Last Updated Friday, March 12, 2021, at 4:45 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, March 12, 2021
I. Woman Indicted for Allegedly Straw Purchasing Handguns in Chicago Suburb
On March 8, 2021, Diamond Smith, 28, of Chicago, was indicted on federal firearm charges for allegedly straw purchasing handguns in a Chicago suburb on behalf of another individual. The charges were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and several law enforcement officials. Smith is charged with three counts of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. Arraignment happened the very same day before U.S. Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim.
According to the indictment, on three occasions in 2019 and 2020, Smith purchased a total of seven handguns, including two semi-automatic pistols, from a licensed firearms dealer in Oak Forest, Ill., and falsely certified on federal forms that she was the actual buyer, according to an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In reality, Smith purchased the guns on behalf of another individual, the charges allege. If convicted of either charge, Smith faces up to ten years in prison.
II. Indictment Alleges Visa Fraud Scheme Using Surrogate Test-Takers, ‘Guaranteed’ Foreign Admissions into Colleges
The second defendant named in a federal grand jury indictment surrendered March 8, 2021, to face charges stemming from a scheme that used bogus transcripts, ghostwritten admissions essays, and imposters who took standardized tests to help foreigners gain admission to colleges, allowing them to fraudulently obtain student visas to enter or remain in the United States.
Yi Chen, aka “Brian Chen,” 33, of Monrovia, pleaded not guilty that afternoon to charges in a 21-count grand jury indictment that alleges conspiracy, visa fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment alleges that Chen and Li owned “educational consulting” companies in Alhambra and Arcadia that charged foreign students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed” admission to a college that would lead to the issuance of an F-1 student visa.
To secure admission to a school, the companies prepared application packages that used bogus or altered transcripts, and they hired people to impersonate the prospective student to take standardized tests, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Once a foreign student was admitted to a college, the school issued a “Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students,” which provided the basis for a visa application or extension of permission to remain in the United States.
III. Former Executive Extradited from Thailand to U.S. to Face Charges for Participation in Massive Scheme to Defraud U.S Navy
On March 9, 2021, Pornpun Settaphakorn, a former executive of foreign defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) who oversaw the company’s Thailand office, appeared in federal court in San Diego following her extradition last week from Thailand. Settaphakorn, also known as “Yin,” was charged with participating in a conspiracy to submit fraudulent price quotes, claims, and invoices to the U.S. Navy in an effort to steal millions of dollars as part of a years-long fraud scheme.
The indictment, in this case, returned December 23, 2014, alleges that Settaphakorn, along with co-defendants Neil Peterson and Linda Raja, among others, submitted false claims of more than $5 million.
In addition, according to the indictment, Settaphakorn worked to perpetuate and cover up the fraud by consistently misrepresenting to the U.S. Navy the cost of providing services to its ships in Asia, even going so far as to submit false price quotes from non-existent companies on letterhead created from graphics cut and pasted from the Internet. Settaphakorn is charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States with respect to claims, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and multiple counts of making false claims.
IV. Texas Man Indicted for Smuggling Drugs in Cardboard Box
On March 9, 2021, Eduardo Maldonado, 46, from Pharr, Texas, was charged with importing kilogram quantities of meth, heroin, and cocaine. The announcement was made by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Jennifer B. Lowery. Previously charged by complaint, Maldonado remains in custody pending his arraignment in the near future.
According to the indictment, Maldonado allegedly conspired with others to import 1.42, 2.04, and 4.16 kilograms of meth, heroin, and cocaine, respectively. On Feb. 8, Maldonado applied for entry into the United States as a passenger on a commercial bus that arrived at the Lincoln-Juarez bridge Port of Entry in Laredo. Authorities had conducted an X-ray scan of the luggage and allegedly observed anomalies in a cardboard box. A K-9 unit was then positively alerted for the presence of contraband, according to the charges. Law enforcement allegedly determined the box belonged to Maldonado. A physical search of the box revealed a total of nine packages, all of which allegedly tested positive for cocaine, meth, and heroin. The drugs have a combined estimated street value of $162,000. If convicted, Maldonado faces up to life in prison and a possible $10 million fine.
V. Two New Jersey Men Charged with Attempted Carjacking, Discharging a Firearm
Two men from Newark, New Jersey, made their initial appearances on March 9, 2021, on charges stemming from a Feb. 22, 2021, attempted carjacking in Newark during which a firearm was discharged. The charges were announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Rachael A. Honig. Antwan Malone, 34, and Dawan Walker, 24, both of Newark, are charged by complaint with one count of attempted carjacking and one count of discharging of a firearm during a crime of violence. They appeared by videoconference on March 9 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk and were ordered detained.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, on Feb. 22, 2021, law enforcement officers responded to the area of the I-78 West entrance ramp and Irvine Turner Boulevard in Newark on a report of an attempted carjacking with a weapon. They learned that Malone and Walker had pulled up beside a blue BMW M5 SUV that was stopped at a stop light stop light and blocked the BMW’s ability to enter I-78.
Malone approached the vehicle brandishing a handgun and then pointed the gun at the driver’s face while repeatedly telling the driver to either exit the vehicle or Malone would shoot them. At that point, the driver was able to escape by ramming the BMW into Malone and Walker’s vehicle and entering the I-78 entrance ramp. Malone fired two shots at the BMW.
VI. Alleged Romance Scammer from California Arrested on Charges of Defrauding Victims Out of Over $1 Million
Federal authorities have arrested Ze’Shawn Stanley Campbell, 33, of Irvine, on fraud charges based on allegations he stole more than $1 million from at least 10 ten victims in Southern California – some of whom he developed romantic relationships with – and used the personal information of some to obtain credit.
Campbell, who in recent years has lived in several cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties, was taken into custody on March 6 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport after arriving on an international flight. During his first court appearance on March 8, 2021, in federal court in Fort Worth, Campbell was ordered detained, and the U.S. Marshals Service was ordered to transport him to Los Angeles. Once he arrives in Southern California, Campbell will be arraigned and will be afforded a detention hearing.
According to the indictment, over the course of six years, Campbell allegedly defrauded his victims by lying about his wealth, his ownership of a various business, his success in investing money, and his military service. After convincing the victims he was wealthy, reliable, and successful, Campbell asked them for money, including for loans that he claimed he would use to support his businesses and to pay his medical bills.
In some cases, Campbell obtained money from victims with false claims he would invest their funds. Campbell allegedly instead used the funds to support his lifestyle, which included the purchase of luxury items. When some of his victims refused to give or stopped giving him money, he applied for loans and credit cards in their names without their knowledge and then failed to pay off those loans and credit card balances.
VII. South Dakota Man Charged with Second Degree Murder
On March 10, 2021, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Dennis R. Holmes announced that Phillip Pond, 39, of Rapid City, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for Second Degree Murder and Discharging, Brandishing, or Possessing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence. appeared Appeared before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann on March 3, 2021, and pleaded not guilty to the indictment.
If convicted, Pond faces up to life in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, 5 years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Restitution may also be ordered. The Pond was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial. A trial date has been set for April 27, 2021.
VIII. Pittsburgh Felon Indicted for Illegal Possession of a Gun and Ammunition
One resident of Pittsburgh, PA, Dreshawn McBroom, 33, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on a charge of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.
According to the indictment presented to the grand jury, on February 19, 2021, McBroom was found to be in possession of a firearm and ammunition. His prior felony convictions make it unlawful for him to possess a firearm. If McBroom is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.
IX. St. Louis man charged with Hobbs Act Robbery
On March 10, 2021, a federal criminal complaint charged Jonathan Davis, 21, of St. Louis, with one count of Hobbs Act Robbery. Davis made his initial appearance on March 10, in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nannette A. Baker.
According to the complaint, around 12:20 a.m. on January 23, 2021, a Steak N’ Shake employee was sitting in the back office of the restaurant located in the 9500 block of Natural Bridge Road. The restaurant was closed, and the employee was talking to another employee while preparing bank deposits. While the employees were talking, Davis entered the office with a gun and demanded money from the safe.
Davis, a former employee of the restaurant, held the gun against the neck of one of the employees. The employee handed the money from the cash register drawer to Davis. After receiving the money, Davis ran through the back door of the restaurant.
X. New Bank Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft Charges Added to Non-Profit CEO’S Previous Federal Indictment
A newly filed federal superseding indictment adds added bank fraud and aggravated identity theft charges against Glenda Hodges, 69, of Clinton, MD, who was already facing wire fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft charges in connection with the misuse of federal funds and other fraud-related to non-profit and for-profit entities that Hodges operated. The new bank fraud charges relate to a fraud allegedly committed while Hodges was on pretrial release for the wire fraud charges.
The superseding indictment was returned on March 10, 2021. At a hearing on March 11, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Hodges was ordered to be detained pending trial for violating the conditions of her pre-trial pretrial release. The superseding indictment was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Jonathan F. Lenzner.
According to the 12-count superseding indictment, between October 9, 2020, and October 21, 2020, while on pretrial release, Hodges allegedly defrauded her fourth victim by claiming she would monitor the victim’s finances while the victim prepared to move out of state. Hodges assured the victim that she would return the funds once the victim was settled in her new location.
Hodges drove the victim to her financial institution and procured a check for $71,731.85, which Hodges deposited into her own bank account. Hodges then allegedly spent the victim’s money on personal expenditures without the victim’s authorization and failed to repay the victim.