Last Updated Friday, December 04, 2020, at 4:37 PM

Every Friday, The Criminal Lawyer Group publishes a digest of the latest federal prosecutions nationally.  Our goal is to keep the public informed as to recent events in federal courts around the country. 

Unless otherwise disclosed, none of the defendants mentioned in these summaries are clients of our firm.

If you or someone you love has been charged with a federal crime, we are here to help.  The attorneys at The Criminal Lawyer Group are some of the nation’s top-ranked attorneys in their field and their experience defending criminal defendants in federal courts is exemplary.

Call us now for a free and completely confidential attorney phone consultation at (844) 604-5190.

FRIDAY, December 04, 2020

I. Pair charged with interfering with safety on railroad tracks

Two people were arrested on November 28, 2020 the BNSF Railway tracks near Bellingham, Washington were charged with terrorist attack and other violence against a railroad carrier. They appeared in federal court on Nov. 30, as the announcement was made by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Brian T. Moran. 

Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, both of Bellingham, were arrested Saturday night November 28 in Bellingham as they allegedly placed a ‘shunt’ on the tracks.  A shunt disrupts the low-level electrical current on the tracks and can disable some of a train’s safety features. 

According to the criminal complaint, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of shunts on the BNSF tracks since January 19, 2020.  The shunt is comprised of wire and magnets that are stretched between the tracks, disrupting the systems that indicate a train is on the tracks.  

On ten occasions, shunts were placed in areas that disrupt the crossing guards where the tracks cross streets, so vehicles could have tried to cross the tracks unaware of the oncoming train.  On October 11, 2020, multiple shunts were placed in three different locations.  The shunts triggered an automatic braking system on a train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material.  

The emergency braking then caused a portion of the train to decouple from the engine, and decoupling can potentially lead to derailment. If convicted, both defendants face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

II. New Jersey Woman Charged with Wire Fraud Conspiracy

On November 30, 2020, a woman from Essex County, New Jersey was charged with defrauding elderly victims through a lottery scam in which victims were falsely told that they had won large sums of money. The announcement of the charges was made by the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito the same day. 

Shanile Lyle, 27, of Orange, New Jersey, was arrested the same day and charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She appeared by videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer and was released on $200,000 unsecured bond soon after the announcement.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, in 2018, several elderly victims received telephone calls alerting them that they had won large sums of money and various other prizes. The victims were informed that they would have to pay taxes on these winnings and, as a result, sent numerous checks totaling at least $675,000 to Lyle and her conspirators. 

Lyle deposited these funds into back accounts she controlled and transferred portions of the money to her conspirators. If convicted, Lyle faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the financial gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss involved, whichever is greater.

III. Members of Drug Trafficking Organization Indicted for Conspiracy to Distribute Fentanyl

On November 24, 2020, a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tennessee returned a two-count indictment against James J. Martin, Lee Antonio Clements Jr., and Ricky Harper, all of Chattanooga, for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.

According to the indictment alleges that from May to October 2020, in the Eastern District of Tennessee, the defendants, James J. Martin, aka “Fat Deuce”; Lee Antonio Clements Jr., aka “Tone G,” aka “Tone G Da Boss,” aka “Tone”; Ricky Harper; and others known and unknown to the grand jury, conspired to distribute 400 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing fentanyl. 

Martin is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. If convicted of the drug conspiracy charge, Martin, Clements, and Harper each face 10 years to life in prison, supervised release for five years, and a fine of up to $10,000,000.  Additionally, Martin faces up to 10 years in prison, supervised release for three years, and a fine of up to $250,000 for the firearms charge.

IV. North Carolina Man Arrested for Carjacking and Firearm Offenses

A Kinston, NC man was arrested November 30, 2020 on charges of carjacking and firearm offenses related to a shooting that occurred on November 19, 2020 there. On November 21, law enforcement received a tip concerning the location of Robert Lee Strother, 30.  

They responded to that location and urged Strother to surrender.  Strother exchanged gunfire with law enforcement where he was shot several times. Strother was found to have an AR rifle along with several rounds of ammunition. Robert J. Higdon, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced the charges on November 30, 2020.

According to court documents, law enforcement officers responded to a domestic violence disturbance call at a residence.  When officers arrived, Strother turned around and opened fire, striking one officer in the neck. The round shot at the officer proceeded through another occupied residence. 

The following day, Strother shot an individual then carjacked their vehicle at gunpoint. The vehicle was later recovered but Strother remained at large. Strother is charged with carjacking, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a federal crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. If convicted, Strother faces the possibility of life in prison.

V. Seven Charged in 67-count Indictment for Dismantled Georgia Animal-Fighting Operation

Seven men were indicted December 1, 2020 on federal charges involving a dog-fighting operation that was broken up in 2018 in Dodge County, Georgia. The indictments in the Southern District of Georgia were secured in a federal grand jury session by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Rock, the district’s dedicated animal cruelty prosecutor, according to Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. 

The 67-count indictment targets the owner of a site used for dog fighting and individuals alleged to have participated in fights at the facility.

The lead defendant in the case is James Lampkin, a/k/a “Pookie,” 45, of Eastman, Ga. Lampkin is charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act; and 63 counts of Possessing and Training a Dog for Purposes of an Animal Fighting Venture, related to the 63 dogs seized on his property where the dog fights were alleged to have taken place. 

The charges all are felonies, each carrying a possible penalty upon conviction of up to five years in prison. Lampkin also is charged with Attending an Animal Fighting Venture, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. 

Also charged are the following:

  • Benjamin Shinhoster III, 40, of Augusta, is charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act; Transporting and Delivering a Dog for Purposes of an Animal Fighting Venture; Sponsoring and Exhibiting a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture; and Attending an Animal Fighting Venture.
  • Deveon Hood, 33, of Tennille, is charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act; and Attending an Animal Fighting Venture.
  • Xavier Simmons, 34, of Sandersville, is charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act; and Attending an Animal Fighting Venture.
  • Andre Archer, 23, of Sandersville, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act; and Attending an Animal Fighting Venture.
  • Joe Ford, 32, of Elgin, S.C., charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act, and Attending an Animal Fighting Venture; and,
  • Dwight McDuffie, 44, of Eastman, charged with Attending an Animal Fighting Venture.

The animals were seized, and the defendants identified on March 17, 2018, when Georgia State Patrol troopers and Georgia Department of Natural Resources game wardens responded to reports of a dog fight being held in the area. 

Officers performed traffic stops in Eastman and discovered a dog in one of the vehicles that appeared to have been injured while fighting. The 63 dogs were later seized at Lampkin’s residence after investigators serving a search warrant found the animals chained in the back yard.

VI. Maryland Man Charged with Kidnapping and Carjacking with Intent to Kill

On December 2, 2020, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging a Maryland man with the kidnapping and carjacking of a woman in Henrico County in September 2019. According to the indictment, on Sept. 18, 2019, Devon Allen Odell Scott, 38, of Edgewood, MD abducted a woman for the purpose of committing a sexual assault on and robbery of that same victim, and after traveling from Maryland to Virginia in furtherance of that offense.

In the course of the kidnapping, Scott forcibly carjacked the victim’s vehicle with the intent to cause death and serious bodily harm to that victim. Scott is charged with carjacking and kidnapping. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison. 

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.

VII. West Virginia Man Indicted on Firearms Charge

As of December 2, 2020, James Warren, 59, of Cameron, WV, was indicted on one count of Unlawful Possession of Firearms. Gray, a person prohibited from having a firearm because of a prior felony conviction, is accused of having six firearms and various ammunition in May 2020 in Marshall County, WV. 

If convicted, Warren faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count. Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Northern West Virginia David J. Perri is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.

This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. 

Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes.

VIII. Illegal Alien from Mexico Indicted for Attempted Federal Bribery

On December 2, 2020, Jesus Christian Miranda-Alcantar, 33, an illegal alien from Mexico, was officially charged in a federal indictment with attempted bribery of a federal officer and illegal reentry following deportation from the United States. The charges were announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst, along with law enforcement officials. 

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on November 17, 2020, charges Miranda-Alcantar with one count of attempted bribery of a federal officer. In September 2020, Miranda-Alcantar was found in Hinds County, following his arrest on a domestic violence charge, present without necessary permission to be in the United States since ICE had removed him from the United States in 2013.  

While being transported to jail from immigration processing at the ERO offices in Pearl, Miranda-Alcantar offered to pay the federal officer transporting him a bribe of $8,000, if the officer would stop, let Miranda-Alcantar out of the vehicle by the side of the road, and let Miranda-Alcantar escape. 

On December 1, 2020, Miranda-Alcantar appeared for arraignment on the indictment before United States Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson in Jackson, who ordered Miranda-Alcantar detained in U.S. Marshals custody while awaiting trial.

IX. Wisconsin Couple Indicted on Meth Charge

On December 3, 2020, Matthew D. Krueger, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, announced that on December 1, 2020, a federal grand jury indictment was issued against Malachi R. Hetzer, 29, and Breanna E. Pieschel, 32, both of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The indictment alleges that Hetzer and Pieschel conspired to distribute in excess of five grams of actual methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it to others. “Actual” methamphetamine possesses a high level of purity and is also known as “crystal meth” or “ice.” 

If convicted, Hetzer and Pieschel face at least five years and up to 40 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $5,000,000, and between four years and life on supervised release.