Last Updated Friday, February 19, 2021, at 9:15 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, February 19, 2021

I. Foreign Currency Exchange Investment Company Owners Indicted for Wire Fraud and Conspiracy

On February 12, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason R. Dunn announced that a federal grand jury has had indicted Michael Shawn Stewart, 57, of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Bryant Edwin Sewall, 54, previously of Little Elm, Texas, charging them with fourteen counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 

Stewart made his initial appearance that same day in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix.  Stewart remains out on bond, while Sewall remains at large. According to the indictment, from late 2015 through September 2019, Stewart, Sewall, and a third business partner owned and operated Mediatrix Capital for the purpose of soliciting investor funds for algorithm-based trading in foreign currency exchange (FOREX) markets.  

During the same time, Stewart, Sewall and the third business partner had majority ownership of, and operated, Blue Isle Markets for the purported purpose of acting as an intermediate broker between Mediatrix’s investors and its brokerage firm where the FOREX trading took place.  From early 2016 through September 2019, Stewart and Sewall allegedly caused the third business partner to provide false and misleading information to investors and potential investors.  

From early 2016 through late 2018, Stewart and Sewall falsely represented that Mediatrix had a history of successful FOREX trading dating back to December 2013 with no months in which Mediatrix incurred net losses when, in fact, Mediatrix never traded prior to 2015, and its trading history included many months in which net losses were incurred. 

From March 2016 through September 2019, investors sent more than $129 million dollars to bank accounts held by Blue Isle and Mediatrix for the purpose of investing in algorithm-based FOREX trading.  During that time, trade losses in excess of $32 million occurred, and Stewart, Sewall, and the third business partner spent more than $40 million on personal and business expenses.

II. Federal Gun and Drug Charges Filed Against Suburban Chicago Man

A suburban Chicago man was arrested on February 11, 2021, for allegedly illegally possessing a loaded handgun and dealing crack cocaine. Larry Dennis, 36, of Markham, is charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, and one count of illegal possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.  

The complaint alleges that Dennis, on three occasions last month, sold suspected crack cocaine to an individual who, unbeknownst to Dennis, was cooperating with law enforcement. 

Dennis also illegally possessed the loaded handgun in his residence on Jan. 20, 2021, according to the complaint. Dennis had previously been convicted of multiple state felonies, including robbery and firearm offenses, and was not lawfully allowed to possess a gun. Dennis was arrested February 11 on the federal charges, and he appeared the next day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert, who ordered him to remain detained in federal custody. 

The complaint and arrest were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and a number of law enforcement officials.

III. Owner of Fake Charitable Organizations Charged with Tax Fraud in Georgia

The owner of several bogus charitable organizations in Georgia was charged and has agreed to plead guilty to filing false tax returns. Taressa Hightower, 60, of Grayson, Georgia, was charged with two counts of filing false tax returns. A plea hearing has not yet been scheduled by the court. 

According to court documents, Hightower ran two non-profit organizations that purported to serve underprivileged kids in the Atlanta, Ga. area. From approximately 2010 to 2015, Hightower received more than $650,000 in ostensible donations from a bank in Boston – where Palestine Ace, the wife of Hightower’s family member Jonathan Ace, worked. 

In reality, the monies Hightower was receiving as purported donations were the proceeds of a separate embezzlement scheme carried out by Palestine and Jonathan Ace. As a condition of receiving these “donations,” Hightower agreed to return approximately 25% to Palestine and Jonathan Ace as a secret kickback. Rather than use the funds for charitable purposes, Hightower spent most of them on personal expenses unrelated to any charity work. 

For tax years 2013 and 2014, Hightower filed false personal and organizational tax returns in connection with the purported donations. Each year, Hightower reported significant amounts of non-existent and/or inflated business expenses, which ultimately lowered her personal tax liability.

IV. Dominican National Charged with Identity Fraud

A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment last week, bringing additional charges against a Dominical national who was previously indicted for unlawfully reentering the United States after being deported. Pedro Wilson Hernandez-Castillo, 49, was charged in a superseding indictment on one count of false representation of a Social Security number and one count of aggravated identity theft. 

Hernandez-Castillo was arrested and charged in June 2020 with unlawful reentry of a deported alien and has been in custody since that time. Hernandez-Castillo was previously indicted on Dec. 30, 2020.

According to the charging documents, on June 15, 2020, Hernandez-Castillo was stopped by a state trooper while driving and asked to provide his identification. The defendant provided the driver’s license and Social Security card of another individual. 

After determining that Hernandez-Castillo provided false information, the state trooper arrested Hernandez-Castillo. Court Documents further allege that Hernandez-Castillo illegally re-entered the United States after being deported in August 2018, following a conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin. Hernandez-Castillo was removed from the United States on three previous occasions: August 2011, July 2000, and January 1999. 

If convicted, Hernandez-Castillo faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 on the charge of false representation of a Social Security number. The charge of unlawful reentry after deportation could cost him up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. 

The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two-year prison sentence that must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed, up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

V. Morris County Man Charged with Producing, Possessing and Mailing Child Pornography

On February 16, 2021. a Morris County, New Jersey man who is employed by a New Jersey elementary school and helps run a youth soccer club has been charged in connection with production, possession, and mailing child pornography. 

The announcement was made the same day by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Rachael A. Honig. Steven Brooks, 34, of Morristown, New Jersey, is charged by complaint with one count of production of child pornography, one count of possession of child pornography, and one count of mailing child pornography. He appeared by videoconference that day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, n court on January 2021, law enforcement officers were notified about possible child pornography on an external hard drive belonging to Brooks. Law enforcement officers conducted a legally authorized search of Brooks’ external hard drive. 

The investigation revealed that Brooks used a fake online persona on a social media account to solicit nude photos and videos from teenage victims. A video file on Brooks’ external hard drive showed the fake online persona that Brooks created using a social media platform to communicate with a minor and to solicit the minor to send a video that depicted the minor masturbating. 

There were dozens of other images of child sexual abuse.

VI. Eight Charged in Identity Theft Ring

Eight have been charged with running a complex identity theft ring, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah. A federal grand jury indicted Samson Kidane Asres, 47, of Dallas, Brandon Michael Bay, 34, Stephen Robert Adams, 59, and Todd Stuart Breitling, 57, and Jeffrey Wilcox, 46, all of Dallas, Christopher William Feil, 40, of Garland, William Ernest Hartshorn, 43, of Richardson, and Breanna Wellborn, 38, of Garland, on identity theft crimes in December. Their court documents were unsealed on February 16, 2021.

The lead defendant, Mr. Asres, was arrested in late January and faces one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft, six counts of aiding and abetting fraud in connection with identification documents, and aggravated identity theft.

 According to the indictment, Mr. Asres allegedly obtained or purchased personally-identifying information and then gained access to credit report information of victims from credit agencies. Using the victims’ personal information, Mr. Asres allegedly paid coconspirators an agreed sum of money to purchase cell phones and other high-end items. 

He would then sell the items and use the proceeds to continue to fund his unlawful scheme. The purchasers were provided with a fraudulent Texas driver driver’s license which included the image of the coconspirator but the personal identifying information of an unknowing victim.  

Purchasers were also given false utility bills and other pertinent information from the victims’ credit report that would enable them to answer security questions on the credit check to qualify for large lines of credit at retail stores. The coconspirators would allegedly then visit retail stores to purchase cell phones, cell phone accessories, wireless speakers, watches, clothing, and other items.  

The coconspirators were able to use the false identification and victim’s identifying information to qualify for lines of credit and purchase items with a nominal down payment.

VII. Taunton Man Charged with Fentanyl Trafficking

A Taunton man was indicted by a federal grand jury on in Boston on February 16, 2021 in connection with drug trafficking activities involving fentanyl. Carlos Rivera, 46, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl and three counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl. 

Rivera was previously charged by a criminal complaint and arrested on Jan. 29, 2021.  He has been in federal custody since his arrest. According to court documents, between September 2020 and January 2021, Rivera and his co-conspirator engaged in four separate sales of fentanyl to a cooperating witness in Taunton. 

If convicted, the charge of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl carries at least five years and up to 40 years in prison, at least four years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $5 million. 

The charges of distribution of and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl carry carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, at least three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $1 million.

VIII. Carjacking in Orland Park Leads to Federal Charges

A Chicago man has been arrested and charged in federal court with carjacking after he allegedly took a vehicle from a victim in Orland Park and fired a shot at a police officer who was pursuing him. David Johnson, 23, of Chicago, is charged with one count of carjacking in connection with the Friday evening incident.  

Johnson made an initial court appearance Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert, where he was ordered to remain detained in federal custody.  A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 26, 2021. The complaint and arrest were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, along with numerous law enforcement officials. 

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sheri Wong and Scott Edenfield. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, on the evening of February 12, 2021, the victim was sitting in his car parked on the street outside of his home in Orland Park when Johnson approached, pointed a gun at the victim’s head, and demanded the key.  

Johnson stole the vehicle and drove it to Chicago, where he crashed into another car in the city’s Morgan Park neighborhood, the complaint states.  Johnson then fled on foot and fired a shot at an Oak Forest Police officer who was pursuing him.  Chicago Police officers arrested Johnson a short time later.

IX. Daniel A. Baker Indicted For Inciting Violence At The Florida Capitol Building

In a case arising from anticipated protests at the Florida Capitol last month, a federal grand jury returned an indictment on February 18, 2021, that charged Daniel A. Baker, of Tallahassee, with two counts of transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure. The indictment was announced by Lawrence Keefe,  the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Baker was arrested by FBI agents on January 15 after he issued a “Call to Arms” for like-minded individuals to violently confront protestors gathered at the Florida Capitol in the wake of the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. He specifically called for others to join him in encircling any protestors and confining them at the state Capitol complex using firearms. Baker’s next court appearance has not yet been scheduled. 

This office will send an update when more information is available. This indictment is the result of a collaborative investigation by the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Leon County Sheriff’s Office, and the Tallahassee Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Stephen Kunz and Lazaro Fields are prosecuting this case.

X. Maryland Couple Linked to Two Overdoses Faces Federal Indictment for Fentanyl Distribution Conspiracy

On February 17, 2021, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Andrew Joseph Trimmer, a/k/a D and Smoke, 32, and Alicia Marie Walls, a/k/a Porsha and Alicia Porsha, 28, both of Bowie, Maryland, on federal charges related to a fentanyl distribution conspiracy.  The superseding indictment adds Walls as a defendant and adds three counts, including conspiracy and two counts of distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious bodily injury.  

The superseding indictment also includes the two counts from the original indictment charging Trimmer with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and with assault on a federal officer.  The superseding indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner and several law enforcement officials.

According to the five-count superseding indictment, from May 2018 through September 25, 2020, Trimmer and Walls conspired to distribute fentanyl.  According to court documents, Trimmer and Walls, who were romantically involved and had a child together, were the subjects of an investigation into narcotics trafficking activity.  

The investigation revealed that Trimmer and Walls had been living with their child in a rental home in Bowie, Maryland, but had moved on September 15, 2020.  In August 2020, Walls allegedly posted two videos on her YouTube channel discussing her narcotics use and the activities of her drug-dealer boyfriend, whom law enforcement believed to be Trimmer.  Walls stated that she and “her man” lived in fear of police detecting their whereabouts and drug customers finding their location.  

As a result, Walls and Trimmer would use hotels as temporary residences and frequently moved between hotels while storing and distributing narcotics in order to avoid detection.