charged with trying to smuggle at least a kilogram of cocaine to her hometown of Detroit.
Kennsha Mason, 28, was arrested by DEA agents after boarding a Spirit Airlines flight, according to officials.
A criminal complaint filed this morning alleges the narcotics were discovered in Mason’s luggage after she checked in for a flight bound for Baltimore, which was a layover on a trip to Detroit.
After seeing something suspicious in one of the bags during an image scan, the Transportation Security Administration inspected the bag, and discovered three individually wrapped items that were vacuum sealed and wrapped with a layer of carbon paper, according to officials.
Los Angeles Airport Police responded to the scene, located Mason on her Spirit Airlines flight, and escorted her off the airplane.
During a subsequent interview, Mason admitted to DEA special agents that she had previously transported drugs from Los Angeles to Detroit on four or five occasions,and that she was paid $3,500 each time she transported narcotics to Detroit.
During the interview recounted in the affidavit, Mason stated that she was working for an individual in Detroit who purchased Mason’s airline tickets and directed Mason to a residence in Pasadena, where she obtained the drugs to be delivered to Detroit.
“Our nation’s air travel system is designed to carry people to see loved ones and conduct business – not as a means to smuggle narcotics or other contraband,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “We actively work to interdict drug shipments as part of our mission to protect our critical infrastructure. Those who threaten that infrastructure will be subject to vigorous prosecution.”
Mason is being charged with possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
“The trend of criminal organizations utilizing the Los Angeles International Airport to distribute narcotics nationwide is on the rise,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Steve Comer. “Every time an illegal substance is smuggled onto a commercial airliner, it presents an unacceptable compromise to passenger safety. We’ll continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to mitigate these threats and bring the violators to justice.”
Mason is charged in relation to only one of the three packages recovered from her luggage.
Authorities are in the process of testing the other two packages to confirm the presence of cocaine. The total gross weight of all three packages was approximately four kilograms, which is more than eight pounds, according to authorities.
Mason is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Authorities have arrested 17 members and associates of the Wilmas street gang who are named in a federal racketeering indictment.
It alleges acts of murder, attempted murder, narcotics trafficking, robbery and witness intimidation – as well as a series of armed attacks on law enforcement officers dating back to 2008, according to officials.
The 17 people arrested Wednesday are among 29 defendants named in a 111-page indictment that alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The arrests were made by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement authorities, including the United States Marshals Service and the FBI.
In addition to those arrested during the Operation “Tidal Wave,” 10 defendants were already in custody on unrelated charges. Authorities are continuing to search for two defendants.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized nearly eight pounds of methamphetamine and 10 firearms, including one linked to a shooting, according to authorities.
“This federal indictment seeks to dismantle the leadership of the Wilmas street gang, a particularly violent street gang that regularly targets members of the community and law enforcement officers for murder,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The devastating impact that this gang has had on the community cannot be overstated, but today’s takedown will help to restore order across Wilmington and ensure that those responsible for the violence and other criminal acts will be taken off the streets for years.”
Operation Tidal Wave targeted the Wilmas gang, which has operated in the Wilmington District of Los Angeles since the 1950s and is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. As a “surenos” gang, the Wilmas gang “is loyal to, supports and contributes to the Mexican Mafia,” according to the indictment, which outlines how leaders of the prison gang issues orders to kill rival gang members and members of law enforcement.
The federal indictment unsealed Wednesday outlines a criminal enterprise that controls the drug trade in Wilmington, collects “taxes” from drug dealers for the benefit of Mexican Mafia members, maintains a supply of often-illegal firearms, and takes retribution against people who may be cooperating with law enforcement.
Wilmas gang members murdered two 16-year-old victims on February 26, 2012, according to the indictment.
“The Wilmas gang is also a racist organization and has been historically antagonistic to the presence of African-Americans in Wilmas gang territory,” the indictment alleges. “Wilmas gang members have frequently targeted African-Americans who enter or attempt to reside within the area claimed by the Wilmas gang.”
Operation Tidal Wave was conducted under the auspices of the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“This joint investigation targeted a very violent and ruthless criminal gang that has terrorized the citizens of Wilmington for too long,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Steve Comer. “The HIDTA Task Force is dedicated to dismantling the most prolific, local area drug trafficking organizations and today’s actions demonstrate that commitment – we’re allied with our law enforcement partners to make our communities safer.”
The 31-count indictment alleges a conspiracy to violate RICO; numerous criminal offenses that violated the RICO statute, including murder, distribution of methamphetamine, extortion, and witness tampering; violent crimes in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to trafficking narcotics, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and one defendant is accused of being a felon in possession of a shotgun.
The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
SANTA ANA, CALIF.
A 41-year-old man admitted to his involvement in a wide-reaching conspiracy to smuggle, manufacture and distribute more than $12 million of synthetic drugs, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Sean Libbert, of Newport Beach, plead guilty to a series of charges related to a scheme to distribute drugs commonly called “spice” or “bath salts,” according to officials.
Some of the drugs in this case nearly killed a victim who ingested them, according to the 16-count indictment filed in June 2014.
“The investigation in this case revealed that this defendant controlled an organization that was one of the largest importers and distributors of dangerous, synthetic drugs in the nation,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker.
“Over the course of only 16 months, this organization smuggled well over 600 pounds of chemicals into the U.S., knowing that the drugs would be used to manufacture synthetic marijuana or ‘spice’ that was smoked or taken orally. As the indictment in this cases references, these synthetic drugs poses serious health risks to its users.”
Libbert plead guilty to four felony offenses: conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute controlled substance analogues; conspiracy to smuggle controlled substance analogues into the United States using false statements and fraudulent documents; being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition; and money laundering.
“The packaging and names associated with analogue drugs might lead some impressionable users to believe these substances are benign, but the reality is they can cause serious health complications and even death,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “Couple that with the fact synthetic drugs are often marketed to young people and you have a prescription for disaster. For that reason, HSI is continuing to work closely with its federal and local law enforcement counterparts to target this emerging side of the illicit drug trade.”
As part of the plea agreement, Libbert agreed to a six year prison sentence. But federal prosecutors are recommending a sentence of not less than 20 years.
Libbert is scheduled to be sentenced March 20.
Previously in this case, two other defendants pleaded guilty, including a Chinese national who sold Libbert and his associates synthetic drugs that were smuggled into the United States.
Another three defendants charged in a separate case pleaded guilty to conspiring with Libbert to manufacture and distribute controlled substance analogues.
These other five defendants are expected to be sentenced next year.
THREE YEAR INVESTIGATION
The nearly three-year investigation into the analogue drug ring was conducted by the Los Angeles HIDTA, Southern California Drug Task Force, which includes special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations or HSI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS Criminal Investigation.
As part of the scheme, Libbert incorporated a series of companies, opened up a series of bank accounts and private mailboxes, and used various websites to sell more than $12 million worth of chemicals and analogue substances to people across the United States, including other distributors and individual users.
Libbert and his co-conspirators also manufactured their own synthetic marijuana, which they marketed and sold under the brand “Da Kine Blend.” Libbert admitted that over a 7½-month period in 2011 he distributed at least 4 kilograms of synthetic cannabinoids, which he knew would be used to manufacture at least 100 kilograms of synthetic marijuana for human consumption.
“Ingesting any synthetic cannabinoid or cathinone is like playing a game of Russian roulette – it can kill you in an instant,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Steve Comer. “Dismantling the highest level drug manufacturing and distribution organizations in the interest of public health and safety is what DEA is all about, and we’ll continue to target these organizations no matter what facade they operate behind.”
In July 2012, HIDTA investigators executed a series of federal search warrants and seized several luxury vehicles, hundreds of pounds of analogues and firearms –including a rifle, a shotgun, two pistols, and approximately 700 rounds of ammunition, all of which Libbert was prohibited from possessing as a result of three prior felony convictions, including a 2002 drug trafficking conviction.
In addition to the drug and firearms charges, Libbert also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering. Investigators have seized more than $1.1 million in assets connected to the case, including more than $700,000 in profits from the sale of Libbert’s former San Juan Capistrano home.
“This is an important victory for the American public in federal synthetic drug law enforcement,” stated Acting Special Agent in Charge Anthony J. Orlando of IRS Criminal Investigation. “Not only is Libbert being held accountable for his crime, but he has agreed to the forfeiture of the proceeds associated with his illegal activity through the mechanism of asset forfeiture. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to financially disrupt and dismantle significant drug trafficking organizations through the seizure and forfeiture of assets associated with the crime.”
A Tijuana man was arraigned Thursday in federal court on charges that he smuggled into the U.S. almost 6,000 pills containing the ultra-deadly drug fentanyl in a case that signals an alarming trend, according to officials.
In recent weeks, law enforcement officials have become increasingly concerned over the number of fentanyl seizures at the Ports of Entry by Customs and Border Protection Officers and at the United States Border Patrol checkpoints, officials said.
“We are extremely troubled by the number of fentanyl seizures we’ve seen recently,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “Drug users, listen up! This is life or death. If you are buying painkillers on the street and not the pharmacy, your drugs might contain fentanyl, and even miniscule amounts of fentanyl can have devastating consequences for those who abuse it or literally even touch it. The extreme danger of fentanyl cannot be overstated.”
When fentanyl, a Schedule II synthetic opioid painkiller, is produced in clandestine laboratories, it can be 100 times more potent than morphine. Exposure to even a trace amount of fentanyl through inhalation or absorption through the skin can be fatal, according to authorities.
In federal court in San Diego Thursday, defendant Jose Arturo Acevedo, 35, of Tijuana, Mexico, was arraigned.
Acevedo was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on multiple counts related to the smuggling of 5,857 pills containing fentanyl, 55 pounds of methamphetamine, 24 pounds of cocaine, and 12 pounds of heroin.
His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 24.
The blue pills had markings and the physical dimension of oxycodone, but the Drug Enforcement Administration lab determined that they contained fentanyl. Acevedo was charged with four counts of importation of a controlled substance.
According to the complaint originally filed in the case, Acevedo entered the San Ysidro Port of Entry on July 19, 2016, in his vehicle that contained 24 packages of drugs concealed in a speaker box lying on the floor of the vehicle behind the front seats near the passenger door.
In the last two weeks, there have been three additional law enforcement seizures of fentanyl in powder form by Border officials.
On September 9, 2016, defendant Philip Randolph Lilien, 64, a Denver resident living temporarily in Mexico at the time of the offense, was charged with smuggling 19 pounds of fentanyl and 20 pounds of heroin through the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
He was apprehended by Customs and Border Protection Officers. According to charging documents, the CBP officers found 11 packages of drugs which were concealed in a spare tire located inside the cargo area of Lilien’s vehicle.
Lilien is currently charged with importation of controlled substances.
On Sept. 12, defendant David Martinez-Carrillo, age 26, of Mexico, was arrested at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Pine Valley after agents found 18 pounds of fentanyl and eight pounds of methamphetamine in his vehicle.
Martinez-Carrillo has been charged with possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute.
And most recently, on Sept. 16, Arturo Torres-Carballo, 28, from El Centro, California, and Erik Alejandro Dominguez, 23, of Mexico, were arrested near the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Highway 86.
According to charging documents, Border Patrol Agents found 33 pounds of fentanyl concealed in 13 packages located in a secret compartment under the rear speaker area of the vehicle.
On Sept. 19, the defendants appeared in court for arraignment on a felony charge of possession with intent to distribute. They are set for a preliminary hearing next week.
“Drug users seeking illicit prescription pills on the street can no longer be sure that they are getting a pharmaceutical product and may be getting fentanyl instead,” said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William Sherman. “Fentanyl is not a better high, it is a potential death sentence.”
“Fentanyl has clearly become a growing epidemic,” said Chief Patrol Agent Richard A. Barlow, of the U.S. Border Patrol, San Diego Sector. “The hazard that it poses is deeply concerning and for that reason, it must be aggressively addressed by the law enforcement community.”
“Fentanyl has increasingly infiltrated our community, imposing a serious and harmful threat as it becomes more common and easily accessible,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego.
Adding, “Our agents are working closely with local law enforcement partners to identify the criminals responsible and cut off the channels that support this arising threat.”
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration released a nationwide public health alert on fentanyl. Fentanyl is anywhere from 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug and its analogues are being produced to a large extent in China.
DEA investigations reveal that the Mexican drug cartels, including Sinaloa, are purchasing fentanyl directly from China and producing fentanyl from precursors sourced from China.
In some parts of the country, heroin is being spiked with fentanyl or being replaced by fentanyl. There are a number of reasons why, but it mainly comes down to economics. Fentanyl generates greater profits than heroin.