Last Updated Friday, February 25, 2022, at 9:08 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.

Call us now for a free and completely confidential attorney phone consultation at (844) 604-5190.

FRIDAY, February 25, 2022

Arizona Inmate Faces Charge of Brokering Meth, Fentanyl Sales in Illinois

An Arizona prison is currently facing charges of various with federal drug offenses for allegedly brokering the sale of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Illinois. The criminal complaint was filed Feb. 18 in U.S. District Court in Chicago, and it charged Manuel Garcia, 42, with distribution of controlled substances.

One major wrinkle in this case in our roundup is that Garcia has been incarcerated since 2010 by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry.  According to the criminal complaint, in the summer of 2021, while residing at the Eyman Arizona State Prison Complex, Garcia allegedly coordinated with a buyer outside of the prison to purchase meth and fentanyl for delivery to Illinois.  

Garcia allegedly negotiated the entire transaction, including sending photos of the meth via video chat, using a cell phone he had smuggled into the prison.  Garcia had approximately a pound of crystal meth and nearly 1,000 fentanyl pills sent to the buyer at an address in Joliet, Ill.  Unbeknownst to Garcia, the buyer was cooperating with law enforcement.  On July 8, 2021, law enforcement intercepted the package of narcotics upon arrival at a U.S. Postal facility in Forest Park, Ill.

Virgin Islands Man Arrested for Possession of Cocaine

On Feb. 22, the U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands, Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced that a St. Thomas man had been arrested on Feb. 19 in St. Thomas, USVI on a criminal charge related to his alleged possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

According to court documents, on Feb. 19, Tyree Morton transported approximately 5.5 kilos of cocaine,including packaging, from a location within the Cyril E. King airport in the USVI to another location within the airport. Morton faces a charge of possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine. If he is convicted, Morton faces up to 40 years in federal prison. 

Two Ex-Philly Men Indicted on Drug Charges

Two former residents of Philadelphia have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on charges of violating federal narcotics and firearms laws, United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung announced today. The five-count Indictment named Khaleaf Lindsay, 25, and Kamal Bennett, 22, both formerly of Philadelphia.

According to the indictment, from July to August 2021, Lindsay and Bennett both conspired to distribute and possessed with intent to distribute 10 grams or more of fluorofentanyl and fentanyl mixture, along with 28 grams or more cocaine base. The indictment further alleges that on Aug. 2 Bennett distributed and possessed with the intent to distribute a quantity of cocaine base. 

Lindsay was also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon on Aug 2. Federal law prohibits an individual who has been convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm or ammunition.

Toronto Man Extradited in Racketeering, Prostitution Scheme
A man from Toronto, Canada was extradited to the United States and arraigned in a federal district court on Portland, OR on Feb. 18, based on his alleged leadership role in an international sex trafficking organization operating illegal Asian brothels in the United States, Canada, and Australia. 
The man, Zongtao Chen, 49, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada made his first appearance in a U.S. federal court Feb. 18 and was arraigned by U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta on charges of conspiring to use and using interstate facilities to promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate a racketeering enterprise. Chen was ordered detained pending further court proceedings.
According to court documents in this case, Chen is alleged to have led a criminal enterprise that recruited women, primarily from China, to travel to the United States and elsewhere to engage in prostitution and other sex trafficking activities. In cities where the organization operated, a “boss” would oversee and manage a local brothel in a hotel or apartment complex. 
Customers seeking to engage in acts of illegal prostitution would call a number listed on or related websites, or send a text, email, or encrypted internet message. The organization employed dispatchers who would receive incoming requests for “dates” from potential customers, and schedule dates with women working in the various brothels. 
Dispatchers used a computer program to schedule and track the prostitution dates. When seized by law enforcement, this computer program contained a customer database with more than 30,000 phone numbers and records from previous dates. In Oregon, Chen promoted illegal prostitution activities brothels in Portland, Tigard, and Beaverton.

Former Cop Faces Charge of Making False Statement While Seeking COVID Relief Funds

Onn Feb. 22, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Duane A. Evans, announced that Tianna Hart, 32, of LaPlace, Louisiana was charged with making a false statement via a bill of information filed on Feb. 15 in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

According to the bill of information, Hart, who is a former deputy with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office, knowingly and willfully made a false statement to the SBA in an application for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) benefits she submitted in May 2021. If she is convicted, Hart faces up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, a restitution order, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.

Florida Man Facing Charges for Nearly $20 Million in Fraud

On Feb. 22, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Roger B. Handberg, announced that Nikesh Ajay Patel 38, formerly from Orlando, had been arraigned on charges related to nearly $20 million in fraud that he is alleged to have perpetrated while on federal pretrial release. Patel has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and eight counts of money laundering. 

If he is convicted in court, Patel faces up to 30 years in federal prison for each count of conspiracy and wire fraud and up to 20 years in federal prison for each count of money laundering. His trial is currently scheduled for April.

According to court documents, in 2014, Patel, a Central Florida resident, was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois for a $179 million fraud scheme. He was arrested and released on bond. For the next several years, Patel claimed that he was cooperating with authorities and using his business skills to get funds to repay some of what he owed. In fact, Patel had devised a new scheme that netted him almost $20 million.

Patel’s new fraud scheme involved three parts. First, Patel fabricated fraudulent loan documents that falsely represented that a bank in Miami had authorized loans to be made to convert hotels in rural areas into assisted living facilities. Although the bank in Miami exists, it had never made any of the loans.  

The person who was listed as signing the loans (Ron Elias) does not exist, but was a fictitious identity used by Patel to perpetrate his conspiracy and scheme. Second, Patel applied to the USDA to guarantee the fake loans pursuant to its Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program.  

Third, after the USDA agreed to guarantee the fake loans, Patel sold the guaranteed portion of the fake loans to the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, also known as Farmer Mac. Patel executed the scheme on three occasions, receiving almost $20 million in proceeds. Patel used a portion of the funds from that scheme to pay some of his restitution, but he was saving much of it to flee the United States.

Texans Face Charges in Complex Fraud Scheme

Six people from Houston, Texas are facing charges under an indictment returned Feb. 16. The charges stem from their participation in a multi-state scheme involving mortgage fraud, credit repair and government loan fraud, and they were announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Jennifer B. Lowery, on Feb. 24. Law enforcement in Texas are seeking two others.

Leslie and ShyAnne Edrington, 65 and 29, respectively, of Houston, had a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan Feb. 24. Authorities also arrested Melinda Moreno Munoz, 40, and Elvina Buckley, 67, Friday, Feb. 18, after which they made their initial appearances in federal court. Two others – Heather Ann Campos, 43, and David Lewis Best Jr., 58, also of Houston, are considered fugitives, and warrants remain outstanding for their arrest. 

According to the 25-count indictment, it is alleged that all six defendants participated in a multi-layered scheme to defraud mortgage lending businesses, banks, the SBA, and the FTC, by allegedly recruiting clients for credit repair using various company names, including KMD Credit, KMD Capital and Jeff Funding, among others. 

The indictment alleges they “cleaned” their clients’ credit histories by filing false identity theft reports with the FTC. Campos was a mortgage broker and Buckley a realtor, while operating as a notary was the responsibility of Munoz, according to the charges. 

After fraudulently inflating client credit worthiness, the six individuals allegedly capitalized on the experience of Campos, Buckley, and Munoz to fraudulently obtain credit cards, disaster loans and mortgages for themselves and their clients. The indictment alleges they were able to accomplish this through false statements and fake documents. 

They allegedly maintained control of the properties purchased in their clients’ names, to build a real estate portfolio worth millions of dollars and enrich themselves with rental income.

California Accountant Facing Fraud, Embezzlement Charges

On Feb. 22, Christina Markus, 54, formerly of Martinez, CA, appeared in a San Francisco federal court to face an indictment charging her with four counts of wire fraud. The appearance was announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Stephanie M. Hinds, along with FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. 

According to the indictment, from 2010 to 2018, two car dealerships in Marin County employed Markus to perform bookkeeping.  She held various titles during her employment, including Office Accountant, Payroll Administrator, Payroll Clerk, and Office Manager.  Markus’s responsibilities included payroll processing, bank reconciliations, and posting ledgers for the dealerships using their “dealer management system,” or DMS, which is a software program that performs inventory management, bank reconciliation, finance, and payment and payroll processing.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that, starting in January 2014, and continuing through October 2018, Markus created special payrolls for herself, using the DMS software, and used the same software to write unauthorized checks to herself and created unauthorized bonuses and vacation pay. She then moved these funds from the dealerships’ bank accounts to personal accounts that she controlled.  

Markus allegedly attempted to hide her fraud by deleting the record of fraudulent checks, bonuses, vacation pay, and payroll direct deposits within DMS and by manipulating bank reconciliations and ledgers and clearing entries from payroll records. Overall, during D the nearly five-year period, Markus embezzled more than $1.7 million this way.

St. Louis Man Faces Robbery and Firearms Charges

On Feb. 22, Mercedes W. Gregory, 33, made an initial appearance in federal district court to face federal charges that had been filed back in September 2021.  According to charging documents, Gregory is accused of robbing a Kohl’s department store and brandishing a firearm while doing so. He was additionally charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.  Gregory was being held at the time in the St. Louis County Jail on unrelated charges. 

According to the indictment, on July 12, 2021, Gregory entered the Kohl’s located in the city of Manchester and began stealing merchandise.  When confronted by a Loss Prevention Officer in the parking lot, Gregory threatened him with a handgun.  Gregory is prohibited from possessing a handgun after previously being convicted of a felony.  Gregory was taken into custody on unrelated charges in the City of St. Louis on July 23, 2021.

Iowa Pharmacist Faces Charges of Tampering and Prescription Drug Theft

A pharmacist who stole controlled substances from two Iowa pharmacies and tampered with medications pled guilty Feb. 23 in federal court in Cedar Rapids. Anthony Pape, 33, from Dubuque, Iowa, was convicted of two counts of theft of controlled substances from two different pharmacies and two counts of tampering with a consumer product, specifically controlled substances.

As part of his plea agreement, Pape admitted that he worked as a pharmacist in two different pharmacies in Dubuque when he stole controlled substances from those pharmacies.  As part of multiple investigation an inventory of the pharmacies found hundreds of doses of controlled substances were stolen over the course of his employment, and there was also evidence that Pape tampered with capsules of controlled substances by removing all or most of the controlled substance from the capsule and then returning the empty capsules to the pharmacy bulk medication bottle, which he provided to patients.

Pape faces as much as 28 years in prison, a possible $1,000,000 fine, and 8 years of supervised release following any prison sentence.  At the plea Pape acknowledged that he will also be required to pay restitution to the victims of his crimes and will forfeit his Iowa pharmacist’s license.