Florida Woman Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison for Role in Real Estate Investment Scheme

Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that Loretta Seneca, 51, of Boynton Beach, Florida, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny in Hartford to 27 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for her role in a real estate investment scheme. Seneca was also ordered to serve the first six months of supervised release in home confinement and to perform 120 hours of community service.

According to court documents and statements made in court, between approximately November 2006 and December 2007, Robert Rivernider, Robert Ponte, and Seneca engaged in a real estate investment conspiracy that defrauded both lenders and individuals they recruited. Rivernider is Seneca’s brother. As part of the scheme, Rivernider, Ponte, and others recruited victim borrowers to take out financing to purchase various investment properties, primarily in Tennessee and Florida, with financing from victim lenders. Rivernider and Ponte typically represented to borrowers that these properties would be passive investments and that Rivernider and Ponte would be responsible for the details of the purchase, rental, maintenance, and payment of the mortgages on the properties. The co-conspirators made false representations to the victim borrowers that Rivernider and Ponte would arrange for the purchase of the properties by the borrowers at markedly discounted values. In fact, Rivernider and Pont Rivernider, Ponte, Seneca, and others victimized lenders by making multiple false representations in loan applications and other documents provided to the victim lenders. Seneca, a trained mortgage broker, was actively involved in the real estate transactions, including organizing and gathering many of the materials needed by the victim lenders, gathering certain information from the victim borrowers, providing certain comparables based on properties brokered by Rivernider to be used for purportedly independent appraisals, and a range of other background tasks necessary for the lenders to make the loans.

This scheme involved at least 100 properties, and the victim lending institutions suffered more than $21 million in losses.

On February 25, 2013, Seneca pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.

Rivernider and Ponte pleaded guilty to multiple charges stemming from both this scheme and a separate scheme that defrauded investors out of approximately $2.2 million. They are currently serving prison terms of 144 months and 90 months, respectively.

Judge Chatigny ordered Seneca to pay restitution in the amount of $5 million, and the government is seeking an order of full restitution against Rivernider and Ponte.

This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John H. Durham and Christopher W. Schmeisser.

Former U.S. Soldier Who Sought to Join Terrorist Group Convicted and Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison

BALTIMORE, MD—U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Craig Benedict Baxam, age 26, of Laurel, Maryland, to serve seven years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, after Baxam pleaded guilty today to destroying records that might be used in a terrorism investigation.

The guilty plea and sentence were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; John P. Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Craig Baxam traveled to Africa in order to join the terrorist organization al Shabaab,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Mr. Baxam was arrested in Kenya before he reached Somalia.”

“The investigation of Mr. Baxam was a collaborative effort with our law enforcement partners both within the United States and overseas,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt. “The combined efforts of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and other agencies, including the Federal Air Marshal Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, resulted in a successful prosecution which highlights the FBI’s highest investigative priority, the prevention of terrorist acts.”

According to his plea agreement, on December 23, 2011, Baxam was arrested in Kenya by members of the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit as he traveled north to southern Somalia to join al Shabaab, a foreign terrorist organization. On December 27 and 30, 2011, FBI agents interviewed Baxam while he was in custody in Kenya. Baxam told the agents that because of his prior service in the U.S. Army, and specifically his training and experience in military intelligence, he knew of the U.S. government’s capabilities in tracing Internet protocol addresses and other investigative techniques. Consequently, before leaving the U.S., he destroyed his personal home computer and threw the remains in a dumpster. He told the agents that he did not want any record left behind and that he wanted to maintain a low profile. He also said that he purchased a round-trip plane ticket to Kenya rather than a one-way ticket, even though he had no intention of returning to the U.S., in order not to arouse the suspicion of the FBI and U.S. military.

Baxam and the government agreed that if the court accepted the plea agreement, Baxam should be sentenced to seven years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz agreed and imposed that sentence immediately following his acceptance of Baxam’s guilty plea.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI?s Maryland and New York Joint Terrorism Task Forces for their work in the investigation and recognized the Department of Justice Counterterrorism Section and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein also commended the Federal Air Marshal Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police for their assistance in the investigation.

Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Harvey E. Eisenberg, who prosecuted the case with assistance from Trial Attorney Robert J. Sander of the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice.

President Obama Grants Commutations and Pardons


Today President Barack Obama granted clemency to 21 individuals, consisting of eight commutations and 13 pardons.





 





The President granted commutations to the following eight individuals:

  • Clarence Aaron – Mobile, Ala.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine; attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute (Southern District of Alabama)
    Sentence:  Life imprisonment, five years’ supervised release (Dec. 10, 1993)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014 
  • Stephanie Yvette George – Pensacola, Fla.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess cocaine base with intent to distribute (Northern District of Florida)
    Sentence:  Life imprisonment, ten years’ supervised release (May 5, 1997)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014 
  • Ezell Gilbert – Tampa, Fla.
    Offense: Possession with intent to deliver cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Middle District of Florida)
    Sentence:  292 months’ imprisonment, five years’ supervised release (Mar. 25, 1997)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to time already served 
  • Helen R. Alexander Gray – Ty Ty, Ga.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Middle District of Georgia)
    Sentence:  240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Oct. 8, 1996)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014 
  • Jason Hernandez – McKinney, Tex.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute

     
    controlled substances; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute a mixture of methamphetamine and cocaine hydrochloride; distribution of a controlled substance

     
    within 1,000 feet of a protected property; establishing a place for manufacture and distribution of controlled substances (Eastern District of Texas)
    Sentence:  Life imprisonment; eight years’ supervised release; $5,000 fine (Oct. 2, 1998)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to 240 months (20 years) 
  • Ricky Eugene Patterson – Fort Pierce, Fla.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Southern District of Florida)
    Sentence: Life imprisonment, 10 years’ supervised release (Aug. 3, 1995)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014 
  • Billy Ray Wheelock – Belton, Tex.
    Offense: Conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine; possession with intent to distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school; possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine; aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute and distributing more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school (Western District of Texas)
    Sentence: Life imprisonment, 10 years’ supervised release, $3,000 fine (Jun. 9, 1993)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014 
  • Reynolds Allen Wintersmith, Jr. – Rockford, Ill.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute

     
    cocaine base (Northern District of Illinois)
    Sentence: Life imprisonment, five years’ supervised release, $1,000 fine (Nov. 23, 1994)
    Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014 




The President granted pardons to the following thirteen individuals:

  • William Ricardo Alvarez – Marietta, Ga.
    Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin ; conspiracy to import heroin (District of Puerto Rico)
    Sentence:  Time served after service of nine months’ imprisonment, four years’ supervised release (Apr. 30, 1997; amended Jul. 31, 1997) 
  • Charlie Lee Davis, Jr . – Wetumpka, Ala.
    Offense: Possession with intent to distribute and distribution of cocaine base; use of a minor to distribute cocaine base (Middle District of Alabama)
    Sentence: 87 months’ imprisonment, five years’ supervised release (Mar. 21, 1995) 
  • Ronald Eugene Greenwood – Crane, Mo.
    Offense: Conspiracy to violate the Clean water Act  (District of South Dakota)
    Sentence: Three years’ probation, conditioned on six months’ home confinement and 100 hours’ community service, $5,000 restitution, $1,000 fine (Nov. 18, 1996) 
  • Little Joe Hatch , aka Joe Hatch Sr. – Lake Placid, Fla.
    Offense: Possession with intent to distribute marijuana  (Southern District of Florida)
    Sentence: 60 months’ imprisonment, four years’ supervised release (May 15, 1990) 
  • Martin Alan Hatcher . – Foley, Ala.
    Offense: Distribution and possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Southern District of Alabama)
    Sentence: Five years’ probation (Nov. 9, 1992) 
  • Derek James Laliberte – Auburn, Me.
    Offense: Money laundering (District of Maine)
    Sentence:

     
    18 months imprisonment, 2 years’ supervised release (Oct. 2, 1992, as amended May 21, 1993) 
  • Alfred J. Mack - Manassas, Va.
    Offense: Unlawful distribution of heroin  (District of Columbia Superior Court)
    Sentence: 18 to 54 months’ imprisonment (Apr. 5, 1982) 
  • Robert Andrew Schindler – Goshen, Va.
    Offense: Conspiracy to commit wire fraud; conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud (District of Utah)
    Sentence: Three years’ probation conditioned on four months’ home confinement, $10,000 restitution (May 14, 1996) 
  • Willie Shaw, Jr. – Myrtle Beach, S.C.
    Offense: Armed bank robbery (District of South Carolina)
    Sentence: Fifteen years’ imprisonment (Aug. 7, 1974) 
  • Kimberly Lynn Stout , formerly known as Kimberly Lynn Cooley – Bassett, Va.
    Offense: Bank embezzlement; false entries in the books of a lending institution (Western District of Virginia)
    Sentence: One day of imprisonment, three years’ supervised release,

     
    conditioned on five months’ home

     
    detention) (Nov. 9, 1993) 
  • Bernard Anthony Sutton, Jr. – Norfolk, Va.
    Offense: Theft of personal property (Eastern District of Virginia)
    Sentence: Three years’ probation, $825 restitution, $500 fine (Apr. 4, 1989) 
  • Chris DeAnn Switzer , formerly known as Chris DeAnn Rasco

     
    - Omaha, Neb.
    Offense: Conspiracy to violate narcotics laws (methamphetamine) (District of Nebraska)
    Sentence: Four years’ probation, conditioned on six months’ home confinement and 200 hours’ community service (Jun. 25, 1996) 
  • Miles Thomas Wilson - Williamsburg, Ohio.
    Offense: Mail fraud (Southern District of Ohio)
    Sentence: Three years’ probation (Jul. 15, 1981)


 

Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra Associate Sentenced to 96 Months in Prison


Gary Battaglini was sentenced today to serve 96 months in prison for his participation in a racketeering conspiracy involving loan sharking and illegal gambling, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Edward J. Hanko, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division.



Battaglini, 52, of Sewell, N.J., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  In addition to his prison term, Battaglini was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release.



 On Feb. 5, 2013, after a four-month trial, a jury convicted Battaglini of conspiring to conduct and participate in the affairs of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra (LCN) Family through a pattern of racketeering activity.  The evidence at trial proved that, in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy, Battaglini, as an LCN Family “associate,” engaged in loan sharking and illegal sports bookmaking activities on behalf of the mob.  Battaglini exploited the violent reputation of the Philadelphia LCN Family in extending usurious loans and collecting payments on the loans, leaving the borrowers in fear of physical harm if they did not pay promptly. 
 
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney John S. Han of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank A. Labor III and Suzanne B. Ercole of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Valuable prosecutorial assistance was provided by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.



 A total of 12 leaders, members and associates of the Philadelphia LCN Family have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury as part of this case. Six of the defendants, including Battaglini, have been sentenced, and six are awaiting sentencing.



The case is being investigated by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Pennsylvania State Police, New Jersey State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, and U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration.  Additional assistance was provided by the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra Underboss Sentenced to 188 Months in Prison


Joseph Massimino was sentenced today to serve 188 months in prison for his participation in a racketeering conspiracy involving extortion, loan sharking and illegal gambling, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Edward J. Hanko, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division.

Massimino, 63, of Philadelphia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  In addition to his prison term, Massimino was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release.
 
On Feb. 5, 2013, after a four-month trial, a jury convicted Massimino of conspiring to conduct and participate in the affairs of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra Family through a pattern of racketeering activity.  The evidence at trial proved that, in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy, Massimino, as a “made” member and underboss, extorted “street tax” payments from a bookmaker, used threats of violence against debtors to collect loan sharking payments and forced the owners of a vending company to sell the portion of their business related to the operation of illegal video poker machines.  In addition, Massimino ran an illegal electronic gambling device business for the mob, providing video poker machines and other gambling devices for bars, restaurants, convenience stores, coffee shops and other locations in Philadelphia and its suburbs.  In one of these locations, Massimino also operated an illegal sports bookmaking business. 
 
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney John S. Han of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank A. Labor III and Suzanne B. Ercole of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Valuable prosecutorial assistance was provided by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.

The case is being investigated by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Pennsylvania State Police, New Jersey State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration.  Additional assistance was provided by the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Former Preschool Director Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion


The Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that Susan C. Valentine, a resident of Fairfax County, Va., pleaded guilty today to tax evasion.



 



According to documents filed with the court, Valentine was the former director at the Epiphany Weekday School (EWS) in Alexandria, Va. From 2008 through 2010, Valentine received a salary and also took additional funds from EWS for herself and members of her family. Despite earning this income, Valentine did not file income tax returns or pay income taxes for 2008 through 2010.  Moreover, as director, Valentine caused false payroll tax forms to be filed on behalf of ESW with the IRS



 



Sentencing was scheduled by U.S. District Court Judge James Cacheris for Oct. 18, 2013.  Valentine faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment.  She has agreed to pay restitution to the IRS.



 



Kathryn Keneally, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division, commended the efforts of special agents of IRS–Criminal Investigation, who investigated the case, and Tax Division Trial Attorneys Melissa Siskind and Karen E. Kelly, who are prosecuting the case.

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Lubbock Man Sentenced to 210 Months in Federal Prison for Producing Child Pornography

LUBBOCK, TX—Njeazeh Roderigue Ambeabet, 24, of Lubbock, Texas, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings to 210 months in federal prison, to be followed by 20 years of supervised release, following his guilty plea in April 2013 to one count of production of child pornography. Ambeabet has been in custody since his arrest in February 2013. Today’s announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.

According to documents filed in the case, last year, Ambeabet met an 11-year-old girl online and engaged in a texting relationship with her, frequently asking her to engage in sexual relations with him. He admitted that he was well aware of her age and that he received sexually explicit images of her that were taken with her cell phone at his request.

The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative, which was launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice, to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit http://www.justice.gov/psc/. For more information about Internet safety education, please visit http://www.justice.gov/psc/ and click on the tab “Resources.”

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Lubbock Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Sucsy was in charge of the prosecution.

Lawrence County Man Sentenced to More Than 19 Years in Prison for Child Exploitation Crimes

PITTSBURGH—A Lawrence County man has been sentenced in federal court to 235 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, on his conviction of child exploitation crimes, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.

United States District Judge Nora Barry Fischer imposed the sentence on Patrick Joseph Kofalt, 56, formerly of 1157 Moravia Road, Enon Valley, Pennsylvania. According to information presented to the court, on or about December 2, 2009, Kofalt received, possessed, and accessed material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor. Judge Fischer specifically found credible the accounts of vulnerable child victims who reported years of sexual offending by Kofalt and found Kofalt to be a serious threat to children.

Assistant United States Attorney Soo C. Song prosecuted this case on behalf of the government. In connection with the sentencing, Ms. Song presented evidence that disclosures by a 6-year-old child in 2009 prompted the seizure of more than 1,000 images of child pornography that had been carefully encrypted and saved by Kofalt in computer files. Three additional sexual assault victims of Kofalt were eventually identified by law enforcement.

U.S. Attorney Hickton commended the Federal Bureau of Investigation, together with the Pennsylvania State Police, for the investigation leading to the successful prosecution on Kofalt.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Vaughn Watrous on Five Counts of Bank Robbery

PROVIDENCE, RI—A federal grand jury in Providence today returned a five-count indictment charging Vaughn Watrous, 36, formerly of Providence, with five counts of bank robbery, announced United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha, Cranston Police Chief Colonel Marco Palombo, Jr.; Providence Police Chief Colonel Hugh T. Clements, Jr.; and Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston Field Office.

The indictment alleges that between February 6 and February 14, 2013, Watrous robbed a total of five banks in Providence and Cranston. The indictment alleges that Watrous robbed four of the banks on consecutive dates.

Watrous, who will appear for arraignment in U.S. District Court at a date yet to be determined, has been detained at the ACI since his arrest by Cranston Police on February 14, 2013.

If convicted, Watrous faces statutory penalties of up to 20 years in federal prison; three years of supervised release; and a fine of $250,000 for each count of bank robbery.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. McAdams.

The robberies were investigated by Providence Police, Cranston Police and the FBI.

An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Eugene Woman Sentenced to Prison for Selling More Than 5,000 Illegally Obtained Sprint Cellphones Over the Internet

EUGENE, OR—On January 8, 2013, Tamara Diane Brown, 41, of Eugene, Oregon, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Eugene, admitting her involvement in a scheme to sell illegally obtained cellphones through the Internet. Today, she was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victim.

Brown admitted that while working as an employee of The Pape Group Inc. in Eugene, she used her corporate authority to order large quantities of Sprint cellphones, which she then diverted and had delivered to her home and the home of her friend. Brown sold the devices through eBay. The scheme to defraud The Pape Group Inc. and Sprint took place between February 2010 and October 2011. Brown admitted that during the scheme, she improperly ordered 5,107 cellphones and obtained more than $305,000 from selling them. She deposited the ill-gotten gains into her personal bank account and spent the proceeds by making a down payment on a residence and for vehicles, trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas, clothes, and other personal expenses. The Pape Group Inc. and Sprint were unaware of the fraud during the time it was occurring. Brown was terminated once The Pape Group Inc. discovered her scheme.

Chief United States District Judge Ann Aiken presided over the case ordered Brown to serve 21 months in federal prison. After her prison sentence Brown must serve three years of supervised release. Brown was also ordered to forfeit the $305,000 she made from the fraud and pay full restitution to the Pape Group, Inc.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chris Cardani and Amy Potter.