Articles Posted in Federal Crimes

It was the height of the Holiday shopping season last month, when a middle aged woman wearing sweat pants and a dark colored hat walked into a bank and simply handed a teller a note which read “This is a robbery. Smile & act naturally”. She also told the teller that she was armed and wouldn’t hesitate to use her weapon, “so don’t act like a hero”, even though witnesses to the apparent robbery didn’t see a weapon in the woman’s possession, according to the federal criminal complaint.

After her arrest, which took place three days after the alleged robbery, and after being taken into custody, Sonya Clark, who is fifty two years old and works for a moving company also seemingly confessed to robbing a local branch of a TD bank in Boynton Beach late last year, near her residence. The bank that was hit in Fort Lauderdale was also a TD Bank
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Many people are arrested by police when suspicions are raised in cases when they’re pulled over for simple traffic stops. This also frequently happens when law enforcement is given access to people’s homes for indeterminate reasons, such as a 911 call for a domestic argument that wasn’t actually serious and may have even been resolved before police arrived.

For example, if a police officer notices a pouch of what appears to be marijuana with a box of rolling paper in plain view, they can possibly make an arrest, even though they were called to the scene for a totally different purpose.

But in many cases, when police notice items that cause them to assume that a more substantial crime may be involved due to what they feel to be evidence witnessed with their own eyes, they may choose to further investigate and hold parties they believe to be involved as they begin and continue the inspective process.

Michael Cohen is a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney whose practice concentrates on the defense of federal charges. In cases such as these, his help can be invaluable for resulting in the best outcome if charges are filed by the federal government or the State of Florida.

When an arrest takes place by law enforcement when they assume the evidence they stumbled upon by chance may be a fragment of a greater possible crime, in many cases they may be correct.

Such was the case when Miramar Police were investigating an armed home invasion that took place in 2013 at a residence inhabited by three men: Harlan and Frantz Decoste, and Francis Jeudy.

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Recently on my Website, I’ve been focusing on the topic of identity theft since tax season is fast approaching and the rise in these types of cases increases dramatically this time of year.

Most people submit their tax information to the IRS before the April 15 deadline hoping to receive their refund checks as early as possible.

But in many cases, others are already spending that expected money as people continually check their mailboxes for the check they assume to receive from the Department of the Treasury.

Tax Season has begun, and potential identity thieves are making plans.

After the New Year’s festivities end, up until the April 15 deadline (excluding extensions) people go through their records from the previous year and prepare to submit their completed income tax information to the IRS by themselves or through a representative, in the hopes of receiving a nice refund from the taxes they overpaid during the year; using the deductions they are legally entitled to.

But well before that date, plans are hatched by identity thieves imagining how to play the system by stealing people’s identities, and cashing the refunds that are due to others.

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In early November, 2011, an unnamed board member of Pharmasset Inc., a New Jersey based pharmaceutical company that developed a drug named sofosbuvir, (brand name Sovaldi) which had promising results in the treatment of hepatitis C met with members of the company’s Boca Raton based legal team and longtime advisors Robert Spallina and Donald Teascher.

Steven Rosen, CPA, a director in a Plantation based accounting firm was also present at the meeting. At the time, Pharmasset didn’t have any major drugs on the market.

The unnamed board member owned a substantial amount of his company’s stock and was discussing financial and legal advice with the lawyers and accountant regarding what he may realize monetarily from a pending buyout transaction if the company was sold. Rumors of the sale of the company had been abounding recently causing the stock price to slowly move on a slightly upward bias. During the extent of their conversation he told the three men that Pharmasset was in the advanced stages of a negotiation to sell the company.
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Although she may not be the mastermind of the operation, twenty-two year old Jaime Nicole Lewis, of Boca Raton has been charged with conspiring to import, possess and distribute several kilos of Alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenon (Alpha-PVP), the main ingredient of an illegal synthetic drug manufactured in China. In street jargon, the drug is commonly known as flakka.

Early last week, Lewis pleaded guilty to conspiring to having the key flakka ingredient imported into the country although she maintains that her role was only acting as a type of accountant responsible for taking care of the “money aspect” for the illegal operation she was charged with being a part of.

She’s been held in federal custody since late April when U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Brannon said that Lewis posed a danger to the community. She was previously arrested multiple times for possession of marijuana; the last arrest a more serious charge of possession with intent to distribute to a minor in a case which is still ongoing in Broward County.

The judge stated that “the major problem I have with the situation is the repeated encounters Ms. Lewis has had with the court system, which apparently don’t teach her anything.”

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With less than a week to go, many are looking forward to opening of the 2015 baseball season. And only ten days after that event begins the deadline for filing your tax return reaches its deadline. Spring always brings about the beginning of one and cutoff date of the other season.

And just as the first pitch is being thrown in all major baseball stadiums across the country, cases of tax fraud and identity theft will be highlighted in the headlines.

Many of us use tax preparers to fill out and submit our returns with a belief that these professionals are doing so to our benefit, more qualified to take the information we give them and bring us back the highest monetary return or lowest tax liability possible.

In Broward County, Julio Lugo was the proprietor of multiple agencies of this type, including #1 Tax Specialist LLC, the Number One Tax Specialist LLC, and Number Two Tax Specialist Inc., all based in Miramar. He also had control over Light House Refund of Miami from which he obtained an EFIN (Electronic Filing Identification Number) from the Internal Revenue Service which allowed him to electronically file customer’s income tax returns, supposedly on their behalf.

Lugo and his associate Jamar James who registered Light House Refund both faced charges relating to improperly filing returns on their customer’s behalf for their own personal gain. Lugo was also listed as the registrant of Facerick Entertainment LLC, Chairman/CEO of Top Line Music Group, LLC and the Managing Member of Auto by Vision, LLC.

But for all his business interests, Lugo was apprehended by federal law enforcement for a scheme that found that he was using the EFIN acquired by Light House Refund to file close to fifty false tax returns using stolen identities. According to the Indictment he was paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fraudulent tax refunds provided by the IRS during the timeframe of Oct. 2010 through Sept. 2012.

In a deal with the government, Lugo pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud in relation to aggravated identity theft. He accepted a sentence of close to six years in a federal prison and more than a quarter million dollars in restitution. Upon his release, Lugo will complete his sentence with three years of probation.

His codefendant Jamar James received a sentence of two years of probation for his role in the scheme. His probationary sentence was for accepting a guilty plea for one count of making a false statement to a federal agency.

The press release for the case was announced by Wifredo A. Ferrer, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, along with Kelly R. Jackson, the Special Agent in Charge for IRS Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI).
George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge for the FBI’s Miami Field Office was also named in the press release.

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After an investigation that went on for over half a year, eight South Florida men were taken into custody as the result of a sting that covered territory along the East Coast in an offshore online sports gambling ring that was operated out of the suspect’s homes as well as local businesses. The online bookmaking ring took bets on professional and college sports including football, baseball, and basketball.

Related suspects were also arrested in New York City, Upstate New York’s Rockland County as well as Bergen County, New Jersey, with a grand total of over $4 million seized by federal agents between all locations. More than sixty search warrants were executed by multi-state agencies made up of the Organized crime unit in Florida as well as the FBI’s criminal division in the New York Metropolitan area and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Organized Crime Unit with assistance from the New York State Police Special Investigative Unit, Queens District Attorney’s Organized Crime Division, the NYPD Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Clarkstown and Ramapo police, the Bergen County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In New York, the biggest catch found in the net was Daniel Pagano, now 61, the son of former Genovese crime family boss Joseph Luco Pagano. The younger Pagano is alleged to be a Captain in the continuing criminal enterprise.

Also picked up in the operation and accused of being linked to the infamous crime family was Pasquale Capolongo who was taken into custody in West Palm Beach, Florida. Capolongo had moved from White Plains, NY to West Palm Beach. He has a history of convictions for illegal gambling charges during the time he lived in Rockland County which has apparently followed him to South Florida.

The South Florida portion of the booty amounted to over $1.2 million and was snatched from the suspect’s homes, safety deposit boxes and personal bank accounts. According to papers released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, in this new age of digital crime; in addition to conducting their illicit business from their homes it is also alleged that they worked out of local casinos and a dog track, an Italian market in Coral Springs, a scrap metal business in Pompano, and even a Whole Foods market and CVS Pharmacy.

Arrests were initiated last year in Rockland County in early December with the conclusion of their own separate investigation which separately went on for over a year. At the time, District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said that they were “taking in millions of dollars a month” and continued by saying that “the investigation uncovered evidence that the enterprise had links to organized crime.”

In the South Florida connection all the men are charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, varying counts of bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking, and the unlawful use of two-way communication devices to facilitate a felony. All have been saddled with bond in excess of one hundred thousand dollars with Capolongo’s topping off at $1 million. Coming in second in the high-bond lottery was Michael Dangelo of Pompano Beach who had additional charges of drug trafficking and possession of cocaine and oxycodone which raised the amount of his bond to $777,000.

The Broward Sherriff’s Office said that the operation was foiled by texts and phone wiretaps, surveillance, along with cooperating witnesses and defendants as well as videotaped recordings of live transactions, and the hard work of their undercover deputies.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Gina Carter mentioned that “this is an ongoing investigation and we anticipate several more key players will be arrested in coming weeks.”

Four of the men who were arrested in Palm Beach County including Capolongo had hearings before a Broward Circuit Court Judge to account for the sources of their bond funds which must have been obtained from legitimate sources. The other three men were Devon Alexander Shalmi, 30, Joseph Petrolino, 47, and Thomas Cuce, 32. But for now the four remain in custody. All the men arrested live in the immediate neighborhoods of West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Parkland, Margate and Coral Springs in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The others arrested were Allan Klein, and his son Darren, Michael Dangelo, and Erik Bishop.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel commented on the workings of the criminal enterprise by saying “Criminal networks like these may not seem dangerous to the public… but it is activity such as this that leads to violence and fuels organized crime throughout the country.”

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Michael Paul Watkins of Inverness had successfully escaped from custody previously on two separate occasions after being convicted for the crime of fondling and handling a minor under the age of sixteen years in Florida State Court. He was arrested in October 2011 on a charge of domestic battery. Details of that arrest record are exempt from public information as per Florida statute.

Late last year, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office received information from local Wal-Mart employees that an individual who was later identified as an employee of Cool Aid Heating and Air Conditioning was purchasing a questionably large amount of firearms from the outlet during the course of a short period of time. The air conditioning company was one of two businesses owned by Watkins. The purchases included various types of guns including AR-15 rifles. The law enforcement agency also received an anonymous tip that Watkins was obtaining and stockpiling firearms, grenades (explosive devices), and ammunition from a third party. As a convicted felon, Watkins is prohibited from manufacturing, possessing, or purchasing any type of weapons under the National Firearms Act.

The Sheriff’s Office contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), a federal law enforcement agency and together they executed three warrants based on probable cause, searching Watkins home and the two businesses he owned.

Through their search efforts at Watkins home, close to 150 firearms as well as 17 explosive devices were uncovered. The investigators’ assigned to the search the premises commented that Watkins house was “built like a bunker”. There was a concrete gated wall surrounding the home entrance as well as rolling steel shutters guarding the front door and all windows.

In addition to the air conditioning and heating company, Watkins is also the owner of Ridin’ Dirty Motor Sports, a retailer of ATV’s, go carts and motorcycles. He was arrested at that location and charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon as well as illegal possession of a destructive device. If convicted, each of the crimes carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in a federal prison.

When Watkins’ employee was questioned by federal investigators he told them that the acquisition of the firearms began in September 2013 in gun shops where they were legally sold, including Wal-Mart stores in Inverness, Inglis, and Ocala, Florida. The money was provided by his employer and on some occasions he waited in the store’s parking lot for the transaction to be completed. He also bought conversion kits for Watson by way of the Internet, using a pre-paid card provided by his boss. These supplies are specifically used in the conversion of semi-automatic weapons into automatic firearms.

He also admitted to investigators that he assisted his boss construct and set off pipe bombs which were made from PVC pipes that contained explosive substances on a vacant lot which Watkins owned in Dunnellon, FL. The Citrus County Property Appraiser confirmed that the property was owned by Watkins’s company (Watkins Inc.).

In further response to investigator’s questions regarding why his employer had accumulated the equivalence of a small armory, he told them that Watkins feared the foreseeable collapse of the United States economy and planned to eventually become a supplier for the firearms industry. Telephone records and text messages corresponding to the purchase dates between Watkins and his worker were also accumulated by investigating agents.

Although Watkins was convicted of his prior crimes in the state criminal justice system, these new charges will be tried in federal court. The employee continues to work and cooperate with federal authorities.

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Former Corrections Officer Jerry St. Fleur, 26, was sentenced to over four years in a federal prison after agreeing to a plea deal for charges of identity theft and wire fraud. Over sixty thousand dollars that was proceeds from his scheme will also be forfeited. He faced up to twenty years in federal prison before submitting to the guilty plea.

But in 2014, St. Fleur was not alone when it came to officers from Florida’s Department of Corrections being arrested, accepting guilty pleas and being sentenced for their crimes.

St. Fleur was the third employee of Florida Correctional Institutions to be sent to federal prison for their transgressions. Just one month earlier, former juvenile probation officer Corey A. Coley was sentenced to more than seven years for identity theft and filing false tax returns and just two months prior to that resolution, former federal corrections Officer Michael J. Garland was sentenced to two years after he pleaded guilty for charges of bribery and smuggling contraband into a federal prison.

In this latest case St. Fleur’s guilty plea was established based on charges that he stole the identities of existing and former inmates who either served or were serving time at the Zephyrhills Correctional Facility. He used the data to file more than one hundred eighty bogus tax returns requesting refunds in an amount that exceeded one half million dollars

St. Fleur was arrested this past May on five separate counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft by using his authority to acquire birth dates and Social Security numbers that he matched up to the names of inmates currently serving their sentences at the facility. He was also charged with using the FDOC database to acquire the same information for inmates who previously were incarcerated there. He would use the former and present inmate’s personal identifying information (PII) to file the phony returns

After filing the fraudulent tax returns he directed payment to be deposited to debit cards that was held by accomplices who took part in his scheme.

The charges against St. Fleur of identity theft and wire fraud are both federal crimes which were investigated by the FBI and IRS. Locally, the investigation was assisted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office leading to St. Fleur’s arrest and subsequent guilty plea and sentence. It was prosecuted by Matthew Jackson, Assistant United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida.

The Coley case resulted with him receiving a sentence of more than seven years in federal prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, as well as conspiracy. He was also ordered to return $671,023. That amount was the minimum monetary quantity calculated to be what he and his three accomplices obtained through the scheme. His co-conspirators also received significant punishments.

Albert E. Moore, Jr. was sentenced to more than six years, Tigi Moore received a four year sentence and Mattie Philon received the shortest sentence of two years in federal prison.

The case against Garland concluded with a two year prison sentence and the forfeiture of $4,200 which was the amount traced as being the financial proceeds of his crimes.

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