Federal authorities on Monday and Tuesday arrested three defendants who were charged with participating in a tax fraud scheme that used stolen identities to file at least 527 fraudulent federal income tax returns, officials said.
They claimed more than $1.9 million in fraudulent tax refunds with the IRS.
The 41-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on July 12th and unsealed yesterday and charges the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims, filing false claims against the government, theft of government property, wire fraud, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, possession of an identification document with intent to defraud the United States, aggravated identity theft, and criminal forfeiture.
If convicted of wire fraud, each defendant is facing up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
In addition, each count of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison
The Indictment also names a fourth defendant, Raymond Salazar, 53, of Los Angeles who remains at large.
The three defendants taken into custody on Monday and Tuesday are:
Charlene Castrejon, 58, of Hemet, California;
Rebecca Mona Sandoval, 33 of San Jacinto, California; and
Robert Manuel Gamboa, Jr., known as Paul Timothy Garcia, 29, of Highland, California.
At their initial court appearances this week in the U.S. Courthouse in Riverside, Castrejon, and Sandoval were released on bond. Gamboa remains in federal custody pending his detention hearing on July 28.
The indictment alleges that Castrejon, Salazar, and Sandoval prepared fraudulent federal income tax returns in the names of identity theft victims with false income, dependent, earned income credit, education credit and child tax credit information.
The Indictment further alleges that the refund payments were either mailed to addresses or deposited directly into taxpayer debit card accounts that Castrejon, Salazar, and Sandoval controlled.
Gamboa worked with the other defendants by depositing the refund checks into the accounts that he and the others controlled.
The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Three Jersey City police officers this week admitted stealing from Jersey City by getting paid for off-duty work they didn’t do, according to officials.
James Cardinali, 38, of Jersey City, Victor Sanchez, 37, of Hasbrouck Heights, and Christopher Ortega, 29, of Brick, all plead guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit fraud, officials said.
According to the evidence, Cardinali’s duties included serving as the “pick coordinator” for Jersey City’s South District, responsible for assigning police officers to off-duty details.
On multiple occasions, Cardinali asked representatives of certain vendors who were performing work in the South District to sign Jersey City off-duty vouchers indicating that a police officer had completed an off-duty assignment for that vendor, even though no officer had in fact completed any assignment, according to authorities.
The three cops are among five who have pleaded guilty in the federal probe of the jobs program, which allows officers to work off duty as private security or traffic managers.
The five men have admitted allowing companies to operate work sites without officers present; approving and submitting phony pay vouchers for work officers never performed and accepting cash from private companies and fellow cops in exchange for their participation in the scheme.
Cardinali then falsely represented on these vouchers that a particular police officer had completed an off-duty assignment.
These officers were paid for work they did not perform.
Cardinali personally obtained from the officers some of the money that they were paid as a result of the fraudulent conduct, officials said.
Sanchez and Ortega defrauded Jersey City by consenting to the submission of false and fraudulent off-duty vouchers to Jersey City indicating that they had completed certain off-duty assignments that they had not, in fact, completed.
Both were paid by the city for off-duty assignments that they did not actually complete, officials said.
All three officers face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
Cardinali is required to forfeit the $39,587; Sanchez is required to forfeit $21,583; and Ortega is required to forfeit $18,336.
Sentencing for all three defendants is scheduled for Nov. 6.
A Monterey Park man was taken into custody late this morning on federal smuggling charges stemming from the seizure of a package that contained three king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters.
Rodrigo Franco, 34, was arrested this morning by special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement after he was named in a criminal complaint filed on July 21.
Franco, who is charged with one count of illegally importing merchandise into the U.S.
If convicted of the charges, Franco is facing up to 20 years in federal prison.
Franco is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, U.S.Customs and Border Protection on March 2 inspected a package sent from Hong Kong and discovered three live king cobra snakes – a protected and highly venomous reptile – each of which was approximately two-feet long.
In addition to the three snakes, the parcel being sent through the United States Postal Service contained three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles, according to authorities.
On the same date, Franco also mailed six protected turtles – desert box turtles, three-toed box turtles and ornate box turtles – from the United States to Hong Kong, but that shipment also was intercepted by the USFWS, officials said.
Because of the danger associated with the cobras, the snakes were seized from the package that had come from Hong Kong.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service made a controlled delivery of the soft-shelled turtles to Franco’s residence.
Immediately after the package was delivered, agents with the USFWS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations executed a search warrant at the residence.
While executing the search warrant, agents found the package that originated in Hong Kong in the children’s bedroom, in which, they also discovered a tank containing a live baby Morelet’s crocodile and tanks containing alligator snapping turtles, a common snapping turtle, and five diamond back terrapins – all of which are protected species, according to the affidavit.
During a subsequent interview with authorities, Franco admitted that he had previously received 20 king cobras in two prior shipments – but he said all of those snakes had died in transit.
During the ensuing investigation, authorities obtained evidence from Franco’s phone that revealed messages in which Franco and an individual in Asia discussed shipping turtles and snakes between the United States and Asia.
According to the complaint, the messages indicate that Franco had previously received live cobras from his contact in Asia and was going to give five of the snakes to a relative of his contact.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Erik M. Silber of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.
A federal judge sentenced a Kansas man to 30 years in prison for plotting to explode a 1,000-pound car bomb at Fort Riley, Kansas, according to officials.
John T. Booker Jr., 22, of Topeka, Kan., was sentenced for attempting to detonate a vehicle bomb on the Fort Riley military base in Manhattan, Kan.
On Feb. 3, 2016, Booker pleaded guilty to one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempted destruction of government property by fire or explosion.
In his guilty plea, Booker admitted he intended to kill American soldiers and to assist ISIS’s fight against the U.S.
His plan called for constructing a bomb containing 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate. Booker intended to trigger the bomb himself and die in the process, and filmed a video he intended Americans to see after his death.
Unbeknownst to Booker, the bomb that he constructed was made with inert materials, and the two men working with him were undercover informants for the FBI.
“If Mr. Booker had been successful in detonating a car bomb, the results could have been dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties.,” said Special FBI Agent in Charge of the Kansas City Division Darrin E. Jones.
“With this sentence, John Booker is being held accountable for his plan to kill U.S. military personnel on American soil in the name of ISIS,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana J. Boente. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is countering terrorist threats and protecting American lives by bringing to justice those who plot to attack us. I want to thank the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors who made this result possible.”
The FBI began investigating Booker in March 2014 after he posted on his Facebook page that he wanted to commit jihad.
Booker admitted that he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army in order to commit an insider attack against American soldiers like the one at Fort Hood in Texas, but his deadly plans were thwarted when he was denied entry into the Army. In October 2014, Booker began communicating with an undercover FBI informant. He told the undercover FBI informant that he dreamed of being a fighter in the Middle East, and proposed capturing and killing an American soldier.
In March 2015, Booker was introduced to another FBI informant who he believed would help him plan an attack. Booker said he wanted to detonate a suicide bomb because he couldn’t be captured, all the evidence would be destroyed, and he would be guaranteed to hit his target.
On March 10, 2015, Booker made a video filmed at Freedom Park near Marshall Army Airfield at Fort Riley in which he pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. That month, he rented a storage unit in Topeka where the bomb would be assembled.
On April 10, 2015, Booker and the informants drove to an area near Fort Riley that Booker believed to be a little-used utility gate where they could enter Fort Riley undetected. He was arrested when he made the final connections on the device that he believed would arm the bomb.
A Chinese national was arraigned Monday for allegedly conspiring to illegally smuggle $700,000 worth of wildlife items including rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral, officials announced today.
Guan Zong Chen, aka Graham Chen, was arrested last year when he traveled from China to Australia.
Chen is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
According to the eight-count indictment, Chen purchased the wildlife artifacts at U.S. auction houses located in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas.
He conspired with another Chinese national, a recent college graduate in China to travel to the United States to pick up the purchased items and either hand carry or arrange for them to be mailed to another co-conspirator that owned a shipping business in Concord, Massachusetts.
The shipper then repacked the wildlife items and exported (smuggled) them to Hong Kong with documents that falsely stated their contents and value and without obtaining required declarations and permits.
In April 2014, Chen visited the U.S. and visited the shipper in Concord, Massachusetts.
During the visit with the shipper, Chen instructed the shipper to smuggle a sculpture made from elephant ivory to Hong Kong on Chen’s behalf and falsely declared it to be made of wood and worth $50.
Officials stated that trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral have been regulated since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES, a treaty signed by over 175 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.
Animals listed under CITES cannot be exported from the U.S. without prior notification to, and approval from, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
A Barrio Azteca gang lieutenant was sentenced this week to life in prison for his participation in a racketeering and drug trafficking conspiracy, and murder, according to officials.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone sentenced Ricardo Valles De La Rosa, aka Chino, 52, of El Paso, to life in prison.
Vallews plead guilty on Jan. 13 to racketeering conspiracy; conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; conspiracy to import heroin, cocaine and marijuana; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
As part of his plea, Valles agreed that he conspired to commit murder in a foreign country.
Valles is one of 35 members and associates of the Barrio Azteca or BA gang charged in a third superseding indictment unsealed in March 2011, with various counts of racketeering, murder, drug offenses, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Of the 35 defendants charged in this case, 33 have been apprehended, 25 of whom have pleaded guilty, one committed suicide while imprisoned during his trial and one was found guilty at trial. Most recently, Valles, Luis Hernandez Celis, aka Pac, and Alberto Nunez Payan, aka Fresa, were extradited from Mexico in October 2015.
Seven years ago, Barrio Azteca members attack on two cars leaving a birthday party in Juarez.
In one car was U.S. Consulate worker Lesley Enriquez and her husband Arthur Redelfs, an El Paso County Detention Officer, who were both killed. Their baby daughter was in the car but was unharmed.
In the same attack, Jorge Alberto Salcedo Ceniceros, whose wife worked at the consulate, died in an ambush. There were several children in that car but they were unharmed, according to authorities.
As alleged in the indictment, members and associates of the BA have engaged in a host of criminal activity, ranging from drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering to kidnapping and homicides, including the March 13, 2010, murders in Juarez of a U.S. consulate employee and her husband, as well as the husband of another U.S. consulate employee.
These individuals were killed by the BA because they were mistakenly believed to be rivals associated with the Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Drug Trafficking Organization.
In connection with his plea, the defendant admitted that the BA gang is a paramilitary gang with members in West Texas and Juarez, Mexico, that operates both inside and outside the prison system, and engages in drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, intimidation, violence, threats of violence and murder.
In addition to profiting from drug importation and distribution, the gang also profits through the collection of a “street tax” or “Cuota” through extortion from individuals engaged in both legal and illegal activities in the gang’s territory, according to officials.
According to further admissions made in connection with his plea agreement, beginning in or around 1995, Valles became an associate of the BA while imprisoned at a Bureau of Prisons facility, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
Following his release from the BOP facility and deportation to Juarez, in July 2007, Valles was promoted to lieutenant and placed in charge of prostitution and illegal after-hours alcohol sales in downtown Juarez, and also collected “Cuota.”
Additionally, Valles maintained contact on behalf of the BA with a Mexican law enforcement entity and would use that contact to obtain information regarding the arrests of BA members, the activities, and locations of rival gang members and the results of hits carried out by the BA, officials stated.
Further, Valles maintained rosters of BA members in Juarez and was in charge of conducting daily roll-calls, as well as maintaining communications between the BA in Juarez and BA members who were in and out of prison in the U.S.
In addition, Valles admitted that on March 13, 2010, upon instructions from a high-ranking BA member, Valles obtained the location of a specific vehicle and sent BA members to that location.
Valles admitted that he was aware that he was assisting the other BA members in locating and committing crimes against the occupants of the vehicles with the U.S. Consulate workers.
A member of the Five Deuce Broadway Gangster Crips – who was found guilty by a jury last year of conspiring to engage in racketeering activities, which included him selling crack cocaine on Skid Row – has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
Tony Gordon, also known as “Wodi,” 36, of Freeport, Illinois, who has a lengthy criminal history that includes three prior felony narcotics convictions, was sentenced Monday in federal court.
Gordon was convicted late last year of conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.
Members of the conspiracy engaged in murders, robberies, witness and informant intimidation, and narcotics sales.
The jury further convicted Gordon of agreeing to distribute approximately 10 ounces of crack cocaine, as well as marijuana.
Gordon “was also a long time crack cocaine seller who preyed on the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers filed with the court.
Gordon “purposely traveled from his own neighborhood to infiltrate the Skid Row area of downtown, despite its own dangers, where, as established at trial, defendant sold directly adjacent to substance abuse recovery centers and mental health centers.
Defendant purposefully and thoughtfully capitalized on these individuals’ most debilitating vice.”
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence of Gordon’s membership in BGC and in the “Gremlin Riderz,” the gang’s violent “hit squad.”
The jury saw videos of Gordon at gang meetings providing guidance on how the gang should operate, at one point bragging that he solved problems “the best way I can” – through “violence.”
Other videos showed Gordon describing shooting at gang rivals, recounting a home invasion robbery, and discussing how to discipline gang “snitches.”
During yesterday’s sentencing hearing, Judge James Otero noted that Gordon continued to come to court in a wheelchair despite no evidence of a disability and a jail video showing Gordon engaging in a fistfight with another inmate.
Judge Otero concluded that Gordon committed perjury when he testified about his fabricated medical condition.
Gordon’s sentencing follows a hearing last month when Crips’ leader – Tyrine Martinez, 36, of Vernon – was sentenced to nearly 22 years in federal prison.
Other Crips members have recently received substantial prison sentences.
Gordon, Martinez and other key defendants in the case who have been sentenced agreed to be banned from living in the BGC territory and subject to expansive search conditions after their release from prison.
Martinez was the lead defendant named in a 213-page RICO indictment that charged 72 members and associates of the BGC, a street gang that claims territory in South Los Angeles and controls drug sales in an area just west of Skid Row.
The indictment outlined two decades of criminal conduct, including murders, robberies, extortion, illegal firearms possession, witness intimidation and narcotics trafficking.
Fifty-seven of the defendants in the case have been convicted by guilty plea or at trial. The remaining 15 defendants are scheduled to go on trial in November.