Last Updated Friday, February 04, 2022, at 11:01 AM

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.

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FRIDAY, February 04, 2022

American Woman Charged with Providing Support for ISIS Terrorist Group

This week’s roundup starts off with an exciting case, which happened when Saturday, Jan. 29 brought the unsealing of a criminal complaint that was originally filed in 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Now unsealed, the complaint alleges that Allison Elizabeth Fluke-Ekren, a U.S. citizen, organized and led an all-female military battalion on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which is, of course, a designated foreign terrorist group. 

The complaint charges Fluke-Ekren with providing material support to ISIS. Fluke-Ekren was apprehended in Syria and transferred into the custody of the FBI on Jan. 28, where she was first brought to the Eastern District of Virginia. She made her initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Alexandria on Jan. 31.

According to the criminal complaint, Fluke-Ekren, who is 42 and a former resident of Kansas, traveled to Syria several years ago for the purpose of committing or supporting terrorism. Since she left the U.S. in 2014, it is alleged that Fluke-Ekren has been involved with several terrorism-related activities on behalf of ISIS, including participation in their planning and helping with recruiting operatives for a possible future attack on a college campus inside the U.S. 

She also served as the appointed leader and organizer of an ISIS military battalion, known as the Khatiba Nusaybah, for which she trained women and children on the use of AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide belts. Fluke-Ekren also allegedly provided the terrorist group with services such as lodging, translation of speeches made by ISIS leaders, and teaching extremist ISIS doctrine.

Massachusetts Town Official to Face Fraud Charges in Rhode Island

On Jan. 31, the manager of a Woonsocket, RI, condominium property was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Providence on five counts of wire fraud. The indictment and the charges were announced by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, Zachary A. Cunha. On that day, Cheryl S. Sullivan, 67, a real estate broker, tax preparer, property manager, and the chairperson of the Board of Tax Assessors for the Town of Dedham, MA., was arrested earlier today by FBI agents.

The indictment was originally returned on Jan. 26. It was unsealed Jan. 31, and it alleges that Sullivan, acting in the capacity as a property manager for the River Island Condominium Association, devised a scheme to access Association funds for her own personal use. 

It is alleged that beginning as early as Feb. 2019, which is when Sullivan began using a debit card attached to the association’s checking account to withdraw cash for her own use from ATMs located at the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MA. A joint FBI and Plainville Police Department investigation determined that Sullivan allegedly defrauded the Association of approximately $46,500.

North Carolina Man Arrested, Charged with Using Social Media to Solicit Virginia Teens for Sex

On Jan. 31, it was announced that a man from North Carolina had been arrested Jan. 24 on criminal charges related to his alleged attempts to solicit teen boys from Southwest Virginia for sex using social media applications such as Grindr and Snapchat.

According to court documents, Jonathan Avery Shumate, 53, of Warrensville, North Carolina, allegedly used both Snapchat and Grindr to contact two teenage males residing in Grayson County, Virginia, and offered to provide vapes and vaping materials in exchange for the boys sending him sexually explicit photographs and videos of themselves. 

After communicating online for several weeks, Shumate offered to bring the teens vaping supplies, which they paid him for with cash. Later, Shumate told the victims they could provide him with nude pictures of themselves instead of cash for the vaping supplies. Shumate also offered to provide oral sex for the juveniles.

According to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Christopher R. Kavanaugh, “We live in an online world where our children and teens are connected, virtually, to people all over the globe. While online safety starts at home, when individuals seek to exploit our youth using the internet and its social media sites, it is the job of the Department of Justice to step in.”

California Man Facing Robbery Charges
On Jan. 28, Patrick Harrison Hawley was arrested by FBI Special Agents and San Diego Police Department detectives late last night in San Diego on a criminal complaint charging him with one count of Hobbs Act Robbery.
According to the complaint in this case, Hawley is alleged to have robbed the Metro T-Mobile store located in Oceanside, California. During the robbery, Hawley allegedly threatened to chop the employee’s head off if she did not comply with his demands for cash and electronic devices. 

Hawley robbed the store of approximately $300 along with cell phones and other electronic devices valued at approximately $3,500, before fleeing the scene on foot. Hawley made his initial appearance Jan. 28 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard. He then appeared for a detention hearing on Feb. 3.

Community College Director Facing Charges of Stealing Financial Aid Money

On Feb 1, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging a Richmond woman with orchestrating a nearly decade-long scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education and the Commonwealth of Virginia Office of student financial aid funds.

According to the indictment, from about 2006 through 2017, Kiesha Pope, 47, was the Director of Financial Aid at J. Sargent Reynolds Community College (JSRCC), a public community college servicing the greater Richmond, Virginia area. 

Pope is alleged to have used her access to financial aid systems at JSRCC to boost the financial aid eligibility for co-conspirators, who were Pope’s friends and family members and who were not otherwise eligible for financial aid benefits at JSRCC. Pope allegedly had agreements with these same co-conspirators to receive a portion of the improperly obtained financial aid funds as compensation.

Pope is alleged to have spent these financial aid funds on various of her personal expenses, including repairs for her personal vehicle, retail shopping, and expenses for her minor daughter. It is also alleged that, from 2011 to 2017, Pope procured financial aid for her son, knowing that he was not attending JSRCC in this timeframe. 

In another instance, Pope also allegedly procured financial aid for her ex-fiancé from in or about 2010 through in or about 2015 while he was serving a term of incarceration and not attending JSRCC. To conceal her scheme, Pope allegedly falsified supporting justification for the financial aid. 

In one alleged instance, Pope forged medical documents and financial aid documents reflecting that her goddaughter, for whom Pope also procured financial aid, was failing to meet academic eligibility due to a breast cancer diagnosis, despite knowing that her goddaughter had no cancer diagnosis.

South Dakotans Charged with Crimes Related to Drugs, Guns

On Jan. 31, the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota, Dennis R. Holmes, announced that two residents of the state were indicted by a federal grand jury for Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person. Those two residents, Amber Ashlin, 33, and Eugene Perez, 42,  both of Rapid City, were indicted on January 20, 2022, and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann on Jan. 26, where they pled not guilty to the charges in the Indictment.

If the two are convicted, the defendants face at least ten years and up to life in federal prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000,000, three years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.  Restitution may also be ordered. The charge stems from allegations that Ashlin and Perez conspired with each other and others to distribute methamphetamine in Deadwood and Rapid City between January 2018 and December 2021.  

Both are previously convicted felons who are prohibited from possessing firearms and were illegally in possession of semi-automatic pistols in September 2021.

North Carolina Man Faces Charges of Teaching About Explosives

A Duplin County, NC man has been charged in an indictment for teaching another individual how to make and use an explosive, knowing that the individual intended to use that instruction in the attempted murder of federal law enforcement, in violation of federal law.  Christopher Arthur, 38, from Mount Olive, North Carolina, was arrested Jan. 22, and was presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr., later that same day.

According to the Indictment, in 2018, the FBI received information that another individual was attempting to organize and recruit for a militia group and was preparing to engage against the U.S. Government.  On May 27, 2020, that individual was stopped by law enforcement in New York and killed at the end of a two-hour shootout.  

During the execution of a search warrant on his vehicle, law enforcement located three IEDs.  Numerous additional IEDs and firearms were found during a search of his residence along with multiple Tackleberry Solutions tactical instructional manuals, all of which named the author as Christopher Arthur. 

On May 5, 2021, Arthur, at his residence in Mount Olive, explained how to properly place IEDs through one’s property, the importance of creating a fatal funnel, the setup and use of remote-activated firearms, and how to evade arrest after killing members of law enforcement – all after learning the recipient of the explanation intended to kill federal law enforcement who might come to his home.  

At the conclusion, Arthur demonstrated how to make components of IEDs, to include tripwire switches and improvised initiators.  Once he was finished demonstrating how to make the components, Arthur provided them to the recipient of his training.

Richland, Washington Man Charged in Email Fraud Case

On Feb. 3, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, Vanessa R. Waldref, announced a six-count federal indictment charging Ayoola Taiwo Adeoti, 41, with bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy in connection with a business email compromise (BEC) scam that is alleged to have stolen $740,216.79 from Benton County in November 2019.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that Adeoti directed an individual to set up bank accounts in the Atlanta, Georgia area, in the name of a fictitious business. As alleged in the indictment, a co-conspirator then posed as a contractor of Benton County by using a fraudulent email sent from overseas that mimicked the name of a legitimate contractor frequently employed by the County. 

As a result of the fraudulent emails, Benton County employees believed that the County had received valid electronic funds transfer information to make payment, when in fact Adeoti and his co-conspirators directed payment to one of the bank accounts that Adeoti had fraudulently created.

The indictment also alleges that neither Adeoti nor any of the co-conspirators had any connection to Benton County’s contractor, but based on the fraudulent emails, and resulting instructions to Benton County’s bank, Benton County electronically transferred $740,216.79 of its funds into the bank account in Atlanta fraudulently set up by Adeoti. 

That same day, as charged in the indictment, a co-conspirator of Adeoti’s withdrew $8,000 in cash from the fraudulently created bank account and handed it directly to Adeoti.

New Jersey Man Charged with Money Laundering in South Florida

On Feb. 1, a 55-year-old resident of Jersey City, New Jersey, made his initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Key West, Florida to face money laundering charges.

According to the indictment against him, from about February to April 2020, in Monroe County, Florida, Naby Toure conspired with others to launder the proceeds of a wire fraud conspiracy scheme. Besides conspiracy, the indictment charges that Toure committed money laundering on March 31, 2020, when he deposited a $18,600 check into a bank account and on April 2, 2020, when he deposited a $17,000 check into a different bank account. 

If he is convicted, Toure faces up to 10 years in federal prison.  Toure’s trial is set for February 28, before U.S. District Judge Roy K. Altman. Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami, made the announcement. 

The FBI’s Miami Key West Resident Agency investigated the case with the assistance of the Key West Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Yisel Valdes and Lindsey Lazopoulos Friedman are prosecuting the case, while AUSA Richard Brown is handling the asset forfeiture aspect of the case.

Western Pennsylvania Man Facing Meth Trafficking Charges

On Feb 2, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Cindy K. Chung, announced that a former resident of Apollo, Pennsylvania, James D. Higgins, 42, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on a charge of violating federal narcotics laws, The one-count Indictment named Higgins as the sole defendant.

According to the Indictment, on June 17, 2021, Mr. Higgins was found to be in possession of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance. If Higgins is convicted, he will face up to  ten years in prison, a fine of up to $10 million, and a term of supervised release of at least five years, or any combination thereof. The Drug Enforcement Agency conducted the investigation leading to the Indictment in this case.