Last Updated Friday, July 16, 2021, at 4:25 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.
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FRIDAY, July 16, 2021
I. Maryland Air Force Lieutenant Faces Charges for Using Hidden Camera to Make Child Porn
On July 12, 2021, a federal criminal complaint was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner. The criminal complaint charges U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Jason Daniel Ort, 36, of Waldorf, Maryland, with possession and production of child pornography. The criminal complaint was filed on June 16, 2021, and it was unsealed on July 7, 2021, following Ort’s arrest and initial appearance in U.S District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Ort has been ordered detained pending trial. If he is convicted, Ort faces at least 15 years and up to 30 years in prison for production of child pornography, in addition to up to 20 years in prison for possession of child pornography.
According to the criminal complaint, Ort was arrested in Syracuse, New York on October 2, 2020, for unlawful surveillance after an adult complainant informed law enforcement that they noticed a small camera placed in their bedroom on October 1, 2020. Upon further inspection, the complainant located an SD card which the complainant removed from the camera and reviewed.
The complainant advised law enforcement that there was video content on the SD card allegedly depicting a minor female victim between the ages of five and eight-years-old using the restroom and showing Ort entering the bathroom and adjusting the camera.
II. Massachusetts Woman and Man Charged in Indictment in COVID-19 Pandemic Scheme
A Leicester, Massachusetts woman and man were each charged in a superseding indictment by a federal grand jury in Worcester in connection with their alleged involvement in a pandemic-related unemployment fraud scheme. The superseding indictment added one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Destinee Snay, 19, who was arrested July 12.
In April 2021 co-defendant William Cordor, 26, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud and four counts of aggravated identity theft. Cordor had previously been arrested by criminal complaint. The Acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell announced the charges on July 12, 2021.
According to the indictment, from about June 2020 to about October 2020, Cordor and Snay conspired with others to file false and fraudulent claims for unemployment assistance in multiple states, including Nevada, using stolen identities. They then would transfer the payments into prepaid debit card accounts they obtained.
It is alleged that on Aug. 18, 2020, Cordor was encountered by police in connection with a domestic violence incident and found in possession of approximately 21 prepaid debit cards in approximately 13 different names. In addition, evidence related to this scheme was allegedly found on Cordor’s computer and cell phone.
III. Texas Man Charged with Sexual Assault of Minor Girl on Flight to Montana
According to the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, Leif M. Johnson, a Texas man suspected of sexually assaulting a minor girl while on a flight from Austin, Texas, to Bozeman, Montana made his initial appearance on a criminal complaint on July 12, 2021. The criminal complaint alleges that Vincent Harry Kopacek, 76, of Fredericksburg, Texas, is alleged to have committed three federal crimes: attempted sexual abuse of a minor, abusive sexual contact and assault within maritime and territorial jurisdiction.
If he is convicted, Kopacek faces up to 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto presided, and Kopacek was ordered detained pending further proceedings.
According to the criminal complaint and supporting documents filed in support, on July 9, the FBI was contacted by an officer with the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport Public Safety Office that the previous night, a 15-year-old girl had been assaulted while on an aircraft from Austin to Bozeman. Upon departing the airport, the girl reported the incident to her family, who then contacted law enforcement.
It has been alleged that Kopacek was sitting directly behind the girl’s seat, and Kopacek allegedly reached his hand around the girl’s seat between her seat and the interior wall of the aircraft and touched the girl’s body, which the girl documented with her cell phone.
The activity took place from prior to takeoff in Austin until just before landing in Bozeman. FBI agents arrested Kopacek in Bozeman on July 11, as he checked in for his flight departing the airport.
IV. Federal Agent in Texas Charged with Aiding Drug Smuggling
On July 12, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Jennifer B. Lowery announced that a Border Patrol (BP) agent had been arrested on allegations set out in a criminal complaint that he attempted to aid and abet smuggling cocaine through a BP checkpoint. The agent, Oberlin Cortez Pena Jr., 22, of La Joya, made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nadia S. Medrano the same day.
Authorities took Pena into custody July 9, as the criminal complaint was filed. The charges allege that on two separate occasions, Pena accepted $1,000 in exchange for helping a vehicle with at least five kilograms of cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint. Pena also allegedly utilized his knowledge as a BP agent in acting as a scout and providing information about the inspection lanes and which one to utilize.
Pena also allegedly gave detailed instructions on how to conceal the drugs and tactics to employ to distract the K-9 unit at the checkpoint. If he is convicted, Pena faces at least 10 years and up to life in federal prison, as well as a possible fine of as much as $10 million.
V. Man Charged with Armed Robberies Supermarkets and Gas Stations in Puerto Rico
On July 13, W. Stephen Muldrow, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, announced that a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Juan Tyler López Gerraughty with six counts related to three armed robberies.
According to the indictment, on November 4, 2020, Juan Tyler López Gerraughty and several other individuals drove a truck into an Econo store in Cataño and threatened a security guard at gunpoint. They then loaded the ATM onto the truck and drove away. Then, on November 13, López Gerraughty and several other individuals crashed a truck through the garage window of a Toral gas station in Cataño.
After threatening an employee at gunpoint, the group tied a chain around the ATM and dragged it out of the store with the truck. Again, on November 28, López Gerraughty and other individuals crashed a truck through the entrance of a Toral gas station in Vega Baja. After threatening an employee with a gun, the group loaded the ATM onto the truck before driving away.
VI. 19 Charged in Alleged Conspiracy to Traffic Heroin via Telephone Call Centers, Then Launder Proceeds
On July 13, 2021, law enforcement officials arrested 12 defendants who have been charged in a federal grand jury indictment with conspiring to distribute at least $2 million worth of heroin by operating two Orange County, CA-based call centers that took telephone orders for deliveries of the drug. The 13-count indictment returned on May 26 and unsealed charges a total of 19 defendants with narcotics- and money laundering-related offenses.
The 12 defendants who were arrested by special agents with the FBI via “Operation Horse Caller” were arraigned the same afternoon in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California. The seven remaining defendants are fugitives.
According to the indictment, from March 2017 to April 2021, Julio Cesar Martinez, a.k.a. “Primo,” 43, of Riverside, California, and his brother, Victor Martinez, a.k.a. “Hector,” 44, of Hemet, California, owned and operated a heroin distribution organization in Orange County, obtaining the drug from suppliers in Mexico and the United States. Heroin was transported to the organization by couriers who concealed the drug, sometimes in their body cavities, to Orange County.
Maricela Guerrero, a.k.a. “Carla,” 53, and Marla Portillo Cordova, a.k.a. “Yvette,” 34, both of Santa Ana, California, allegedly assisted in the daily operations of the distribution organization and, on an almost daily basis, accepted telephone orders for heroin. These four defendants allegedly directed other conspirators to deliver the heroin to buyers and collect payment in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.
The organization allegedly distributed $2 million worth of heroin. To conceal the source of the income the organization generated, from September 2013 to May 2019, Julio Cesar Martinez and Victor Martinez allegedly caused the deposit of the heroin sales proceeds into bank accounts held by Cordova and other individuals.
Cordova and others, at times, allegedly structured the deposits into the bank accounts to evade federal reporting requirements by depositing the money at different banks and by breaking the deposits up into amounts $10,000 and under.
VII. Three Arrested in Large-Scale Drug Conspiracy in Florida & Arizona
On July 13, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Karin Hoppmann, announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Devonne L. Walker, 35, of Lady Lake, FL, Tymane D. Hamilton, 29, of Phoenix, AZ, and Kanisha D. Savage, 28, also of Phoenix, AZ, with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. If they are convicted, each defendant faces up to life in federal prison.
According to the indictment, between March 2018 and October 10, 2019, Walker, Hamilton, and Savage conspired to distribute more than 50 kilograms of marijuana, 5 kilograms of cocaine, 1 kilogram of heroin, 500 grams of methamphetamine, and 40 grams of fentanyl. According to court records, law enforcement officers seized more than 54 kilograms of marijuana, 27 kilograms of methamphetamine, 125 grams of heroin, and 79 grams of fentanyl during the investigation.
These drugs were shipped from Phoenix, Arizona to the Middle District of Florida using the United States Postal Service. The drugs were eventually distributed in Central Florida.
VIII. Former Chicago Public Schools Principal Charged in Scheme to Fraudulently Obtain Overtime Pay
On July 14, 2021, John R. Lausch, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced that a federal grand jury had formally indicted a former Chicago Public Schools principal on fraud charges for an alleged scheme in which he tried to fraudulently obtain overtime pay. The ten-count indictment returned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago alleges that Sarah Jackson Abedelal carried out the fraud scheme from 2012 to 2019 while serving as Principal of Brennemann Elementary School on the North Side of Chicago.
Abedelal, 57, of Chicago, is charged with ten counts of wire fraud. She was arrested July 14, and made an initial court appearance later that day, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Heather K. McShain.
According to the indictment, Abedelal told certain school employees that she would authorize overtime pay for hours the employees would not be required to work, and she directed them to then deliver the proceeds of the unearned overtime to Abedelal or another individual, the indictment states.
Abedelal told the employees who received the overtime that the money would be used to pay legitimate school expenses incurred by Brennemann Elementary, when, in fact, Abedelal intended to convert the money to her own personal use, the indictment states. The indictment also alleges that Abedelal fraudulently obtained at least $200,000 in CPS money through the scheme.
IX. Woman Arrested for Fake COVID-19 Immunization and Vaccination Card Scheme
A California-licensed homeopathic doctor was arrested July 14, 2021, for her alleged scheme to sell homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets and to falsify COVID-19 vaccination cards by making it appear that customers had received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Moderna vaccine, even though they had not.
Juli A. Mazi, 41, of Napa, is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters. The case is the first federal criminal fraud prosecution related to homeoprophylaxis immunizations and fraudulent CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards.
Based on court documents, Mazi offered homeoprophylaxis immunizations for childhood illnesses that she falsely claimed would satisfy the immunization requirements for California schools, and falsified immunization cards that were submitted by parents to California schools. Homeoprophylaxis involves the exposure of an individual to dilute amounts of a disease, purportedly to stimulate the immune system and confer immunity.
Mazi allegedly falsely claimed that orally ingesting pellets with small amounts of COVID-19 would result in full lifelong immunity from COVID-19. Mazi allegedly also provided CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards to her customers with instructions on how to fraudulently complete the cards to falsely make it appear as if a customer had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine.
As part of her scheme, Mazi provided customers with specific Moderna vaccine lot numbers to enter onto the cards and with instruction on how to select the purported dates on which they had received the Moderna vaccines to evade suspicion.