Last Updated Friday, January 28, 2022, at 2:23 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, January 28, 2022

Florida Man Faces Charge of Filing False Tax Returns

On Jan. 24, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Roger Handberg announced both the arrest and the unsealing of an indictment charging Thomas Johnson with 14 counts of aiding in the preparation and filing of false tax returns. If he is convicted, Johnson faces up to three years in prison for each count. Johnson made his initial appearance in federal court on Jan. 21 in Miami.

According to the indictment, between Feb. 2015 and Feb. 2017, Johnson had a business located in the Middle District of Florida through which he offered his services to clients to prepare their income tax returns. At the time, Johnson prepared and helped file numerous tax returns which contained false and fraudulent entries regarding taxpayer credits and deductions. Therefore, Johnson’s clients received tax refunds to which they were not entitled.

Johnson charged his clients a large fee for his services and required them to split the proceeds with him once they received their money from the IRS. The total of the unwarranted refunds, which resulted from the false and fraudulent tax returns charged in the indictment, exceeded $155,000. Belizean law enforcement officials arrested Johnson on Jan. 19, 2022, at his San Pedro, Belize residence for immigration violations. 

The following day, Johnson was escorted by U.S. federal agents to Miami. The IRS-Criminal Investigation Mexico City Attaché Post coordinated with the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Belize Police Department, and Belize Immigration to return Johnson to the United States to face these federal charges.

23 Indicted for Insurance Fraud Scheme re: Staged Auto Accidents

On Jan. 24, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, Vanessa R. Waldref, announced the unsealing of a 138-count federal indictment charging 23 defendants in four states and British Columbia, Canada with participating in a staged automobile accident scheme, obstructing an official proceeding, and making false statements to FBI investigators.

According to the indictment, twenty-two of the named defendants conspired to commit mail and wire fraud and health care fraud by staging approximately 14 automobile accidents and thereafter caused the submission of almost $1 million in false insurance claims for lost wages, bodily injury, and property damage. 

The allegations note that, in at least three of the staged accidents, there were no occupants in the “victim” vehicle when a defendant deliberately drove the “at fault” vehicle” into the “victim” vehicle.

South Dakota Men Charged with Failure to Register as a Sex Offender and Sexual Abuse

On Sunday, Jan. 23, the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota, Dennis R. Holmes, announced that a Rosebud, South Dakota, man, Jesse James Leader Charge, 26, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for Failure to Register as a Sex Offender.  Charge appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on Jan. 21, 2022, where he pled not guilty to the Indictment.

If he is convicted of the charge in a court of law, Charge faces up to 10 years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine, at least five years of supervised release, and up to life, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.  Restitution may also be ordered.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that, between May 6 and September 14, 2021, in the District of South Dakota, Charge, who is a person required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act knowingly failed to register and update his registration.

As alleged in the Indictment, between Sept. 1 and Sept. 30, 2020, in the District of South Dakota, Thunder Hawk knowingly engaged in, and attempted to engage in, a sexual act with a minor female.

That same day, the same U.S. Attorney also announced that a man from Parmelee was also indicted, this time for sexual abuse of a Minor.  That man, Hehaka Thunder Hawk, 38, was indicted on Nov. 9, 2021.  He also appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on Jan. 21, 2022, which is when he pled not guilty to the Indictment. 

If he is convicted of the charge, Thunder Hawk faces up to 15 years in federal prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000, at least five years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.  Restitution may also be ordered.

Connecticut Victim Advocate Admits to Distributing Child Porn
On Jan. 24m the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, Leonard C. Boyle, announced that Robert Eccleston, 58, of Canton, Connecticut, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty today via videoconference to one count of distribution of child pornography.
According to court documents and statements, in 2020, covert FBI personnel in two different field offices outside of Connecticut were monitoring various public groups on the social medial application Kik.  

In August and September 2020, Eccleston, using the Kik usernames “hartfordctguy” and “Mowgli100,” distributed numerous pornographic images and videos of children in these Kik groups, including images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of toddlers and prepubescent children.  Eccleston also served as an administrator of one Kik group and required prospective members to send him videos of child sexual abuse for group access.
Eccleston was arrested on December 11, 2020.  At the time of the offense, he was employed as a Victim Services Advocate for the Hartford Superior Court in Hartford. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea in Hartford on April 19, at which time he faces at least five years and up to 20 years in prison.

New Jersey Man Charged with Distribution of Child Porn

A man from Burlington County, New Jersey, was arrested Jan. 25 on charges that he distributed images and a video depicting child sexual abuse. The announcement was made that day by the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Philip R. Sellinger. Brian J. Crann, 37, of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in Burlington, New Jersey, is charged via criminal complaint with one count of distribution of child pornography. 

After his arrest, Crann appeared via videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert and was ordered detained.

According to documents filed in this case, on Jan. 22, Crann transmitted a video and two images of child sexual abuse to another individual using an account on an instant messaging mobile application. Crann also transmitted a non-pornographic image of himself with someone who appeared to be the same minor victim depicted in the images and video of child sexual abuse.

The investigation revealed that the account was associated with an Android smartphone and that a short time before the user of the account sent the images and video, the account was accessed using an IP address assigned to Crann’s name at a residential address on Joint Base MDL. 

On Jan. 25, 2022, law enforcement officials searched Crann and recovered an Android smartphone with the mobile telephone number subscribed in Crann’s name. A search of the smartphone revealed a copy of the non-pornographic image of Crann with the minor that had been sent from the account via the app on Jan. 22, 2022.

Oklahoma Man Charged with Making Explosive Device

On Jan. 27, a man prosecutors claim was responsible for the production of an explosive device made from fireworks, fishhooks, rivets and other material was charged in federal court. The arrest and charges were announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Clint Johnson. Zane Paul Bennett, 20, was charged via Criminal Complaint with unlawful manufacture of a destructive device.

According to the Criminal Complaint, on Jan. 24, an officer with the Broken Arrow Police Department conducted a traffic stop after learning that Mariah Davis, Bennett’s partner, had allegedly been observed shoplifting at a retail store. While speaking to Davis, an officer observed what appeared to be a destructive device in the back seat of the vehicle. The woman explained that the device belonged to her boyfriend.

Davis called Bennett, who arrived on foot and then asked if he could take possession of the vehicle if Davis was going to be detained. After officers advised Bennett of his rights, Bennett told them that he manufactured the destructive device. Agents with the ATF were called and conducted interviews with the couple. 

Bennett allegedly indicated he had manufactured the destructive device in a nearby motel where the couple was staying. He explained that he used fish hooks to hold the tubes of the destructive devices together, then added metal items and fireworks before wrapping the device together.

California Man Faces Nevada Indictment for Explosives Theft

A California man made his initial court appearance on Jan. 25 for allegedly stealing explosive materials from a mill in Hawthorne, Nevada. That appearance came after a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Evan Ray Atkinson, 38, with multiple counts of Theft of Explosive Material from Licensee; Theft of Explosive Material Moved in Interstate Commerce; Transport of Explosives by a Non-Licensee; Possession of Stolen Explosives; and Improper Storage of Explosives.

Atkinson was arrested on Jan. 4 in Henderson, Nevada, and U.S. District Magistrate Judge William G. Cobb scheduled a jury trial to begin on March 28, 2022, before Chief U.S. District Judge Miranda M. Du.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that, on Dec. 24, 2021, Atkinson stole approximately 100 pounds of detonating cord, boosters, and dynamite from a Federal Explosives Licensee. Atkinson then drove the explosives to Henderson and stored them in his hotel room and vehicle. 

On January 4, 2022, after evacuating the hotel, law enforcement safely recovered the stolen explosive materials from Atkinson’s vehicle and hotel room. If he is convicted of he charges Atkinson will face up to 10 years in prison for each count.

Louisiana Man Charged as a Felon in Possession of a Gun

On Jan. 25, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Louisiana, Duane Evans, announced that Renaldo Ruffin, 29, of New Orleans, had been indicted by a federal grand jury for alleged violations of the Federal Gun Control Act. More specifically, Ruffin was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

According to the indictment, on or about Aug. 30, 2020, Ruffin was in possession of a Glock Model 23 semiautomatic handgun.  If Ruffin is convicted of this charge, he will face up to 10 years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to 3 years of supervised release.  He will also have to pay a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.

In Pennsylvania, Man Indicted on Drug and Gun Charges

On Jan. 25, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, John C. Gurganus, announced that on January 25, 2022, James Rodriguez, Jr., 29, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was indicted by a federal grand jury on drug trafficking and firearms charges.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that between January 2021 and January 2022, Rodriguez conspired with other individuals to distribute and possess with intent to distribute over 400 grams of fentanyl.  On Oct. 27, 2021, Rodriguez allegedly aided in the distribution of fentanyl which resulted in the death of an individual. 

The indictment further alleges that on January 20, 2022, Rodriguez was in possession of over 40 grams of fentanyl and additional quantities of marijuana which he intended to distribute, all while in possession of multiple handguns and a shotgun in furtherance of these drug trafficking activities. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of the firearms and Rodriguez’s Porsche automobile.