Former Janesville Pharmacy Owner Sentenced for Health Care Fraud

Friday, September 1, 2017

Madison, Wis. – Jeffrey M. Anderson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Mark Johnson, 55, Janesville, Wis., was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge James Peterson to 24 months in federal prison for health care fraud.  Johnson will begin serving his sentence in October.

On August 4, 2016, Johnson’s arrest was announced in conjunction with the unsealing of a 46-count indictment returned by the grand jury, charging him with health care fraud, making false statements in a health care fraud audit, and identity theft.

On May 24, 2017, Johnson entered a guilty plea to Count 1 of the indictment. Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, all the charged conduct was considered by the court at sentencing. Johnson defrauded Medicare and Medicaid from approximately January 2008 to March 2014. During this time-period, he was a licensed pharmacist, and the owner and president of Kealey Pharmacy and Home Care, Inc., a pharmacy located in Janesville, Wisconsin. Kealey Pharmacy was a retail pharmacy providing, among other things, prescription drugs to customers. Kealey was reimbursed for these prescriptions in a number of ways, including reimbursement payments under Medicare and Medicaid.

Johnson submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid obtaining reimbursement for medication that was not, in fact, provided to beneficiaries. On occasion, also created false prescription orders using the identities of physicians and then submitted claims for reimbursement for medication pursuant to these false prescription orders. also lied in his responses to an audit being conducted by the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services of paid Medicaid claims in 2013. obtained approximately $740,000 in fraudulent prescription reimbursements during his fraud scheme.

At sentencing, Judge Peterson noted that Johnson’s criminal conduct caused a considerable financial loss to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which are designed to protect the sick and the vulnerable.

The charges against Johnson were the result of a lengthy investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Federal investigators began investigating Johnson after being alerted to the possible fraud by two employees who worked at the pharmacy.

Acting U.S. Attorney Anderson commended the outstanding work of the investigators in the case and praised the two former employees who came forward with concerns about possible fraud. Anderson said, “Johnson’s case is an example of this U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to prosecuting those in the health care profession who abuse the public trust by defrauding the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith P. Duchemin.

Compounding Pharmacy Sales Representative Pleads Guilty to Prescription Fraud Conspiracy

Thursday, August 17, 2017

TUSCALOOSA – A sales representative for a Haleyville, Ala.-based compounding pharmacy pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in a conspiracy to generate prescriptions and defraud health care insurers and prescription drug administrators out of tens of millions of dollars in 2015.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey announced the plea.

BRIDGET McCUNE, 41, of Destin, Fla., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge L. Scott Coogler to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud and to conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks in return for referring prescriptions under Medicare and TRICARE, a U.S. Department of Defense health care program. McCune also pleaded guilty to four counts of health care fraud, and to two counts of money laundering for spending proceeds of the crimes. She remains out on bond pending sentencing, which is not yet scheduled.

McCune worked for Northside Pharmacy, an Alabama company doing business as Global Compounding Pharmacy. Global’s compounding and shipping facility was in Haleyville. The pharmacy did its prescription processing, billing and customer service at its “call center” in Clearwater, Fla.

Global hired sales representatives, including McCune, who were located in various states and were responsible for generating prescriptions from physicians and other prescribers. To bill insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Medicare and TRICARE, for these prescriptions, Global contracted to enter the pharmacy networks of their third-party administrators, known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or “PBMs. These PBMs included Prime Therapeutics, Express Scripts Incorporated and CVS/Caremark.

McCune’s plea agreement with the government describes a conspiracy at Global that centered on generating and billing PBMs for fraudulent, often high-reimbursement prescriptions. To generate prescriptions, Global hired sales representatives who were married or related to doctors and other prescribers. Global also encouraged sales representatives to volunteer at doctors’ offices where they would review patient files and push Global’s products to patients. Global executives also frequently instructed employees to obtain high-reimbursing prescriptions that Global would fill and bill for reimbursement. The plea agreement describes a Global executive instructing sales representatives to obtain certain prescriptions and, shortly after, McCune obtained those prescriptions for herself and her dependents.

When billing, Global engaged in various fraudulent practices, including splitting drug quantities to evade PBM billing safeguards and automatically refilling and billing for prescriptions regardless of patient need, according to court documents. Global routinely waived co-pays to encourage patients to accept unnecessary medications and refills.

As part McCune’s plea, she agrees to forfeit $401,628 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity.

Global paid McCune a base salary plus a monthly commission for prescriptions that she obtained, according to court documents.

McCune began as a sales representative for Global’s Florida region in September 2014, working from Destin. Global promoted her to national field trainer in January 2015, but she also continued to function as a sales representative until she left the company in July 2016. McCune had a “close familial relationship” with a Florida physician, according to her plea agreement, and the “overwhelming majority of prescriptions she obtained” were issued under her family member’s signature.

At the same time that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama charged McCune, it separately charged another Global sales representative, KELLEY NORRIS, also known as KELLEY NORRIS-HARTLEY, 41, of Tuscaloosa. Norris faces the charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud, as well as charges of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent prescription reimbursement claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Norris also entered a plea agreement with the government.

The charges against McCune and Norris followed charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in May against Global sales representative Robin Gary Lowry, 49, of Columbus, Miss. Lowry was charged with conspiracy to defraud BCBS of Alabama and Prime Therapeutics. She also faced three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for payment to BCBS of Alabama.

Lowry pleaded guilty to the charges in June. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7.

FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chinelo Dike-Minor and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting.

Hudson County, New Jersey, Man Sentenced To 63 Months In Prison For Masterminding Fake ID Website And Participating In ‘SIRF’ Scheme

Thursday, July 27, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. – A Jersey City, New Jersey, man was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for his role in two separate conspiracies: one to create and operate a website that sold high-quality, custom-made fake identification documents, some of which were later used to commit financial crimes, and a second to fraudulently obtain tax refund checks, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

Ricardo Rosario, 34, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with authentication features and conspiracy to submit false claims to the U.S. Government. Judge Linares imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From October 2012 through August 2014, Rosario, with the assistance of Abraham Corcino, 34, of Jersey City, and Alexis Scott Carthens, 38, of Newark, sold fake driver’s licenses over the Internet, running a website that was available at “fakeidstore.com” and “fakedlstore.com.” A number of the fake driver’s licenses sold by Rosario and other conspirators were used in connection with “cash out” schemes, where stolen credit card information, usually obtained through hacking or ATM skimming operations, was encoded on to counterfeit credit cards and used to steal cash from victims’ accounts.

Rosario created and ran the website. Corcino and Carthens assisted him by creating and mailing the fake driver’s licenses purchased through the website. Corcino also maintained an Instagram account to promote the website. The website sold fake New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin driver’s licenses, and the website boasted that the licenses had “scannable barcodes” and “real” holographic overlays. The price for each fake driver’s license was approximately $150, but the website offered bulk pricing for orders of 10 or more.

The website allowed its users to pay by bitcoin, a cryptographic-based digital currency, or MoneyPak, a type of prepaid payment card that could be purchased at retail stores. The “FAQ” section of the website indicated that orders would be received approximately one to two days after payment was received and described the website’s policy with respect to returns: “No Refunds. No snitching.”

In the Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) conspiracy, Rosario assisted Carthens, who obtained stolen personally identifiable information (PII) primarily in the form of lab testing request forms that he purchased from another individual. Rosario provided Carthens with email accounts and drop addresses used in furtherance of the scheme. The email accounts were used to register accounts for online tax filing services and prepaid card accounts used to apply for and receive the tax refunds. The drop addresses were used to physically receive the refunds in the form of prepaid debit cards.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Linares sentenced Rosario to three years of supervised release and ordered forfeiture of $232,660 and restitution of $121,922.

Corcino was sentenced on April 17, 2017, to three years of probation. Carthens pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme on April 25, 2016, and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28, 2017.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark, inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge James V. Buthorn, and special agents of IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Intrater of the Economic Crimes Unit and Barbara Ward, Acting Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit in Newark.

Defense counsel: Brian Neary Esq., Hackensack, New Jersey

District of Columbia Woman Sentenced to 63 Months in Prison For Her Role in Scheme That Used Stolen Identities To Fraudulently Seek Tax Refunds

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wide-Ranging Operation Filed Over 12,000 Fraudulent Tax Returns Seeking More Than $42 Million

WASHINGTON – A District of Columbia woman was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for her involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in income tax refunds, announced U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips; Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division; Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Lappin of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington D.C. Field Office; Inspector in Charge Robert B. Wemyss of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Washington Division, and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John L. Phillips of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Tarkara Cooper, 34, was convicted by a jury on Feb. 17, 2017, for conspiring to commit theft of government funds and defraud the United States and theft of public money. Two of her co-defendants, Tony Bryant, 55, and his son, Brian Bryant, 29, both of Clinton, Md., were also convicted at trial and are awaiting sentencing.

Cooper was part of a massive sophisticated stolen identity refund fraud scheme that involved a network of more than 130 people, many of whom were receiving public assistance. Conspirators fraudulently claimed refunds for tax years 2005 through 2012, often in the names of people whose identities had been stolen, including the elderly, people in assisted living facilities, drug addicts and incarcerated prisoners. Returns were also filed in the names of, and refunds were issued to, willing participants in the scheme. The returns filed listed more than 400 “taxpayer” addresses located in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. According to court documents, the overall case involved the filing of at least 12,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns that sought at least $42 million in refunds.

Conspirators played various roles in the scheme: stealing identifying information; allowing their personal identifying information to be used; creating and mailing fraudulent federal tax returns; allowing their addresses to be used for receipt of the refund checks; cashing the refund checks; providing bank accounts into which the refund checks were deposited and forging endorsements of identity theft victims on the refund checks. The false returns typically reported inflated or fictitious income from a sole proprietorship and claimed phony dependents to generate an Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit for working families with low to moderate incomes. To date, approximately two dozen participants in this scheme have pleaded guilty.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from approximately April 2010 through June 2012, Cooper and the Bryants participated in claiming $4,959,310 in fraudulent refunds, of which the IRS paid out approximately $2,285,717. Cooper agreed to allow her residence to be used for the delivery of tax refund checks, and was paid by a co-conspirator when she provided the tax refund checks to him. The Bryants deposited refund checks fraudulently obtained by others into accounts that they controlled.

In addition to the term of prison imposed, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ordered Cooper to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $1,926,958 in restitution to the IRS. She also ordered a forfeiture money judgment of $16,750.

U.S. Attorney Phillips, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg, Special Agent in Charge Lappin, Inspector in Charge Wemyss, and Assistant Inspector General Phillips commended the special agents who conducted the investigation and acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein; Assistant U.S. Attorney Chrisellen Kolb; Paralegal Specialists Jessica Mundi, Aisha Keys, and Donna Galindo; former Paralegal Specialist Julie Dailey; Litigation Technology Specialist Ron Royal; Investigative Analysts William Hamann and Zachary McMenamin, and Victim/Witness Advocate Tonya Jones. They also expressed appreciation for the work of Trial Attorneys Jeffrey B. Bender, Thomas F. Koelbl, and Jessica Moran of the Tax Division, who worked on the case.

Finally, they commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ellen Chubin Epstein and Michelle Bradford of the District of Columbia’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section and Trial Attorney Kimberly G. Ang of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Lucas, who assisted with forfeiture issues.

Additional information about the Tax Division’s enforcement efforts can be found on the division’s website.

U.S. Attorney Charges NW Alabama Compounding Pharmacy Sales Representatives in Prescription Fraud Conspiracy

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BIRMINGHAM – The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday charged two sales representatives for a Haleyville, Ala.,-based compounding pharmacy for participating in a conspiracy to generate prescriptions and defraud health care insurers and prescription drug administrators out of tens of millions of dollars in 2015.

Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey, FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge David W. Archey, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge, Houston Division, Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey announced the charges as part of a nationwide Department of Justice Health Care Fraud Takedown.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., earlier today announced the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving about $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, more than 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s nationwide arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

In the Northern District of Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed separate informations charging KELLEY NORRIS, also known as KELLEY NORRIS-HARTLEY, 41, of Tuscaloosa, and BRIDGET McCUNE, 41, of Destin, Fla., with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud. McCune’s information also charges her with conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks in return for referring prescriptions under Medicare and TRICARE, a U.S. Department of Defense health care program, and with money laundering for spending proceeds of the crimes. Both women face various counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent prescription reimbursement claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

In conjunction with the charges, prosecutors also filed plea agreements with Norris and McCune.

“In this case, a pharmacy used a marketing scheme that increased sales of expensive medications without regard for patient need or medical necessity,” Posey said. “Schemes like this defraud Medicare and other health insurance systems by pushing unnecessary medications and driving up the costs of health care.”

Norris and McCune both worked for Northside Pharmacy, an Alabama company doing business as Global Compounding Pharmacy. Global’s compounding and shipping facility was in Haleyville. The pharmacy did its prescription processing, billing and customer service at its “call center” in Clearwater, Fla.

Global hired sales representatives, including Norris and McCune, who were located in various states and were responsible for generating prescriptions from physicians and other prescribers. To bill insurance providers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Medicare and TRICARE, for these prescriptions, Global contracted to enter the pharmacy networks of their third-party administrators, known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or “PBMs. These PBMs included Prime Therapeutics, Express Scripts Incorporated and CVS/Caremark.

The court documents describe a conspiracy at Global that centered on generating and billing PBMs for fraudulent, often high-reimbursement prescriptions. To generate prescriptions, Global hired sales representatives who were married or related to doctors and other prescribers. Global also encouraged sales representatives to volunteer at doctors’ offices where they would review patient files and push Global’s products to patients. Global executives also frequently instructed employees to obtain high-reimbursing prescriptions that Global would fill and bill for reimbursement. Each of the plea agreements describes a Global executive instructing sales representatives to obtain certain prescriptions and, shortly after, Norris and McCune obtained those prescriptions for themselves and their dependents.

When billing, Global engaged in various fraudulent practices, including splitting drug quantities to evade PBM billing safeguards and automatically refilling and billing for prescriptions regardless of patient need. Global routinely waived co-pays to encourage patients to accept unnecessary medications and refills.

As part of their plea agreements, Norris and McCune agree to forfeit money to the government as proceeds of illegal activity. Norris agrees to forfeit $287,698 and McCune $401,628.

Global paid the defendants a base salary plus a monthly commission for prescriptions that they obtained, according to court documents.

Norris worked out of Tuscaloosa as a sales representative for Global’s Alabama region from August 2014 to July 2016. She was closely related to an Alabama physician. That relative and a second physician, described in her plea agreement as a family friend, wrote a significant number of the prescriptions Norris obtained for Global to fill.

McCune began as a sales representative for Global’s Florida region in September 2014, working from Destin. Global promoted her to national field trainer in January 2015, but she also continued to function as a sales representative until she left the company in July 2016. McCune had a “close familial relationship” with a Florida physician, according to her plea agreement. “The overwhelming majority of prescriptions she obtained” were issued under her family member’s signature, her plea agreement states.

The charges against Norris and McCune follow charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in May against Global sales representative Robin Gary Lowry, 49, of Columbus, Miss. Lowry was charged with conspiracy to defraud BCBS of Alabama and Prime Therapeutics. She also faced three counts of health care fraud for submitting fraudulent claims for payment to BCBS of Alabama.

Lowry pleaded guilty to the charges in June. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7.

FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chinelo Dike-Minor and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting.

Houston Man Faces Twenty Years in Prison for His Role in $6.5 Million Diamond Fraud Scheme

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

DALLAS — A Houston man, Christopher Arnold Jiongo, appeared this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D Stickney and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Jiongo, 55, faces a maximum statutory penalty of twenty years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He will remain on bond pending sentencing, which is set for September 11, 2017, before U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey. Co-defendants Craig Allen Otteson, 64, of McKinney and Jay Bruce Heimburger, 58, of Dallas, are scheduled for trial July 17, 2017.

According to plea documents filed in the case, Otteson acted as the Managing Member and Chief Compliance Officer of Stonebridge Advisors, LLC, located on Belt Line road in Dallas. Stonebridge Advisors was involved as the Managing Partner of Worldwide Diamond Ventures, L.P., located at 6029 Belt Line in Dallas, and it acted as the General Partner of Worldwide Diamond. Heimburger acted as a Principal Partner of Worldwide Diamond, and he was also listed as the registered agent and Director of JBH Securities, Inc. located on San Rafael in Dallas. JBH Securities was primarily involved in the business of providing investment advice. Worldwide Diamond was primarily involved in the business of buying and reselling diamonds on the international market. On October 1, 2013, Worldwide Diamond filed for bankruptcy in the Northern District of Texas.

During the summer of 2011 through November 2011, Jiongo drafted $50,000 diamond notes which were later used as investment vehicles to generate investment funds. Jiongo, Otteson and Heimburger represented that all investment funds would be used to buy and resell diamonds and that every dollar invested would always be fully secured by the cash and diamond inventory of Worldwide Diamond. Sometime in the summer of 2011, Jiongo, Otteson and Heimburger realized that the original business plan was not working out as planned and that the defendants therefore could not honor the original promises and representations made to investors. Jiongo, Otteson, and Heimburger then engaged in a scheme to defraud investors by fraudulently concealing from investors that investor funds were being used for unauthorized purposes unrelated to the purchase and resale of diamonds. These unauthorized purposes included making several loans totaling approximately $2.4 million to third parties and to Global Reach Industries Limited for purposes not disclosed to or authorized by the investors. Jiongo, Otteson and Heimburger also fraudulently concealed from Worldwide Diamond investors that defendants planned to make an unauthorized $1 million loan of investor funds to Global Reach Industries Limited, a company established and controlled by defendant Jiongo.

During July 2011, Jiongo, Otteson and Heimburger all agreed to fraudulently wire transfer $400,000 of investor funds into several bank accounts designated by Jiongo. In August 2011, all three defendants agreed that defendant Jiongo would cause another $600,000 of investor funds to be wire transferred directly into a trust account controlled by Jiongo.

As a result of this scheme to defraud during the period from about 2011 through 2012, documents reflect that millions of dollars were fraudulently collected from Worldwide Diamond investors.

This case is one of several felony prosecutions of bankruptcy-related crimes generated by the Bankruptcy Fraud Initiative in the Northern District of Texas. Of the 26 defendants charged as part of that initiative – 17 have been convicted, 1 resulted in a mistrial and 8 are pending trial.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jarvis is in charge of the prosecution.

$80 Million Judgment Entered Against BNP Paribas for False Claims to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Department of Justice announced today that an $80 million False Claims Act judgment was entered against BNP Paribas for submitting false claims for payment guarantees issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  BNP Paribas is a global financial institution headquartered in Paris.

“We will not tolerate the misuse of taxpayer funded programs designed to help American businesses,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery.  “Companies that abuse these programs will be held accountable.”

The United States filed a lawsuit against BNP Paribas in connection with its receipt of payment guarantees under USDA’s Supplier Credit Guarantee (SCG) Program.  The program provided payment guarantees to U.S.-based exporters for their sales of grain and other agricultural commodities to importers in foreign countries.  The program encouraged American exporters to sell American agricultural commodities to foreign importers and covered part of the losses if the foreign importers failed to pay.  The SCG Program regulations provided that U.S. exporters were ineligible to participate in the SCG Program if the exporter and foreign importer were under common ownership or control.

The judgment entered by the court resolves the government’s allegations that, from 1998 to 2005, BNP Paribas participated in a sustained scheme to defraud the SCG Program.  In furtherance of the scheme, American exporters and Mexican importers who were under common control improperly obtained SCG Program export credit guarantees for transactions between the affiliated exporters and importers.  In some cases, the underlying transactions were shams and did not involve any real shipment of grain.  BNP Paribas accepted assignment of the credit guarantees from the American exporters, even though it knew that the affiliated exporters and importers were ineligible for SCG Program financing, and a BNP Paribas vice-president, Jerry Cruz, received bribes from the exporters.  Beginning in April 2005, when the Mexican importers began defaulting on their payment obligations, BNP Paribas submitted claims to the USDA for the resulting losses.

On Jan. 20, 2012, Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

“I would like to thank the Department of Justice and the USDA General Counsel’s office for their collaboration in recovering $80 million under this judgment,” said Administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service Phil Karsting.  “This illustrates the importance USDA and this administration places on protecting the integrity of our programs.”

The resolution of this matter was the result of a coordinated effort among the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the USDA, the USDA Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.

The lawsuit is captioned United States v. BNP Paribas SA, et al., No. 4:11 cv 3718 (S.D. Tex.).

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19 Arrested in International Round Up on Federal Fraud Charges

Fifteen individuals were arrested today in South Africa, Canada, California, Wisconsin and Indiana, pursuant to an eight-count federal indictment on fraud charges filed in the Southern District of Mississippi.  A total of 19 individuals were arrested across the United States and internationally on charges brought by federal prosecutors in Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis for the Southern District of Mississippi, Raymond Parmer Jr., Special Agent in Charge of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New Orleans and Robert Wemyss, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge made the announcement.
Another individual was arrested today in New York on a related Southern District of Mississippi complaint.    Three defendants in South Carolina were arrested in Charleston, pursuant to a nine-count indictment, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has filed related criminal complaints in Atlanta against two additional defendants.    All of the indictments and complaints were unsealed yesterday.
The indictments allege the involvement of a West African transnational organized crime enterprise engaged in numerous complex financial fraud schemes over the internet.    This mass marketing fraud includes romance scams, re-shipping scams, fraudulent check scams and work-at-home scams, along with bank, financial and credit card account take-overs.
The investigation was initiated in October 2011, by HSI agents in Gulfport, Mississippi, after U.S. law enforcement officers were contacted by a female victim who was the victim of a sweetheart scam.    The victim received a package in the mail requesting that she reship the merchandise to an address in Pretoria, South Africa.  The investigation later revealed that the merchandise was purchased using stolen personal identity information and fraudulent credit card information of persons in the United States.  Investigators have identified hundreds of victims of this scam in the United States, resulting in the loss of millions of U.S. dollars.
Today’s arrests were the result of an investigation led by the HSI Gulfport office in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, South African Police Service, Toronto Police, HSI Cyber Crimes Center, Treasury Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture, HSI Ontario, HSI Charleston, Interpol South Africa, HSI Pretoria and HSI Atlanta.
The Department of Justice Office of International Affairs assisted in the provisional arrests of ten defendants in Pretoria, South Africa.    Another defendant was arrested in Toronto, Canada, and the remaining defendants were arrested in the United States.
The case in Mississippi will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annette Williams and Scott Gilbert, and will be scheduled for trial after extradition of the defendants to Mississippi.    The South Carolina prosecution will be handled by Department of Justice Organized Crime and Gang Section trial attorneys Leshia Lee-Dixon and Robert Tully.    The Georgia cases will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Shanya J. Dingle of the Northern District of Georgia.
An indictment is a formal charge against a defendant.    Under the law, an indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Ocean Shipping Companies to Pay $3.4 Million to Settle Claims of Price Fixing Government Cargo Transportation Contracts

Sea Star Line LLC and Horizon Lines LLC have agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by fixing the price of government cargo transportation contracts between the continental United States and Puerto Rico, the Department of Justice announced today.   Under the settlement agreements, Sea Star Line has agreed to pay $1.9 million, and Horizon Lines has agreed to pay $1.5 million.

“Today’s civil settlements demonstrate our continuing vigilance to ensure that those doing business with the government do not engage in anticompetitive conduct,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery.   “Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of taxpayers will face serious consequences.”

The government alleged that former executives of the defendant ocean shippers used personal email accounts to communicate confidential bidding information, thereby enabling each of the shippers to know the transportation rates that its competitor intended to submit to federal agencies for specific routes.   This information allowed the shippers to allocate specific routes between themselves at predetermined rates.   Among the contracts affected were U.S. Postal Service contracts to transport mail and Department of Agriculture contracts to ship food.   Both Sea Star Line and Horizon Lines previously pleaded guilty, in related criminal proceedings, to anticompetitive conduct in violation of the Sherman Act.

“Postal Service contractors must understand and know that actions that undermine the contracting process, such as conspiring to suppress and eliminate competition, will not be tolerated and will be aggressively investigated,” said Tom Frost, Special Agent in Charge of the Major Fraud Investigations Division (MFID) with the Postal Service Office of Inspector General.   “MFID will continue to work with DOJ, both criminally and civilly, to bring those individuals and companies to justice.”

The civil settlements resolve allegations in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Jacksonville, Fla., by former Sea Star Line executive William B. Stallings.   The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.   The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case.   Stallings will receive $512,719 of the recovered funds.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Stallings v. Sea Star Line LLC, et al., Case No. 3:13-cv-152-J-12JBT (M.D. Fla.).   The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only, except to the extent the conduct was admitted as part of the defendants’ prior guilty pleas, and there has been no determination of liability.

Attorney Convicted in Multimillion-Dollar Stock Fraud

Attorney Mitchell J. Stein, 53, of Hidden Hills, Calif., was convicted by a jury in the Southern District of Florida for his role in operating a five-year, multimillion-dollar market manipulation and fraud scheme, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Stein was charged in a December 2011 indictment and on May 20, 2013, he was convicted on all counts: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and three counts each of mail fraud and wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; three counts of securities fraud, which each carry a maximum penalty of 25 years; three counts of money laundering, which each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years; and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Stein is being detained until sentencing, which is scheduled for Aug. 16, 2013.

According to evidence presented at trial, Stein’s wife held a controlling interest in Signalife Inc., a publicly-traded company currently known as Heart Tronics that purportedly sold electronic heart monitoring devices.  Stein engaged in a scheme to artificially inflate the price of Signalife stock by creating the false impression of sales activity for Signalife.  Specifically, the evidence at trial showed that Stein and his co-conspirators created fake purchase orders and related documents from fictitious customers, then caused Signalife to issue press releases and file documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) trumpeting these fictitious sales.  Evidence at trial also proved that in a further effort to create the false appearance of sales activity, Stein arranged to have Signalife products shipped to and temporarily stored with an individual who had not purchased any products.

Evidence at trial further proved that Stein disguised his selling of stock during the conspiracy by placing shares in purportedly blind trusts, and that he had a co-conspirator sell shares of Signalife stock after Stein caused false information to be disseminated to the public.  Stein also caused Signalife to issue shares to third parties so that those third parties could sell the shares and remit the proceeds of those sales to Stein.  From one co-conspirator alone, Stein received illicit gains of over $1.8 million.     In addition, evidence at trial proved that Stein conspired to obstruct the SEC’s investigation into Heart Tronics by testifying falsely and arranging for others to testify falsely in an effort to conceal the scheme described above.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

This matter was referred to the Department by the SEC, which conducted a parallel investigation and in December 2011 announced the filing of a civil enforcement action against Stein and others.  The Department thanks the SEC for its substantial assistance in this matter.  The Department also acknowledges the substantial assistance of FINRA’s Criminal Prosecution Assistance Group.     This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Albert B. Stieglitz, Jr. and Trial Attorneys Kevin B. Muhlendorf and Andrew H. Warren of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.