Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
United States v. Brett J. Stimac, No. 21-2412 (8th Cir., Jul. 25, 2022), AUSA Emily Poladlek and ENRD DAAG Gina Allery.
On July 25. 2022. the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the 15-month sentence imposed on Brett J. Stimac following his conviction on one count of violating the Lacey Act and one count of trespassing on Indian lands for purposes of hunting (16 U.S.C §§ 3372(a)(1). 3373(d)(2); 18 U.S.C. § 1165).
In September 2019. Stimac shot and killed a 700-pound American black bear near the Red Lake Indian Reservation's garbage dump. Stimac is not an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. and the Red Lake Nation forbids non-Indians to hunt bear. a clan animal. due to the animal's spiritual significance. Stimac has a history of violating state fish and game laws. and his conduct in this case involved multiple trespasses on the Reservation as he removed parts of the bear and attempted to hunt a second one. For these two reasons. the sentencing court imposed a two-level increase under U.S.S.G. § 2Q2.1(b)(1)(B). finding that either Stimac's criminal history or his repeated trespasses demonstrated that "the offense...involved a pattern of similar violations." Stimac appealed his sentence. arguing that the imposition of this specific offense characteristic was erroneous.
On appeal. the Eighth Circuit found that U.S.S.G. § 2Q2.1(b)(1)(B) is ambiguous as to whether it applies to an offender's criminal history or only those violations committed as part of the offense of conviction. But the Court found that the ambiguity did not warrant resentencing because the two-level increase would apply under either interpretation. Specifically. the Court found that both Stimac's "past state fish and wildlife violations. including convictions for illegal transport of big game and failing to display a fish shelter license" and his repeated violations of the Indian Country trespassing statute. 18 U.S.C. § 1165, were "'similar to the instant Lacey Act violation."'
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. the Red Lake Department of Public Safety. the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources. and the U.S. Fish and Wild life Service conducted the investigation.
United States v. Royal T. Washington, No. 3:22-CR-00111 (E.D. Va.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Banu Rangarajan and ECS Trial Attorney William Shapiro.
On July 26, 2022, prosecutors charged Royal T. Washington with conspiring to participate in an animal fighting venture (18 U.S.C. § 371).
Between November 2019 and November 2020. Royal T. Washington and coconspirators engaged in dog fighting activities. including breeding, selling, and transporting dogs for the purposes of dog fighting, as well as organizing fights for as much as $20,000 a match. Washington and others placed bets and exhibited dogs in fights. Based upon evidenced developed from surveillance and a wire-tap, investigators executed a search warrant at Washington's residence finding 15 pit bull-type dogs, and a variety of equipment including heavy chains. a dog treadmill, medical equipment. and dog breeder certificates. The dogs displayed scarring consistent with dog fighting.
The Federal Bureau of Invest igation conducted the investigation. with assistance from the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
United States v. Harvey Hugs, No. 5:22-CR-50088 (D.S.D.), AUSA Meghan Dilges.
On July 18 2022, prosecutors charged Harvey Hugs with violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Lacey Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 668(a). 703(a),707(b), 3372(a)(1). 3373(d)(1)(B)). Trial is scheduled for September 20, 2022.
Between August 2020. and March 2021. Hugs illegally sold, received, and acquired bald and golden eagles. and parts from the birds.
A court in Montana previously convicted Hugs of similar activity in 2012. "Operation Rolling Thunder" resulted in the conviction and sentencing of 12 individuals. including Hugs. He completed six months' incarceration.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation.
United States v. Lynn Eich, No. 4:22-CR-00175 (W.D. Mo.), AUSA Brent Venneman
On July 28. 2022. Lynn Eich pleaded guilty to making a false statement related to a federal environmental remediation contract with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) (18 U.S.C. § 1001). Sentencing is scheduled for January 18. 2023.
In October 2015. the ACOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a $12M contract to a remediation company to remove mine waste at the Newton County Mine Waste Remediation Superfund Site (Newton County Project) near Granby. Missouri. Between January 2016 and June 2018. Eich worked as the project manager for the remediation company. Previous mining and smelting operations contaminated the surface soil with lead. The remediation process required removing contaminated soil from a specified area and replacing it using clean fill materiaI. This process required testing both the contaminated and clean fill material.
Approximately one month before receiving the Newton County Project contract the EPA awarded the remediation company a contract in Oronogo, Missouri. to complete a similar but larger soil remediation project. The company did not anticipate receiving both contracts. and Eich was forced to reassign personnel to cover both projects. He told the ACOE that the Newton County Project replacement manager (Newton replacement) had comparable experience as the person listed on the original application and that the replacement was qualified to fulfill the same duties. The truth. however. was that the replacement possessed little to no experience testing soil for hazardous materials.
Specifically, between September 2016. and October 2016. the Newton replacement manager failed to properly test fill material used to remediate the Granby City Park. After Eich learned the manager was not testing the soil properly, he assigned another individua I to assist with testing, however. this person likewise was unqualified for the job.
In October 2016. the site superintendent. who reported to Eich. received laboratory analysis of two samples taken from the off-site soil source. One sample indicated lead levels of 640 mg/kg and the other indicated a lead level of 720 mg/kg, both in excess of the 100 mg/kg required level. No one reported these results to the EPA or the ACOE.
On February 2018. the remediation company sent the ACOE a final invoice certifying that the company completed the work according to the contract's specifications. This included remediating lead levels below 400 mg/kg and that any offsite backfill used was below 100 mg/kg. In fact. the offsite backfill that had been used in the Granby City Park exceeded lead levels of 400 mg/kg.
In June 2018. Eich called the ACOE and indicated they had found a "hot spot" in the Granby City Park. During the call. Eich misrepresented to the ACOE the scope of the problem. stating that the contaminated area was less than 1,000 cubic yards. despite knowing lead could be found throughout the park. Eich also submitted a map to the ACOE purporting to show a limited area of contamination. which was not true. The ACOE relied upon this map to help it determine the appropriate level of clean-up response.
In May 2019, the EPA National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC) conducted additional sampling at the Park. NEIC collected a total of 42 samples showing lead readings greater than 400 mg/kg.
As a result. the EPA had to expend additional resources to hire another remediation contractor to appropriately finish the job.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General. the USEPA Criminal Investigative Division, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, DOD Criminal Investigative Service, and the Army CriminaI Investigative Division Major Procurement Fraud Unit.
United States v. Herdade Lokua, et al., No. 2:21-CR-00185 (W.D. Wash.), ECS Senior Trial Attorneys Ryan Connors and Patrick Duggan and ECS Law Clerk Maria Wallace.
On July 12, 2022, Herdade Lokua and Jospin Mujangi pleaded guilty to conspiracy and Lacey Act false labelling violations for trafficking elephant ivory and white rhinoceros horn from the Democrat Republic of Congo (DRC) to Seattle, Washington (18 U.S.C. §§ 371; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(d)(2), 3373(d)(3)(A)(i)). Sentencing is scheduled for November 1, 2022.
Lokua and Mujangi worked with a middleman to smuggle four packages into the United States. In August and September, 2020. the defendants sent three shipments containing a total of approximately 50 pounds of ivory by air freight to Seattle. In May 2021, they sent another package with approximately five pounds of rhinoceros horn. At the same time, the defendants conspired to conduct large transactions via ocean freight. offering the buyer more than two tons of elephant ivory, one ton of pangolin scales, and multiple rhino horns. On November 2, 2021, they arrived in Washington State to negotiate the details and authorities arrested them the following day.
In order to conceal the tusks and horn, Lokua and Mujangi ensured they were cut into smaller pieces and painted black. They mixed the pieces with ebony wood to avoid detection by customs authorities. The packages were all declared as "wood" valued between $50 and $60. The buyer paid the defendants $14,500 for the ivory and $18,000 for the horn. Lokua and Mujangi also sold 55 pounds of pangolin scales to a U.S. buyer, but ultimately did not ship them.
The defendants paid bribes to authorities in Kinshasa, DRC, in order to ship the merchandise, and discussed how larger shipments would be packed in 20.foot shipping containers and concealed in timber or corn in order to avoid detection.
United States v. Jorge Murrillo, et al., No. 1:12-CR- , 20514 (S.D. Fla.), SAUSA Jodi Mazer and AUSA Tom Watts-FitzGeraId.
On July 12. 2022, Jorge Murril lo pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) for importing more than 300,000 kilograms of illegal hyd roe h lorof Iuo rocarbo n-2 2 (HCFC-22), worth approximately $1.5 million, into the United States from China (18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 545).Sentencing is scheduled for September 20, 2022.
HCFC-22 is a widely used refrigerant for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems. HCFC is scheduled to be phased out. with a limited number of individuals and companies allowed to legally import HCFC-22 via an "Unexpended Consumption Allowance" or UCAs.
Between June and August 2007, Murrillo smuggled large quantities of HCFC-22 into the United States to sell on the black market. Murrillo and co-defendant Norberto Guada negotiated with a Chinese manufacturer to purchase large quantities and imported the shipments using South Florida ports. At no point did Murrillo, his companies, or associates hold UCAs that would have allowed the legal importation of HCFC-22. In total, Murrillo participated in smuggling 309,536 kilograms of HCFC with a market value of $1,525,670, into the United States. Murrillo resided outside the United States from the time of his indictment in 2012 until his arrest in Miami in May 2022.
A court sentenced Guada, in December 2012, to six months' incarceration and six months' home confinement followed by 18 months of supervised release. Guada also paid a $3,000 fine.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation, with assistance from Customs and Border Protection.
United States v. Megan Hess, et al., No. 1:20-CR-00098 (D. Colo.), AUSAs Jeremy Chaffin and Tim Neff.
On July 12, and July 5, 2022, Megan Hess and her mother. Shirley Koch, pleaded guilty to mail fraud for illegally selling body parts or entire bodies without the consent of the families of the deceased (18 U.S.C. § 1341).They made these shipments through the mail or on commercial air flights in violation of Department of Transportation regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials.
Between 2010 and 2018. Hess and Koch operated the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose. Colorado. The business purported to provide burial and cremation services. Hess and Koch met with families seeking cremation services. offered to cremate the decedents' bodies, and provided the remains to the families. The Home charged a minimum of $1,000 for cremations that often did not occur.
In 2009. Hess created a nonprofit called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation, d/b/a Donor Services. a body broker service operated out of the same location. On numerous occasions. the defendants failed to follow family's wishes, and neither discussed nor obtained authorization for Donor Services to transfer decedents' bodies or body parts to third parties. In the few instances where families agreed to donation, Hess and Koch sold the remains of those decedents beyond what was authorized by the family (often limited to small tissue samples, tumors. or portions of skin.) Hess and Koch also delivered cremains to families with the representation that the cremains were that of the deceased when. frequently, that was not the case.
The defendants shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive for, or belonging to people who had died from. infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, after certifying to buyers that the remains were disease free.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General conducted the investigation.
United States v. Aquintas K Singleton, No. 3:22-CR-00036 (M.D. La.), ECS Trial Attorney Matt Evans, AUSA Jon Shih, and ECS Law Clerks Amanda Backer and Nate Borelli.
On July 12. 2022. Aquintas K. Singleton pleaded guilty to possessing animals in an animal fighting venture. in violation of the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2156(b)).
During a drug-trafficking investigation. law enforcement officers learned Singleton was involved in an illegal interstate dog fighting venture. Beginning in late June 2017. agents intercepted numerous communications between the defendant and others. These phone conversations discussed dog fights (in states including Louisiana. Arkansas. and Georgia). upcoming matches. the cash they would wager on upcoming matches. and the breeding, sale. and training of dogs.
In October 2017. agents executed a search warrant at Singleton's residence in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. finding 17 pitbuII-type dogs kept in a manner consistent with dogfighting and exhibiting wounds from fighting. Agents also found firearms (including a loaded semiautomatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine) ammunition. dog training paraphernalia. and approximately $2,000 in cash.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation
United States v. Alfonso Esteban Delao, No. 3:21-CR-02942 (S.D. Calif.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Stephen DaPonte and AUSA Melanie Pierson.
On July 25, 2022. a court sentenced Alfonso Esteban Delao to two months' incarceration. followed by one year of supervised release. He also will pay $975 in restitution. Delao pleaded guilty to smuggling (18 U.S.C. § 545).
On September 11. 2021. authorities apprehended Delao as he attempted to smuggle 23 1-liter bottles of "DDVP 500"into the United States from Mexico.
Those involved in clandestine marijuana grows use illegaI pesticides to cultivate unregulated marijuana on both public and private land in the United States.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.
United States v. First Capital Insulation, Inc., et al., No. 1:20-CR-00020 (M.D. Pa.), ECS Senior Litigation Counsel Howard Stewart, AUSA William Behe, SAUSA Patricia Miller, and ECS Paralegal Claudia Garin.
On July 20, 2022. a court sentenced Lobar. Inc.. to pay a $400,000 fine and complete a three-year term of probation. to include implementing an Environmental Compliance Health and Safety Program and Ethics Plan. The company will submit this plan to the probation office within nine months. and enact a procedure for employees to report environmental and other violations through a hotline. Lobar pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act (CAA)(42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(l)).
Prosecutors charged three companies and four individuals in a ten-count indictment with violating the CAA Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations at a former weaving mill property located in Berwick. Pennsylvania. The Berwick Area School District (BASD) purchased the property to demolish and build a new elementary school.
Named in the indictment were: Dennis Lee Charles. Jr.. M & J Excavation. Inc.. John A. Sidari. Jr.. First Capital Insulation Inc. (FCI). Francis Richard Yingling, Jr.. Ty Allen Barnett.. and Lobar. Barnett. FCI. Yingling and Lobar pleaded guilty; a jury acquitted Charles. M&J. and Sidari.
BASD hired Lobar as the general contractor. Lobar assigned Charles. an experienced construction superintendent. as the on-site manager. Lobar hired two subcontractors: M & J (to conduct the demolition after abating the asbestos). and FCI to conduct the asbestos abatement. Sidari owns M&J. FCI co-owner Yingling placed Barnett on-site as the asbestos crew supervisor. FCI has a history of asbestos violations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In February 2015. EPA received information regarding illegal asbestos removal activity at the Berwick facility. Inspectors observed a number of NESHAP work practice violations on-site. The U.S. Environmental Protect ion Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the invest igation.
United States v. Stephen J. Hicks, No. 19-CR-00143 (D. Alaska), AUSA Steven Skrocki and Alaska Assistant Attorney General Ron Dupuis.
On July 20. 2022. a court sentenced Stephen J. Hicks to six months' incarceration. followed by three years of supervised release for illegally selling big game guiding services in 2018. Hicks violated the Lacey Act for illegally selling guiding services to a paying client near Max Lake. Alaska (16 U.S.C. §§ 3372(a)(2)(A), 3373(d)(1)(B)). Hicks sold the hunt on Bureau of Land Management lands where he was not permitted to operate and violated Alaska State laws governing guide/client supervision requirements while in the field.
Hicks also will forfeit his interest in a Piper Super Cub airplane and pay $13,460 in restitution for the illegally sold Dall sheep hunt. At sentencing, the court noted Hicks violated both state and federal law by: guiding same day airborne hunts; guiding clients on other state and federally managed lands without permits; wanton waste of game; making false statements and records; taking big game without paying for required tags; and guiding while his license was permanently revoked. While under supervision. Hicks cannot fly private aircraft or engage in any commercial hunting activity.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management. and the Alaska State Troopers conducted the investigation.
United States v. Bobby Khalili, et al., No. 2:19-CR-00242 (D. Nev.), ECS Senior Trial Attorney Cassie Barnum, SAUSA Rachel Kent, and ECS Paralegal Chloe Harris.
On July 20, 2022, a court sentenced Bobby Khalili to a year and a day of incarceration, followed by 36 months' supervised release. Khalili pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act (CAA) (42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(1)). Co-defendant Gonzalo Aguilar Doblado was sentenced to four and a half months' time-served, followed by one year of supervised release, after pleading guilty to the same charge.
In April 2016, Khalili contracted with Doblado to renovate a 16-unit apartment building in Las Vegas, Nevada. Khalili knew the building contained regulated asbestos-containing materials (RACM). but did not hire an asbestos abatement specialist to remove the RACM prior to renovation. Instead, he and Doblado hired untrained workers to tear out asbestos-containing drywall, ceiling texture, and floor tile. Those workers were not instructed to follow the CAA work practice standards for asbestos, which require RACM to be kept wet at all times, carefully bagged, and disposed of at a facility authorized to accept asbestos-containing waste.
When Clark County Department of Air Quality inspectors saw an open-top dumpster that they suspected contained RACM, they conducted an inspection at the site. After Doblado phoned Khalili to tell him the inspectors had arrived, Khalili called the dumpster rental company and asked that the dumpster be removed, in an attempt to destroy evidence of the illegal RACM removal.
While on pretrial release. Khalili purchased a second apartment complex in the same neighborhood and initiative a renovation project. As before. he hired a contractor untrained in asbestos abatement to tear out asbestos-containing drywall and ceiling texture. Khalili instructed the contractor in charge of the renovation to lie to inspectors about who owned and oversaw the project in an attempt to blame another person for the CAA violations he knowingly committed.
When Clark County Department of Air Quality inspectors conducted an inspection at the site and uncovered CAA violations based on improper handling of asbestos, Khalili told them by email that Nick Carboni was in charge of work at the facility and sent inspectors a fake contract between Carboni and Khalili's company. Th is lie constituted an attempt to blame Carboni for the CAA violations at the second facility. In truth, as Khalili knew, Carboni had no involvement whatsoever with the project.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and the Clark County Department of Environment and Sustainability, Division of Air Quality investigated the case.
United States v. Jose Garcia-Zamora, No. 1:19-CR-00169 (E.D. Calif.), AUSA Justin Gilio.
On July 15 2022. a court sentenced Jose Garcia-Zamora to 100 months' incarceration. followed by 60 months' supervised release. Zamora also will pay $25,353 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service. Zamora pleaded guilty to manufacturing marijuana and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime (21 U.S.C. §§ 841; 18 U.S.C § 924).
In July 2019, officers located close to 3.000 marijuana plants at a clandestine grow site on U.S. Forest Service land in Stanislaus National Forest. They arrested Garcia-Zamora on site with a .45 caliber pistol.
The U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted the investigation.
United States v. Wasatch Railroad Contractors, et al., No. 21-CR-00138 (D. Wyo.), AUSA Stephanie I. Sprecher, SAUSA Richard Baird, and USAO Paralegal Lisa Wait.
On July 5, 2022. a court sentenced Wasatch Railroad Contractors and CEO John E. Rimmasch after a jury convicted them on wire fraud and Clean Air Act knowing endangerment charges (18 U.S.C. § 1343; 42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(5)(A)). Rimmasch will serve 30 months' incarceration. followed by three years' supervised release. He also will pay $7,428 in restitution. The company is now defunct.
Wasatch repaired and restored freight cars. and specialized in restoring historic railroad equipment. In August 2016, Wasatch entered into a contract to restore a historic railcar owned by the National Park Service (NPS). Wasatch failed to complete the restoration. and in the process. endangered its employees by exposing them to asbestos by not following proper safety measures. Rimmasch billed the NPS falsely certifying that the company properly performed the abatement and restoration. The contract also obligated Wasatch to pay Davis Bacon (local prevailing) wages to its laborers. which Wasatch failed to do. Rimmasch directed others to submit falsely certified payrolls to the NPS stating his employees were paid the minimum Davis Bacon wage. Rimmasch knew that if the company failed to comply with all the terms in the contract. the NPS could refuse to pay the $800.000 agreed to payment.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.
Environmental Crimes Bulletin