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Press Release

Wyoming County Man and Raleigh County Woman Plead Guilty to Evading Financial Reporting Requirements

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of West Virginia

BECKLEY, W.Va. – Merrick Rice, 43, of Mullens, and Miranda Aliff, 32, of Rock Creek, each pleaded guilty today to structuring transactions with one or more domestic financial institutions. Each admitted to structuring bank deposits of illicit drug proceeds to evade currency transaction reporting requirements.

According to court documents and statements made in court, beginning in or around mid-2019 Rice and Aliff, both then in a romantic relationship, became involved in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana and other controlled substances in and around Mullens. Aliff admitted that Rice obtained the marijuana in wholesale quantities from Jack Paskin, 33, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who caused the marijuana to be shipped to them from various sources in California, Oregon and elsewhere.

On March 2, 2020, Rice created She Paints Quite a Lot LLC, a single-member limited liability corporation, with the West Virginia Secretary of State. Aliff was listed as the LLC’s sole member. On March 3, 2020, Paskin, Rice and Aliff traveled to the Beckley branch of domestic financial institution where they opened a business bank account in the name of the LLC. Paskin and Aliff were listed as signers on the bank account.

Rice and Aliff admitted that the LLC had no legitimate business purpose. Rice and Aliff further admitted that the LLC was created to transfer the proceeds of the marijuana distribution conspiracy from them to Paskin. Beginning on March 17, 2020 and continuing through August 13, 2020, Rice, Aliff and others connected to this conspiracy made cash deposits of less than $10,000 in the LLC’s bank account at the Beckley branch. The deposits were made in 27 transactions and totaled $228,000. Rice and Aliff admitted that these transactions were specifically designed to avoid currency reporting requirements. Financial institutions are required to report cash deposits of more than $10,000, and federal law prohibits structuring multiple cash deposits to avoid this reporting requirement. Rice and Aliff further admitted that the $228,000 consisted of proceeds from the conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

Rice also admitted to assisting other individuals in depositing a total of $54,000 in increments of $9,000 in the LLC’s bank account on six separate occasions between June 1, and June 23, 2020. Rice admitted that he knew the June 23, 2020, bank deposit was made in an amount that would avoid triggering the reporting requirement.

Aliff also admitted that she and Rice purchased 111 U.S. Postal Service money orders totaling $109,000 as part of a method to pay Paskin. Rice drove Aliff to different posts offices in or near Raleigh County and directed Aliff to purchase a $1,000 money order at each post office. Federal law requires the U.S. Postal Service to obtain information from the purchaser of money orders, wire transfers, and stored value cards when the dollar amount of cash purchases total $3,000 or more. Aliff admitted that Rice advised her how to structure these transactions to avoid triggering the U.S. Postal Service reporting requirements. Aliff further admitted that Rice involved another individual to travel to these posts offices and purchase the money orders.

The money orders were payable to Paskin or to Akashic Connections, a business entity established by Paskin. Once Rice had secured the necessary amount of money orders, usually totaling $8,000, he and Aliff would deposit them at Beckley bank branches into Paskin’s personal bank account or a business account in the name of Akashic Connections.

Rice and Aliff are scheduled to be sentenced on August 30, 2024, and each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

On February 21, 2024, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Paskin with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Paskin awaits trial. An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

United States Attorney Will Thompson made the announcement and commended the investigative work of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

United States Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn presided over the hearings. Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan T. Storage is prosecuting the cases.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:24-cr-66 (Rice) and 5:24-cr-65 (Aliff). 

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Updated May 7, 2024