Monday, April 30, 2012

Restaurant Owners Sentenced for Immigration, Tax, and Employment Fraud

The husband and wife owners of a Bay Area Mexican restaurant chain were sentenced Tuesday, April 24, on various immigration, Social Security and tax violations uncovered during a probe involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and several other federal agencies.

Marino Sandoval, 59, and Nicole Sandoval, 51, owners of El Balazo Restaurant, appeared in federal court Tuesday, April 24. Marino Sandoval was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Nicole Sandoval was sentenced to five years' probation and 12 months of community confinement. In addition, the two were ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Pleasanton couple pleaded guilty Sept. 7, 2011. In pleading guilty, they admitted owning and operating El Balazo, along with Marino Sandoval's brother, Francisco Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to tax charges in 2010. Marino and Nicole Sandoval acknowledged they were responsible for withholding federal taxes, including employment and unemployment taxes, from their employees' pay. Nicole Sandoval admitted she underreported employees' wages to the payroll company that prepared the restaurants' tax returns. Marino and Nicole Sandoval admitted that, because of their actions, the amount of employment taxes paid to the IRS was understated.

At the hearing, Marino Sandoval also admitted hiring employees who were not authorized to work in the United States. According to his plea agreement, between August 2007 and August 2008, he employed more than 100 illegal aliens. In May 2008, HSI special agents conducted searches at several El Balazo locations and encountered approximately 63 illegal alien workers. After being informed by HSI in writing of the identities of the unauthorized employees, Marino Sandoval rehired more than 10 of them.

Aside from the tax charges, Nicole Sandoval also pleaded guilty to misusing El Balazo employees' Social Security numbers that were provided to the Social Security Administration and the IRS. Between 2002 and 2007, Nicole Sandoval submitted, on behalf of El Balazo, the employer's quarterly contribution and wage reports to the Social Security Administration. The reports included the names of undocumented alien employees receiving wages from their employment. In court, Nicole Sandoval admitted she was aware the Social Security numbers submitted were not the numbers assigned to the employees.

The couple was charged by criminal information in November 2010 with harboring and employing illegal aliens; misusing employees' Social Security numbers; and engaging in tax fraud.

In addition to HSI, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General also participated in the probe. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Corrigan and Thomas Newman with further support provided by Kathleen Turner.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I.C.E. Policy Memo 11061.1: "Facilitating the Return to the United States of Certain Lawfully Removed Aliens"


11061.1: Facilitating the Return to the United States of Certain Lawfully Removed Aliens

Issue Date: February 24, 2012

Effective Date: February 24, 2012

Superseded: N/A

Federal Enterprise Architecture Number: 306-112-002b

1. Purpose/Background: Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended, aliens who petition the circuit courts of appeals for review of their administrative removal orders may continue to litigate their petitions after their removal from the United States. Absent a court-ordered stay of removal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may lawfully remove such aliens while their petitions for review (PFRs) are pending. This Directive describes existing ICE policy for facilitating the return to the United States of certain lawfully removed aliens whose PFRs are granted by a U.S. court of appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. This Directive applies only to supervisors in
Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA). This Directive does not apply to bargaining unit employees.

2. Policy: Absent extraordinary circumstances, if an alien who prevails before the U.S. Supreme Court or a U.S. court of appeals was removed while his or her PFR was pending, ICE will facilitate the alien's return to the United States if either the court's decision restores the alien to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, or the alien's presence is necessary for continued administrative removal proceedings. ICE will regard the returned alien as having reverted to the immigration status he or she held, if any, prior to the entry of the removal order and may detain the alien upon his or her return to the United States. If the presence of an alien who prevails on his or her PFR is not necessary
to resolve the administrative proceedings, ICE will not facilitate the alien's return. However, if, following remand by the court to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), an alien whose PFR was granted and who was not returned to the United States is granted relief by EOIR or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allowing him or her to reside in the United States lawfully, ICE will facilitate the alien's return to the United States.

3. Definitions: The following definitions apply for purposes of this Directive only:
3.1. Facilitate an Alien's Return: To engage in activities which allow a lawfully removed alien to travel to the United States (such as by issuing a Boarding Letter to permit commercial air travel) and, if warranted, parole the alien into the United States upon his or her arrival at a U.S. port of entry. Facilitating an alien's return does not necessarily include funding the alien's travel via commercial carrier to the United States or making flight arrangements for the alien.

3.2. Petition for Review (PFR): A request for a U.S. court of appeals to review a removal order entered by ICE or EOIR under 8 U.S.C. § 1252, INA § 242. The U.S. courts of appeals' PFR decisions are subject to review by the U.S. Supreme Court through a petition for writ of certiorari.

3.3. Restore an alien to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status: To enter a judicial decision which renders non-final an administrative removal order against an LPR. See Matter of Lok, 18 I&N Dec. 101 (BIA 1981) (holding that an LPR retains such status until the entry of a final administrative order of removal), aff'd, 681 F .2d 107 (2d Cir. 1982). Practically speaking this means that, when a PFR is granted that returns a former LPR to the posture of a pre-order alien, the alien will once again, in contemplation of law, be an LPR even though removal proceedings may still be pending before EOIR on remand from the circuit court.

3.4. Stay of Removal: An order issued by EOIR or a federal court which prevents ICE from
executing a removal order.

4. Responsibilities:
4.1. ERO, HSI, and OPLA supervisors must fully coordinate at the local, international, and
Headquarters levels to effectuate this policy.

5. Procedures/Requirements: None.

6. Authorities/References:
6.1. INA § 101 (a)(20), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(20). 

6.2. INA § 212(d)(5), 8 U.S.C. § 1 1 82(d)(5). 

6.3. INA § 242, 8 U.S.C. § 1252. 

6.4. 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 212.5.

6.5. DHS Delegation Number 7030.2, "Delegation of Authority to the Assistant Secretary for
the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement" (November 13,2004). 

6.6. Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between United States Citizenship and Immigration
Services (USCIS). ICE, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), "Coordinating the Concurrent Exercise by USCIS, ICE, and CBP, of the Secretary's Parole Authority Under INA § 212(d)(5)(A) with Respect to Certain Aliens Located Outside of the United States" (September 29, 2008).

6.7. MOA between ICE and CBP, "Significant Public Benefit Parole Protocol for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Law Enforcement Purposes" (September 22, ~005).

6.S. Maller of Lok, 18 I&N Dec. 101 (BfA 1981), ajJ'd, 681 F.2d 107 (2d Cir. 1982).

7. Attachments: None.

S. No Private Right. This Directive is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any administrative, civil, criminal matter.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Social Security Benefits - Divorced Spouse

Social Security Benefits - Divorced Spouse

If you are divorced, your ex-spouse can receive benefits based on your record (even if you have remarried) if:

  • Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer;
  • Your ex-spouse is unmarried;
  • Your ex-spouse is age 62 or older;
  • The benefit that your ex-spouse is entitled to receive based on his or her own work is less than the benefit he or she would receive based on your work; and
  • You are entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

If you have not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, your ex-spouse can receive benefits on your record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

If your divorced spouse remarries, he or she generally cannot collect benefits on your record unless their later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce or annulment).

If your divorced spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on his or her own record we will pay that amount first. But if

  • the benefit on your record is a higher amount, he or she will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount (reduced for age).
  • your divorced spouse has reached full retirement age and is eligible for a spouse's benefit and his or her own retirement benefit, he or she has a choice.

Your divorced spouse can choose to receive only the divorced spouse's benefits now and delay receiving retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

If your former spouse

  • continues to work while receiving benefits, the same earnings limits apply to him or her as apply to you. If he or she is eligible for benefits this year and is also working, you can use our earnings test calculator to see how those earnings would affect those benefit payments.
  • will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government or foreign work, his or her Social Security benefit on your record may be affected.  

The amount of benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you or your current spouse may receive.

How to Identify and Assist a Victim of Human Trafficking

Everyone has the potential to discover a human trafficking situation. While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us at, for example, construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it.

Human Trafficking Indicators

While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

·                                 Living with employer

·                                 Poor living conditions

·                                 Multiple people in cramped space

·                                 Inability to speak to individual alone

·                                 Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed

·                                 Employer is holding identity documents

·                                 Signs of physical abuse

·                                 Submissive or fearful

·                                 Unpaid or paid very little

·                                 Under 18 and in prostitution

Questions to Ask

Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

·                                 Can you leave your job if you want to?

·                                 Can you come and go as you please?

·                                 Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?

·                                 Has your family been threatened?

·                                 Do you live with your employer?

·                                 Where do you sleep and eat?

·                                 Are you in debt to your employer?

·                                 Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?

Where to Get Help

If you believe you have identified someone still in the trafficking situation, alert law enforcement immediately at the numbers provided below. It may be unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim. You have no way of knowing how the trafficker may react and retaliate against the victim and you. If, however, you identify a victim who has escaped the trafficking situation, there are a number of organizations to whom the victim could be referred for help with shelter, medical care, legal assistance, and other critical services. In this case, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center described below.

911 Emergency
For urgent situations, notify local law enforcement immediately by calling 911. You may also want to alert the National Human Trafficking Resource Center described below so that they can ensure response by law enforcement officials knowledgeable about human trafficking.

National Human Trafficking Resource Center
Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a national 24-hour, toll-free, multilingual anti-trafficking hotline. Call 1-888-3737-888 to report a tip; connect with anti-trafficking services in your area; or request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources. The Center is equipped to handle calls from all regions of the United States from a wide range of callers including, but not limited to: potential trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, researchers, students, and policymakers.

U.S. Department of Justice Worker Exploitation Complaint Line
Call the U.S. Department of Justice’s dedicated human trafficking toll-free complaint line at 1-888-428-7581 (weekdays 9 AM - 5 PM EST) to report suspected instances of human trafficking or worker exploitation or contact the FBI field office nearest you .This call is toll-free and offers foreign language translation services in most languages as well as TTY. After business hours, the complaint line has a message service in English, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nine Arrested for Document Conspiracy and Fraud

Nine suspects face federal criminal charges following their arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents during an enforcement action Monday, April 23, targeting three large-scale counterfeit document mills operating in the Central Valley.

The suspects, who made their initial appearance in federal court the morning of Tuesday, April 24, are charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy and fraud, and misuse of visas. Specifically, the defendants were allegedly involved in the production and distribution of counterfeit identification documents. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.

As part of the enforcement action of Monday, April 23, HSI special agents executed search warrants at six residences in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties and at a Fresno One Hour Photo shop that was also linked to the scheme. During those searches, special agents discovered and seized hundreds of fraudulent identities in the process of being manufactured, along with numerous document-making supplies, including printers and laminators. In addition, special agents recovered more than $5,000 in cash from the various search locations.

"Trafficking in counterfeit documents poses a serious security vulnerability and contributes to a host of other types of crimes, including identity theft and financial fraud," said Clark Settles, the special agent in charge who oversees HSI Fresno. "Our goal in these investigations is to identify and ultimately dismantle the criminal organizations behind these highly lucrative schemes."

The defendants charged in connection with the investigation are:

·                             Luis Mirabete-Pena, 23, of Fresno;

·                             Marco Arias-Solis, 40, of Fresno;

·                             Felix Santiago-Matias, 41, of Fresno;

·                             Othoniel Parra-Gallardo, 31, of Tulare;

·                             Eretzander Morales-Lozano, 22, of Tulare;

·                             Benjamin Aparacio-Pablo, 26, of Tulare;

·                             Dalia Reyes-Serapio, 29, of Fresno;

·                             Ubaldo Castillo-Hernandez, 41, of Ontario, Calif.; and

·                             Jenny Thanh Nguyen, 55, of Clovis, Calif., owner of the One Hour Photo.

The arrests and searches are the culmination of a long-term HSI probe focusing on some of the area's most prolific document counterfeiting operations. Based on the investigation, special agents believe the targeted mills, two located in Fresno and one in Tulare, are responsible for producing and distributing more than 100 counterfeit documents a month. Those documents included phony permanent resident alien or "green" cards and Social Security cards.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What is Human Trafficking?

What is Modern Slavery?

Over the past 15 years, “trafficking in persons” and “human trafficking” have been used as umbrella terms for activities involved when someone obtains or holds a person in compelled service.

The United States government considers trafficking in persons to include all of the criminal conduct involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, essentially the conduct involved in reducing or holding someone in compelled service. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as amended (TVPA) and consistent with the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), individuals may be trafficking victims regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitative situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude. Despite a term that seems to connote movement, at the heart of the phenomenon of trafficking in persons are the many forms of enslavement, not the activities involved in international transportation.

Forced Labor

Also known as involuntary servitude, forced labor may result when unscrupulous employers exploit workers made more vulnerable by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or even cultural acceptance of the practice. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well.

Sex Trafficking

When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution – or maintained in prostitution through coercion – that person is a victim of trafficking. All of those involved in recruiting, transporting, harboring, receiving, or obtaining the person for that purpose have committed a trafficking crime. Sex trafficking can also occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale,” which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free.

It is critical to understand that a person’s initial consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative; if an individual is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, that person is a trafficking victim and should receive the benefits outlined in the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol and applicable laws.

Bonded Labor

One form of coercion is the use of a bond, or debt. Often referred to as “bonded labor” or “debt bondage,” the practice has long been prohibited under U.S. law by its Spanish name, peonage, and the Palermo Protocol calls for its criminalization as a form of trafficking in persons. Workers around the world fall victim to debt bondage when traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment. Workers may also inherit intergenerational debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor.

Debt Bondage Among Migrant Laborers

Abuses of contracts and hazardous conditions of employment for migrant laborers do not necessarily constitute human trafficking. However, the burden of illegal costs and debts on these laborers in the source country, often with the support of labor agencies and employers in the destination country, can contribute to a situation of debt bondage. This is often exacerbated when the worker’s status in the country is tied to the employer in the context of employment-based temporary work programs and there is no effective redress for abuse.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

A unique form of forced labor is the involuntary servitude of domestic workers, whose workplace is informal, connected to their off-duty living quarters, and not often shared with other workers. Such an environment, which often socially isolates domestic workers, is conducive to nonconsensual exploitation since authorities cannot inspect private property as easily as formal workplaces. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude. Ongoing international efforts seek to ensure that not only that administrative remedies are enforced but also that criminal penalties are enacted against those who hold others in involuntary domestic servitude.

Forced Child Labor

Most international organizations and national laws recognize that children may legally engage in certain forms of work. There is a growing consensus, however, that the worst forms of child labor should be eradicated. The sale and trafficking of children and their entrapment in bonded and forced labor are among these worst forms of child labor. A child can be a victim of human trafficking regardless of the location of that exploitation. Indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who has the child perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving. Anti-trafficking responses should supplement, not replace, traditional actions against child labor, such as remediation and education. However, when children are enslaved, their abusers should not escape criminal punishment by virtue of longstanding patters of limited responses to child labor practices rather than more effective law enforcement action.

Child Soldiers

Child soldiering can be a manifestation of human trafficking where it involves the unlawful recruitment or use of children—through force, fraud, or coercion—as combatants, or for labor or sexual exploitation by armed forces. Perpetrators may be government forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. Many children are forcibly abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made unlawfully to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with male combatants. Both male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Child Sex Trafficking

According to UNICEF, as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. International covenants and protocols obligate criminalization of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. law and the Palermo Protocol as well as by legislation in countries around the world. There can be no exceptions and no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations preventing the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for minors, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unintended pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and death.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tennessee Man Arrested for License Fraud

A Tennessee man was charged in a federal complaint Thursday, April 19, with accepting bribes in relation to his employment as a Tennessee driver's license examiner. The federal bribery charges follow a five-month, joint investigation undertaken by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Larry Murphy, 54, of Antioch, Tenn., is a supervisory driver's license examiner employed at a licensing facility on Hart Lane in Nashville. Murphy is accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to issue Tennessee driver licenses to applicants who either failed or did not take the written tests required.

"Fraudulent identification documents can be utilized in the full spectrum of criminal activity — everything from illegal employment to plotting acts of terrorism," said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "The successful outcome of this collaborative effort reflects another example of HSI's commitment to work alongside our law enforcement partners to investigate this type of crime to the fullest extent to ensure the safety and security of our nation." Parmer oversees HSI activities in a five-state area which includes Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

"These allegations pose two serious problems facing our nation — public corruption and public safety," said U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin. "Both issues are high priorities of the Department of Justice and we will continue to dedicate the necessary resources to root out corruption and punish those who would jeopardize the safety of our citizens. Our partners at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security are vigilant in enacting and enforcing regulations designed to protect the motoring public on our streets and highways and equally vigilant when it comes to dealing with those who would seek to circumvent its processes."

"Corruption by public officials undermines the public trust and can threaten the overall safety of our community," said Aaron T. Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Memphis Division. "Public corruption is the number one criminal priority of the FBI and we will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those who would seek to line their own pockets and in doing so, jeopardize the safety of the public."

"The state's driver service center employees are on the front lines of homeland security," Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said. "We must not let Tennessee driver's licenses be issued to individuals who are not entitled to them. When we became aware of possible criminal activity involving this individual, we launched an immediate investigation and turned the case over to federal officials. Any action that places driver's licenses in the hands of the wrong people will not be tolerated by this department."

According to the criminal complaint, between January and April 17, 2012, Murphy improperly provided several drivers' licenses to four undercover operatives in exchange for payment, including issuance of commercial driver's licenses, which are required to legally operate large vehicles such as tractor trailers. In one instance, the complaint alleges that Murphy simply fabricated a social security number on one such application when the undercover operative told him that he did not have a social security number. Murphy also manufactured a false medical certification for the commercial license application, which is required to demonstrate that an applicant is physically capable of operating a large vehicle.

If convicted, Murphy faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Charges brought by a criminal complaint are merely accusations. All defendants have the right to a trial, at which the government must bear the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Alien Dies During Border Crossing, Two Human Smugglers Arrested

Two defendants were charged Wednesday, April 18, with smuggling a group of illegal aliens from Houston to Los Angeles that left one of the aliens dead, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The indictment charges Demi Mishel Muniz, 33, and Luis Aceituno, 26, both of Hawthorne, Calif., with one count of conspiring to transport and harbor illegal aliens. Already in custody, they are set to appear for a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Wm. Smith April 24.

According to court documents, Muniz and Aceituno transported a group of smuggled aliens from Houston to Los Angeles in August 2010. Shortly after leaving Houston, the defendants allegedly spoke by cell phone with the wife of one of the aliens to arrange a $650 payment to Muniz's bank account.

During the trip, the alien, who was a diabetic, became sick. Sometime later, Muniz allegedly called the wife back and told her that her husband was having health problems and would be dropped off near Amarillo, Texas. When the wife informed Muniz her husband had diabetes and needed insulin medication, Muniz allegedly stated that she could not help him because she had other people in the van and needed to keep moving. Muniz then advised the alien's wife not to bother sending the money because she was dropping him off short of California, which was their final destination.

The alien's body was later discovered in a ditch at a rest stop outside Vega, Texas. The alien was identified after his son contacted authorities and reported his father's last known whereabouts as outside Amarillo. According to an autopsy report, the alien died from lobar pneumonia, and would have survived if he had received timely medical treatment.

Muniz and Aceituno were arrested in Los Angeles March 21. Since then, the two have remained in custody and were transported to Houston. If convicted, both defendants face up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Searle, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chinese Nationals Charged for Counterfeit, Software Piracy; NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to Copyright Infringement

Two Chinese nationals have been charged in a 46-count superseding indictment for a variety of charges including software piracy and illegally exporting technology to China. Additionally, a Maryland man, and former NASA employee, has pleaded guilty to charges of criminal copyright infringement. Both investigations are being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Xiang Li, 35, and Chun Yan Li, 33, of Chengdu, China, have been charged by a federal grand jury. Xiang Li was arrested by HSI special agents June 7, 2011, in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. Chun Yan Li remains an at-large fugitive in Chengdu.

"Counterfeiting and intellectual property theft are seriously undermining U.S. business and innovation – more than $100 million in lost revenue in this one case alone," said ICE Director John Morton. "Homeland Security Investigations is committed to protecting American industry and U.S. jobs from people like Xiang Li, the leader of this criminal organization who believed he could commit these crimes without being held accountable for his actions. Li thought he was safe from the long arm of U.S. law enforcement, hiding halfway around the world in cyberspace anonymity. He was sorely mistaken. Whether in China or cyberspace, this arrest is proof that HSI and our partners at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center are committed to identifying, infiltrating and disrupting these criminal enterprises wherever they exist."

"These cases demonstrate our vulnerability to foreign acquisition of American technology," said U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III, District of Delaware. "I applaud our law enforcement partners for their exceptional dedication in pursuing this major investigation."

The indictment charges that Xiang Li and Chun Yan Li engaged in a course of criminal conduct relating to the unauthorized access to, reproduction and distribution of copyrighted software between April 2008 and June 2011. This copyrighted software stolen by Xiang Li and Chun Yan Li was produced by more than 150 manufacturers, mostly American.

The charges arise out of the defendants' operation of a website called Crack 99 that sold pirated copies of software in which the access control mechanisms had been "cracked" or circumvented. An international investigation was initiated by HSI after discovering the Crack 99 website, which advertised the sale of pirated software.

During the course of the conspiracy, more than 150 manufactures lost retail value of the pirated software in excess of $100 million.

In particular, the indictment charges that Xiang Li, Chun Yan Li and others conspired and engaged in software cracking. This is considered the willful circumvention of digital license files and access control software created to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted software products.

Xiang Li, Chun Yan Li and others also conspired and engaged in the unauthorized international distribution and reproduction of cracked copyrighted computer software over the Internet.

Commercial software is often designed with security features embedded in the software code for the purpose of preventing the unauthorized access or reproduction of the software. Software in which the access controls have been circumvented – and is sold without authorization of the copyright owner – is considered pirated software. The superseding indictment charges that Xiang Li unlawfully distributed this pirated software over the Internet by selling the copyrighted material on websites;, and

These websites advertised over 2,000 different cracked software products for sale at a fraction of their retail prices. The advertised pirated software, most of which was created and copyrighted by companies based in the United States, is used in numerous applications including: engineering, manufacturing, space exploration, aerospace simulation and design, mathematics, storm water management, explosive simulation and manufacturing plant design. The prices listed for the pirated software on the websites range from $20 to $1,200. The actual retail value of these products ranges from several hundred dollars to over one million dollars.

The indictment charges that between April 2008 and June 2011, Xiang Li distributed over 500 pirated copyrighted works to at least 325 purchasers located in Delaware, at least 27 other states and over 60 foreign countries. More than one-third of these purchases were made by individuals within the United States.

Xiang Li faces up to 20 years in federal prison and an extensive fine – a $500,000 fine or twice the loss from this case – per charge.

Former NASA employee pleads guilty

Cosburn Wedderburn, 38, of Windsor Mill, Md., a former NASA employee, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. This case was investigated by HSI with the assistance of the NASA Office of Inspector General.

According to court documents, Wedderburn was a customer of Xiang Li. He purchased over $1 million of cracked stolen software.

Wedderburn faces up to five years in federal prison and an extensive fine – a $250,000 fine or twice the loss from this case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David L. Hall and Edward J. McAndrew, District of Delaware, are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the U.S. government.

HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center)

As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, HSI plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. HSI focuses not only on keeping counterfeit products off our streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such illicit activity.

HSI manages the IPR Center in Washington. The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bridgeport Attorneys Counsel Family Divided By Deportation, Speak Out Against Federal Program Targeting Illegal Immigrants

M.C. Law Group immigration attorneys Alex Meyerovich and Amy Morilla Miller met recently with the Molina family of Stamford, which has been experiencing firsthand the painful effects of being separated from a loved one by the barriers of immigration law enforcement.

With the introduction of the federal immigration regulation program Secure Communities -- that was recently put into effect statewide in Connecticut -- there may be more families sharing the Molinas' pain.

Secure Communities unites the resources of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local law enforcement in order to more effectively identify, detain, and remove criminal and/or illegal aliens. The program was launched in 2008 and was implemented statewide in Connecticut earlier this year. The program is scheduled to be in effect nationwide by 2013.

Under the Secure Communities program, any set of fingerprints taken by local law enforcement will automatically be sent first to the FBI for a criminal record check, and next to ICE for an immigration status check. If the database checks reveal a match to a criminal record and/or an illegal or "otherwise removable" immigration status, the individual will be immediately detained and subject to deportation proceedings.

According to the program's records, since October 2011 alone, Secure Communities has removed over 110,000 criminal aliens, including 39,500 removals of criminal aliens convicted for aggravated felony abuses such as murder, rape, and child sex abuse.

Despite the program's success in detaining and removing serious criminal alien offenders, it conversely has the ability to remove aliens with no criminal record whatsoever. Attorney Alex Meyerovich, who opposes the program, argues that the ability for local law enforcement to detain illegal immigrants for minor offenses, which can result in their deportation, represents an overzealous and unnecessary extension of ICE's power. Meyerovich and other critics of the program point to this and more potentially negative side effects of the program as major flaws of Secure Communities.

"On the surface, Secure Communities sounds like a very reasonable program. But what it means in reality is that every time an alien comes in contact with the police, they will have an increased fear of deportation," said Meyerovich. "This fear means there will be a decreased incentive to talk to the police, which means crime -- and more specifically, domestic abuse situations and traffic accidents -- is less likely to be reported by immigrant communities."

In addition to underreported crime, Meyerovich argues that the uniform deportation of non-criminal aliens -- often with established lives, businesses, and families in the U.S. -- is another detrimental side effect of Secure Communities, and one that has the potential to rip many families apart.

"It's completely absurd," said Meyerovich. "An alien can live here for years, pay American taxes, work in or start an American business, and have American spouses and children, but with Secure Communities, one encounter with local law enforcement can potentially mean a non-negotiable ticket back home."

The Molina family knows the pain of a family member being deported all too well. Meyerovich and fellow M.C. Law Group attorney Amy Morilla Miller represent the family in their attempts to return Sandra Payes-Chacon -- wife of U.S. citizen Rony Molina, and mother to U.S. citizen children Evelin, 19, Alex, 11, and Ronald, 8 -- to her home in Connecticut.

Payes-Chacon was detained and deported to her native country Guatemala in 2010, and is now barred from entering the U.S. for ten years. All of the family's legal attempts to rectify her situation -- including a request for humanitarian parole sent to the Department of Homeland Security -- have been denied.

In her absence, Rony Molina and his children must continue to endure the heartbreaking reality of being cut off from their wife and mother for ten years. Payes-Chacon herself is suffering from severe depression due to the separation.

"The children really need the presence of their mother," said attorney Morilla Miller of the Molinas' situation. "This family is being divided unnecessarily."

Although Payes-Chacon's deportation did not occur because of Secure Communities, critics caution that as the program continues to expand, cases like the Molina family's will become more frequent. What troubles Morilla Miller about this prospect is the unsympathetic attitude that she increasingly sees towards these unnecessary deportations.

"Some people might want to dismiss what this family is going through, and say that the husband and children should just pick up and move to Guatemala, but that's ridiculous," said Morilla Miller. "Her husband is a U.S. citizen. Her children are U.S. citizens, born and raised here like any American child. Guatemala is not only a foreign country to them, but one with poor employment and educational prospects, limited access to medical resources, and one of the worst crime rates. What American would want to raise their family in an environment like that?"

As Secure Communities gets closer to its goal of nationwide implementation by 2013, debates over immigration reform and the rights of immigrants are sure to intensify. The rights of illegal immigrants is a hotly contested issue among politicians and American citizens alike, with many arguing for stricter immigration regulation and harsher consequences for those who enter the country illegally.

However, Morilla Miller fervently opposes such measures, and sees the current debate over illegal immigration as blatantly ignoring America's storied history of welcoming immigrants.  

"America was founded on the scores of immigrants who came to this country in pursuit of a better life, " Morilla Miller said. "At some point, virtually every American citizen's ancestors were immigrants. So what's the point of fighting for the rights of immigrants to stay in this country? You. If someone had turned away your immigrant ancestors, then you wouldn't be here either."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dominican Republic Native Arrested for Production of Child Pornography

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents arrested a Dominican Republic citizen at his place of residence in San Juan Friday, April 13, for production of child pornography.

The criminal complaint that led to the arrest of Victor M. Rivera-Morales, 41, aka El Domi, alleges he requested a 15-year-old female send him naked photos of herself via text messages. According to the minor, Rivera-Morales harassed her on a daily basis requesting naked photos. In order to stop the harassment, she took pictures of herself and sent them by text to the Rivera-Morales. Thereafter, rather than ceasing the harassment, Rivera-Morales continued requesting more photos.

"The increase in the number of cases involving child pornography and sexual enticement in our jurisdiction is alarming," said Angel Melendez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. "Those involved in this despicable crime should know that HSI will pursue them, and we will not rest until they are brought to justice."

Rivera-Morales' wife discovered the photos on his cell phone and recognized the female in the pictures. She showed the pictures to the minor's mother, who filed a complaint with the Puerto Rico Police Department. Subsequently, the investigation was referred to HSI.

In response to the need for an island-wide approach to fighting the escalation of predatory crimes against children, HSI San Juan partnered with members of local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as local and state government officials and community leaders, to form the Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF) in June 2011.

Through the PRCACTF, federal, local and state law enforcement agencies work together with state and local government agencies to effectively pool their resources to jointly investigate all crimes against children in Puerto Rico. Through the task force, law enforcement agents are encouraged to share evidence, ideas and share investigative and forensic tools to ensure the most successful prosecutions possible. As such, the PRCACTF allows law enforcement to speak with one unified voice in defense of the children of Puerto Rico.

Rivera-Morales faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison per count.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Mexican Mafia" Member Sentenced for Racketeering and Murder

A Texas Mexican Mafia member was sentenced Thursday, April 12, to two consecutive life sentences in federal prison plus 10 years for federal racketeering offenses and a murder in south Texas. This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman, Western District of Texas.

This investigation was jointly conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI, and the Texas Department of Public Safety's Criminal Investigations Division and Texas Rangers, with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Hondo Police Department, Uvalde Police Department, and Uvalde County Sheriff's Office.

U.S. District Judge Alia Moses sentenced Victor Esquivel, 26, aka "Youngster" of Eagle Pass, Texas. According to court documents, in July 2011, a federal jury found Esquivel guilty of several racketeering influenced corrupt organization (RICO)-based charges including one count of conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering and two counts of violent crimes in aid of racketeering.

The RICO offenses were committed in Uvalde, Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas, and the surrounding area. Jose Damian Garza was murdered in Hondo, Texas, July 19, 2008.

Esquivel is the 11th of 12 defendants convicted in this RICO conspiracy to be sentenced. Before this April 12 sentencing, prison sentences handed down had ranged from 84 to 300 months. The remaining defendant, 23-year-old Javier "Javi" Guerrero of Uvalde, Texas, is scheduled to be sentenced later this year by U.S. District Judge Alia Moses in Del Rio.

All 12 defendants conspired to conduct the affairs of the Texas Mexican Mafia through a pattern of racketeering activity, which included murder, solicitation of murder, drug trafficking and extortion. The extortion took the form of coercive collection of a 10 percent drug tax, also known as "the dime," from drug distributors known to the members of the criminal enterprise. This drug tax collection was enforced by robbery, serious bodily injury or other acts of violence, including murder.

The Texas Mexican Mafia was formed in the early 1980s by inmates in the Texas prison system. Over the years, the gang has expanded its efforts to promote widespread criminal activity through extortion, narcotics trafficking and violent crime. Also known as "La Eme" or "Mexikanemi," the organization has been the subject of numerous federal indictments in the Western District of Texas since 1991. This investigation, however, is the first to directly target the gang’s machinery operating along the southern international border with Mexico in the Texas cities of Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Crystal City, Carrizo Springs, Uvalde, Sabinal and Hondo.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Illegal Aliens Sentenced to Prison for Alien Harboring Conspiracy

Two illegal aliens were sentenced to federal prison Thursday, April 12, for conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. This investigation was conducted by the Houston Police Department (HPD) and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Denis Sosa, 20, an illegal alien from Mexico, and Luis Enrique Solorio, 21, an illegal alien from Honduras, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Hittner to 27 and 33 months in federal prison, respectively. Both men are expected to face deportation proceedings after they complete their prison terms. Both had previously pleaded guilty to the charges and to being illegal aliens unlawfully possessing firearms.

On Oct. 24, 2011, HPD officers obtained information regarding possible narcotics trafficking occurring at a residence on Avenue K in Houston. Officers observed Sosa and Ulises Barriga, 21, also an illegal alien from Mexico, exit an upper and lower residence of the structure, enter a vehicle, and leave. Officers attempted to stop the vehicle but the driver, Barriga, accelerated and attempted to flee. He was forced to a stop at a dead end, at which time Barriga and Sosa jumped from the vehicle and continued to flee on foot. They were eventually subdued and arrested.

Officers then entered the residences, and they observed Solorio in the upper residence and numerous smuggled aliens, most wearing only underwear, leap out of the second story windows trying to escape. All were apprehended shortly afterwards.

HSI subsequently interviewed the aliens and determined they were illegally in the United States. A number of the aliens had been transported to the residence in vehicles driven by unknown co-conspirators. Several aliens claimed Solorio told them to call family members to pay smuggling fees; and they saw him carrying a pistol in his waistband. They also claimed Solorio instructed them to take off their clothes to make it more difficult for them to escape. Several aliens also identified Sosa and Barriga as alien smugglers working in concert with Solorio; and they stated Sosa brandished a long gun. Officers recovered a pump action 12-gauge shotgun and a .45-caliber pistol in the residence.

Sosa and Solorio have been in custody where they will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prison facility in the near future. Barriga, who is also in custody, will be sentenced April 19; he faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Davis, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.