Last Updated Friday, May 07, 2021, at 2:52 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, May 07, 2021

I. Florida Men Charged in Health Care Fraud, Kickback, and Money Laundering Conspiracy

On May 3, 2021, three owners of a telemarking company were charged for their alleged participation in a $47 million health care fraud, kickback, and money laundering scheme. The scheme involved referring patients to labs cancer-related genetic tests that were deemed medically unnecessary and to accept accepting kickbacks for the referrals.  

In an indictment unsealed May 3, Christian McKeon, 35, and Athanasios Ziros, 42, both from Boca Raton, Florida, have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks, multiple counts of substantive health care fraud and kickback offenses, and conspiracy to commit substantive money laundering offenses. 

In addition, an information unsealed the same day charges Gregory Orr, 64, also of Boca Raton, for his alleged role in the overall scheme, with one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks and one count of receipt of kickbacks.

The indictment alleges that McKeon and Ziros allegedly participated in a scheme to operate a telemarketing campaign targeting Medicare beneficiaries in an effort to induce them to accept genetic tests for cancer, regardless of whether the tests were medically necessary or eligible for Medicare reimbursement. 

McKeon and Ziros allegedly offered and paid illegal kickbacks and bribes to telemedicine companies in exchange for doctors’ orders for expensive cancer genetic tests. The doctors’ orders were written by doctors contracted with telemedicine companies, even though those telemedicine doctors had no prior relationship with the beneficiaries, were not treating the beneficiaries for cancer or symptoms of cancer, did not use the test results in the treatment of the beneficiaries, and did not conduct a legal and proper telemedicine visit.

II. Rhode Island Man Facing Life for Murder-For-Hire Plot on Contractor

On May 3, 2021, Agustin Vinas, 51, of Providence, Rhode Island, was ordered detained in federal custody for his role in an alleged murder-for-hire plot. According to the complaint, Vinas allegedly tried to hire a third party to kill two men, including a contractor he claimed owed him $8,500 and who threatened to harm his family if he did not stop his repeated requests for payment, and a second person, who was an employee of the contractor.

According to court documents, it is alleged that on April 19, 2021, Vinas had a chance meeting with an acquaintance, and Vinas told said acquaintance of his unsuccessful attempts to collect money he was owed by the contractor, as well as the contractor’s threat against his family, and that he wanted to hire someone to kill the contractor and another man. Vinas’ acquaintance told him that he might know of someone interested in the job and that he would be in touch shortly. 

On the very next day, while under surveillance by members of the FBI, the two met again in a Providence parking lot. In a recorded conversation, Vinas allegedly repeated that he wanted the contractor and another person killed, and he also offered to pay $3,000 for the killings and an additional $500 to make the bodies “disappear.” Vinas also explained that he would like to have the victims tortured before they are killed.

III. Florida Man Charged with Drug Trafficking, Attempted Murder

On May 3, 2021, a federal magistrate judge in Ft. Lauderdale ordered Horvin McKenzie, Jr., 28, detained pending his federal trial on attempted murder, narcotics, and firearms charges.  McKenzie is one of the two men arrested, along with David Johnathan Ventura, 32, of Miami, in April, after shots were fired at law enforcement officers working a drug trafficking investigation in Dania Beach, Florida.   

Based on information obtained from court documents, McKenzie and Ventura conspired to sell two kilos of cocaine to a third party. The criminal complaint alleges that McKenzie, Ventura, and the buyer met at a retail store parking lot in Dania Beach on April 23 to make the deal. Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) learned of the scheduled deal and went to the meeting location. 

After confirming that McKenzie and Ventura had arrived at the parking lot, officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights. Wearing protective vests that identified their agency, LEOs approached the defendants, who were in separate cars. As they neared Ventura’s car, Ventura began shooting at the officers, hitting one in the arm and his bulletproof vest. LEOs returned fire, hitting Ventura. McKenzie and Ventura were then taken into custody. Ventura is currently in a nearby hospital in stable condition. 

Searching Ventura’s car, the LEOs found a bag containing approximately two kilos of cocaine and a Beretta .9mm semi-automatic handgun. When searching McKenzie’s car, they also found a loaded Glock .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun. 

As a result of the altercation, McKenzie and Ventura are charged with Attempted Murder of a an LEO in Performance of Their Duties; Conspiracy to Distribute 500 Grams or More of Cocaine; Possession with Intent to Distribute 500 Grams or More of Cocaine; and Possession of a Firearm During and Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime. If convicted, McKenzie and Ventura each face at least 10 ten years and up to life in prison.

IV. Federal Charges Filed Against Operators of Houston-Area Stash House

Five people who reside in the United States illegally were taken into custody on May 3, 2021, following the discovery of nearly 100 undocumented aliens in a suburban Houston residence. The announcement of the crime and the charges were announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Jennifer B. Lowery on May 3. The criminal complaint charges Marina Garcia-Diaz, 22, of El Salvador; Henry Licona-Larios, 31, of Copan, Honduras; Kevin Licona-Lopez, 25, of Santa Barbara, Honduras; Marco Baca-Perez 30, of Michoacan, Mexico; and Marcelo Garcia-Palacios, 21, of Oaxaca, Mexico. Everyone on the complaint is a non-citizen of the United States residing here illegally. They made their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan on May 3.

The criminal complaint, which was filed May 1, alleges all five harbored, concealed, and shielded illegal aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.  The investigation began when authorities allegedly received a call from a woman reporting her brother had been kidnapped. She had allegedly paid several thousand dollars for him to be smuggled into the United States, but the smugglers had allegedly demanded additional money before they would release her brother. They also threatened to kill him, according to the charges.

V. Dudley Man Arrested for Theft and Misuse of COVID-19 Pandemic Assistance

A Dudley, Massachusetts man, Norman Higgs, 34, was arrested May 4, 2021, in connection with his alleged involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain and misuse COVID-19-related unemployment assistance. Higgs was charged in with a criminal complaint with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, theft of government property, and money laundering. Higgs made his initial appearance in Boston that same day before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein and was released on conditions.

According to the charging documents, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA, administered by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, provides unemployment insurance benefits for individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment benefits (e.g., the self-employed, independent contractors, or gig economy workers). 

As alleged in the complaint, from April to June 2020, Higgs obtained over $300,000 in proceeds from fraudulent PUA claims. When Higgs’s bank recalled a portion of those fraudulently obtained funds, Higgs allegedly paid those recalls using the proceeds from COVID-19-related government loans.

VI. Six Charged with Fraudulently Seeking $9 Million in COVID-19 Relief Funding

The Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Bridget M. Brennan, announced on May 4, 2021, that a federal grand jury in Cleveland had returned a 14-count indictment charging six individuals for their alleged roles in a scheme to fraudulently obtain approximately $9 million in COVID-19 relief funds guaranteed by the SBA under the CARES Act. 

The six facing charges include Terrence L. Pounds, 44, of Holland, Ohio; Charles B. Tiller, 37, of Columbus, Ohio; Terri Davis, 30, of Old Hickory, Tennessee; Randolph Nunn, 48, of Canton, Ohio; Samira Abdul-Karim, 27, of New Haven, Connecticut; and Quwan Simmons, 28, of Hartford, Connecticut. They all have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud, with Defendants Pounds, Nunn, Davis, and Tiller also being charged with several counts of money laundering.

The indictment states that Pounds recruited Tiller, Davis, Nunn, Abdul-Karim, Simmons, and others to provide him with their personal identifying information, which he then used to apply for EIDL loans in their names. Pounds allegedly claimed in the EIDL loan applications that Tiller, Davis, Nunn, Abdul-Karim, and Simmons each operated a non-profit organization that was a “Faith-Based Organization” and a “Church” with $1,000,000 in revenue and 15 employees.  

Based on this false information, the SBA approved these loan applications.  In return, the indictment states that Tiller, Davis, Nunn, Abdul-Karim, and Simmons then paid Pounds a portion of the fraudulently obtained loan proceeds.

VII. Malvern Residents Charged in Fraudulent Puppy Scam

Two Malvern, Arkansas residents, have been charged with fraudulently selling purebred, registered puppies that did not actually exist. Helda Verla Berinyuy and Thierry Assoueesoh Ekwelle, both 31, have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 22 counts of wire fraud in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on May 4, 2021, that became public today. In all, according to charging documents, Berinyuy and Ekwelle “sold” a total of 153 dogs that did not actually exist. 

The indictment alleges that Berinyuy and Ekwelle were Cameroon citizens who came to the United States and attended college in Arkansas, with Ekwelle eventually becoming a naturalized American citizen. According to the indictment, Berinyuy and Ekwelle were neighbors and students at Arkansas State University Three Rivers in Malvern. 

From August 2018 through November 2020, Berinyuy and Ekwelle allegedly used websites to advertise the sale of purebred, AKC registered puppies such as French Bulldogs, Boxers, Toy Poodles, English Bulldogs, and others, when in fact, they did not have any puppies for sale. In order to collect money from purchasers, the indictment alleges that the two defendants promised to deliver the puppies via airplanes. After receiving the initial purchase money, the defendants would request added fees to cover costs such as puppy crates, extra handling fees due to COVID-19, and pet insurance, among other things.

VIII. Three San Jose Residents Charged With Conspiracy To Commit Wire Fraud In Automobile Resale Scheme

A federal criminal complaint was unsealed May 5, 2021, in federal court, charging Seymur Khalilov, 32, Ramil Heydarov, 31, and Orkhan Aliyev, 31, all of San Jose, California, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges were announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie M. Hinds, along with Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Tatum King, as well as FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.

According to the complaint, between 2016 and 2021, the defendants conspired to purchase high-mileage vehicles, roll back the odometers, and falsify documentation to make the vehicles appear newer than they were and then listed them on Craigslist at significant profits.  The complaint alleges defendants fraudulently sold at least a dozen vehicles in this way and made at least $300,000.  

In addition, the complaint alleges that the number of cars and amount of money at issue will likely change as the ongoing investigation into the scope and extent of the scheme continues.

IX. Quincy Man Charged with Child Pornography Offense

It was announced on May 6, 2021, that a Quincy, MA man had been arrested May 3, 2021, and charged with receipt of child pornography. Andre Tilahun, 27, was charged in a criminal complaint with one count of receipt of child pornography. Following an initial appearance on May 4, Tilahun was ordered detained pending a detention hearing scheduled for May 7.

According to the charging documents, in April 2021, investigators executed a search warrant at Tilahun’s home and seized a laptop. A forensic examination of the laptop revealed that Tilahun received a large number of images depicting child pornography on the Kik Messenger platform. It has also been alleged that Tilahun participated in a Kik chatroom where participants shared child pornography. If convicted, Tilahun faces at least five and up to 20 years in prison, between five years and up to a life of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.