August 2009 Archives

August 31, 2009

Miami Criminal Lawyer Represents Miami Beach Man in Federal Weapons Case

A Miami Beach munitions dealer pled guilty in federal court to defrauding the U.S. government by selling banned Chinese ammunition to the U.S. Army who in turn supplied them to allied forces in Afghanistan. Efraim Diveroli of Miami Beach, is facing up to five years in federal prison after entering into a plea agreement. In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to make a false statement, the U.S. Attorney's office dismissed the other 84 counts in the indictment. The case alleges that Diveroli violated a Chinese-made weapons embargo passed in 1998 by Congress. Diveroli, the owner of AEY, Inc. conspired with three other employees to sell the illegal munitions.

Diveroli admitted in his plea agreement that he and his co-conspirators agreed to sell the U.S. military $10.3 million of Chinese weaponry which they tried to disguise as Albania weapons. Diveroli's Miami criminal defense attorney argued for a dismissal of the indictment because the weapons were initially purchased by the Albanians prior to the embargo taking effect. However, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard denied the motion to dismiss. Alexander Podrizki and David Packouz, both AEY, Inc. employees plead guilty in May, 2009. Ralph Merrill, the fourth co-conspirator is still awaiting trial in federal court.

The prosecution argued at the motion to dismiss that a Department of Defense regulation prohibits weapons exporters from providing weapons or munitions acquired directly or indirectly from Chinese Communist military companies. In this case, the government alleged that AEY, Inc. purchased the munitions from Albania, who had originally obtained them from a Chine weapons manufacturer. Diveroli and his co-conspirators removed "made in China" markings from the wooden crates, repackaged the ammunition and had represented that the munitions had been manufactured in Albania.

The United States government became aware of the illegal sale of Chinese ammunition back in March 2008. The New York Times reported that Diveroli misled the U.S. Army by telling them that the ammunition he was providing was obtained from former Soviet bloc countries. The munitions were used by allied forces fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. The Pentagon ceased buying ammunition from AEY, Inc. when they became aware that munitions came from a prohibited source.

Miami Beach Weapons Wunderkind Pleads Guilty to Defrauding U.S., The Miami Herald, August 31, 2009.

August 28, 2009

Miami Beach Developer Facing Criminal Arrest

Miami Beach developer Michael Stern is facing arrest for failing to appear in federal court for his bankruptcy case. Additionally, Stern has also refused to produce documents and testify in the bankruptcy case. Creditors and former business partners are accusing him of real estate fraud among the many accusations. Stern is also the key witnesses in Miami Beach City Hall bribery case. His testimony led to the arrest of three city hall employees who are currently facing fraud, racketeering and bribery charges. Stern paid the building and planning officials more than $100,000 in order to receive approval of his plans to demolish his landmark coral rock house located on Collins Avenue. Miami criminal defense lawyers met with Stern to take his deposition. According to a local Miami criminal lawyer, Stern has failed to appear to complete the deposition.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Mack held Stern in contempt of court for failing to appear at a court appearance last Wednesday. At the hearing, Judge Mack told Stern's Miami lawyer that if he fails to appear again at the next court hearing, he would order him arrested. Stern's Miami lawyer filed papers with the federal court explaining that Stern wants to return to Miami, but cannot travel due to a back injury. "He is not hiding, absconding or avoiding discovery or otherwise. He is simply unable to travel." Stern in currently residing in Uruguay. Stern's doctor provided a note to the court explaining that Stern was suffering from a herniated disc that requires surgery and that he will not be able to travel for 45 to 60 days.

Stern, a Miami Beach real estate mogul, owned dozens of properties on Miami Beach. The South Florida real estate bust has caused him to be served with several foreclosure lawsuits and various other claims. Stern and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection back in February. In the bankruptcy case, Stern and his wife claim to have 52 million dollars in debt. It has been alleged that Stern has assets and properties worth in excess of 65 million dollars. Stern owes 6 million dollars to a Miami Beach women who won a lawsuit against him for real estate fraud. The fraudulent real estate deal involved fake mortgages and forged documents.

Stern's former business partners sued him based on another act of real estate fraud by not disclosing a 4.2 million dollar mortgage on a piece of property they owned jointly. The signatures on the loan documents were purportedly forged. The are several other cases pending against Stern which also allege fraud forgery. Other than facing arrest, if Stern fails to comply with court orders, has bankruptcy case may be tossed out causing him to be responsible for all of his debt.

Missing Miami Beach Developer May Face Arrest, The Miami Herald, August 28, 2009.

August 27, 2009

Police Officer Charged with Miami Fraud and Conspiracy

A Miami police officer assigned to take Crime Stoppers tips collected almost $15,000 in reward money and split it with two of his friends. Officer Wayne Fortella was charged in federal court with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Fortella used inside information to collect rewards for himself and his friends. Fortella was represented by a Miami criminal defense lawyer at his initial hearing. Fortella and one co-conspirator were released on bail. However, one of the co-conspirators remains at large.

Crime Stoppers is a Miami-Dade County organization that receives anonymous tips from Miami residents regarding crimes. Individuals that place calls to Crime Stoppers are given a code name a number. This information is available to all police officers assigned to the Crime Stoppers detachment. Tipsters can call back to determine whether their information led to an arrest. If the information led to an arrest, the Crime Stoppers board convenes to decide whether to approve a reward and the amount of the reward. Once the reward is granted, an individual simply has to go a Wachovia branch and contact Crime Stoppers. If Crime Stoppers approves the reward, the individual can collect the money. Crime Stoppers has a led to arrests in cocaine trafficking, murder, armed robbery and fraud cases.

Fortella worked from the inside by taking the code numbers and code names that had been approved for payment. He would take the approved code numbers and code names and provide them to his co-conspirators who would in turn contact Crime Stoppers and would receive the cash reward. Miami Police Chief John Timoney said in a statement, "I was undoubtedly disappointed and disheartened to hear that Officer Wayne Fortella had been arrested today by the FBI." Richard Masten, the executive director of Crime Stoppers said the charges were sickening.

Investigators became suspicious when the rewards were picked up in the southern part of Miami-Dade County when the tips were supplied from the northern part of Miami-Dade County. Some of the rewards received by Fortrella involved a firearm bounty program. One day in June 2008, one of the co-conspirators picked up four different reward from four different bank branches.

Several cellular calls between the co-conspirators and Fortella led to the arrest. FBI agents said there is no legitimate reason for a Crime Stopper's officer to talk to tipster on his cellular phone. More evidence was accumulated against Fortella through a wiretap authorized by a federal judge. Federal agents taped more incriminating conversations between Fortella and his co-conspirators.

FBI: Miami Officer Pocketed Crime Stoppers Reward Cash, The Miami Herald, August 27, 2009.

August 26, 2009

Convicted Killer Facing New Murder Charge Pleads Guilty in Miami Medicare Fraud Case

On Friday, August 21, 2009, with the assistance of a Miami criminal lawyer, a Miami man pled guilty in federal court to committing Medicare fraud. Guillermo Gonzalez admitted that he defrauded the federal government out of $586,953 by filing false claims with Medicare for medical supplies that were never provided to patients. Gonzalez stole physician's names to write prescriptions and also misappropriated patient's Medicare numbers.

The interesting fact about this case is that Gonzalez was convicted of second degree murder back in 1992. Originally, he was charged with first degree murder for allegedly shooting and killing a man over a monetary dispute at a Hialeah Tire Kingdom. Gonzalez eventually reached a plea deal with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office whereby he would plead guilty to second degree murder in exchange for a thirty year sentence. He served approximately 14 years of the 30 year sentence.

After being released from prison, Gonzalez, purchased DG Medical for $18,000 back in December 2006. He purchased the company from Deborah Gomez who had already obtained a Medicare license earlier in the year. Medicare refunded Gonzalez approximately $31,000 in tax payer money. This case a prime example of Medicare's inability to oversee Medicare providers in Miami and South Florida. Medicare is supposed to conduct criminal background checks on all owners of facilities that bill Medicare for benefits. Convicted felons are precluded by law from owning or operators Medicare facilities. It seems that Medicare overlooked Gonzalez's criminal past.

Heath and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson recommended to Medicare "watch dogs" to conduct regular inspections of clinics and doctor's offices to ensure that legitimate Medicare billing was taking place. Medicare's efforts to regulate and oversee medical equipment suppliers has been woefully inadequate. However, Medicare's anti-fraud director, Kimberly Brandt, said that Medicare regulators are conducting more thorough investigations in Miami and Los Angeles, two of the country's worst cities for healthcare fraud.

Despite his recent plea, Gonzalez is facing far more serious problems in Miami, Florida. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office has indicted Gonzalez for first degree murder in the slaying of Sergio Quintero last year. Hialeah law enforcement officers allege that Gonzalez and Quintero were at Gonzalez's home when an argument broke out over money. According to police reports, Gonzalez stabbed Quintero numerous times with a kitchen knife and then dismembered the body and disposed of the pieces.


Convicted Killer Pleads Guilty to Medicare Fraud, Faces New Murder Charge, The Miami Herald, August 21, 2009.

August 25, 2009

Two South Florida Doctors Convicted in Miami Medicare Fraud Case

Two physicians practicing in Miami were found guilty of Medicare fraud by a federal jury. The defendants were accused of being involved in an HIV-infusion scheme to defraud. This case is just another example of the rampant Medicare fraud that is occurring in Miami and the South Florida area. Every week, new articles come out discussing the results of federal medicare fraud trials. The two doctors who were convicted in federal court are facing lengthy prison terms after being found guilty of conspiring with three other doctors in a medicare fraud scheme that billed 19.5 million dollars for prescribing obsolete HIV drugs. Both doctors were each represented by an experienced Miami criminal lawyer.

Dr, Manuel Barbeite and Dr. Walter Proano were convicted earlier in the month for writing prescriptions for expensive HIV infusion services that were never provided to their patients. Despite the fact that the patients never received the treatments, both doctors billed Medicare, a government healthcare program. The jury convicted Barbeite of two counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud which carries a potential sentence of 20 years. Proano was convicted of one charge of fraud and count of conspiracy to commit fraud and is now facing 15 years in federal prison. The sentencing hearings are set for October 29, 2009.

Both doctors were employed by an HIV clinic that received almost $16 million dollars after submitting fraudulent bills for HIV treatments that allegedly occurred from 2003 to 2006. Last year three other doctors from the same clinic, Carmen Lourdes del Cueto, Marco Tulio Molinares and Alejandro Enrique Casuso pled guilty to defrauding the Medicare system. Esther Romeu, the clinic owner also pled guilty to committing Medicare fraud.

In another recent Medicare fraud case, Reinaldo Guerra, a medical equipment supplier, pled guilty to submitting Medicare claims in the amount of $123 million dollars for billing for artificial limbs for patients that were already dead. Guerra was the owner/operator of 11 medical equipment companies. He was convicted of Medicare fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. Guerra is scheduled to be sentenced on November 13, 2009 and is facing 20 years in prison. Guerra's partner fled Miami is purportedly living somewhere is South America.

Two weeks ago, Adonis Ortiz, of Hialieah was found guilty by a jury of submitting $6.2 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare for medical procedures that were neither prescribed nor provided to patients. A federal jury convicted Ortiz of three counts of Medicare fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud. He is facing 10 years in federal prison.


2 Miami-Dade Doctors Convicted of Medicare Fraud, The Miami Herald, August 18, 2009.

August 24, 2009

Thousands of Broward and Miami DUI Cases Could be in Jeopardy

A Broward County judge's ruling could affect thousands of Broward and Miami DUI cases. Several months ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement fired Sandra Viega. Viega was an FDLE employee who was assigned the task of conducting annual inspections on breath-testing machines in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. The FDLE investigation revealed that Viega was turning off the power to the breath machines if it appeared as if they were going to fail the inspection. Rather, than allow the test to show that the breath machine was not working properly, she would turn the machine off, then turn it back on which would override the system.
Every Miami criminal defense lawyer who represents clients on DUI cases, knows that the result in a DUI case will often turn on three issues; 1) whether the clients blew into the intoxylizer and 2) what was the reading and 3) was the breath machine working properly..

At a hearing last Tuesday, a Broward criminal lawyer argued on behalf of his client and represented the interests of 32 other Broward and Miami DUI lawyers and their 150 or so clients, to have Judge Jay Seidman throw out all breath results in Broward County with respect to all breath machines operating in Broward County during Viega's tenure with FDLE. The Broward DUI lawyer argued that Viega's actions cast a doubt on the reliability of the breath machines and accompanying results. Judge Seidman ruled that the machines used during Viega's employment with FDLE had been "fatally compromised" and that such tainted evidence should not be presented to a jury.

Judge Seidman's ruling could jeopardize between 500 and 1,000 DUI cases pending in Broward County. Although, Miami DUI lawyers filed similar motions in Miami-Dade County, none of the county court judge's who heard the motion's granted the lawyers requests to exclude breath test results. The ruling in Broward County may motivate Miami criminal and DUI lawyers to once again filed motions to exclude breath test results. One should bear in mind that Viega only performed annual tests, and that local law enforcement authorities did independent monthly inspections on the breath machine to ensure that they were working properly.

A spokesman for the Broward County State Attorney's Office claimed that the machines are extremely accurate and have never proven otherwise. He stated, "The ultimate effect could be that numerous impaired drivers may not be held accountable for their actions and end up killing or hurting innocent people. His office will appeal Judge Seidman's ruling. FDLE spokeswoman, Heather Smith, said that they were confident that Viega's actions did not affect any of the breath results because the machines in Viega's coverage area were independently tested and verified to be working properly.

Broward Judge's Ruling in DUI Case Could Affect 1,000 Cases, The Miami Herald, August 23, 2009.

August 21, 2009

A New Defense to Miami Cocaine Trafficking Cases

In Miami, Florida, cocaine trafficking and cocaine sale arrests are made on a daily basis. Once an individual has been arrested for cocaine trafficking, he or she must then hire a Miami criminal lawyer to defend the case. Up until recently, the most common defenses in cocaine trafficking and cocaine sale cases has been to file a motion to suppress evidence impounded by law enforcement authorities obtained through illegal searches and seizures. Many arrests stem from narcotics dogs that alert on automobiles or boats. Until now, whenever a narcotics K-9 alerted on a car or boat, the law in the State of Florida deemed it probable cause to search the entire contents of either mode of transportation. Many arrests stem from this type of probable cause search.

Although it may take awhile for the law to change, Miami criminal defense lawyers now have another trick up their sleeves. Thanks to a recent study conducted by Dr. Yuegang Zuoand other scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, they have determined that between 85% and 90% of all U.S. paper currency contained alarming traces of cocaine in certain geographic areas. Of the cities tested, the paper money in Baltimore, Boston and Detroit had the highest percentage of contamination. Imagine if the scientists had tested the money in Miami, Florida, well-known as the cocaine capital of the United States.

Scientists presented the results at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. The scientists tested bank notes from more than 30 cities in five countries including the United States, Canada, Brazil, China and Japan. Part of the study found that the percentage of cocaine on U.S. currency had risen more than 20% over the past two years. Dr. Zuo commented that, "To my surprise, we're finding more and more cocaine on bank notes." Dr. Zuo, thought this phenomena could be due to the economic downturn which may be causing people to turn to cocaine as a method of escape.

Dr. Zuo explained that currency generally becomes tainted with cocaine when a user snorts the white powder through a rolled up note, or by handling a note with cocaine powder on his or her hands. From there the chemical compounds of the cocaine begin to transfer to clean bills in wallets, pockets and even in currency counting machines. Ultimately, cocaine is transferred to currency throughout the United States and the world. According to Dr. Zuo, the amount of cocaine on the currency will not get a person holding the bill high. "It also won't affect your health and is unlikely interfere with blood and urine tests used for drug detection." The study revealed that cocaine levels on the currency ranged from .006 micrograms to 1,240 micrograms. This would be equal to fifty (50) grains of sand. According to Dr. Zuo, you would need 800 of the most contaminated bills to extract a gram of cocaine.

This latest study may cause the courts in the United States to alter their view of the current state of law regrading probable cause searches established by narcotics dogs alerting to vehicles and containers. Only time will tell, but the study may be able to assist a Miami defense attorney in defending a cocaine trafficking or cocaine sale case.

90% of U.S. Bills Carry Traces of Cocaine, CNNhealth.com, August 17, 2009.

August 20, 2009

Teen Arrested in Miami Attempted Murder Case

City of Miami Police arrested an 18 year-old teenager for a double fatal shooting at a birthday party last month in Overtown, Miami. Rodney Miller has been arrested for two counts of second degree murder for his involvement in a shooting that left two people dead and several other wounded. Either a Miami criminal attorney from The Office of the Public Defender will be appointed to represent Miller, or he will retain a private criminal defense lawyer.

Miller was arrested by the City of Miami Police Department around 1:00 a.m. in Liberty Square. Members of the City of Miami Police Department Robbery Intervention Detail made the arrest. Miller has a long criminal record which includes eight arrests for burglary, battery, resisting arrest and various or violent crimes.

The shooting occurred near NW 5th Street and NW 5th Avenue on July 6, 2009 at approximately 12:45 a.m. Several gunmen carrying high-powered weapons entered a birthday party and fired guns into a crowd of about 200 people. As a result of the shooting two people died and several more were hospitalized. Miami police would not disclose how they tracked Miller down or determined that we was a suspect. However, the police did say that help from the community was instrumental in the arrest. They applauded the number of Crime Stopper tips and a number of phone calls that led to the arrest.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney appeared at a press conference with several of the victim's family members. Timoney told reporters that the arrest is a small amount of justice relative to the seriousness of the crime and that more justice needs to be done because others involved in the crime are still out there. Police still have not released possible motives for the shootings.

Michelle Coleman, 21, of Miami, Florida and Anthony Smith, 17, also of Miami, Florida were killed in the shootings. At the press conference, Coleman's aunt told reporters that the arrest does nothing to take away the pain, but more arrests need to be made. Smith's grandmother relayed that Smith had received a full scholarship to UCLA just days after his death. She said that an opportunity was given to him and taken away by the stupid, senseless actions of others.

Teen Arrested in Overtown Party Shootings, The Miami Herald, August 20, 2009.

August 19, 2009

Man Denied Request for Re-Trial in Miami DUI Manslaughter Case

A Miami Beach man secretly recorded tapes between himself an his Miami criminal lawyer. Sean Casey, of Miami Beach, who pled guilty to DUI manslaughter tried to use a secret recording between himself and his ex-Miami criminal defense attorney to gain a new trial, but was unsuccessful. Casey attempted to prove to a Miami circuit court judge that the plea was tainted and that his plea should be set aside.

Circuit Judge John Thornton denied Casey's motion for post-conviction relief in state court. The judge ordered the secretly recorded tape of a conversation between Casey and his lawyer taken in the lawyer's office sealed as it was obtained illegally. Milton Hirsch represented Casey when he entered the plea. Casey pled guilty three years ago to DUI manslaughter for operating his BMW while drunk and striking and killing Mary Montgomery in 2001. Casey entered a plea in state court to 12 years in prison.

Casey had previously filed two appeals to the Third District Court of Appeals. He claimed the plea deal was tainted because his Miami criminal defense lawyer and his therapist convinced him to flee Miami and avoid a trial in the case. Casey claimed that his lawyer who was unaware that he was being recorded, told him, "I wish I could wave my magic wand and make Sean disappear magically and cause him to reappear on the planet Vulcan...or something like that and be out of harm's way." In the State of Florida, it is a 3rd degree felony to tape someone without their consent. After listening to the tapes last month, Judge Thornton found no direct or indirect evidence of any criminal actions by his Miami criminal attorney.

Casey spent two years in Chile before being caught and extradited to Miami in 2006. The extradition process took several months before his was returned to Miami to face the DUI manslaughter charge. Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office told reporters, "Today, Judge Thornton saw the secret taping issue as a crude ploy and the clear violation of law that it has always been. From the very minute a drunk Casey ran down an innocent pedestrian, he has never taken responsibility for his actions.

Miami Beach Man Loses Bid for Retrial in DUI Manslaugher Case, The Miami Herald, August 19, 2009.

August 18, 2009

Feds Charge Miami Man in Largest Case of Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud

On Monday, federal prosecutors indicted a Miami man in federal court with the largest case of credit card fraud in the history of the United States for engaging in the theft of credit and debit cards numbers. Albert Gonzalez, a former government informant, stole information from 130 million credit and debit card accounts. As an informant, he assisted the United States Secret Service hunting down hackers who were also engaged in credit card fraud. The Secret Service later found out that Gonzalez aided other hackers by giving them information regarding other investigations. Miami criminal attorneys regularly defend credit card fraud cases in Miami both in state and federal court.

Gonzalez is currently in custody in Brooklyn, New York, and is set for trial next month on a prior hacking case in federal court. He was indicted in 2008 for committing credit card fraud by illegally obtaining credit card information from 5,000 patrons of a Dave and Buster's Restaurant.

The newest indictment alleges that Gonzalez and two co-conspirators stole data from convenience store giant 7-Eleven, Heartland Payment Systems, Inc., regional supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers Co. and two other national retail stores. Gonzalez allegedly developed a method by which he was able to penetrate computer networks and steal the credit card and debit card data and transfer that information to computer servers in California, Illinois, Latvia, the Ukraine and the Netherlands. According to the indictment, Gonzalez and his co-conspirators used malicious software called "malware" to hack into the computer networks by gaining back door access and then would later steal the data.

Federal authorities do not know how much of the data was sold and then used to make fraudulent credit card and debit card transactions. Investigators reported that it is nearly impossible due to the scope of the fraud to determine how many people were victimized by this crime. The Justice Department said that this case is largest scheme to defraud involving a credit card and debit card breach of security. Assistant U.S. Attorney Erez Lieberman said, "The scope is massive. This guy worked very, very hard at something he was good at."

Since 2006, cases involving individuals steal credit card and debit card information has sky-rocketed. Many offenders are not computer geniuses, but use a technique called "war driving" which involves using laptop computers and looking for accessible wireless internet signals. Once the hackers enter the system, they install "sniffer programs" which hunt for a capture credit card and debit card numbers as they move through a retailer's computer system.

Prosecutors Say Man Stole 130M Credit Card Numbers, The Miami Herald, August 18, 2009

August 17, 2009

Miami Criminal Lawyer Works Out Battery Charge

Former Miami-Dade prosecutor, David Ranck, agreed to enter into the pre-trial diversion in exchange for resolving his case. Ranck was recently charged with battery by his former office. He was accused of punching a pizza delivery woman outside of his Miami-Beach condominium. In exchange for successfully completing the pre-trial diversion program (completing 25 community service hours and an anger management class) the Broward County State Attorney's Office has agreed to drop the battery charge. The plea deal was announced at the arraignment. Ranck was represented by local Miami criminal defense attorney Simon Steckel. Steckel told reporters, "There is no conviction. There is no adjudication. Considering the facts of the case, it is a good resolution for everybody." To avoid a conflict of interest, a Broward County prosecutor was assigned to the case and offered Ranck the program.

The Miami Herald described Ranck as a seasoned prosecutor with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office who had a rocky relationship with his supervisors. He had allegedly been reprimanded for cursing at a Miami criminal lawyer during a murder trial in 2005. The court declared a mistrial and an appellate court released the murder suspect earlier in the year. He is also being scrutinized for another case where he allegedly dropped armed robbery charges against a suspect in the killing of a North Miami pawn shop owner.

Last year, Ranck sued Katherine Fernandez-Rundle in federal court, for allegedly wrongfully suspending him from his duties at the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office. In June, a federal judge dismissed the suit.

Pre-trial intervention and pre-trial diversion programs are usually offered to first time offenders. Of course, the pre-trial programs are offered in cases of a less-serious nature and have to be victim approved, as well as approved by the law enforcement officers involved in the arrest. The program is only available in the state court system. The benefit of the program is that once a defendant successfully completes the conditions set forth by the prosecutor, all of the charges will be nolle prossed (dismissed) by the prosecutor. In addition to having the charges dropped, a defendant is then eligible to have the record expunged or destroyed.

Ex-Miami-Dade Prosecutor Gets Deal in Battery Charge, Miami Herald, August 17, 2009.

August 16, 2009

Con Man Receives 100 Year Sentenced for Miami Scheme to Defraud

Miami businessman, Edward Okun who was previously convicted of operating a scheme to defraud was sentenced to a 100 year prison term. Okun stole money from customers of his tax deferral firm and ran a 126 million scheme to defraud. U.S. District Judge Robert Payne handed down the sentence despite the prosecutor's request for a 400 hundred year sentence. In March, jurors convicted Okun of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, smuggling and perjury. To defend cases of this magnitude in the Miami area, it is imperative to hire a Miami criminal lawyer with significant experience in defending fraud and schemes to defraud in federal court.

Okun's defense lawyer argued at the sentencing hearing, that a 10 or 15 year prison sentence would suffice. Barry Pollack used examples of Bernie Madoff's 150 year sentence for running a 65 billion dollar Ponzi scheme and Mark Dreier's 20 year sentence for defrauding hedge funds to the tune of 400 million dollars. Pollack argued against the 400 year sentence and stated, "If we were just interested in retribution, we could take Mr. Okun outside and tar and feather him."

The prosecutor argued that Okun's fraud was worse than others in that investors trusted him and believed they were using a risk free service and not an investment service. Okun operated a tax-deferral business whereby he was supposed to hold real estate sale proceeds on behalf of his clients so they could defer paying taxes until they purchased similar properties within180 days. Instead of the holding the money for his clients, he used the money to pay for his divorce and to buy his new wife extravagant items, such as jewelry. Okun also used his client's money to purchase a yacht, million dollar homes, several cars, an airplane and a helicopter.

Several victims of the scheme to defraud spoke at the sentencing. Each victim explained to the court how they have suffered as a result of the fraud. One victim claimed to suffer from a stroke, while another claimed to have a heart attack. Most of the other victim's lost their life savings and felt serious financial repercussions from the losses such as home foreclosures and the accumulation of significant debt.

Laura Coleman, the former CEO of a company owned by Okun, pled guilty to lying to investigators and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. She was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Robert Field, chief financial officer, and Richard Simring, chief legal officer, were involved in Okun's massive scheme to defraud. Both have pled guilty to similar charges as Okun and are awaiting sentencing.

Con Man Edward Okun Gets 100 years for Fraud Scheme, Bloomberg.com, August 4, 2009.

August 14, 2009

South Florida School Employee Arrested in Miami Credit Card Fraud Case

1131514_gift_card.jpgIn Miami, and across the county, state and federal law enforcement authorities have been cracking down on individuals committing credit card fraud. Credit card fraud occurs when a person uses someone else's credit card or credit card number and obtains goods, services or money with the intent to defraud. The most common cases of credit card fraud are using lost or stolen credits, manufacturing and using counterfeit credit cards, or fraudulently obtaining credit cards through the mail. Many a Miami criminal lawyer has defended clients in the three of the aforementioned scenarios.

Last week a Miami-Dade school employee was arrested for credit card fraud and aggravated identity theft. Roshell Demps, was hired to assist Miami-Dade school system employees obtain employee benefits. She abused her position by using employees names and social security numbers to fraudulently open credit card accounts. Specifically, Demps used one Miami-Dade employee's personal information to open a credit card account and began racking up the charges almost immediately.

Demps received the fraudulent credit card in the mail and made the following charges to the card: $2,500.00 in Macy's gift cards, a $500.00 charge for a Toys R Us gift card, and a $750.00 purchase of a Sony television. Her arraignment is scheduled for August 19, 2009 and she faces up to twelve years in prison for credit card fraud and identity theft.

Demps began her employment with the Miami-Dade County school system back in 2002. At the time of the offense, she assisted employees in obtaining life insurance, worker's compensation and overseas healthcare benefits. During the investigation, law enforcement authorities conducted a search of her Miami apartment. The search revealed hundreds of names and social security numbers belonging to Miami-Dade County school employees.

Despite the hundreds of names and social security numbers, Demps can only be linked to opening one fraudulent credit card account. Upon the news of her arrest, the Miami-Dade County school system placed her on leave pending the outcome of the case.

Miami-Dade School's Employee Faces Fraud Charges, The Miami Herald, August 13, 2009.

August 13, 2009

Man Charged in Miami Armed Robbery of Two South Florida Businesses

825843_gun_2.jpgIn Miami, Florida, Jeffrey Sloman, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Hugo Barrera, Special Agent for Alcohol Firearms and Tobacco (ATF), Robert Parker, Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, Rafael Hernandez, the police chief of North Miami Beach Police Department and Richard Naue, police chief for the City of Coral Gables Police Department made a joint announcement stating that Frankie Medrano, formerly of West Palm Beach and Miami was arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery at two separate Miami businesses. Armed robbery is one of the most serious offenses set forth in the Florida Statutes. Medrano will need the assistance of a Miami criminal attorney to defend both cases.

Medrano has been charged for committing an armed robbery at a Coral Gables Subway on May 30, 2009 and also has been charged with an armed robbery of a Radio Shack located in Southwest Miami on July 17, 2009. On both occasions, Medrano committed the armed robbery by entering each store, drawing a firearm and demanding money from the clerk. Medrano has been indicted federally under the federal robbery statute. Medrano can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison on each robbery count and to life in prison for each firearm charge.

Medrano has been implicated in fifteen armed robberies and one attempted armed robbery. He has not been indicted on all of those cases to date. On July 25, 2009, law enforcement authorities arrested Medrano and recovered a 9mm firearm and an air pistol from his automobile. The firearm was allegedly the one used to commit the armed robberies. A bond hearing was held in federal court on July 31, 2009, where Magistrate Ted Banstra held Medrano in custody without a bond. Banstra cited his reasons as being that Medrano was not only a danger to the community, but also a flight risk.

According to officials, the arrest and indictments were the result of a joint and coordinated effort involving ATF, Miami-Dade Police Department, City of Coral Gables Police Department, West Palm Beach Police Department, and the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department to name a few. Sloman stated, "The extraordinary cooperation by multiple law enforcement agencies resulted in the successful identification and arrest of a suspected serial robber."

Director Parker attributed the arrest to the cohesive working relationship between all of the law enforcement departments involved in the armed robbery investigations. Barrera mentioned that all of the citizens of Miami-Dade County deserve to live in a safe community and that ATF will continue to arrest violent offenders.

Defendant Charged for Armed Robbery of South Florida Businesses, American Chronicle, August 10, 2009.

August 12, 2009

Former Miami Dolphin Lawrence Phillips Convicted in Domestic Violence Case

214089_buffalo_bills_football_1.jpgIn San Diego, California, former Miami Dolphin Lawrence Phillips was convicted of choking his girlfriend into a state of unconsciousness back in 2005. Phillips will be sentenced on September 8, 2009 by Judge Kerry Wells. Phillips can be sentenced up to 25 years in state prison. This domestic violence case demonstrates the need to hire a qualified Miami criminal defense attorney for representation in domestic violence matters.

A jury deliberated for several hours before returning the guilty verdict. The former NFL player was convicted of two counts of assault by force likely to cause serious bodily injury and for causing injury to a co-habitant or spouse. Other counts for which Phillips was convicted include false imprisonment, making a threat and grand theft of a motor vehicle. The counts stemmed from two separate domestic violence incidents.

The victim, Amaliya Weisler, testified that she was introduced to Phillips through a friend back in 2005. They began a relationship immediately afterward, and are in fact, still dating. On August 2, 2005, Phillips and Weisler became engaged in a verbal dispute regarding their sex life. Weisler put his clothes in a pile and requested that he leave the apartment. Phillips became enraged, slapped her across the face and put his hands around neck and choked her.

Two weeks later, on August 13, 2005, Weisler claimed that Phillips locked her in a bathroom and proceed to slap and choke her after he accused her of having sex with one of his friends. Weisler and Phillips then traveled to the friend's house. Once at the residence, Phillips kicked in his friend's front door. The residents of the home called the police. Phillips fled in Weisler's car. After the charges were filed, Phillips fled the jurisdiction and resided in Los Angeles, California.

While in Los Angeles, Phillips was convicted by a jury for attempting to drive his car into three juveniles. In 2006, Phillips was sentenced to 10 years in prison for that aggravated assault charge. Phillips has a long history of domestic violence, stemming back to his days at the University of Nebraska where he assaulted his college girlfriend and was suspended from the team. He pled no contest in that case and was placed on one year of reporting probation. Phillips refused to attend his latest trial and was convicted in absentia.

Former NFL RB Lawrence Phillips Convicted of Choking Girlfriend, SDNN.com, August 11, 2009.

August 11, 2009

Columbian Kingpin Pleads Guilty in Miami Cocaine Trafficking Case

A former cocaine trafficking kingpin for a Columbia drug cartel entered a guilty plea in a U.S. District Court to cocaine trafficking, racketeering and obstruction of justice. The United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida indicted Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez on 15 counts, said Montoya's Miami criminal defense attorney. As a result of his guilty plea, the federal prosecutor will dismiss twelve of the fifteen counts at the time of sentencing.

Montoya entered guilty pleas on two separate indictments. The first federal case being prosecuted in Miami, Florida related to cocaine trafficking and obstruction of justice. Montoya pled guilty top one count of conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and one count of obstruction of justice. The second federal case was initiated in Washington, D.C., but later transferred to Miami, Florida and related to a racketeering allegation. Montoya pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering. The case was transferred to Miami so that Montoya could enter a plea into both federal cases at the same time.

Sentencing in both cases is set before the U.S. District Judge, Cecilia Altonaga, on October 21, 2009. Montoya faces life in prison, but federal prosecutors will probably ask for a 45 year prison sentence. Federal officials were pleased with result by saying that Montoya is the notorious leader of a violent Columbian drug cartel and that he belongs in prison for cocaine trafficking and murder. Montoya was also known as Don Diego and headed the Norte Valle drug cartel.

Prior to his capture, Montoya had a 5 million bounty on his head and made the FBI's Top 10 Wanted List. He was captured in Columbia in 2007 and then extradited to the United States fifteen months later. The FBI called the Norte Valle Cartel the most violent and dangerous cocaine trafficking syndicate in Columbia, responsible for trafficking to the United States at least 1.2 million pounds of cocaine with a street value of 10 billion dollars.

Even though he was not required to, Montoya made a statement to the judge apologizing for his criminal conduct and expressed remorse for his victims and victim's families. He is the fourth member of the cartel to enter a guilty plea in the Southern District of Florida. His brother entered guilty plea in January 2009 to conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and obstruction of justice. He received a 30 year prison sentence. The other two members of the cartel entered guilty pleas to the same charges and received twenty year prison sentences.

Columbia Cartel Head Pleads Guilty in Miami, CNN.com, August 11, 2009.

August 10, 2009

Doctor and Assistants Sentenced in Miami Medicare Fraud Case

845206_sala_de_parto_04.jpgMiami medicare fraud defendants, including a doctor and a two physicians assistants are on their way to federal prison for their involvement in a medicare fraud that exceeded 11 million dollars. Dr. Keith David Russell and Jorge Luis Pacheco were responsible for billing false claims for obsolete HIV treatments that were not even provided to the patients. Russell and Pacheco were sentenced in federal court to eight years in prison and ordered to pay back 3.1 million and 2.6 million dollars, respectively, to the Medicare system. Russell's and Pacheco's Miami criminal attorneys argued on their client's behalf at the sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro also sentenced Eda Milanes, another physicians assistant to five year in federal prison and levied fines against her in the amount of 3.1 million dollars. Another Miami physician, David Rothman was convicted in the conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud. The case received notoriety back in March, 2009 because Pacheco tried to flee Miami and the United States while the trial was in progress. Rothman's sentencing is still pending.

Federal law enforcement officials are investigating a growing list of Miami doctors and physicians assistants that are committing millions of dollars of fraud against the United States Medicare system. A large number of medicare fraud cases stem from doctors submitting claims for outdated HIV infusion therapies that are administered intravenously. This therapy was deemed obsolete 15 years ago and has since been replaced by more effective anti-retroviral drugs which are taken orally. Medicare continues to pay for the obsolete treatment is still deemed medically reasonable and necessary.

The aforementioned defendants were employed by two clinics, M&P Group of South Florida and Medcore Group. Tony Marrero owned the clinics and paid exorbitant kickbacks to Rothman ($200,000) and to Russell ($40,000) for prescribing the outdated therapies from 2004 through 2006. Marrero also paid $200.00 kickbacks to patients for each visit they made to his clinics in order to submit the fraudulent bills to Medicare. Patients testified that they never received the treatments and one even testified that he used the money to support his cocaine addiction.

Pacheco attempted to flee before the jury deliberated and was apprehended in Homestead, Florida with around $12,000 in cash and a fake Florida driver's license. Pacheco was allegedly a formerly licensed physician in Cuba.

Doctor and Assistants Jailed for Medicare Fraud, Miami Herald, August 10, 2009.

August 9, 2009

Ring Involved in Miami Drug Trafficking Busted

In Miami, local, state and federal authorities arrested 39 suspects who were participants in a longtime, violent drug trafficking ring. The narcotics trafficking investigation was centered in the Coconut Grove area. The suspects are going to be charged in state and federal court for cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, marijuana possession, marijuana trafficking, heroine possession, heroine trafficking, and possession of and trafficking in methamphetamines.

Many Miami criminal attorneys will be involved in the representation of those arrested as a result of the investigation. Thirty of the defendants are being prosecuted in federal court where each individual faces between five years and life in prison. Nine of the defendants are being prosecuted in state court by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office where they face serious prison time. The joint investigation which began in 2007, led to the seizure of more than 300 grams of marijuana, cocaine, and heroine. Also seized were several firearms, including AK-47s.

Chief of the City of Miami Police, John Timoney, was proud of the efforts of the City of Miami Police Department, as well as, the other agencies involved in the arrests. For a long time, Coconut Grove has had to deal with violent drug traffickers. Timoney went on to say that those arrested were not run of the mill drug dealers, but entrenched drug gangs involved in drug trafficking and violence.

Acting U.S. Attorney, Jeff Sloman, praised the U.S. Attorney's Office for their efforts in destroying local, national and international drug trafficking rings by prosecuting the leaders of the trafficking organizations. Not only are the traffickers prosecuted, but state and federal authorities engage in forfeiture proceedings to remove the financial ability of the drug trafficking organizations to conduct business. Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, State Attorney for Miami-Dade County, stated that the efforts of law enforcement in this case removed large amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroine and methamphetamines from the streets of Miami.

Many Miami and Coconut locals were impressed with the efforts of law enforcement. Local business and home owners said the arrests were long overdue, and hope that removing the drug traffickers will make a big difference in the community. Others were more skeptical, saying that the criminal justice system is like a revolving door and only time will tell whether or not those arrested will soon be back on the streets of Miami selling drugs.

Ring of Violent Drug Traffickers Busted in Miami, CBS4, August 7, 2009.

August 7, 2009

Miami Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against Political Activist

Miami Judge Flora Seff entered a temporary injunction for protection against domestic violence against Patrick A. Pascuzzo, a political activist, barring him from having any contact with Homestead Councilwoman Judy Waldman. The judge entered the temporary injunction against Pascuzzo for posting a controversial video on a You Tube clip that showed a blonde woman holding a gun to her head. After the clip was shown, the video criticized Waldman for being involved in an election fraud conspiracy. Waldman took the video as a death threat and petitioned the court to issue the temporary injunction.

Anyone served with a notice to appear in court to respond to a temporary injunction for protection against domestic violence or against repeat violence should hire a Miami criminal lawyer to defend the injunction in civil court. If an injunction is granted by a judge, it will become part of your permanent record.

Under the temporary injunction issued by Judge, Seff, Pascuzzo cannot come within 500 feet of Waldman's home, office or Homestead City Hall. He is also prohibited from sending e-mails, sending text messages, calling or posting any videos about Waldman. He is also required to undergo mental health counseling and treatment if needed. The injunction will remain in place until January 7, 2010 when Waldman can petition the court for an extension of the temporary injunction.

The Miami-Dade County State Attorneys' Office investigated the allegations against Pascuzzo, but have not filed any criminal charges to date. After Pascuzzo released the video, he sent an e-mail to law enforcement, the Miami-Dade County States Attorney's Office, the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department and the media claiming that Waldman was involved in an election fraud conspiracy in Homestead, Florida. The accusations made by Pascuzzo against Waldman stem from an ongoing dispute over the appearance of a confederate flag at the Veteran's Day parade last year.

As a result of flag's appearance, tensions rose after the city counsel decided to create a new community relations board and disband the old one. Pascuzzo has proclaimed that Waldman and other Homestead politicians used the flag dispute against incumbents in the past November election. Waldman has denied involvement in any election fraud conspiracy.

Man Ordered to Stop Harrassing Homestead Councilwoman, Miami Herald, August 5, 2009

August 6, 2009

Suspended Miami Criminal Lawyer Target of Mortgage Fraud Lawsuit

A Miami criminal lawyer who formerly ran for the office of Public Defender in Miami-Dade County is now engulfed in a complex foreclosure lawsuit initiated by JP Morgan. Gabriel Martin, a Miami attorney currently under suspension by the Florida Bar was allegedly involved in serial mortgage fraud to the tune of 10 million dollars relating to a residence located on Miami Beach, Florida. Washington Mutual which was recently taken over by JP Morgan alleges that Martin prepared loan documents, but failed to meet his obligations.

Martin a suspended Miami criminal lawyer, was hired by Washington Mutual to ensure that the sale of property met the requirements under Florida law and the title was properly transferred and the mortgage properly recorded. The residence that is the subject of the lawsuit is a luxury mansion located at 4424 N. Bay Rd. on Miami Beach, Florida. Martin was hired to be the closing agent for the sale of the home from Eddie Irvine, a Formula One race car driver, to Jose Marsicobetre Mejia in 2006.

The case is set in state court for trial in January 2010 in front of with Judge Gil Freeman. The case is set for a bench trial (no jury) where the judge will determine which lender has ownership rights to recover money from the foreclosure sale. At the forefront of the fraud was Jason Zabaleta wh conspired to defraud Washington Mutual twice, once in 2005 for 3.9 million dollars and one in 2007 for 4.5 million dollars. Zabaleta, along with others is also a named party in the lawsuit.

The other lenders that have a monetary interest in the home are Akbar Nikooie who claims Zabaleta defrauded him out of 1.16 million dollars which was supposed to be used as a construction loan. The money was used for a down payment and not for construction. General Mortgage Associates (GMAI) is also making a claim on the property. GMAI loaned Zabaleta 3.5 million dollars in 2007 to purchase the home. None of the mortgages were properly recorded which puts into doubt who has the first right to the proceeds resulting from the foreclosure on the home.

The judge has to decide which mortgage was recorded first to determine which entity has priority to the money which will become available in the near future. Martin is a party to the lawsuit due to his alleged negligence in failing to properly record the mortgages. This case is just another example the damage caused by lending frenzy during the South Florida housing boom. These loose lending practices almost sent Wachovia, Citigroup and Washington Mutual into bankruptcy.

Suspended Attorney Target of Mortgage Lender's Lawsuit, Daily Business Review, August 5, 2009

August 5, 2009

Individuals Convicted of Sex Offenses Subject to Faulty Bans

In Miami, Florida, State Attorney General Bill McCollum gave a recent interview on a radio station where he expressed that he had has a problem with the convicted sex offenders who have been relegated to live in terrible conditions under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami, Florida. Republican Bill McCollum, who has always advocated harsh penalties for those convicted of crimes, expressed his opinion that local ordinances that ban sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet from schools are causing more harm than good. Most Miami criminal attorneys share in his opinion as they are intimately aware of the ongoing problem.

Currently, the law in the State of Florida prevents sex offenders from residing within 1,000 feet of schools. McCollum stated, "The state law is fairly reasonable, but many counties and cities have made it impossible for anybody to live ... in a normal living environment. It is very wrong." Ron Book, the chairman of the Miami-Dade homeless trust, was surprised by the comments because he does not believe the 2,500 foot ordinances were the root of the problem. Book was less sympathetic for the individuals convicted of sex crimes such sexual battery, lewd and lascivious behavior and child sexual abuse.

Many local governments have imposed the 2,500 foot ban as a result of the rape and murder of nine-year old Jessica Lunsford in 2005. Those critical of the new laws say the changes have forced many of the sexual offenders underground, thus making it more difficult for law enforcement to monitor them. Most of the controversy arises from the group of individuals convicted of sex offenses that are forced to live under a bridge in Miami with no toilets or running water.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has become involved in the debate and sides with McCollum on the issue. The ACLU has filed suit against Miami-Dade over its 2,500 foot rule. Howard Simon, the director of the ACLU, found fault with the new because they fail to distinguish between serious sexual offenders and predators and those accused of urinating on the side of the road or when a seventeen year-old boy and a fifteen year-old girl engage in consensual sex.

The current debate and present state of the law in Miami and other counties should make Miami criminal lawyers aware of which sex offenses carry these bans before allowing their clients to enter into plea agreements with the state attorneys office. It is imperative that criminal defense lawyers not only plea bargain on behalf of their clients, but should also make charge bargaining a priority.

Bill McCollum: Sex-offender Bans are Faulty, Miami Herald, August 4, 2009

August 4, 2009

Ex-Miami ICE Agent Prosecuted and Sentenced for Obstruction and Receiving Kickbacks

1007270_us_currency_4.jpgIn a Miami, federal court, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Pedro Clintron, a former agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to a two-year prison term after he entered into a guilty plea to the charge of receiving a gratuity by a public official. Many skilled Miami criminal defense attorneys represent public officials on public corruption charges on the local, state and federal level. Clintron was assigned to Miami, Florida ICE Office of Investigations as a special agent.

As the agent in charge of the investigation, Clintron acted as the controlling agent of a confidential informant who was assisting federal authorities in a human trafficking investigation out of Equador. The confidential informant agreed to set up individuals involved in various human trafficking organizations. In exchange for his services, the confidential informant was compensated in U.S. currency by federal authorities.

Above and beyond the investigation and contrary to federal law, Clintron participated in several illegal transactions with and made several illegal requests of the informant. In 2004, he asked the CI to deliver $300 in government funds to his girlfriend who was residing in Equador. Additionally, the informant gave Clintron a gold bracelet valued at $800 and cellular telephones which were to be delivered to Clintron's girlfriend in Equador. The source of the money and gifts were traced to monies the informant had received from the federal government.

Clintron also received additional illegal gifts from another informant who was also engaged in an investigation into human trafficking in Equador and other foreign countries. In 2005, Clintron received approximately $6,000 in kick-backs from this informant. In addition to illegally receiving gifts and money from two confidential informants, he also received a payoff from a fugitive target named Fang who was also allegedly involved in human trafficking.

Clintron requested that Fang pay him the sum of $12.,000 in exchange for assisting him in smuggling four aliens into the United States from Lima, Peru. Clintron was unable to smuggle the four aliens into the United States. When Clintron was later questioned by federal authorities in an effort to apprehend Fang, he denied having knowledge of Fang's whereabouts and was unable to locate him.

Ex-ICE Agent Sentenced for Kickbacks, Obstruction, North Country Gazette, August 1, 2009

August 3, 2009

More Arrests Made in Another Miami Mortgage Fraud Scheme

In Miami, Florida, more than 40 people were charged in a mortgage fraud scheme that exceeded more than 40 million dollars. In total, six cases were filed against those arrested. The announcement is part of the mortgage fraud crackdown which began in 2007. The investigations are targeting all levels of individuals accused of perpetrating mortgage fraud. Among those arrested include real estate agents, mortgage brokers, attorneys, title agents and straw buyers. These arrests obviate the increased need for Miami Criminal Lawyers who specialize in defending mortgage fraud cases.

In one of the cases, 19 Miami-Dade County residents were arrested and charged for their involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme that in exceded 21 million dollars. Several Miami companies were involved in the fraud. All of the companies were owned by Magile Cruz, who has since pled guilty and has been sentenced to ten years in prison. The majority of the charges stem from false loan applications and straw buyers.

In another case, 13 Miami-Dade county residents were charged in an indictment that alleges 4 million dollars in ill-gotten gains from a mortgage fraud scheme. Richard Pi and Bryan Guarch conceived the scheme that again involved fraudulent loan documents and straw buyers. The two individuals are alleged to have obtained large sums of money from lending institutions to buy large houses and expensive automobiles for themselves.

Another case involved Stephen Lalonde of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His indictment alleges that he was involved in a real estate scheme to defraud where he stole in excess of 1 million dollars. His fraud involved stealing from legitimate buyers, mortgage lenders and title companies. Lalonde stole money that was supposed to be used to pay off existing mortgages for legitimate borrowers. Rather than pay off the loans, he kept the money to fund his lavish lifestyle.

In another indictment, Milennys Foira and Richard Diaz, of Miami, paid an individual $10,000 to use his identity to buy real estate in the Miami area. Foria and Diaz obtained the loan and kept the money for themselves rather than to pay for the home which has since fallen into foreclosure. "The success of the Federal-State Mortgage Strike Force and mortgage fraud crackdown is evident in the staggering number of prosecutions we have brought to date," said Michael J. Folmer, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Dozen Charged with Mortgage Fraud Totaling $40M, South Florida Business Journal, July 29, 2009

August 2, 2009

Miami Gang Members Busted in South Florida Probe

Law enforcement officers from North Miami Beach along with federal agents arrested 53 people in a South Florida gang sweep. Law enforcement officials claim that the arrests dealt a significant blow to gangs across Miami and South Florida. The multi-agency operation led by the North Miami Beach Police Department and federal law enforcement officers arrested dozens of gang members for numerous drug offenses, firearm charges and various immigration violations. "We have made an impact," said Rafael P. Hernandez, North Miami Beach police chief. "The gang members were ranging from low-level street sellers to some high-time drug suppliers." Miami Criminal Attorneys will tell you that the amount of gang activity has significantly increased over the past few years.

Operation Dead End occurred as a result of a gang related slaying of Miami police officer James Walker by a gang member back in 2008. Operation Dead End came at the end of a fifteen month investigation into gang related activity in the Miami and South Florida Area. The investigation involved eight gangs from Plantation to South Miami. Federal prosecutors have indicted thirteen alleged gang members with charges ranging from drug offenses to firearm offenses. State prosecutors have filed charges against 26 gang members for drug sales and illegal firearm possession.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Jeff Sloman, explained that, "These charges can carry up to life imprisonment." Chief assistant at the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office, Jose Arroyo stated, "Violent criminal street gangs in South Florida will not be tolerated." Evidence recovered during the arrests included 118 grams of crack cocaine, 80 grams of powder cocaine, 180 grams of marijuana, assorted other narcotics and several firearms.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Officials) also made arrests for various immigration violations and are seeking deportation proceedings against 5 individuals. Immigration officials are concerned about the growing number of foreign nationals involved in gang related violence and are therefore working with police to assist with the problem. "If we come across an illegal alien, who is part of gang, that is our highest priority," said Special Agent Mangione, head of the local ICE unit.

State wide prosecutors are continuing to investigate gangs that operate in the North Miami Beach area. The gangs being investigated are the Victory Park Zoes, One Way and Young Head Busters. Some members of those gangs were arrested during the sweep.

53 People Arrested in South Florida Gang Probe, Miami Herald, August 1, 2009

August 1, 2009

Minor Cocaine Trafficking Suspects Extradited from Columbia to Miami

489547_cocaine_stripes.jpgFor the past seven years, Alvarro Uribe has complied with the U.S. Government by completing hundreds of requests to extradite Columbian nationals engaged in cocaine trafficking. The Columbian government has provided cocaine kingpins, such as Gilberto "the Chess Player" Rodriguez and "Don Diego" Montoya to American justice system for prosecution. Rodriquez once headed the infamous Cali Cartel and Montoya once had his own private army in Columbia to assist him with his cocaine trafficking operation. Some Miami criminal lawyers specialize in extradition defense matters.

Although the Columbian government has assisted in extraditing heads of cocaine organizations, they have also extradited minor players in the cocaine trade to the United States. In one such case, a father and son with the last name Consuergas, also known as, "the banana vendors" were picked up at their home by drug agents and extradited to New York. Once in New York, the father and son entered into pleas, spent a short period of time in the county jail and were returned to Columbia. Their involvement in cocaine trafficking was minimal at best.

This particular scenario leads many to question why the U.S. government is expending valuable resources such as time and money to extradite the small fish. On average, the Columbian government extradites four suspects a week to the United States. This is more than any other country in the world. The problem lies with the extradition of small to mid-level suspects in the cocaine trafficking trade.

Many critics, such as defense attorneys and government officials are beginning to question the benefit of the Columbia to Untied States extradition policies currently in place. Arresting suspects on the periphery of the narcotics trade has become almost pointless and certainly a burden on the American taxpayer. The number of low-level suspects being extradited also calls into question whether the Columbia criminal justice system has the ability to handle complex cocaine trafficking cases.

On the other side of the coin, an official in the United States Justice Department claims that extradition is a valuable tool that has aided in taking down some of the most dangerous cocaine traffickers in th world. Although low-level cocaine traffickers do not spend much time in prison, their assistance and cooperation in federal cases has led to several convictions of high-level cocaine traffickers.

U.S. Criticized for Extraditing Minor Colunbia Drug Suspects, The Washington Post, July 31, 2009