The Office investigates and prosecutes a full range of threats to national security, including domestic and international terrorism; sanctions evasion, export control violations, espionage, malign foreign influence, transnational repression, and other counterintelligence matters; and large-scale international narcotics and weapons trafficking.
Prosecutors assigned to the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and other law enforcement partners to investigate and thwart domestic and international terrorism threats, respond to terrorist attacks, and prosecute those responsible, including in the following significant terrorism cases:
- Perpetrator of October 31, 2017, Terrorist Attack in Tribeca Convicted at Trial and Sentenced to Multiple Life Sentences: In January 2023, Sayfullo Saipov was convicted at trial of all counts related to his terrorist attack in lower Manhattan on Halloween 2017. That day, Saipov rented a 6,000-pound truck and drove it from New Jersey to lower Manhattan, where he targeted a bike path and struck more than 20 people, killing eight. The attack was the deadliest in New York City since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Saipov committed his attack to join ISIS, a brutal terrorist organization he had spent years learning about and supporting. After his attack, Saipov boasted that he was proud of what he had done, asked to hang an ISIS flag in his hospital room, and expressed regret only that he had been unable to murder more innocent victims. After the jury in Saipov’s capital trial was unable to reach a unanimous verdict as to whether to impose the death penalty, Saipov was sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences, two concurrent life sentences, and 260 consecutive years in prison.
- Prosecution of Man Who Carried Out Machete Attack in Times Square on New Year’s Eve: On December 31, 2022, Trevor Thomas Bickford traveled to Times Square for the purpose of killing U.S. officials in the name of radical Islamic jihad and used a machete-style knife to attack three NYPD officers working in coordination with the FBI to protect the New Year’s Eve celebration. In January 2023, Bickford was charged with attempting to kill officers and employees of the U.S. Government and persons assisting them. Bickford’s trial is scheduled to begin in March 2024.
- U.S. Army Soldier Convicted of Attempting to Murder Fellow Service Members in Deadly Ambush: In June 2022, former U.S. Army soldier Ethan Melzer pled guilty to terrorism and espionage crimes for attempting to orchestrate a deadly ambush of his fellow soldiers while stationed overseas. Melzer was a member of the extremist organization Order of the Nine Angles or O9A, an occult-based, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist group, and Melzer joined the U.S. Army to infiltrate its ranks and further his goals as an O9A adherent. While serving in the Army, Melzer planned an attack on his unit in the days leading up to a deployment to Turkey and sent sensitive details about the unit – including information about its location, movements, and security – to other O9A members for the purpose of executing the ambush. The plot was foiled, and Melzer was arrested, shortly before his unit deployed to the site of the planned ambush. In March 2023, Melzer was sentenced to 45 years in prison for his traitorous crimes.
- Prosecution of Former Taliban Commander for Killing American Troops: In October 2021, this Office unsealed charges against Haji Najibullah, a former Taliban commander responsible for commanding more than a thousand troops in Afghanistan and reporting directly to senior Taliban leadership. Under his direction, Najibullah’s troops targeted and killed, among others, American and NATO troops and their Afghan allies, using automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades, and other anti-tank weapons. In particular, Najibullah and his co-conspirators are charged with the November 2008 kidnapping of an American journalist and two Afghan nationals who were helping the journalist. Najibullah and his co-conspirators held the victims hostage for months. Najibullah’s trial is scheduled to begin in May 2024.
- Kidnappers of American Journalist in Somalia Convicted at Trial: For 977 days, Michael Scott Moore, an American journalist, was held hostage in Somalia by pirates. In February 2023, two key players in Moore's years-long captivity, Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed and Abdi Yusuf Hassan, were convicted after trial. Tahlil, a Somali Army officer, left his post to take command of the pirates holding Moore captive and obtained the machine guns and grenade launchers used to threaten and hold Moore. Hassan, the Minister of Interior and Security for the province in Somalia where Moore was held hostage, abused his government position and led the pirates' efforts to extort a massive ransom from Moore's mother. Both defendants await sentencing.
The Office is on the front lines of combatting the wide-ranging threats to national security posed by hostile foreign states and other adversaries, including through the investigation and prosecution of entities and individuals that engage in sanctions evasion, export control violations, malign foreign influence campaigns, and transnational repression and violence against dissidents. The Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit and the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Enterprises Unit lead the Office’s work in this area.
- Former CIA Employee Convicted of Espionage for Leaking Classified Material: In July 2022, Joshua Adam Schulte was convicted of one of the most damaging acts of espionage in American history. Schulte, a former CIA programmer who had access to some of the most valuable intelligence-gathering cyber tools in the country, covertly collected these tools and provided them to Wikileaks. In turn, this information was made available to the public, including our nation’s adversaries, and included some of the most critical intelligence tools used to thwart terrorism and other national security threats. Schulte was fully aware of the devastating impact his espionage would (and did) have on the nation’s intelligence community. In addition, in September 2023, Schulte was convicted of multiple counts related to his possession and transportation of child pornography. Schulte is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2024.
- Thwarting of Iranian Plots to Attack Dissident: Working closely with the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, the Office has thwarted two Iranian plots to attack a dissident U.S. citizen (the “Victim”) residing in New York City. In July 2021, the Office charged an Iranian intelligence officer and other members of an Iranian intelligence network for plotting to kidnap the Victim – a journalist and human rights activist who has helped to expose the Government of Iran’s human rights abuses – for rendition to Iran and likely execution. In January 2023, the Office charged three members of an Eastern European organized crime group for attempting to murder the Victim in an assassination plot directed from Iran. Khalid Mehdiyev, who was tasked with carrying out the assassination, was arrested near the Victim’s residence with an assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, and a black ski mask. The leader of the criminal organization hired from Iran to carry out the assassination, Rafat Amirov, was taken into custody in January 2023.
- Russian-German National Arrested for Illegally Exporting to Russia Sensitive U.S.-Sourced Microelectronics with Military Applications in Violation of U.S. Export Controls: In August 2023, the Office charged Arthur Petrov with export control violations, smuggling, wire fraud, and money laundering offenses based on his participation in a scheme to illegally procure large quantities of U.S-sourced sensitive microelectronics subject to U.S. export controls on behalf of a Russia-based supplier of critical electronics components for manufacturers supplying weaponry and other equipment to the Russian military. Petrov was arrested in August 2023 in the Republic of Cyprus.
- Prosecution of Founders of Tornado Cash: In September 2023, the Office charged Roman Storm and Roman Semenov with conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit sanctions violations, and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. The charges in the Indictment arise from the defendants’ alleged creation, operation, and promotion of Tornado Cash, a cryptocurrency mixer that facilitated more than $1 billion in money laundering transactions and laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for the Lazarus Group, the sanctioned North Korean cybercrime organization.
- Indictment of Vladimir Voronchenko and Civil Forfeiture Action Against Victor Vekselberg Properties: In February 2023, the Office charged Vladimir Voronchenko, a citizen of the Russian Federation and legal permanent resident of the United States, with participating in a scheme to make more than $4 million in U.S. dollar payments to maintain four real properties in the United States that were owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a sanctioned Russian oligarch, as well as to attempt to sell two of those properties. The Indictment also charged Voronchenko with contempt of court in connection with his flight from the United States following receipt of a Grand Jury subpoena requiring his personal appearance and testimony. Voronchenko remains a fugitive. The Office also filed a civil forfeiture complaint against six of Vekselberg’s real properties located in New York, New York; Southampton, New York; and Fisher Island, Florida, worth approximately $75 million. The Complaint alleges that the properties are the proceeds of sanctions violations and were involved in international money laundering in promotion of sanctions violations committed by, among others, Voronchenko.
- Indictment of Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Associates: In September 2022, the Office indicted Russian national Oleg Deripaska, U.S. citizen Olga Shriki, and Russian nationals Natalia Bardakova and Ekaterina Voronina with criminal charges including sanctions evasion and obstruction of justice. As alleged in the indictment, Deripaska, the owner and controller of Basic Element, a private investment and management company for Deripaska’s various business interests, was subjected to economic sanctions on April 6, 2018. On that date, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Deripaska as a Specially Designated National, in connection with its finding that the actions of the Government of the Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Following his designation, Deripaska conspired with his co-defendants and others to evade and to violate those sanctions in various ways and over the course of several years.
- Conviction of Cryptocurrency Developer for Assisting North Korea in Violation of Sanctions: In April 2022, U.S. citizen Virgil Griffith, a cryptocurrency expert, was sentenced to more than five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. In 2018, Griffith began formulating plans to provide services to North Korea by developing and funding a cryptocurrency infrastructure there, including technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade and avoid U.S. sanctions, and to fund its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities. In April 2019, Griffith traveled to North Korea and presented at a blockchain and cryptocurrency conference where he and his co-conspirators instructed attendees on how North Korea could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions. Griffith’s presentations, which had been approved by North Korean officials, focused on, among other things, how blockchain technology could be used to benefit North Korea in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States. After the conference, Griffith pursued plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between North Korea and South Korea, attempted to recruit other U.S. citizens to travel to North Korea and provide similar services to North Korea, and attempted to broker introductions for North Korea to other cryptocurrency and blockchain service providers.
- Dual U.S. / Russian National Charged with Illegally Acting as a Russian Agent in the United States: In March 2022, the Office unsealed charges against Elena Branson, who worked for years to promote Russian policies and ideology in the United States while subverting foreign agent registration laws. Branson, among other things, received approvals from the highest levels of the Russian government in 2012 to incorporate a propaganda center in New York known as the Russia Center New York (“RCNY”). Thereafter, through the RCNY and other entities, Branson coordinated propaganda and lobbying campaigns on behalf of the Russian government. Along the way, Branson received orders from the highest levels of the Russian government in the United States and Moscow and received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government. After Branson’s residence was searched and she was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she left the United States for Russia and later admitted in a television interview that she fled the United States because she feared she was going to be arrested.
- Belarusian Government Officials Charged with Aircraft Piracy for Diverting Ryanair Flight 4978 to Arrest Dissident Journalist: While on its regularly-scheduled passenger route between Athens, Greece, and Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23, 2021, Ryanair Flight 4978 – which was carrying four U.S. nationals and more than 100 other passengers – was diverted to Minsk, Belarus, by air traffic control authorities in Belarus in response to a purported threat of a bomb on the plane. There was, in fact, no bomb on board. Belarusian government authorities fabricated the threat as a means to exercise control over the flight and force it to divert from its course and land in Minsk. The purpose of the Belarusian government’s plot diverting the flight to Minsk was so that Belarusian security services could arrest a Belarusian journalist and political dissident, who was critical of the Belarusian government and living in exile in Lithuania. The Belarusian government conspiracy to divert the flight was executed by, among others, officers of the Belarusian state security services working in coordination with senior officials of the Belarusian state air navigation authority. The Office charged four of those Belarusian government officials, including the director of Belarus’s state air navigation authority, with aircraft piracy in January 2022, exposing the brazen scheme.
Working closely with the DEA’s Special Operations Division and other law enforcement partners, prosecutors assigned to the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit investigate and prosecute large-scale international narcotics and arms traffickers threatening national security and the corrupt foreign officials who facilitate their illicit activities.
- Prosecution of Former President of Honduras for Narco-Trafficking: In April 2022, the former President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was extradited to face charges involving the transportation of massive quantities of cocaine and related firearms offenses. As alleged in the indictment, Juan Orlando Hernandez worked with some of the largest and most violent drug cartels in the world to help them distribute tons of cocaine destined for the United States. The charges against Juan Orlando Hernandez are some of the latest in the Office’s prosecution of large-scale narcotics traffickers and corrupt politicians in Honduras and elsewhere in the region. The Office has previously secured convictions against others involved with Juan Orlando Hernandez in trafficking cocaine to the United States, including Juan Orlando Hernandez’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, himself a former Honduran Congressman who was convicted by the Office at trial and later sentenced to life in prison. Juan Orlando Hernandez is scheduled to begin trial in February 2024.
- Targeting the Sinaloa Cartel’s Fentanyl Operations: In April 2023, the Office announced sweeping charges against Sinaloa Cartel leadership and 25 other defendants for conspiring to manufacture and transport staggering quantities of fentanyl made from Chinese chemicals into the United States. Since at least 2014, the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel has run a global fentanyl manufacturing and distribution operation, sending massive quantities of fentanyl – a drug that has killed unprecedented numbers of Americans – into the United States. The Office’s indictment charges not only Cartel leadership but also top lieutenants, manufacturers and distributors of the Cartel’s fentanyl, the managers of the violent armed security apparatus that protects the Cartel’s drug trafficking operations, the sophisticated money launderers who repatriate the Cartel’s drug proceeds back to Mexico, and multiple chemical precursor suppliers in China that fuel the Cartel’s fentanyl distribution operation.
- Chinese Chemical Company and Executives Charged with Fentanyl Trafficking, Precursor Importation, and Money Laundering: In June 2023, the Office unsealed charges against the Chinese chemical company Hubei Amarvel Biotech Co., LTD., a/k/a “AmarvelBio,” (“Amarvel Biotech”) and three executives for their role in transporting more than 200 kilograms of raw chemicals used to make fentanyl and its analogues from China to the United States, intending that the chemicals would be used to produce fentanyl and its analogues in New York. Amarvel Biotech and its executives agreed to continue supplying multi-ton shipments of fentanyl precursors despite being told that Americans had died after consuming fentanyl made from the chemicals they sold. Two defendants, Qingzhou Wang, Amarvel Biotech’s principal executive, and Yiyi Chen, the company’s marketing manager, were arrested in June 2023.
- Prosecution of Yakuza Leader and Affiliates for Large-Scale International Arms Trafficking: In April 2022, working closely with our partners at DEA’s Special Operations Division, the Office charged Takeshi Ebisawa of Japan, a leader within the Japanese transnational organized crime syndicate known as Yakuza, and three Thai affiliates for conspiring to arrange large-scale international narcotics and weapons deals, including the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles. The defendants were arrested, and their trafficking disrupted, after they traveled to Manhattan in April 2022.
- Prosecution of Former President of Venezuela and High-Ranking Venezuelan Officials: In March 2020, the Office unsealed narco-terrorism and related charges against Nicolas Maduro, the former President of Venezuela, and other high-ranking current and former Venezuelan officials, for their participation in decades of state-sponsored narco-trafficking. The defendants sought not only to enrich themselves, but to weaponize their drug distribution and “flood” the United States with cocaine. To date, two of the charged defendants have arrived in the United States to face charges. The first, Cliver Antonio Alcala Cordones, is a former high-ranking general in the Venezuelan army who pled guilty in July 2023 and is pending sentencing. The second, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, was extradited in July 2023. Carvajal Barrios is the former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence agency and, like Alcala Cordones, abused his government role to partner with narcotics producers and distributors to send tons of cocaine to the United States.