“Mexico frees drug lord Caro Quintero after 28 years in prison for killing of U.S. agent”

August 12, 2013

The Washington Post on August 9, 2013 released the following:

“By Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero walked free Friday after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, a brutal murder that marked a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it was extremely disappointed by the release of the man convicted in the killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, calling it “deeply troubling.”

Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said in a statement that he was “worried” about the court’s decision, adding that his office is analyzing whether there are any charges pending against Caro Quintero.

Caro Quintero, 60, was a founding member of one of Mexico’s earliest and biggest drug cartels. The court ruled Wednesday that he had been improperly tried in a federal court for a crime that should have been treated as a state offense. Prison officials were notified of the ruling on Thursday, and an official at the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said the drug lord left prison before dawn on Friday. The official was not authorized to speak on the record.

News media were not alerted until hours after the release, and U.S. authorities apparently received no prior notification.

“The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration learned today that early this morning Rafael Caro Quintero was released from prison,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

The DEA, meanwhile, said it “will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro-Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed. “

Caro Quintero still faces charges in the United States, but Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said it was unclear whether there was a current extradition request.

Apparently, the U.S. had requested his extradition for the Camarena killing — something Caro Quintero can’t be tried twice for — but may not have filed extradition requests for pending U.S. drug charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it “has continued to make clear to Mexican authorities the continued interest of the United States in securing Caro Quintero’s extradition so that he might face justice in the United States. “

Caro Quintero helped establish a powerful cartel based in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa that later split into some of Mexico’s largest cartels, including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.

He is still listed as one of the DEA’s five top international fugitives, and U.S. authorities believe he continued to control the laundering of drug money from behind bars.

“Caro Quintero continues to launder the proceeds from narcotics trafficking and he maintains an alliance with drug trafficking organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel, most notably with Esparragoza Moreno’s network,” said Treasury Department spokesman John Sullivan, referring to Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, also known as “El Azul,” or “Blue” because of the dark color of his skin, who is allegedly a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

In June, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against 18 people and 15 companies that allegedly moved money for Caro Quintero.

“Caro Quintero has used a network of family members and front persons to invest his fortune into ostensibly legitimate companies and real estate projects in the city of Guadalajara” said Adam Szubin, Director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Caro Quintero has spent almost his entire sentence at a prison on the outskirts of that city, Mexico’s second-largest city.

Mexico’s relations with Washington were badly damaged when Caro Quintero ordered Camarena kidnapped, tortured and killed, purportedly because he was angry about a raid on a 220-acre (89-hectare) marijuana plantation in central Mexico named “Rancho Bufalo” — Buffalo Ranch — that was seized by Mexican authorities at Camarena’s insistence.

Camarena was kidnapped on Feb. 7, 1985, in Guadalajara, a major drug trafficking center. His body and that of his Mexican pilot, both showing signs of torture, were found a month later, buried in shallow graves.

American officials accused their Mexican counterparts of letting Camarena’s killers get away. Caro Quintero was eventually hunted down in Costa Rica.

At one point, U.S. Customs agents almost blocked the U.S. border with Mexico, slowing incoming traffic to a standstill while conducting searches of all Mexicans trying to enter the United States.

Camarena’s fellow DEA agents considered him a hero in the war against drug trafficking and the El Paso Intelligence Center, where U.S. federal agencies collect information about Mexican drug barons, is dedicated to him.

Times have changed since the low point, and cooperation has strengthened, but Caro Quintero’s release Friday reopened old wounds.

Edward Heath, the former DEA regional director for Mexico at the time of the Camarena killing who was present during the identification of the agent’s body from dental records, said the release reflected a broader lack of cooperation with the U.S. from the new Mexican government, a contrast to the policy of former President Felipe Calderon.

“You had a president that was working very close with our government in a quiet way. These people come in and so, boom, the curtain comes down,” said Heath, now a private security consultant. “It means a disrespect for our government.”

He said he was skeptical of the explanation that there was a justifiable legal rationale for Caro Quintero’s release.

“There’s some collusion going on,” he said. “This guy is a major trafficker. This guy is bad, a mean son of a gun.”

Caro Quintero is said to have pioneered links between Colombian cocaine cartels and the Mexican smugglers who transport their drugs into the United States.

The ruling left many wondering why it took so many years for judges to determine Caro Quintero was tried in the wrong court.

“They were always ‘political’ prisoners serving sentences for as long as the U.S. kept up the pressure,” said a former DEA official who once worked in Mexico. He is not authorized to talk about the case because he still does work in Mexico.

“The bribe money to get them out was always there. Mexican ‘justice’ is always built on very weak foundations. And they seem to like it that way. Sad,” he added.

Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said the ruling may portend more such procedural rulings following the January freeing of French citizen Florence Cassez, who was convicted in Mexico for being part of a kidnapping ring.

The Frenchwoman served seven years of a 60-year sentence before Mexico’s Supreme Court voted 3-2 to release her in January because of procedural and rights violations during her arrest, including police staging a recreation of her capture for the media.

“What appears to be coming is an avalanche of judicial appeals, with the drug traffickers hiring very good, very expensive lawyers, arguing there were violations of due process,” said Benitez. “The government is going to have problems.”

Mexican courts and prosecutors have long tolerated illicit evidence such as forced confessions and have frequently based cases on questionable testimony or hearsay. Such practices have been banned by recent judicial reforms, but past cases — including those against high-level drug traffickers — are often rife with such legal violations.

“The government has to be prepared to keep an eye on judges so that they don’t fall into the easy argument of due process,” Benitez said, “because there may also be judges who are receiving money” to accept such arguments.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


“Edward Snowden Charged With Espionage Over NSA Leaks”

June 22, 2013

The Huffington Post on June 21, 2013 released the following:

Reuters

“By Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON, June 21 (Reuters) – The United States has filed espionage charges against Edward Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who admitted revealing secret surveillance programs to media outlets, according to a court document made public on Friday.

Snowden, who is believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong, was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person, said the criminal complaint, which was dated June 14.

The latter two offenses fall under the U.S. Espionage Act and carry penalties of fines and up to 10 years in prison.

A single page of the complaint was unsealed on Friday. An accompanying affidavit remained under seal.

The charges are the government’s first step in what could be a long legal battle to return Snowden from Hong Kong and try him in a U.S. court.

Two U.S. sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was preparing to seek Snowden’s extradition from Hong Kong, which is part of China but has wide-ranging autonomy, including an independent judiciary.

The Washington Post, which first reported the criminal complaint earlier on Friday, said the United States had asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant.

There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Hong Kong’s security bureau.

Snowden earlier this month admitted leaking secrets about classified U.S. surveillance programs, creating a public uproar. Supporters say he is a whistleblower, while critics call him a criminal and perhaps even a traitor.

He disclosed documents detailing U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance efforts to the Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The criminal complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is located.

That judicial district has seen a number of high-profile prosecutions, including the spy case against former FBI agent Robert Hanssen and the case of al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui. Both were convicted.

‘ACTIVE EXTRADITION RELATIONSHIP’

Documents leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of Internet data such as emails, chat rooms and video from large companies such as Facebook and Google, under a government program known as Prism.

They also showed that the government had worked through the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to gather so-called metadata – such as the time, duration and telephone numbers called – on all calls carried by service providers such as Verizon.

President Barack Obama and his intelligence chiefs have vigorously defended the programs, saying they are regulated by law and that Congress was notified. They say the programs have been used to thwart militant plots and do not target Americans’ personal lives, they say.

U.S. federal prosecutors, by filing a criminal complaint, lay claim to a legal basis to make an extradition request of the authorities in Hong Kong, the Post reported. The prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment and can then take steps to secure Snowden’s extradition from Hong Kong for a criminal trial in the United States, the newspaper reported.

The United States and Hong Kong have “excellent cooperation” and as a result of agreements, “there is an active extradition relationship between Hong Kong and the United States,” a U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters.

An Icelandic businessman linked to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said on Thursday he had readied a private plane in China to fly Snowden to Iceland if Iceland’s government would grant asylum.

Iceland refused on Friday to say whether it would grant asylum to Snowden.”

As Federal Criminal Lawyer Douglas McNabb predicted, the U.S. has charged Mr. Snowden in a Federal Criminal Complaint. He was charged on June 14, 2013 with the following federal criminal violations:

  • 18 USC 641 – Theft of Government Property
  • 18 USC 793(d) – Unauthorized Communication of National Defense Information
  • 18 USC 798(a)(3) – Willful Communication of Classified Communications Intelligence Information to an Unauthorized Person

A copy of the Snowden Federal Criminal Complaint may be found here.

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


U.S. v. Edward J. Snowden – Federal Criminal Complaint

June 21, 2013

As Mr. McNabb predicted, the U.S. has charged Mr. Snowden in a Federal Criminal Complaint. He was charged on June 14, 2013 with the following federal criminal violations:

  • 18 USC 641 – Theft of Government Property
  • 18 USC 793(d) – Unauthorized Communication of National Defense Information
  • 18 USC 798(a)(3) – Willful Communication of Classified Communications Intelligence Information to an Unauthorized Person

A copy of the Snowden Federal Criminal Complaint may be found here.

“U.S. charges Snowden with espionage”

The Washington Post on June 21, 2013 released the following:

By Peter Finn and Sari Horwitz,

“Federal prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs, and the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, according to U.S. officials.

Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” according to the complaint. The last two charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.

The complaint, which initially was sealed, was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, a jurisdiction where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered and a district with a long track record of prosecuting cases with national security implications. After The Washington Post reported the charges, senior administration officials said late Friday that the Justice Department was barraged with calls from lawmakers and reporters and decided to unseal the criminal complaint.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Snowden flew to Hong Kong last month after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii with a collection of highly classified documents that he acquired while working at the agency as a systems analyst.

The documents, some of which have been published in The Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, detailed some of the most-
secret surveillance operations undertaken by the United States and Britain , as well as classified legal memos and court orders underpinning the programs in the United States.

The 30-year-old intelligence analyst revealed himself June 9 as the leaker in an interview with the Guardian and said he went to Hong Kong because it provided the “cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained.”

Snowden subsequently disappeared from public view; it is thought that he is still in the Chinese territory. Hong Kong has its own legislative and legal systems but ultimately answers to Beijing, under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.

The leaks have sparked national and international debates about the secret powers of the NSA to infringe on the privacy of Americans and foreigners. Officials from President Obama on down have said they welcome the opportunity to explain the importance of the programs and the safeguards they say are built into them. Skeptics, including some in Congress, have said the NSA has assumed the power to soak up data about Americans that was never intended under the law.

There was never any doubt that the Justice Department would seek to prosecute Snowden for one of the most significant national security leaks in the country’s history. The Obama administration has shown a particular propensity to go after leakers and has launched more investigations than any previous administration. This White House is responsible for bringing six of the nine total indictments ever brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. Snowden will be the seventh individual when he is formally indicted.

Justice Department officials had already said that a criminal investigation of Snowden was underway and was being run out of the FBI’s Washington field office in conjunction with lawyers from the department’s National Security Division.

By filing a criminal complaint, prosecutors have a legal basis to make the detention request of the authorities in Hong Kong. Prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment, probably under seal, and can then move to have Snowden extradited from Hong Kong for trial in the United States.

Snowden, however, can fight the extradition effort in the courts in Hong Kong. Any battle is likely to reach Hong Kong’s highest court and could last many months, lawyers in the United States and Hong Kong said.

The United States has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and U.S. officials said cooperation with the Chinese territory, which enjoys some autonomy from Beijing, has been good in previous cases.

The treaty, however, has an exception for political offenses, and espionage has traditionally been treated as a political offense. Snowden’s defense team in Hong Kong is likely to invoke part of the extradition treaty with the United States, which states that suspects will not be turned over to face criminal trial for offenses of a “political character.”

Typically in such cases, Hong Kong’s chief executive must first decide whether to issue a warrant for the accused’s arrest. But the extradition treaty also says that in exceptional cases a provisional warrant can be issued by a Hong Kong judge without the chief executive’s approval. The judge must give the chief executive notice, however, that he has issued the warrant.

A spokesperson at the office of Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying said there was no information on Snowden’s case. The police department did not respond to calls or e-mails. At the police station for Central District in Hong Kong Island, police officers on duty said they had not heard anything about Snowden.

If Snowden is arrested, he would appear before a judge. Bail would be unlikely and, instead, Snowden would be sent to the Lai Chi Kok maximum-security facility in Kowloon, a short drive from the high-end Mira Hotel, where he is last known to have stayed in Hong Kong.

Snowden could also remain in Hong Kong if the Chinese government decides that it is not in the defense or foreign policy interests of the government in Beijing to have him sent back to the United States for trial.

Another option would be for Snowden to apply for asylum with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which handles most asylum requests in Hong Kong. The UNHCR was closed Saturday morning and did not immediately respond to requests for comment via e-mail and phone. The asylum application process can take months or even years because Hong Kong has a severe backlog. The Hong Kong government cannot formally surrender individuals until their asylum applications have been processed.

Snowden also could attempt to reach another jurisdiction and seek asylum there before the authorities in Hong Kong act.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


“NSA leaker’s father lives in Upper Macungie”

June 10, 2013

The Morning Call on June 10, 2013 released the following:

“Lonnie Snowden and his wife, Karen, aren’t talking about Edward Snowden.

By Colby Itkowitz and Daniel Patrick Sheehan, Call Washington Bureau

The father and stepmother of Edward Snowden, the man who said he leaked news of the government’s classified surveillance program, live in Upper Macungie Township and were visited this afternoon by two people who identified themselves as FBI agents.

Karen Snowden, 48, said the couple had been “bombarded” by media, including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” since the story broke Sunday. Lonnie Snowden, 52. briefly spoke to ABC News Sunday, saying he had last seen his son months ago for dinner and the two parted with a hug. The elder Snowden told ABC he was still “digesting and processing” the news about his son.

Cordial, but firm, Karen Snowden refused to offer any information about her stepson, including whether he ever lived in the Lehigh Valley. She and her husband would be making a public statement but were not planning to do so today, she added.

A short time later, two people arrived at the home and identified themselves to a newspaper photographer as FBI agents from the Allentown office. An FBI spokesperson in Philadelphia said she could not comment.

Lonnie Snowden was an officer in the Coast Guard, according to public records. He would have had Edward Snowden when he was 22 years old.

Edward Snowden revealed himself to the British newspaper The Guardian as the person responsible for outlining the U.S. National Security Agency’s practice of monitoring Americans’ calls, e-mails and Internet usage.

A high-school dropout who most recently worked as a government contractor in Hawaii, Edward Snowden said that as an analyst he had the capability to wiretap anyone.

After leaking the information, he fled to Hong Kong without telling his family, he told The Guardian.

“No. My family does not know what is happening … My primary fear is that they will come after my family, my friends, my partner. Anyone I have a relationship with …,” Snowden said in the interview.

“I will have to live with that for the rest of my life. I am not going to be able to communicate with them. They [the authorities] will act aggressively against anyone who has known me. That keeps me up at night.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


“Former Guatemalan President Pleads Not Guilty After Extradition”

May 29, 2013

The Wall Street Journal on May 28, 2013 released the following press release:

“Samuel Rubenfeld
Wall Street Journal

A former Guatemalan president was extradited last Friday to New York to face money laundering charges, the latest in the Justice Department’s heightened efforts to get defendants detained internationally to face corruption charges.

Alfonso Portillo,who led Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, embezzled tens of millions of dollars in state assets, some of which he laundered through U.S. and European bank accounts, prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

Portillo pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson. If convicted, Portillo faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

He has long denied the allegations against him, telling CNN en Español in January the charges are a political witch-hunt borne of his opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war.

“If deposits were made, they are deposits that first of all come from institutions that are not illicit,” he was quoted by CNN as saying. “In order for there to be laundering, the first requirement is that the money is from an illegal origin or comes from an illegal activity.”

Portillo’s extradition to the U.S. highlights a recently favored tool in corruption cases by law enforcement authorities, in which people are detained overseas and brought to the U.S. to face the charges against them.

The Justice Department built up its capacity and bolstered its relationships with foreign counterparts, allowing it to more frequently pursue cases and defendants internationally, said Peter Carr, a spokesman, in an email.

“The result is we are pursuing the extradition of more defendants, including high-profile defendants, such as [Viktor] Bout and Portillo,” Carr said.

However, the results of these efforts are somewhat mixed, based on a review of recent cases.

Bout was extradited and convicted, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. His associate was extradited to New York last week.

In January, a U.K. businessman was extradited, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in El Paso, Texas, federal court to three years behind bars for trying to help ship missile parts to Iran.

And in April 2012, the leader of a Mexican drug cartel was brought to the U.S. to face racketeering and money-laundering charges, for which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

But prosecutors are struggling to bring a former Thai official to the U.S. to face money-laundering charges in a case that’s been stayed until March 2014, and their support to Bahamian authorities in another case still ended in failure.

In another case, prosecutors have been trying to extradite a South Korean man since 2009 to face U.S. foreign bribery charges, but court papers from the man’s lawyers say Seoul won’t do it because the people he’s accused of bribing aren’t considered public officials under local law.

Carr declined to comment on the Justice Department’s record of extradition.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Liberty Reserve Accused of Laundering Billions Through Virtual Currencies

May 29, 2013

The Wall Street Journal on May 28, 2013 released the following press release:

U.S. Says Firm Laundered Billions

Digital-Currency Group Is Accused of Moving Illicit Cash for Hackers, Drug Dealers and Others

By REED ALBERGOTTI And JEFFREY SPARSHOTT

The money was virtual, but prosecutors say the crime was real.

Officials brought charges against a group of men who allegedly manufactured an Internet-based currency to launder about $6 billion in ill-gotten gains, a sign of authorities’ rising concern with digital cash.

The charges, in an indictment unsealed Tuesday, describe a complex online system set up by a Costa Rica-based organization called Liberty Reserve. The system allegedly was designed to give criminals a way to move money earned from credit-card fraud, online Ponzi schemes, child pornography and other crimes without being detected by law enforcement.

Liberty Reserve, which was incorporated in 2006, was a “bank of choice for the criminal underworld,” according to the indictment, which said the operation allegedly laundered the money through 55 million transactions before it was shut down earlier this month. The company has about one million users world-wide, including about 200,000 people in the U.S., according to prosecutors. They called the plot one of the largest money-laundering operations ever uncovered.

A spokesman for Liberty Reserve couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Prosecutors said Tuesday that they arrested five of the seven men charged in the indictment Friday in Spain, Costa Rica and Brooklyn, N.Y., and charged them with operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. The officials said they plan to seek extradition of those arrested abroad, and that the two remaining men are at large.

The indictment against Liberty Reserve comes amid a concerted effort by Washington to police the nascent world of virtual currencies and ensure operators comply with U.S. law.

On Tuesday, in the first use of the 2001 Patriot Act against a virtual currency, the Treasury Department invoked a section of the law to choke off Liberty Reserve from the U.S. financial system. The Treasury’s proposal would prohibit U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining accounts for foreign banks that process transactions for Liberty Reserve and require special steps to guard against any transactions involving it.

Virtual currencies, most notably bitcoin, still account for only a tiny fraction of global transactions, but they are being embraced by some Internet merchants and are used in a host of legitimate transactions—for example, Web services and online-dating sites.

Law-enforcement officials are concerned about criminals’ ability to move around money outside the regulated world of banks and traditional money-moving services such as Western Union. Officials recently warned that digital currency exchanges should follow traditional anti-money-laundering rules.

The rise of virtual currencies has been exemplified by bitcoin, which lets Internet users create new money by solving complex math problems. The currency, which launched in 2009 and has gone through some wild spikes in value this spring, has attracted the attention of established companies and venture capitalists alike.

Tuesday’s case doesn’t involve bitcoin, though the virtual-cash community was watching developments closely.

“I think it is just another giant, flashing warning light to bitcoin exchanges: If you’re not compliant, there are some serious risks, both at the federal and state levels,” said Patrick Murck, legal counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group that promotes bitcoin software and security standards.

Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, said at a news conference Tuesday that he believed “virtually all” of Liberty Reserve’s customers used it for criminal purposes, though he said legitimate users can seek to recover funds.

Mr. Bharara didn’t give details on the alleged criminals but said the investigation was continuing. “There’s more to come,” he said Tuesday, adding that the case has so far involved seizing $25 million dollars in 45 bank accounts around the world.

Prosecutors allege Liberty Reserve facilitated a range of criminal activity by allowing alleged criminals to conduct transactions using its digital currency, “LR.” The system is opaque, and Liberty Reserve deliberately kept the users anonymous and untraceable, prosecutors said.

A transaction would start with one person opening a Liberty Reserve account using a false name and address, including what prosecutors said were blatant criminal monikers such as “Russia Hackers” or “Hacker Account.”

That person would wire real currency such as dollars to approved third-party currency exchangers in countries including Russia and Nigeria. The exchangers would convert the dollars into LRs and deposit them into the person’s Liberty Reserve account.

From there, a criminal could buy narcotics, stolen credit-card numbers or other goods by transferring the LRs to another person’s Liberty Reserve account. The recipient of the LRs could go to another unregulated currency exchanger and convert the LRs back into dollars.

Liberty Reserve charged a 1% fee for LR currency transfers and an additional “privacy fee” of 75 cents per transaction to hide Liberty Reserve account numbers, making the transfer virtually untraceable.

Liberty Reserve made an appearance in a criminal case earlier this month. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, N.Y., accused eight people of stealing about $45 million from automated-teller machines throughout New York City using stolen prepaid debit-card numbers. Prosecutors said at least one of the men used an account at the online-currency operator to transfer some of the allegedly stolen funds.

James T. Hayes Jr., special agent-in-charge of the New York field office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said his agency became aware of possible wrongdoing at Liberty Reserve in 2010 and teamed up with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the matter.

The indictment described how two of Liberty’s founders, Arthur Budovsky and Vladimir Kats, were convicted in 2006 in New York for operating Gold Age Inc. as an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Lawyers for Mr. Budovsky and the other defendants named in the indictment couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Kats declined to comment.

The indictment said Liberty Reserve also caught the attention of Costa Rican regulators in 2009, forcing the company to allegedly set up a fake compliance system. In late 2011, the Treasury Department warned financial institutions about the risks of doing business with Liberty Reserve.

In an Internet chat-room exchange included in the indictment, one defendant allegedly said he knew the company’s activities were “illegal” and said “everyone,” including the U.S. Department of Justice, knows Liberty Reserve “is a money-laundering operation that hackers use.”

About two weeks after the Treasury’s warning note, Liberty Reserve “went underground,” the indictment says, and continued to operate in Costa Rica using a “stripped-down staff working out of an office space held in the name of shell companies.” The defendants also allegedly tried soon after to drain their bank accounts.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


“International fugitive Richard Chichakli requests extradition to US to face charges linking him to Russian arms dealer”

April 4, 2013

Herald Sun on April 4, 2013 released the following:

Emily Portelli From: Herald Sun

“INTERNATIONAL fugitive Richard Chichakli, arrested in Melbourne after applying to become a protective services officer, has asked to be sent back to the US to face charges linking him to a Russian arms dealer.

“I consent to the extradition and ask the court to kindly send me home to the United States as soon as possible,” the Syrian-born US citizen said today via video link at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

“I thank Australia for its hospitality, I just need to go home.”

The alleged associate of war criminal Viktor Bout arrived in Australia in June 2010 on a false Syrian passport and left and returned to Australia six times before his arrest in January.

The 53-year-old was living in Melbourne’s north and was arrested after his fingerprints were matched to an Interpol alert when he applied for a job as a PSO.

He had already passed Victoria Police psychological and fitness screening.

The US sought to extradite Mr Chichakli to New York to face charges relating to his alleged conspiracy with Bout to purchase planes to transport arms to international conflict zones.

Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg told Mr Chichakli he was facing charges of conspiracy to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and six wire fraud offences.

“Of course I deny all of them but that is for a United States court to try,” Mr Chichakli said.

“I am ready for extradition, sir.”

Mr Rozencwajg told him he would send a letter this afternoon to the Attorney-General, who would then likely order his surrender to the US.

Bout, who is currently serving 25 years on US terror charges, inspired the character played by Nicholas Cage in 2005 war film Lord of War.

It is alleged the pair provided arms to former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who was last year sentenced to 50 years’ jail for war crimes.

Mr Chichakli had been on the run from American authorities since 2005.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.