Category: Law Enforcement

Twelve charged in multi-year mortgage fraud scheme


Twelve defendants in Georgia have been charged in a mortgage fraud scheme allegedly spanning more than four years and resulting in the approval of more than 100 mortgages based on fabricated documents and false information. 

Many of the loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) resulting in claims being paid for mortgages that have gone through loan modification.

“These defendants allegedly used their knowledge of the real estate lending process to manipulate the system for their own benefit,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.  “Mortgage fraudsters threaten the soundness of the real estate market in our community.  We will investigate and charge anyone who takes advantage of our mortgage lending system for their own personal gain.”

“These charges represent the government’s commitment toward combating such alleged criminal activity,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We will steadfastly protect American citizens and the real estate market from predators who drag down our economy by deceit to line their own pockets.”

“What we have here is a group of mortgage industry professionals that have allegedly perpetrated a sophisticated mortgage fraud for profit scheme that was designed to enrich themselves at the expense of a federal housing program,” said Wyatt Achord, Special Agent in Charge, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “The efforts that brought forward these charges demonstrate that when law enforcement is made aware of such schemes, we will commit the necessary resources to make sure that fraudsters are brought to justice.”  

“As charged, the defendants engaged in a multiyear scheme to defraud Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG) will investigate and hold accountable those who seek to victimize these Government Sponsored Entities supervised and regulated by FHFA”, said FHFA-OIG Special Agent in-Charge Edwin Bonano.

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: The defendants participated in a scheme in which homebuyers and real estate agents submitted fraudulent loan applications to induce mortgage lenders to fund mortgages. 

Listing agents Eric Hill and Robert Kelske represented a major nationwide homebuilder, and helped more than 100 homebuyers who were looking to buy a home, but who were unqualified to obtain a mortgage, commit fraud.  The agents instructed the homebuyers as to what type of assets they needed to claim to have in the bank, and what type of employment and income they needed to submit in their mortgage applications.

Hill and Kelske then coordinated with multiple document fabricators, including defendants Fawziyyah Connor and Stephanie Hogan, who altered the homebuyers’ bank statements to inflate the their assets and to create bank entries reflecting false direct deposits from an employer selected by the real estate agent.  The document fabricators also generated fake earnings statements that matched the direct deposit entries to make it appear that the homebuyer was employed, and earning income, from a fake employer.  Other participants in the scheme then acted as employment verifiers and responded to phone calls or emails from lenders to falsely verify the homebuyers’ employment.  Defendants Jerod Little, Renee Little, Maurice Lawson, Todd Taylor, Paige McDaniel and Donald Fontenot acted as employment verifiers.  Hill and Kelske coordinated the creation and submission of the false information so that the lies to the lenders were consistent. 

In another aspect of the scheme, real estate agents Anthony Richard and Cephus Chapman falsely claimed to represent homebuyers as their selling agents in order to receive commissions from the home sales. 

In reality, these real estate agents had never even met the homebuyers they claimed to represent. 

To avoid detection, the agents often notified closing attorneys that they would not be available for the home closing, and sent wire instructions for the receipt of their commissions.  When these purported selling agents received their unearned commissions, they kicked back the majority of the commissions to Hill or Kelske for enabling them to be added to the deal, keeping a small share for their role in the scheme.

The following defendants have been charged as part of these conspiracies:

•         Eric Hill, 50, of Tyrone, Georgia (charged by Information)

•         Robert Kelske, 52, of Smyrna, Georgia

•         Fawziyyah Connor, 41, of Tyrone, Georgia

•         Stephanie Hogan, 57, of Norcross, Georgia

•         Jerod Little, 42, of McDonough, Georgia

•         Renee Little, 33, of McDonough, Georgia

•         Maurice Lawson, 36, of Powder Springs, Georgia

•         Todd Taylor, 54, of Fairburn, Georgia

•         Paige McDaniel, 49, of Stockbridge, Georgia

•         Donald Fontenot, 52, of Locust Grove, Georgia (charged by Information)

•         Anthony Richard, 44, of Locust Grove, Georgia

•         Cephus Chapman, 49, of Warner Robins, Georgia

Members of the public are reminded that the indictment and informations only contain charges.  The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Prout is prosecuting the case.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (September 2020)  Twelve charged in multi-year mortgage fraud scheme

U.S. Marshals Find 39 Missing Children in Georgia During ‘Operation Not Forgotten’


Investigators charge individuals for sex offender violations, other related charges

The U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit, in conjunction with the agency’s Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Georgia state and local agencies, led a two-week operation in August in Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, to rescue endangered missing children.

“Operation Not Forgotten” resulted in the rescue of 26 children, the safe location of 13 children and the arrest of nine criminal associates. Additionally, investigators cleared 26 arrest warrants and filed additional charges for alleged crimes related to sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, registered sex offender violations, drugs and weapons possession, and custodial interference. The 26 warrants cleared included 19 arrest warrants for a total of nine individuals arrested, some of whom had multiple warrants.

“The U.S. Marshals Service is fully committed to assisting federal, state, and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children, in addition to their primary fugitive apprehension mission,” said Director of the Marshals Service Donald Washington. “The message to missing children and their families is that we will never stop looking for you.”

These missing children were considered to be some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases in the area, based on indications of high-risk factors such as victimization of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and medical or mental health conditions. Other children were located at the request of law enforcement to ensure their well-being. USMS investigators were able to confirm each child’s location in person and assure their safety and welfare.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 enhanced the U.S. Marshals’ authority to assist federal, state, and local law enforcement with the recovery of missing, endangered or abducted children,
regardless of whether a fugitive or sex offender was involved. The Marshals established a Missing Child Unit to oversee and manage the implementation of its enhanced authority under the act.

In 2019, the USMS helped recover 295 missing children based on requests for assistance from law enforcement and has contributed to the recovery of a missing child in 75 percent of cases received. Additionally, of the missing children recovered, 66 percent were recovered within seven days of the USMS assisting with the case. Since its partnership with NCMEC began in 2005, the agency has recovered more than 1,800 missing children.

“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child,” said Darby Kirby, Chief of the Missing Child Unit. “It’s hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need.”

This initiative was the culmination of several months of planning and coordination between the USMS, NCMEC, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Office of the Attorney General, Georgia Department of Family and Children Services, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

B-roll of “Operation Not Forgotten” can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/d0dmhirspqtht5x/Operation%20Not%20Forgotten%20B-roll.mp4?dl=0

Photos of Operation Not Forgotten (open in Google Chrome):
https://www.flickr.com/gp/usmarshals/F3210D

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at http://www.usmarshals.gov.

Blogs to Follow:

USMarshals.gov (August 2020) U.S. Marshals Find 39 Missing Children in Georgia During ‘Operation Not Forgotten’

Former Army Special Forces Officer Charged in Russian Espionage Conspiracy


Former Green Beret Allegedly Conspired to Provide National Defense Information to Russian Intelligence

A Gainesville, Virginia, man was arrested on Friday for conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with United States national defense information.

According to court documents, from December 1996 to January 2011, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, a former member of the U.S. Army, allegedly conspired with agents of a Russian intelligence service.  During that time, Debbins periodically visited Russia and met with Russian intelligence agents.  In 1997, Debbins was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia.

“Two espionage arrests in the past week — Ma in Hawaii and now Debbins in Virginia — demonstrate that we must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries — Russia and China,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.  “Debbins violated his oath as a U.S. Army officer, betrayed the Special Forces and endangered our country’s national security by revealing classified information to Russian intelligence officers, providing details of his unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy.  Our country put its highest trust in this defendant, and he took that trust and weaponized it against the United States.”

“Our military is tasked with the awesome responsibility of protecting our nation from its adversaries, and its service members make incredible sacrifices in service of that duty,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “When service members collude to provide classified information to our foreign adversaries, they betray the oaths they swore to their country and their fellow service members.  As this indictment reflects, we will be steadfast and dogged in holding such individuals accountable.”

“The facts alleged in this case are a shocking betrayal by a former Army officer of his fellow soldiers and  his country,” said Alan E. Kohler, Jr.,  FBI Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division.  “Debbins is accused of giving Russian intelligence officers sensitive information about the units in which he once served and also providing the names of other service members so Russia could try to recruit them.  These actions cannot stand and the FBI will aggressively pursue such cases.”

“According to the allegations, Mr. Debbins knowingly provided information to self-proclaimed members of Russia’s Intelligence Service, the GRU,” said James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, the American people and his fellow service men and women should have been able to trust Debbins with secrets and information.  Debbins allegedly fell very short of that and exploited his role in the military and his fellow service members to benefit one of our top adversaries for years. Today’s charges are another example of the dedicated and unrelenting efforts of the FBI and our partners, domestic and international, to aggressively pursue and bring to justice those who violate this sacred trust and place our national security at risk.”

Over the course of the conspiracy, Debbins allegedly provided the Russian intelligence agents with information that he obtained as a member of the U.S. Army, including information about his chemical and Special Forces units.  In 2008, after leaving active duty service, Debbins disclosed to the Russian intelligence agents classified information about his previous activities while deployed with the Special Forces.  Debbins also provided the Russian intelligence agents with the names of, and information about, his former Special Forces team members so that the agents could evaluate whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service.

Debbins is charged with conspiring to provide United States national defense information to agents of a foreign government.  If convicted, Debbins faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director of FBI Washington Field Office made the announcement.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas W. Traxler and James L. Trump, and Trial Attorney David Aaron of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

Assistant Attorney General Demers and U.S. Attorney Terwilliger greatly appreciate the assistance of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office, and Army Counterintelligence, along with the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police and MI5.

An indictment is merely an accusation.  The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (August 2020) Former Army Special Forces Officer Charged in Russian Espionage Conspiracy

Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Updates on Operation Legend


At a press conference in Kansas City, Missouri, today, US Attorney General William P. Barr announced updates on Operation Legend.

Since the operation’s launch, there have been more than 1,000 arrests, including defendants who have been charged in state and local courts. Of those arrests, approximately 217 defendants have been charged with federal crimes.

These numbers exclude Indianapolis, whose operation was just announced last Friday. In addition, nearly 400 firearms have been seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Attorney General launched the operation on July 8, 2020, as a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crime.

The initiative is named in honor of four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept early in the morning of June 29 in Kansas City. 

Launched first in Kansas City, MO., on July 8, 2020, the operation was expanded to Chicago and Albuquerque on July 22, 2020, to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee on July 29, 2020, to St. Louis and Memphis on Aug. 6, 2020, and to Indianapolis on Aug. 14, 2020. A breakdown of the federal charges in each district, with the exception of Indianapolis, is below.

Kansas City, MO.

Forty-three defendants have been charged with federal crimes outlined below, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.  In addition to the federal charges, the operation has led to the arrests of 17 state defendants on homicide charges.

  • 20 defendants have been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm;
  • 17 defendants have been charged with drug trafficking;
  • Four defendants have been charged with being a drug user in possession of a firearm;
  • Six defendants have been charged with being in possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking;
  • Four defendants have been charged with being in possession of a firearm in furtherance of violent crime;
  • One defendant has been charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition;
  • Three defendants have been charged with armed robbery;
  • One defendant has been charged with carjacking; and
  • One defendant has been charged with arson.

Chicago, Ill.

Sixty-one defendants have been charged with federal crimes outlined below, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.

  • 34 defendants have been charged with firearms-related offenses;
  • 26 defendants have been charged with narcotics-related offenses;
  • One defendant has been charged with possession of machine gun;
  • One defendant has been charged with illegally dealing firearms without a license;
  • One defendant has been charged with the illegal sale of firearm to prohibited person; and
  • One defendant has been charged with bank fraud.

Albuquerque, NM.

Sixteen defendants have been charged with federal crimes outlined below, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.

  • Six defendants have been charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances;
  • Four defendants have been charged with distribution of controlled substances;
  • Six defendants have been charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance;
  • Four defendants have been charged with being in possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking;
  • Eight defendants have been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm;
  • One defendant has been charged with being in possession of a stolen firearm;
  • Two defendants have been charged with Hobbs Act violations; and
  • One defendant has been charged with carjacking.

Cleveland, OH.

Thirty-two defendants have been charged with federal crimes outlined below, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.  Two defendants remain fugitives.

  • 22 defendants have been charged with federal drug trafficking charges;
  • Nine defendants have been charged with federal firearms violations; and
  • One defendant had been charged with carjacking.

Detroit, MI.

Twenty-two defendants have been charged with federal offenses outlined below, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.

  • 14 defendants have been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm;
  • Two defendants have been charged with possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances;
  • Two defendants have been charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking;
  • Three defendants have been charged with receipt of a firearm while under indictment;
  • Four defendants have been charged with making false statement to a licensed firearm dealer; and
  • Two defendants have been charged with carjacking.

Milwaukee, WI.

Eleven defendants have been charged with federal crimes outlined below, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.  In addition, thus far, 28 firearms have been seized.

  • Eight defendants have been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm;
  • Five defendants have been charged with possession with intent to distribute narcotics;
  • Four defendants have been charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking;
  • Two defendants have been charged with making false statements to a licensed firearm dealer;
  • One defendant has been charged with possession of a firearm while being an unlawful user of narcotics;
  • One defendant has been charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition; and
  • One defendant has been charged with distribution of narcotics.

St. Louis, MO.

Twenty-five defendants have been charged with federal crimes, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.

  • One defendant has been charged with drug trafficking and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime following the USMS’s execution of a state arrest warrant;
  • One defendant has been charged with robbery of an item effecting interstate commerce and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence following an joint ATF, SLMPD-initiated undercover operation targeting a known shooter;
  • One defendant has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm following ATF’s execution of a federal search warrant directed towards the residence of a suspected murderer;
  • 21 defendants have been charged with drug trafficking offenses; and
  • One defendant has been charged with being a drug user in possession of a firearm.

Memphis, Tenn.

Seven defendants have been charged with federal offenses, with some defendants charged with multiple offenses.

  • One defendant has been charged with being an alien in possession of a firearm while illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • One defendant, who lives in Memphis, was charged in an out-of-district federal case with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine;
  • Two defendants have been charged with being unlawful users of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm and making a material false statement when acquiring a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL); and
  • Two cases remain under seal, but the charges are as follows:
    • One defendant has been charged with bank robbery
    • Two defendants charged with theft from an FFL.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (August 2020) Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Updates on Operation Legend at Press Conference in Kansas City, Missouri

Former CIA Officer Arrested and Charged with Espionage


Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, was arrested on Aug. 14, 2020, on a charge that he conspired with a relative of his who also was a former CIA officer to communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

The Criminal Complaint containing the charge was unsealed on Friday.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji M. Price, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Alan E. Kohler Jr., and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office Eli S. Miranda made the announcement.

“The trail of Chinese espionage is long and, sadly, strewn with former American intelligence officers who betrayed their colleagues, their country and its liberal democratic values to support an authoritarian communist regime,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “This betrayal is never worth it.  Whether immediately, or many years after they thought they got away with it, we will find these traitors and we will bring them to justice.  To the Chinese intelligence services, these individuals are expendable.  To us, they are sad but urgent reminders of the need to stay vigilant.”

 “The charges announced today are a sobering reminder to our communities in Hawaii of the constant threat posed by those who seek to jeopardize our nation’s security through acts of espionage,” said U.S. Attorney Price. “Of particular concern are the criminal acts of those who served in our nation’s intelligence community, but then choose to betray their former colleagues and the nation-at large by divulging classified national defense information to China. My office will continue to tenaciously pursue espionage cases.”

“This serious act of espionage is another example in a long string of illicit activities that the​People’s Republic of China is conducting within and against the United States,” said Alan E. Kohler Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.  “This case demonstrates that no matter the length or difficulty of the investigation, the men and women of the FBI will work tirelessly to protect our national security from the threat posed by Chinese intelligence services.  Let it be known that anyone who violates a position of trust to betray the United States will face justice, no matter how many years it takes to bring their crimes to light.”

“These cases are very complicated and take years if not decades to bring to a conclusion,” said Eli Miranda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Division.  “I could not be more proud of the work done by the men and women of the FBI’s Honolulu Division in pursuing this case. Their dedication is a reminder that the FBI will never waiver when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of our nation.”

Ma is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong.

According to court documents, Ma began working for the CIA in 1982, maintained a Top Secret clearance, and signed numerous non-disclosure agreements in which he acknowledged his responsibility and ongoing duty to protect U.S. government secrets during his tenure at CIA.  Ma left the CIA in 1989 and lived and worked in Shanghai, China before arriving in Hawaii in 2001.

According to court documents, Ma and his relative (identified as co-conspirator #1) conspired with each other and multiple PRC intelligence officials to communicate classified national defense information over the course of a decade. 

The scheme began with three days of meetings in Hong Kong in March 2001 during which the two former CIA officers provided information to the foreign intelligence service about the CIA’s personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications. 

Part of the meeting was captured on videotape, including a portion where Ma can be seen receiving and counting $50,000 in cash for the secrets they provided.

The court documents further allege that after Ma moved to Hawaii, he sought employment with the FBI in order to once again gain access to classified U.S. government information which he could in turn provide to his PRC handlers.

In 2004, the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office hired Ma as a contract linguist tasked with reviewing and translating Chinese language documents. 

Over the following six years, Ma regularly copied, photographed and stole documents that displayed U.S. classification markings such as “SECRET.” 

Ma took some of the stolen documents and images with him on his frequent trips to China with the intent to provide them to his handlers.  Ma often returned from China with thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs.

According to court documents, in spring 2019, over the course of two in-person meetings, Ma confirmed his espionage activities to an FBI undercover employee Ma believed was a representative of the PRC intelligence service, and accepted $2,000 in cash from the FBI undercover as “small token” of appreciation for Ma’s assistance to China.  Ma also offered to once again work for the PRC intelligence service. 

On August 12, 2020, during a meeting with an FBI undercover employee before arrest, Ma again accepted money for his past espionage activities, expressed his willingness to continue to help the Chinese government, and stated that he wanted “the motherland” to succeed.

Ma will make his initial appearance before a federal judge tomorrow in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.  He is charged with conspiracy to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government and faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted. 

The maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes.  In the event Ma is convicted, a federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Honolulu and Los Angeles Field Offices. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson and Trial Attorneys Scott Claffee and Steve Marzen of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (August 2020) Former CIA Officer Arrested and Charged with Espionage