Riverside County Criminal Defense Lawyer
Aryan Brotherhood Associate Pleads Guilty to a Racketeering Conspiracy that Included Murders, Assaults, and Drug Trafficking from Within California Prisons
Monday, February 6, 2023
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Justin Petty, 41, of Los Angeles, an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) prison gang, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise and conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, between 2011 and 2016, AB members and associates engaged in racketeering activity, committing multiple acts involving murder and drug trafficking offenses. AB members Ronald Yandell and Billy Sylvester oversaw a significant heroin and methamphetamine trafficking operation from their shared prison cell. They used smuggled cellphones to direct their drug trafficking activity from their prison cell to the streets of Sacramento and other California cities. Using a contraband cellphone, Yandell and Sylvester communicated with AB members and associates to direct drug trafficking activities, membership in the AB, order murders, and oversee other criminal activities.
In June 2019, sixteen defendants were indicted for federal racketeering (known as the “RICO” statute) and other charges. The allegations include murders, drug trafficking and other violent crimes. Nine of the defendants were inmates in California prisons, and six of those were serving life sentences for murder.
According to the plea agreement, between August and September 2016, Petty conspired with AB members at two different state prisons – CSP-Sacramento and High Desert state prison – to send packages containing food stuffed with contraband items into each prison through Petty’s employer, a contractor authorized by CDCR to pack and send sealed packages to inmates.
On Sept. 6, 2016, Petty’s package was intercepted at CSP-Sacramento and found to contain three cellphones, two phone charging cables, six grinding discs, seven lighters, one cellphone battery, seven small screw drivers – five with flat heads and two with Phillips heads, two Bluetooth ear pieces, 10 small metal saw blades, more than 20 grams of methamphetamine, and 15 grams of heroin. The contraband items were hidden inside food packages, including a box of Quaker Oats, a box of Honey Buns snacks, a box of fudge brownies, and similar items. The contraband was concealed in a manner designed to avoid detection by prison staff who would have searched the box’s contents before giving them to the inmate.
Similarly, on Sept. 6, 2016, another package from Petty was intercepted [at which prison] and found to contain about 10 cellphones, more than 200 grams of heroin, and 120 grams of methamphetamine. The cellphones and controlled substances were hidden inside boxes of Oatmeal Creme Pies and fudge brownies. They were concealed in a manner designed to avoid detection by prison staff who would have searched the box’s contents before giving them to the inmate addressee.
Other defendants who have entered guilty pleas as part of this investigation include:
Nickolas Perez – RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy;
Donald Mazza – RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering;
Travis Burhop – RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering;
Samuel Keeton – RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy; and
Kristen Demar – RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy.
This case is the product of an investigation by the DEA with assistance from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Vallejo Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.
Petty is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on May 8, 2023. Petty faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a fine up to $10 million. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.
Updated February 6, 2023
Riverside County Man Charged with Methamphetamine Trafficking in Madera County
Thursday, July 14, 2022
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment today against Jose Efren Beltran, 32, of Mecca, charging him with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, on Sept. 18, 2021, in Madera County, Beltran possessed over 500 grams of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Fresno High Impact Investigation Team. Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Jean Berger is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Beltran faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Updated April 19, 2023
U.S. DOJ Press Release
Acting Director Allison Randall of the Office on Violence Against Women Delivers Remarks at 2023 Conference on Crimes Against Women
Monday, May 22, 2023
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning, everyone. I am honored to be here with such a huge crowd of passionate first responders and advocates and experts and survivors.
If you don’t know the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), we are a less huge but equally passionate crowd of first responders and advocates and experts and survivors.
We administer the Violence Against Women Act, which this year means we have $700 million to invest in the work you all are doing on the front lines making change in your communities.
We want our grants and our policy work to be truly effective. And to be effective, we must be guided by the people who are on the ground, the real experts, who are building community-based responses – basically, guided by the people who are represented here in this room today and united by the same mission.
You are among the first people a survivor encounters in the aftermath of violence, and the way you respond can make the difference between a survivor getting access to justice and a survivor getting revictimized by the system.
All survivors deserve meaningful access to justice. And for many survivors, that does not involve the criminal justice system.
They are seeking other options. They need something between 911 and nothing, a pathway to safety and accountability.
But many survivors do want the criminal justice system to provide that safety and accountability. They want to be heard and believed in court.
And to do that they often need a supportive health care provider, a patient-centered response to trauma and sensitive evidence-collection.
Evidence collection has changed so much over the years. When I was starting out working in shelters in the 90’s, our evidence collection for domestic violence was polaroid pictures – anyone remember that?
I also remember a lot of survivors who I failed.
One woman had been strangled and had crashed through a glass window to escape. Neither the police nor I realized that was a medical emergency or what physical evidence they could have gathered. They just dropped her off at the shelter with bits of glass still in her hair.
And I don’t know how she fared, because she walked out of the shelter and into the Florida night and never came back. She didn’t even have shoes with her.
What if, instead, she had been offered trauma-informed support that met her medical needs and, if she wanted, collected evidence that could help her stay safe and get justice?
That is why I today I am profoundly honored and excited to announce the release of the first-ever National Protocol for Intimate Partner Violence Medical Forensic Examinations.
The protocol guides the clinical practice for conducting medical forensic exams for patients experiencing intimate partner violence, or IPV.
While many IPV victims seek medical assistance for injuries, in the past, most IPV health care protocols focused on screening rather than forensic exams or collecting evidence – evidence that not only supports investigation and prosecution, but can also validate what a survivor has experienced. That’s important when you’ve been gaslit and you haven’t been believed and you’re not sure what to do next.
By bringing together trauma-informed, patient-centered care, with screening and evidence collection, this protocol connects survivors’ needs with an evidence-based medical forensic examination that, if implemented correctly, will enhance communities’ responses to IPV.
I got to visit the New Orleans Family Justice Center earlier this year. Their HOPE Clinic provides onsite forensic exams for IPV, but that’s not all – they provide primary care and behavioral health services, too.
The Family Justice Center also offers a wellness program with a range of alternative healing modalities for survivors. Their process for forensic exams ensures that survivors are fully informed and in control of the process.
But not everyone is there yet, and that’s why we need a protocol.
For example, the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), OVW’s collaborative partner in developing the protocol, got a technical assistance request about an IPV survivor who sought medical care a couple of years ago. This survivor was not ready to report the abuse to law enforcement.
But, despite the absence of mandatory reporting requirements in their jurisdiction, the healthcare institution reported the assault to law enforcement.
They also called child protective services, even though the children were not present during the assault.
This was a violation of the state law and the patient’s privacy rights.
And it put her safety in jeopardy – she had not left the abusive relationship and she just needed to get medical care and document the injuries so she would have options in the future.
No one should have their life endangered or risk losing custody of their children because they sought a forensic exam. Will that survivor ever go back for help after that experience? Probably not, which is not going to keep her, or her kids, or her community safe.
The new protocol will help clinicians avoid that outcome.
It helps ensure that victims will be cared for with compassion and respect after an assault. Clinicians can offer survivors an assortment of choices, empowering them to make the decisions that they know are best for their welfare and that of their loved ones.
Last year, we came to the Conference on Crimes Against Women (CCAW) to announce our updated guidance on Improving Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence by Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias. Many of you exemplify the principles of that guidance and you are putting the “coordinate” into coordinated community response.
Our technical assistance providers like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Executives Research Forum and the Law Enforcement Training and Technical Assistance Consortium can help if you need a little more support.
The new National Protocol for IPV Medical Forensic Examinations fits really well into a coordinated community response and ties in with the policing principles, so consider bringing those two pieces of guidance together when you get home and are connecting with your partner agencies.
We are profoundly grateful to the talented staff at IAFN, who also brought together 16 project partners from various disciplines to work on it. A much longer list of organizations participated in the extensive review process. Thanks to all of you who played a part.
IAFN also has technical assistance available on both IPV and sexual assault forensic exams at SAFEta.org.
I hope this guidance will prove a useful tool in helping you support survivors and address violence in your communities.
At OVW, we are relentlessly focused on changing the world by supporting all of you. Please help us do that by applying for OVW grants – we want to help you succeed.
Thank you to Jan Langbein and everyone at CCAW for bringing us together for this astounding conference. And thank you to the direct service providers, clinicians and first responders here today.
Creating options and choices – and supporting what survivors tell us they need, not what we think we should give them – is how we increase access to justice. It’s how we advance equity. It’s how we end gender-based violence.
Allison Randall, Acting Director
Office on Violence Against Women
Updated May 22, 2023
Two California Men Found Guilty of Federal Crimes for Participating in Massive International Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California
LOS ANGELES – Two California men were found guilty by a jury today of federal criminal charges for participating in an extensive, long-lasting, multimillion-dollar conspiracy – much of it committed by Nigerian nationals – that perpetrated a wide variety of frauds, including business email compromise (BEC) fraud, romance scams, elder fraud and fraud using malware.
George Ugochukwu Egwumba, 47, of Cypress, and Princewell Arinze Duru, 33, of Sacramento, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Egwumba was found guilty of one count of aggravated identity theft. Duru was found guilty of one count of wire fraud and one count of aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft.
According to evidence presented at their seven-day trial, members of the conspiracy – many of whom were based in Nigeria – used middlemen to connect with their fellow co-conspirators located in the United States. The U.S.-based middlemen assisted in receiving and laundering the proceeds of the frauds either through U.S. bank accounts, money transmitting services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, or cryptocurrency.
In exchange, the middlemen and those who assisted with the laundering of illicit proceeds received a percentage of the fraudulently obtained funds.
At the center of the conspiracy were Valentine Iro, 33, of Carson, Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 41, of Gardena – both Nigerian citizens – and Chuks Eroha, 41, who is believed to have fled to Nigeria in 2017, shortly after the FBI executed a search warrant in this case. This trio of middlemen connected the fraudsters with the money launderers, sometimes with other middlemen in between, and often used the same bank accounts for laundering funds. Iro and Igbokwe have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in this case.
Egwumba acted as another middleman, receiving bank account information from Iro and Eroha to pass to other fraudsters, and also worked to commit fraud himself by using malware and other cybercrime tools. Egwumba exchanged text messages with Iro and Eroha, in which he asked for and received bank account information that could be used to receive stolen money.
LokiBot and NanoCore remote access trojan malware and other cybercrime tools were found on Egwumba’s computers, along with messages in which he discussed using these tools to attempt to commit fraud.
Duru helped Igbokwe and others in receiving and laundering the fraudulently obtained money, both by opening fraudulent business bank accounts and using money transmitting services and cryptocurrency wallets.
Duru registered a fraudulent business in Sacramento County and then used that company to open two business bank accounts at different banks. Duru gave the bank account information to Igbokwe so it could be used to receive fraud proceeds. One victim was deceived into depositing approximately $25,600 into one of Duru’s business bank accounts.
The conspiracy involved the laundering of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained funds and the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.
United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner scheduled an October 17 hearing for these defendants, at which time both will face a statutory maximum sentence of 22 years in federal prison.
So far, prosecutors have secured 19 guilty pleas in this case. Additional defendants have been arrested in Nigeria, and others are believed to be at large.
The FBI investigated this matter. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) provided substantial assistance during the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Sue Bai and Victoria Degtyareva of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section are prosecuting this case.
The FBI in 2017 issued a report on the rise of BEC schemes, and published a recap of 2018’s Operation WireWire, which was an international effort to disrupt international BEC scams. An FBI public service announcement that warns of the dangers of BEC schemes encourages businesses to “trust but verify.”
Public Information Officer
Updated April 19, 2023
Twenty-One Drug Traffickers Associated With Nuestra Familia Arrested On Federal Charges In Kings And Tulare Counties
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California
FRESNO, Calif. — As part of a multi-agency operation, over 50 individuals were arrested in California on federal and state charges in connection with their drug-trafficking activities after investigation into the criminal activities of individuals associated with the Nuestra Familia prison gang. The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office, Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes, Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, and Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever.
The defendants charged federally are:
1) SALVADOR CASTRO, JR., 49, of Pleasant Valley State Prison
2) RAYMOND LOPEZ, 31, of Pleasant Valley State Prison
3) JESSE JUAREZ, 28, of Visalia
4) DANIEL JUAREZ, 27, of Visalia
5) MICHAEL ROCHA, 36, of Visalia
6) ANGEL MONTES, 23, of Visalia
7) RAFAEL LOPEZ, 28, of Visalia
8) MANUEL BARRERA, 24, of Kettleman City
9) MANUEL GARCIA, 33, of Armona
10) JOANN BERNAL, 32, of Armona
11) RAMON AMADOR, 29, of Riverdale
12) RAUL LOPEZ, JR., 48, of Visalia
13) DONAVEN ADKINS, 41, of Hanford
14) RYAN GINES, 39, of Armona
15) DOUG GINES, 48, of Hanford
16) FLORENTINO GUTIERREZ, 37, of Hanford
17) JESUS NUNEZ, 19, of McFarland
18) MARIA NUNEZ, 22, of McFarland
19) LOUIS MOLINA, 48, of Hanford
20) ERNESTO ZIBRAY, 30, of Delano
21) TIFFANY FELLER, 31, of Riverdale.
According to court documents, in March 2019, various agencies partnered in an investigation into the Nuestra Familia prison gang and the Norteño street gang in Kings County. The investigation uncovered that Nuestra Familia was responsible for large-scale trafficking of methamphetamine and other controlled substances, as well as various firearms offenses and other violent crimes.
According to court documents, high-ranking Nuestra Familia members Salvador Castro, Jr. and Raymond Lopez used contraband cell phones from inside Fresno County’s Pleasant Valley State Prison to arrange the transport of illicit narcotics from drug sources in California and Mexico to a stash house in Kings County. From that stash house, gang members outside of the prison coordinated the preparation and delivery of the drugs to distributors throughout Kings and Tulare Counties. The complaint charges several other gang associates, including Angel Montes, Rafael Lopez, Daniel Juarez, Manuel Barrerra, Manuel Garcia, Joann Bernal, Ramon Amador, and Raul Lopez, Jr. with federal drug-distribution crimes.
U.S. Attorney Scott stated: “This coordinated law enforcement operation highlights how federal, state, and local law enforcement partners can work together to target gang activities that make our communities unsafe. When we work together in this way, we are more effective in achieving our shared goal of ensuring public safety. We are committed to combatting and reducing violent crime and drug trafficking, both inside and outside of prison walls.”
“The fear and violence that criminal street gangs are perpetrating in our communities cannot be tolerated,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We will continue to collaborate with our federal and local partners to reduce crime and keep our communities safe.”
“The FBI is dedicated to disrupting and dismantling gangs through intelligence-driven investigations, new and longstanding initiatives, and partnerships—state, local, federal, and trans-national,” said FBI Sacramento Field Office Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan. “Yesterday’s effort exemplifies our commitment to working with our partners to reduce the impact of gang violence and crime in the communities we serve.”
This case was the product of an investigation by the Kings County Gang Task Force; Agents of the Special Operations Unit – a team of agents from the California Department of Justice and the California Highway Patrol; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the FBI, Kings County District Attorney’s Office, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshals Service, and Homeland Security Investigations all assisted with the takedown. Assistant United States Attorneys Kimberly Sanchez, Laurel Montoya, and Justin Gilio are prosecuting the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
This case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF Program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
All 21 defendants have been arrested. If convicted, they face a range of maximum sentences, including up to life in prison. Several of the defendants also face a range of mandatory minimum sentences ranging from between five to ten years in prison. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Updated April 18, 2023
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