ICYMI: Shutdown Updates from Federal Court in Oregon
PORTLAND. Ore.—During the recent lapse in appropriations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was required to curtail some operations pursuant to applicable law and policy. Nevertheless, the office continued to fulfill its law enforcement responsibilities by prosecuting criminal cases. Below is a summary of notable case events that occurred during the shutdown:
U.S. v. Hediger
On January 23, 2019, Pamela S. Hediger, 55, of Corvallis, Oregon, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison and three years’ supervised release for tax evasion and money laundering. Hediger was also ordered to pay more than $1.9 million in restitution.
According to court documents, between 2010 and 2017, Hediger was an attorney, president, and managing shareholder of a law firm in Corvallis. Hediger focused on personal injury cases and independently managed her own client relationships. During her association with the firm, Hediger systematically embezzled funds from the firm’s client trust and business operating accounts, both of which she had signing authority over. The embezzled funds came from insurance proceeds payable to Hediger’s clients.
Hediger failed to file income tax returns on nearly $2.2 million between 2011 and 2017, evading more than $471,000 in taxes due. Hediger previously pleaded guilty to one count each of attempting to evade or defeat taxes and engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specific unlawful criminal activity on November 6, 2018.
This case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and prosecuted by Claire M. Fay, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
U.S. v. Smith
On January 15, 2019, Victor William Smith, Jr., 45, of Warm Springs, Oregon, was sentenced to 144 months in federal prison and three years’ supervised release for assaulting two Warm Springs Tribal Police detectives serving a deputized federal task force officers. Smith was also ordered to pay $8,305 in restitution.
According to court documents, on June 8, 2017, Smith forcibly assaulted the officers by attempting to run them down with his pickup truck. The officers ultimately apprehended Smith and found a stolen Remington shotgun in his truck. Smith admitted to knowingly possessing the stolen firearm at the time of his arrest.
Smith previously pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a federal officer and one count of felon in possession of a firearm.
This case was investigated by the FBI and the Warm Springs Tribal Police Department and prosecuted by Benjamin Tolkoff, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
U.S. v. Britton
On January 23, 2019, Shane Britton, 43, of Pendleton, Oregon, was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $1,803 in restitution for abusive sexual contact on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, in June 2016, Britton was staying at a residence shared by the victim and her mother on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The victim and her mother are both enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Britton is not a tribal member.
During his stay, Britton subjected the victim to a series of unwanted and progressively more invasive physical encounters. In a recorded interview, Britton initially denied the allegation of abusive sexual contact, but later admitted he inappropriately touched the victim. Britton eventually told law enforcement officers that “in no way shape or form did [the victim] do anything wrong or provoke” his abusive conduct.
A federal jury in Portland convicted Britton on one count of abusive sexual contact on October 18, 2018.
The FBI investigated this case in partnership with the Umatilla Tribal Police Department. It was prosecuted by Jennifer Martin and Natalie Wight, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon.
U.S. v. Stevens et al.
On January 8, 2019, a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Ronnie Stevens aka Tim Ephrem, 49, and Tina Ephrem aka Lisa Ann Peterson, 43, both of Portland, with wire fraud.
The indictment alleges that between September 2016 and December 2018, the couple conspired with one another to defraud an elderly couple, Adult Victim 1 (AV1) and Adult Victim 2 (AV2), of both money and property.
The scheme began in September 2016 when AV1 offered a commercial trailer for sale at his business. Stevens told AV1 that he brokered vehicle sales and could sell the trailer in exchange for a cut of the profit. Stevens did not sell the trailer, but quickly ingratiated himself with AV1 who later described him as “humble and honest” but “down on his luck.” Stevens told AV1 that he supported a wife and teenage daughter, and that he suffered with health issues.
Stevens later approached AV1 with an alleged lucrative investment opportunity. Stevens claimed that a friend named Tammy Ward was set to inherit an estate valued in excess of $100 million from her recently deceased father, but could not come up with the fees and legal costs necessary to release the state. Stevens told AV1 that if AV1 could advance the funds to release the estate, AV1 would be given title to valuable classic cars and vans that were part of the estate.
AV1 gave Stevens approximately $15,000 in cash followed by $25,000 in cash two weeks later. The payments escalated over time as Stevens told AV1 various stories about delays and increased costs associated with the release of the estate. As part of the conspiracy, AV1 and AV2 both spoke to a woman on the phone who claimed to be Tammy Ward. Investigators later revealed this person to by Tina Ephrem. Between 2016 and 2018, Stevens placed more than 5,000 outgoing calls to AV1 and AV2.
Stevens and Ephrem collected more than $1.5 million from AV1 and AV2 over the course of the conspiracy, spending the proceeds on utility bills, restaurants, cigars, retail purchases and travel to locations including Hawaii, Anaheim, California, Las Vegas, Nevada and Spirit Mountain Lodge in Grand Ronde, Oregon.
Stevens and Ephrem were arrested on January 11, 2019. They made their initial appearances in federal court the same day and were ordered detained pending a five-day jury trial beginning on March 12, 2019.
This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Donna Brecker Maddux, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
U.S. v. Newman
On January 15, 2019, Steven Wayne Newman, 50, of Hillsboro, Oregon, was sentenced to 60 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for distributing child pornography.
According to court documents, in October 2016, an FBI task force officer identified an IP address offering to share files containing child pornography via the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing network. The officer downloaded ten files from a computer at that IP address, four of which depicted prepubescent children engaging in sexually explicit conduct with adults and with each other. The IP address was later traced to Newman’s home in Hillsboro.
The FBI was not the only law enforcement agency investigating Newman’s IP address. Investigators from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the Albany Police Department, and the Benton County Sheriff’s Office also downloaded child pornography from a computer at the same address. A Linn County Sheriff’s Office detective downloaded 247 files containing a total of 91 videos and 426 images of child pornography.
On January 20, 2017, FBI agents executed a federal search warrant at Newman’s home. They seized a laptop and external hard drive, both of which contained contraband material. Agents found 212 videos and 665 images depicting the sexual exploitation of children. Newman’s BitTorrent file sharing software had been run 272 times, most recently on the day prior to the search warrant.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force (CETF), the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the Albany Police Department, and the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Gary Y. Sussman, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
U.S. v. Gregory
On January 22, 2019, Rodney Paul Gregory, 64, of Lebanon, Oregon, pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering for his role in various online romance scams.
According to court documents, between May 2017 and January 2019, Gregory acted as a money mule for online romance scams. As part of the scheme, unknown co-conspirators would target individuals through online dating. These co-conspirators would impersonate military or civilian personnel working overseas, pretending they needed funds for foreign taxes, travel costs, or other false representations. Victims would wire money based on these false statements.
Instead of wiring the money directly overseas, victims were asked to wire money to bank accounts in the U.S. Gregory incorporated companies and opened numerous business bank accounts in order to receive these wires transfers from victims. Upon receipt of the wire, Gregory would send the money to overseas bank accounts.
On May 11, 2017, federal agents interviewed Gregory and he claimed he was not aware that the funds wired to his accounts were the proceeds of fraud. He claimed he did the work as a result of promises of love from the woman he met on an online dating website. Following his interview with investigators, Gregory continued to open new business bank accounts using fraudulent information, continued receiving wires from victims and continued wiring the victim’s money overseas. Between the May interview and the end of August 2017, Gregory wired or otherwise withdrew over $200,000 in fraudulent proceeds.
Gregory faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years’ supervised release. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Gregory agreed to pay restitution in full to his victims as ordered by the court at sentencing. He will be sentenced on April 4, 2019.
This case was investigated by the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation and is being prosecuted by Gavin W. Bruce, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
U.S. v. Burkleo
On January 23, 2019, Bud O’Neil Burkleo, 36, of Warrenton, Oregon pleaded guilty to four counts of communicating a false distress message and one count of making a false statement.
According to court documents, Burkleo made four hoax distress calls to the U.S. Coast Guard between April and November of 2016. In response to each call, the Coast Guard dispatched rescue personnel in an attempt to protect life and property. Burkleo also lied to federal investigators.
Burkleo will be sentenced on May 13, 2019.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and prosecuted by Paul T. Maloney, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
U.S. v. Ugwa
On November 14, 2018, a federal grand jury returned a 14-count indictment charging Bob Ibenne Ugwa, 49, of Portland, with seven counts each of cyberstalking and anonymous telecommunications harassment.
The indictment alleges that, between 2003 and 2018, Ugwa used an interstate electronic communication service to engage in conduct reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress and made telephone calls without disclosing his identity with the intent to abuse, threaten, and harass seven different individuals.
Each charge of cyberstalking under 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2)(B) and anonymous telecommunications harassment under 47 U.S.C. § 223(a)(1)(C) is punishable by up to five and two years in prison, respectively.
Ugwa was detained pending trial. A three-day jury trial is scheduled to begin on March 26, 2019.
This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Hannah D. Horsley, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.