“Twists and turns in federal honey case lead to judge’s rebuke of prosecution, dismissal of charges”

July 22, 2013

The Florida Times-Union on July 20, 2013 (updated July 21, 2013) released the following:

By Jim Schoettler

“Qiao Chu sat in a federal detention center for 18 months, missing the birth of his first child and death of his grandfather, primarily based on the work of government chemist Sharon Stricklin.

Chin Shih Chou’s wife and two children suffered as he was locked up for the same period. Wei-Tang Lo’s family also missed him, though he got out in a year.

The three men were charged in 2011 with smuggling Chinese-origin honey into Jacksonville and other ports without paying $1.1 million in tariffs that would have been required for contents of more than 50 percent honey. The arrests were the latest efforts by the federal authorities to protect domestic honey producers from a surge into the country of cheaper foreign product.

A year later, a federal judge cut Stricklin as an expert witness after finding her analysis that the barrels were predominantly filled with honey had no scientific basis. The U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the charges in May after an independent lab ruled the barrels contained syrup, as the men originally claimed, with little to no honey at all.

Stricklin wouldn’t discuss her work when reached this month by the Times-Union at her government lab in Savannah.

“I’m under kind of a hush order,” she whispered over her office phone.

Senior federal prosecutors and agents also stayed mum about jailing the men, who were from China, Taiwan and California.

But a powerful figure who had plenty to say was U.S. District Judge Marcia Howard.

Howard’s frustration with the case can be heard after prosecutors announced plans to drop the charges in May. Six months earlier, she’d struck Stricklin as an expert witness after finding that the lab tests that found the product full of honey had no scientific basis.

Prosecutors told Howard in early May they intended to dismiss the indictment. During three days of hearings, she called the case an embarrassment. She also described it as the worst miscarriage of justice she’d witnessed in 10 years as a judge.

“It’s the American justice system being everything it is not supposed to be,” she said.
Howard said the men deserved an apology from lead prosecutor Russell Stoddard for their loss of liberty. When Stoddard refused, Howard apologized instead.

She then watched them walk free on May 8 from her Jacksonville courtroom.

COMPETITION BRINGS ARRESTS

Among the many tasks of federal Customs and Border Protection is to protect American beekeepers.

In 2001, the U.S. Commerce Department slapped a tariff of more than 200 percent on any import found to contain more than 50 percent Chinese-origin honey to appease domestic producers fearful about unfair competition. The cost is now imposed based on the weight of the shipped barrels.

Federal authorities have seized multiple shipments of suspected Chinese-origin honey brought through U.S. ports in the past 12 years without paying the required tariff. Those containers include barrels labeled as rice fructose syrup and then relabeled as honey. Some importers have been convicted, imprisoned and ordered to pay restitution.

Enter Chou, 48, from Taiwan; Chu, 25, from China; and Lo, 48, from California.

The three men, acting on behalf of a number of Chinese-based importers, sold more than 50,000 55-gallon barrels labeled as honey coast-to-coast over a two-year period, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Federal agents began a smuggling investigation of the trio in 2011, according to hundreds of pages of court records reviewed this month by The Times-Union.

Authorities said they seized more 21,000 barrels illegally imported into Jacksonville and 10 other ports based on sample tests. A federal grand jury indicted the men in Jacksonville in November 2011.

The men faced 20 years in prison after being charged with smuggling barrels “filled with Chinese honey,” but marked as rice fructose syrup, to avoid paying the tariffs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release at the time. They were also charged with providing false descriptions of the goods. Authorities said that once the barrels passed through customs, they were taken to a nearby warehouse, washed of all markings and relabeled as amber honey for domestic sale.

Deemed flight risks, Chu and Chou were held in a federal detention center without bond, while Lo’s was set at $1 million. The government later placed immigration detainers on Chou and Chu, keeping them in custody for deportation even if they posted bond. Chou pleaded guilty in June 2012 through his public defender after being confronted with evidence that included Stricklin’s lab findings. He sat for 11 more months in jail awaiting sentencing.

Meanwhile, private attorneys hired by Chu and Lo devoured research about the world of Chinese-origin honey. What they learned blew apart the prosecution’s case.

A FLAWED FINDING

Dana Krueger, a chemist hired by the defense, said he was bewildered that Stricklin’s conclusions were based on finding an overabundance of pollen on microscopic samples taken from the product.

The method was scientifically unproven, unpublished and non-peer reviewed, said Krueger, who runs a food processing laboratory in Massachusetts.

“The government locking up [the defendants] for months and months and months on the basis of this evidence was a travesty,” said Krueger, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But Eric Wenger, chairman of True Source Honey LLC, said it’s not unusual for U.S. Customs laboratories like the one in Savannah to shroud their work in secrecy and remain unpublished. Wenger said the intent is to keep people who run illegal import businesses from studying such work and circumventing the process.

The attorneys for Chu and Lo used Krueger’s testimony to refute Stricklin’s findings before Judge Howard in an August 2012 Daubert hearing, where the admissibility of expert witnesses’ testimony can be challenged. Stricklin’s own testimony didn’t help. She admitted her analysis was based on looking at a book of food microscopy and reading up on methods used to study pollen.

“I am not a pollen expert,” she told Howard.

Howard ruled in November that Stricklin’s work was unreliable and inadmissible at trial, leaving the prosecution’s case on life support. The judge pointed out months later how key the lab findings were.

“It was her test and her test alone that caused this prosecution,” Howard said in a May court hearing. She declined to comment for this story.

Rob Scroggie, a Los Angeles-based attorney for Chu, applauded Howard’s ruling. He said the charges should never have been filed.

“The testing conducted by the customs laboratory was a complete sham,” said Scroggie, who served as Chu’s co-counsel with Jacksonville attorney Mark Rosenblum.

Mitch Stone, the attorney who represented Lo, said he was incensed to learn that neither Stricklin nor any of her bosses sought more input to support the new testing method.

“They did nothing other than pow-wow among themselves,” Stone said.

While the attorneys fought to dismiss the charges — Chou’s public defender later sought to withdraw his guilty plea — prosecutors fought on. Lo eventually was released on bond after nearly a year in jail, but the other men remained in custody.

The case for Chu and Lo moved toward a June trial date as Chou waited to be sentenced.
But time had just about run out for the government’s case.

CASE DISMISSED

In April, five months after they lost the Daubert motion, prosecutors sent samples of the suspected honey to an independent German laboratory. A summary of that analysis returned May 3 found it was predominantly corn or rice syrup, with little, if any, honey.

Stoddard, the prosecutor, told Howard on May 7 that the indictment was being dismissed against all three men, but didn’t say if a new indictment would be sought for fraudulently relabeling the barrels. The smuggling allegations were felonies, while the fraud charges were misdemeanors, the defense lawyers said.

Stoddard’s mention to Howard that his case was based on the Savannah lab’s findings and not any ill will on the part of the prosecution prompted this exchange:

Stoddard: “I’m not a scientist, your honor, I’m a lawyer. … Now, with the benefit of hindsight, things would have been done differently.”

Howard: “And with that, would it not be your intention to apologize to them for the fact that, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s determined that an error was made? Isn’t that what we teach our children to do?”

Stoddard: “You are asking me if I’m personally going to apologize to them or am I going to apologize to them on behalf of the United States?”

Howard: “Probably all of the above …”

Stoddard: “I do not believe so.”

Howard: “You might want to think about that.”

Fresh from their jail cells, Chu and Chou stood before Howard the next day eager to fly home and reunite with their families. Lo, out on bond, was already free and not required to be in the courtroom.

Howard told the men she didn’t believe prosecutors did anything intentionally to hurt them or acted in bad faith, but she’d hoped Stoddard would have at least expressed his regrets.

“Because it’s my view, and as I was raised, that when the facts turn out not to be what one believed and because of that another person has in some way been harmed, that they should receive an apology,” Howard said.

“It is my sincere regret that you have spent the last 18 months in custody and I truly hate that you will go back to your home country with that impression of the United States justice, because it works, and the truth is in your case it worked ultimately. It just worked slowly. But it did work in that the charges have been dismissed. I hope that will provide some solace.”

Neither Chou nor Lo could be reached by The Times-Union. Chu, in an email of somewhat broken English, called the case unfair, offered his thanks to supporters and did what prosecutors would not.

“I want to say sorry to my family, especially my grandpa and my wife,” Chu wrote from his home in China.

His message ended with a lament over missing both the birth of his first child and the death of his grandfather while locked up in a United States detention center.

“Hope my grandpa can hear me.””

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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

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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.


6 detention center employees guilty on gun charges

September 11, 2012

San Francisco Chronicle on September 10, 2012 released the following:

“LAREDO, Texas (AP) — Six of the seven Laredo residents who pleaded guilty to illegally buying guns Monday worked at a federal detention center.

Federal prosecutors say the six worked at the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo. The center is privately managed by The Geo Group and holds federal detainees awaiting trial for the U.S. Marshals Service. The seventh was a close friend of one of them.

Prosecutors alleged that in 2011, the group acquired 16 guns, mostly semi-automatic rifles of the sort preferred by organized criminal groups in Mexico. In the purchases, they indicated they were buying the guns for their own use. However, they were being paid to buy them for someone else, a tactic known as straw purchases.

Prosecutors indicated that Geo Corrections cooperated in the federal investigation.”

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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

————————————————————–

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.


Feds drop terrorism charges against Miami cab driver accused of aiding Taliban

June 14, 2012

The Miami Herald on June 13, 2012 released the following:

“Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against a member of a South Florida family accused of supporting the Pakistani Taliban, a designated terrorist group.

BY JAY WEAVER
JWEAVER@MIAMIHERALD.COM

A one-time Miami cab driver who was detained for nearly a year on charges alleging that he provided aid to Pakistani Taliban terrorists won’t face trial, after federal prosecutors dropped the case against him, according to a dismissal order filed Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney’s office provided no reason for dismissing charges against Irfan Khan, 39, a U.S. citizen who is married with two children. The one-paragraph dismissal order was signed Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

“We are unable to comment on the internal deliberations that led to our decision,” said Alicia Valle, special counsel to U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. “However, the charges against his co-defendants remain in place and trial is pending for those defendants in U.S. custody.”

Khan was arrested in May 2011 in Los Angeles, where he was working part-time in a software computer job. He was indicted on charges of conspiring with his father and brother, imams who led two mosques in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and three others to provide financial support to the Pakistani Taliban, a designated terrorist organization.

Khan had been detained in the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami until April, when he was granted a bond by a federal magistrate judge.

“Irfan is obviously pleased that the government has recognized what we’ve long known — that he did not send any money to Pakistan to aid the Taliban,” said his attorney, Miami acting federal public defender Michael Caruso. “His happiness is tempered by his father and brother’s continued imprisonment, but he looks forward to rebuilding his life with his wife and two young children.”

Last year, Irfan Khan; his father, Hafiz Khan, 77, the former leader of a Miami mosque; his brother, Izhar Khan, 25, the one-time head of a Margate mosque; and three others were charged with conspiring to collect and send at least $50,000 from South Florida to the Taliban between 2008 and 2010. The other defendants — all believed to be living in Pakistan — are Irfan Khan’s sister, Amina Khan; her son, Alam Zeb; and Ali Rehman.

Irfan Khan, in particular, was accused of making four wire transfers — for $990, $980, $980, and $500 — to Pakistan, including one to his sister.

The FBI used a confidential informant, bank transfer records and more than 1,000 wiretapped phone calls to build the case, which made national headlines.

The Taliban has been accused of attacking both U.S. and Pakistani interests. It has been linked to al-Qaida, and is suspected of playing a role in the failed May 2010 attempt to bomb New York’s Times Square.

Last August, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ordered that Hafiz Khan, the elderly Muslim cleric, and both of his sons remain in custody until trial. Jordan said evidence against the two younger Khans was less compelling than that against their father. But the judge decided the case was still strong enough to warrant detention, citing their danger to the community and risk of flight.

In April, however, Magistrate Judge Patrick White released Irfan Khan from detention to home confinement on a combined bond package totaling about $700,000. White granted the bond after prosecutors agreed to the terms proposed by Khan’s lawyers in exchange for their dropping his appeal.

His father and brother are still locked up and prohibited from having contact with each other in the federal detention center.

Their trial, a complex case built on wiretaps authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is set for early November.”

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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

————————————————————–

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.


FBI arrest three former football players on allegations of ID-theft and tax-related fraud charges

May 1, 2012

The Miami Herald on May 1, 2012 released the following:

“Feds bust three former football players on ID-theft and tax-related fraud charges

BY JAY WEAVER

Two ex-National Football League players and a former Miami high school star have been arrested by the FBI on federal charges in connection with an alleged scheme to steal people’s identities and file false tax returns in others’ names to collect thousands of dollars in refunds, according to authorities.

The two ex-NFL players charged with defrauding the federal government and ID theft are: William Joseph, a University of Miami defensive tackle drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003, and Michael Bennett, a University of Wisconsin running back also drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001.

The third defendant, Louis Gachelin, is the half-brother of Denver Broncos star Elvis Dumervil. Gachelin was a standout at Miami Jackson High and Syracuse University as a defensive lineman and signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 2004. But he never made the final roster. Gachelin played in 2005 for NFL Europe’s Frankfurt Galaxy.

Joseph and Gachelin grew up in Miami; Bennett was born in Milwaukee.

All three were questioned after their arrests Monday by FBI agents at the bureau’s North Miami Beach regional office. They were then transferred to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami for court appearances Tuesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube, according to the clerk’s office. Details of the alleged scheme are expected to be disclosed in a criminal complaint to be released later Tuesday.

FBI spokesman Mike Leverock declined to comment.

As part of a related investigation, the FBI also arrested about a half-dozen other defendants Monday.

Authorities say the latest tax-related fraud case, while unique because of the ex-NFL defendants, is yet another indication of escalating identity-theft crimes in South Florida.

In April, a Coral Springs woman pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of U.S. Marines and others in a tax-refund scheme designed to trick the Internal Revenue Service into sending her tens of thousands of dollars, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Dorothy Boulin, 29, pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to one count each of fraud and aggravated identity theft. She faces up to 22 years in prison, but as part of her plea agreement Boulin agreed to work in an “undercover role” for the FBI that could significantly reduce her prison term.

For her scam, Boulin used an electronic IRS number — normally issued to legitimate tax preparers — to file false returns in the names of at least 14 people, including several U.S. Marines serving in Afghanistan, according to court records. The bogus returns sought more than $53,000 in refunds.

Boulin’s plea agreement cited a person identified only as “C.J.” as the supplier of the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of Marines victimized in her scam.

Crooks like Boulin have graduated from everyday credit-card fraud to stealing people’s identities such as names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers in order to rob taxpayers of refunds before they file their returns with the Internal Revenue Service, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.

Authorities say tax-return rackets are particularly pernicious because they harm two victims: the federal government as well as legitimate taxpayers whose identities and refunds have been stolen.

Here’s the root of the problem: Scammers have exploited a hole in the IRS electronic filing system, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The federal watchdog agency found that the IRS does not actually match tax returns to the W-2 income forms that employers file until months after the filing season ends on April 15. Employers file them at the end of February or early March, but the agency does not match them up with employees’ incomes reported on 1040 forms until June.

That’s way too late to catch identity thieves who file false returns in others’ names early in the year. What’s more, the IRS offers to download the refunds onto prepaid debit cards for speed and convenience.

Because of the relative ease, everyday criminals are moving into identity-theft rackets, using computers, the Internet and online tax services to fleece the IRS and taxpayers. The GAO reports that the number of identity theft-related fraud incidents on tax returns reached 248,000 in 2010, about five times more than in 2008.

In the past two years, the IRS has “redoubled” efforts to fight tax fraud by identity theft, according to Steven T. Miller, the IRS’s deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, who testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in March.

Miller told the panel that last year the IRS launched new software filters to flag fraudulent returns, and new procedures for handling suspect returns.

Recent federal legislation may help combat the crime.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who presided over the March hearing, has sponsored a bill that would make it a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to use someone else’s Social Security or taxpayer identification numbers to file a fraudulent return.”

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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. Bureau of Prisons Employee Indicted in Florida for Sexual Abuse of a Ward and False Statements

September 11, 2011

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on September 9, 2011 released the following:

“WASHINGTON – U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employee Jack Chris Jackson, 45, was indicted today on charges of sexual abuse of an inmate and false statements, the Justice Department announced.

The indictment alleges that on or about June 27, 2011, Jackson, while working in the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Miami, engaged in a sexual act with an inmate who was in the defendant’s custodial, supervisory and disciplinary authority. The indictment further alleges that, when questioned on July 1, 2011, the defendant falsely denied having sex with the inmate or any other inmate at FCI.

If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum statutory sentence of 15 years in prison for the sexual abuse charge and a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the false statements charge.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the FBI and the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General. BOP wardens at FCI and Federal Detention Center provided full assistance and coordination throughout this investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Rhee Osborne of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and Trial Attorney Henry Leventis of the Civil Rights Division.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch 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 and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

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

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