Smuggler imprisoned after woman left on the side of the road

Source: United States Attorneys General 12

VICTORIA, Texas – A 43-year-old non-U.S. citizen illegally residing in Mission has been sent to prison for conspiracy to commit hostage taking which resulted in death, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Nelson Bahena-Garcia pleaded guilty Nov. 2, 2021, admitting the victim died during the smuggling incident.

Today, U.S. District Judge Rainey ordered Bahena-Garcia to serve 252 months in federal prison. Not a U.S. citizen, he is expected to face removal proceedings following his imprisonment. At the hearing, the court heard additional evidence about how he operated an alien stash house using threats and intimidation and refused to allow the victim to be released for medical care during the smuggling attempt.

The investigation began after authorities had learned of a missing Honduran female. Her fiancé called authorities and informed them he had been unable to make payment for her release.

On May 28, 2018, authorities found her on a rural county road in Victoria County. She had been stripped nude and had what appeared to be trauma inflicted upon her body. The investigation revealed she had collapsed during the smuggling attempt and had to be carried. Even though she said, “please don’t leave me,” a companion heard Bahena-Garcia eventually provide instructions to leave her behind in the brush to die.

At the time of his plea, Bahena-Garcia admitted his driver had abandoned her by on the side of the highway.

Bahena-Garcia has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection and the Victoria County Sheriff’ Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patti Booth prosecuted the case.

Chula Vista Woman Sentenced for Attempting to Avoid Prison for Fraud Conviction by Faking Cancer

Source: United States Attorneys General 3

SAN DIEGO – This morning, Ashleigh Lynn Chavez was sentenced to serve 24 additional months in prison for obstruction of justice by forging doctors’ notes falsely indicating she had been diagnosed with cancer and causing these notes to be submitted to the federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia had previously sentenced Chavez to serve 12 months and 1 day in federal prison for her conspiracy to embezzle more than $160,000 from a former employer. From the time of her guilty plea in that case in 2019 through her sentencing hearing on March 31, 2021, Chavez was permitted to remain out of custody on bond. 

On the eve of her sentencing, Chavez, 38, created a doctor’s note that falsely claimed that a biopsy had revealed “cancerous cells” in her uterus.  She forged the signature of her doctor on this letter.  Chavez provided the note to her attorney who, believing it to be genuine, submitted it to the court and to the assigned prosecutor in a bid for leniency.  As a direct result of the forged doctor’s note she had caused her attorney to submit, Chavez was permitted to remain out of custody for an additional three months so that she could allegedly receive medical treatment. 

As detailed in her plea agreement, after her sentencing hearing Chavez hired a new attorney whom she provided with additional forged letters from two different San Diego-area physicians.  The new attorney, also believing the letters to be genuine, submitted them to the assigned prosecutor and to the court. 

One forged letter, purporting to be from an oncologist, said: “Ashleigh has limitations due to uterine cancer and future need for radiation.” Other letters indicated that she was undergoing a surgical procedure, that she had been admitted to the hospital, and that her “condition has progressed… to Stage II; the cancer has spread to the cervix.”  One letter warned that “she cannot be exposed to COVID-19” because of her fragile state.  In August 2021, Chavez was purportedly scheduled to begin chemotherapy.  Her attorney contacted the assigned prosecutor and indicated that she was too ill to work, and that as a result she needed to be relieved of monthly restitution obligations to the victim in her previous case. 

By August 2021, the notes forged by Chavez were overtly recommending that the court reconsider her prison sentence and instead permit her to serve time on home confinement.  In one forged note attributed to a San Diego-area oncologist, Chavez wrote that “(a) year in prison could be a death sentence for my patient… I highly recommend the chance to allow home confinement or anything else that you deem appropriate rather than a year in prison.” Two weeks later, she forged a note from the same oncologist stating that “Ashleigh’s cancer, it has in fact metastasized affecting the lymph nodes… I recommend a different approach to her sentencing.”

In fact, Chavez was never diagnosed with or treated for cancer by either doctor. Both doctors denied writing any of the letters attributed to them.  While Chavez had been a patient of one, the second doctor had never heard of her and had no idea how or why his identity had been stolen and his signature repeatedly forged by Chavez.  In total, Chavez was able to delay serving her sentence for six months prior to her fraud being exposed.  During that time, Chavez paid zero restitution to the victim of her embezzlement.

“The defendant obstructed justice by committing a fraud on the federal court,” said U.S. Attorney Grossman. “The lengthy sentence in this case – double the prison term that she initially received – demonstrates just how ill-advised it was for this defendant to attempt to delay the payment of her debt to society.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and the FBI for their excellent work on this case.

“This defendant went to appalling lengths to avoid her initial prison sentence by falsifying medical documents to claim she had cancer. This offensive conduct is an affront to every person fighting that battle,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. “This additional sentence demonstrates to criminals that the FBI takes all fraud seriously, and trying to cheat the system will only result in additional prison time.”

DEFENDANT                                               Case No. 22-CR-0318-AJB                                                    

ASHLEIGH LYNN CHAVEZ                       Age 37            Chula Vista, CA

     aka “Ashleigh Lynn Coulson”

     aka “Ashleigh Chavez Coulson”

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Obstruction of Justice – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1503

Maximum penalty: Ten years in custody and a $250,000 fine.

AGENCIES

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Orinda Man Found Guilty Of Bank Fraud, Wire Fraud, And Money Laundering

Source: United States Attorneys General 3

Federal Judge Convicts Defendant Of Appropriating $1.5 Million In Fraudulent Debit Card Scheme And Money Laundering To Buy Orinda Home

SAN FRANCISCO – Alan Safahi was found guilty following a federal bench trial of bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in a prepaid debit card scheme that caused losses of approximately $1.5 million, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson.   

In a 39-page order filed late Thursday, United States District Judge Susan Illston convicted Safahi, 61, of Orinda, of one count of bank fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering.  The order, handed down following a nearly four-week bench trial, detailed the evidence against Safahi. 

Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Safahi developed an elaborate fraud scheme in which he collected money from clients to fund prepaid debit cards and, while accurately reporting the balances of the cards to the clients, created a system called “funding on demand” to defraud the bank that supported the cards.  In the fraud, Safahi reported to the bank only the amount the clients spent on the card as the card’s “balance,” while diverting to himself the remaining balance of the card’s value.  For example, a client of Safahi’s company, CardEx, would buy a prepaid debit card for $100 and spend $10 of that $100 balance.  Safahi’s fraudulent “funding on demand” system would then report to the bank the “balance” of that card as $10 instead of $100.  This allowed Safahi to access the money representing the difference between the actual card balance and the amount that had been spent on the card as reported to the bank.

Safahi used the fraudulently obtained funds not only to pay off his company’s debt to another bank but also to buy a house in Orinda.  Just two days before reporting the accurate balance to the bank, Safahi issued himself an $80,000 cashier’s check from his company’s account that, among other fraudulently obtained funds, he used to purchase the house.  This transaction provided the basis of his money laundering conviction.

The fraud scheme unraveled on September 25, 2014.  On the same day Safahi shut down his CardEx business, he directed an employee to provide the accurate balances of the prepaid debit cards to the bank.  According to trial evidence, Safahi had earlier reported to the bank a false balance of $93,734 on the cards he had sold.  The true balance on the cards reported to the bank that day was $2,774,953.  The difference was nearly $2.7 million, and further investigation revealed that Safahi had fraudulently appropriated approximately $1.5 million of that amount. 

United States District Judge Susan Illston has not yet set a sentencing date.

Safahi was convicted of one count of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 30 years and a maximum fine of up to $1,000,000 or twice the gross gain or loss amount.  He was also convicted of four counts of wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,00.  Safahi was lastly convicted of one count of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.  However, any sentence for these convictions will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Robert David Rees and Benjamin Kurtis Kleinman are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted the case, with the assistance of Llessica Chan Fierro, Veronica Hernandez, Olivia Hawkins, Leeya Kekona, and Karina Ruiz.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by IRS-CI.
 

Kentucky Man Charged with Communications of Interstate Threats

Source: United States Attorneys General 7

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that BRIAN ADAMS, age 22, of Paintsville, Kentucky, was indicted on June 30, 2022 by a federal grand jury for communication of interstate threats to kidnap or injure, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). 

According to the indictment, ADAMS, transmitted a threat to a fifth-grade class at the Laureate Academy Charter School on or about October 14, 2020.  At the time, the school was conducting class virtually over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, ADAMS is alleged to have used racial epithets and threats against the students.  The grand jury also made a special finding that ADAMS selected the fifth-grade class as the object of his threat because of the actual and perceived race of the students and teachers. 

If convicted of this offense, ADAMS faces a maximum sentence of 5 years, a fine of up to $250,000, up to 1 year of supervised release, and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee. 

U.S. Attorney Evans reiterated that the indictment is merely an allegation and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Tracey N. Knight and Jonathan L. Shih are in charge of the prosecution.

Allen Woman Sentenced to Federal Prison for Second Degree Murder

Source: United States Attorneys General 11

United States Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell announced that an Allen, South Dakota, woman convicted of Second Degree Murder was sentenced on June 30, 2022, by Chief Judge Roberto A. Lange, U.S. District Court.

Jonnie Fineran, age 20, was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.

Fineran was indicted by a federal grand jury in August of 2020 and pleaded guilty on April 8, 2022. The murder charge stemmed from Fineran, acting with a juvenile cohort, killing a man by stabbing him repeatedly with a knife in July 2020 in Manderson, South Dakota.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Patterson prosecuted the case.

Fineran was immediately remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

New Orleans Man Indicted for Violations of the Federal Gun Control Act

Source: United States Attorneys General 7

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – COREY HALE, age 32, a resident of New Orleans, was charged on June 30, 2022 in a four-count indictment by a federal grand jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm after being convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

If convicted, HALE faces a maximum term of imprisonment of ten (10) years, a fine of up to $250,000.00, up to three (3) years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.  

This case is being prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime.  Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.  As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

U. S. Attorney Evans reiterated that the indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Louisiana State Police, and the New Orleans Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Trummel.

Bellevue Man Sentenced to 48 Months for Distributing Fentanyl

Source: United States Attorneys General 6

BOISE – On Friday, July 1, 2022, Dakota James Hoffman, 29, of Bellevue, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison for distribution of fentanyl, U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit announced. 

According to court records, Hoffman distributed oxycodone pills to a man with the initials A.K. who overdosed on fentanyl on April 2, 2020.  A review of A.K.’s digital communications revealed that Hoffman had distributed oxycodone pills to A.K. approximately two weeks prior to the overdose.  A subsequent investigation revealed that the oxycodone pills contained fentanyl.  Additional investigation into Hoffman uncovered a separate incident where he distributed a fake oxycodone pill containing fentanyl to another individual that resulted in a non-fatal overdose.  For his distribution, Hoffman was charged with distributing fentanyl, and he pleaded guilty on March 1, 2022.

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson of the Eastern District of Arkansas, sitting by designation, imposed the sentence and ordered Hoffman to serve three years of supervised release to follow his incarceration.  Hoffman was further ordered to pay restitution to the family of A.K. 

U.S. Attorney Hurwit commended the cooperative efforts of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bellevue Marshals Office.  Their investigation of this matter led to the successful prosecution of this case.

“Fentanyl is unlike any other drug threat we have faced,” Hurwit said.  “No part of our nation has been able to escape from the spread of this poison.  We must continue to speak out to make sure all Idahoans know about the threat of fentanyl-related overdose and poisoning.  And we will hold accountable those who risk the lives of others by distributing this deadly drug.”   

Only two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a potentially lethal dose, and it’s particularly dangerous for someone who does not have a tolerance to opioids.

According to the CDC, 107,375 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022.  Such deaths are now the leading cause of death for adults aged 18-45, and a staggering 67 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.  Some of these deaths were attributed to fentanyl mixed with other illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, with many users unaware they were actually taking fentanyl.  

For more information about fentanyl and counterfeit pills, visit https://www.dea.gov/onepill

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New Orleans Woman Pleads Guilty to Misprision of Felony

Source: United States Attorneys General 7

NEW ORLEANS –  U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that ASHLEY OVERTON, age 36, of New Orleans, pled guilty on June 30, 2022 to misprision of felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 4.

According to court documents, as a part of a narcotics drug trafficking investigation, OVERTON failed to notify law enforcement authorities of criminal activity and performed acts to conceal a crime.

OVERTON faces a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, up to 1 year of supervised release and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee.

This prosecution is part of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”). OCDETF is a joint federal, state and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking and is the nation’s primary tool for disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, targeting national and regional level drug trafficking organizations and coordinating the necessary law enforcement entities and resources to disrupt or dismantle the targeted criminal organization and seize their assets.

U.S. Attorney Evans praised the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation in investigating this matter.  Assistant United States Attorneys Elizabeth Privitera and Jonathan L. Shih are in charge of the prosecution.

U.S. Attorney Announces Two Additional Indictments as Part of COVID-19 Relief Fraud Strike Force

Source: United States Attorneys General 12

Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, has announced two new indictments resulting from the COVID-19 Relief Fraud Strike Force launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this year. The Indictments were recently unsealed.

On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The CARES Act provided a number of programs through which eligible small businesses could request and obtain relief funding intended to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic for small and local businesses. One such program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided government-backed loans to small businesses which could be forgiven so long as the proceeds were used for payroll and other eligible expenses. Another program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, provided low interest loans that could be deferred until the conclusion of the pandemic to provide “bridge” funding for small businesses to maintain their operations during shutdowns and other economic circumstances caused by the pandemic. The PPP and EIDL programs have provided billions of dollars in aid, the vast majority of which have not been paid back, including hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed within Eastern Washington.

“COVID-19 relief programs quickly ran out of money due to the number of people and businesses that requested funding, which meant that some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “We created the COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force because it is critical to the strength and safety of our community in Eastern Washington that we all work together to combat pandemic-related fraud. The Strike Force is one way to ensure that limited resources are provided to deserving local businesses that provide vital services for our communities. I greatly appreciate the hard work and esprit de corps of so many talented agents and agencies that are contributing to our collective efforts.”

In February 2022, U.S. Attorney Waldref and the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) began working with federal law enforcement agencies to create and launch a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force that would leverage partnerships between different agencies to aggressively investigate and prosecute fraud against COVID-19 relief programs in Eastern Washington. The Strike Force consists of agency representatives from the USAO, Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs OIG, General Services Administration OIG, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Energy OIG, and others. Cases investigated and prosecuted by the Strike Force have resulted in numerous indictments, criminal prosecutions, and civil penalties, including these two most recent indictments.

On May 3, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Natasha Opsal, age 40, a former Spokane resident now residing in Great Falls, Montana, with nine counts of fraud in connection with several COVID-19 relief loans. The Indictment charges that Opsal fraudulently sought over $600,000 through the PPP and EIDL programs for fictitious businesses, over $50,000 of which she received. The Indictment was unsealed today following Opsal’s arrest and arraignment on the charges.

The same day, May 3, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Yuriy P. Anishchenko, age 34, a former Spokane resident last known to be residing in Kent, Washington, with three counts of fraud in connection with two EIDL loans sought and obtained by Anishchenko. The Indictment charges that Anishchenko fraudulently obtained over $300,000 for non-qualifying and ineligible businesses. The fraud charges in both cases carry maximum sentences of up to 20 years in federal prison.

“I commend the stellar investigative work on these cases performed by the Strike Force and especially by the U.S. Secret Service, SBA, FBI, and TIGTA” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “We will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to vigorously prosecute those who abuse and misuse COVID-19 relief funding.”

Assistant United States Attorney Dominique Park is prosecuting United States v. Anishchenko, while Special Assistant United States Attorney Frieda Zimmerman and Assistant United States Attorney Tyler H.L. Tornabene are prosecuting United States v. Opsal. Both cases were investigated by the COVID-19 Relief Fraud Strike Force.

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

United States v. Opsal, Case No: 2:22-CR-0053-TOR

United States v. Anishchenko, Case No: 2-22-CR-0057-TOR

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Arizona Over Restrictive Voter Registration Requirements

Source: United States Attorneys General 13

The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the State of Arizona challenging voting restrictions imposed by House Bill 2492 (2022), a recently-enacted law set to take effect in January 2023. The United States’ complaint challenges provisions of House Bill 2492 under Section 6 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“House Bill 2492’s onerous documentary proof of citizenship requirement for certain federal elections constitutes a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “For nearly three decades, the National Voter Registration Act has helped to move states in the right direction by eliminating unnecessary requirements that have historically made it harder for eligible voters to access the registration rolls. Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back on progress by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections. The Justice Department will continue to use every available tool to protect all Americans’ right to vote and to ensure that their voices are heard.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is dedicated to protecting voters in the state,” said U.S. Attorney Gary M. Restaino for the District of Arizona. “We are proud to join the Civil Rights Division in bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all eligible citizens in Arizona have the opportunity to register to vote and exercise their fundamental right to participate in our elections.” 

The United States’ complaint contends that House Bill 2492 violates the NVRA by requiring that applicants produce documentary proof of citizenship before they can vote in presidential elections or vote by mail in any federal election when they register to vote using the uniform federal registration form created by the NVRA. This requirement flouts the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc., 570 U.S. 1 (2013), which rejected an earlier attempt by Arizona to impose a similar documentary proof of citizenship mandate on applicants seeking to vote in federal elections. The United States’ complaint also contends that House Bill 2492 violates Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act by requiring election officials to reject voter registration forms based on errors or omissions that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot.

The United States’ complaint asks the court to prohibit Arizona from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2492 that violate the NVRA and the Civil Rights Act.

More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice’s website at https://www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section. Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Civil Rights Division through the internet reporting portal at https://civilrights.justice.gov or by telephone at 1-800-253-3931.