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Espionage – Reality Winner

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One of the more unusual white-collar crimes that has become a frequent news topic is that of espionage, particularly as it relates to various leaks from the White House, National Security Administration (NSA) and other federal organizations.

Recently, Reality Winner accepted a plea bargain with federal prosecutors after being accused of using her position with the NSA to leak classified documents to a news organization last year. Her charges came under provisions of the Espionage Act, and she is alleged to have leaked documents describing the efforts expended by the Russians to affect American elections and its electoral system. According to the records, the contractor and Air Force veteran printed out a classified, top-secret document and mailed it to an online news outlet, who broke the story around the same time as the leak.

Although the deal has not yet been approved of by the court, she has agreed to serve 5 years and 3 months in prison, with three years of supervised release after, as well as agreeing to never leak classified documents again. Ms. Winner is the first person who is accused of leaking classified information who is also charged with a crime under the current administration.

The provision under the Espionage Act that she is accused of violating is 18 U.S.C §793(e) which states, “whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document … or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits, or causes to be communicated, delivered or transmitted… to any person not entitled to receive it…” shall be fined or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

The definition of what information is classified stems from Executive Order 13526, which states that information may be classified it is owned, produced by or for, or under the control of the U.S. government, falls within one or more of the Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential categories, and is classified by an original classification authority who determines that the unauthorized disclosure of said information could reasonably be expected to result in damage to the national security.

Reality Winner began working with Pluribus, an NSA contractor that works with defense, security, and intelligence sectors and offers multiple services, including translations. She had top-secret clearance. Winner became identified as the source of the leak when officials requested a copy of the document, which showed creases and ‘microdots’ that revealed the source printer. She has been jailed without bond for over a year. The plea means that the government is likely to avoid a complex trial that was scheduled for October.

This is not the first time a leaker has been prosecuted, though. During the Obama administration, around 10 leak-related prosecutions went forward – almost twice as many as prosecutions brought under any other previous administration, combined. And FBI agent Terry Albury pleaded guilty in April this year for leaks which occurred during Mr. Trump’s presidency. James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member has also been arrested for lying to the FBI about the nature and extent of his contacts with reporters, and Joshua A. Schulte, a former CIA software engineer, has also been charged with violations of the Espionage Act.

New York Jeweler Charged with Forgery and Wire Fraud

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Tejas Mehta, a Manhattan based jewelry wholesaler was arrested on August 5 for allegedly forging the seal of a federal agency and committing wire fraud.   Mehta allegedly forged the seal of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in order to steal jewelry he obtained legitimately from other wholesalers.  Mehta purchased the precious stones on consignment and then falsely claimed that they were seized by the CBP, offering the forged documents as evidence.  ICE reports that this scheme allowed Mehta to defraud his business partners of roughly $1 million.  Mehta defrauded one diamond trader in particular of approximately $650,000.

After Mehta’s actions began to arouse suspicion, ICE and the IRS conducted a joint investigation.  Now that the investigation is complete and Mehta has officially been charged, he will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York on counts of forgery and wire fraud.

Forgery is the act of copying or imitating an official document with the intent to deceive.  Forgery is against both state and federal law.  Mehta is accused of forging an official seal of a government agency, a federal crime under 18 USC Section 506.  This statute makes it a crime to forge or counterfeit a seal of any U.S. department or agency with a fraudulent intent.  In this case, Mehta’s alleged forgery of the CBP seal seems to have the requisite elements of forgery.  The crime is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison.

Meanwhile, wire fraud is defined as the use of “the wires” to commit or with the intent to commit a scheme to defraud.  The term “the wires” has been defined broadly and can mean the Internet, television or phone lines.  While the details of how Mehta allegedly distributed the forged document are unknown, it is possible he did so through email or some other electronic communication.  If so, he could be found guilty of wire fraud in addition to forgery.  It is important to note, that wire fraud can only be charged in furtherance of another fraud or crime, so Mehta must be convicted of forgery to be found guilty of wire fraud.  In addition to the penalties coming from the forgery charge, Mehta faces an additional 20 years imprisonment stemming from the wire fraud charge.

Clearly, these crimes are very serious and require a knowledgeable and skilled attorney to provide a satisfactory defense.  If you have been charged with forgery or wire fraud, or any other crime, contact us, the Blanch Law Firm immediately at 212-736-3900.

Corruption in New York Law Enforcement – Bad Cops

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This blog has talked about corruption within the ranks of law enforcement in the state. By and large, New York’s finest does live up to its name – but there are serious patterns across the state that warrant concern – particularly for potential defendants and their lawyers.

A teen who was pimped out by an NYPD detective recently was awarded $1.25 million for her horrible experience. Detective Wayne Taylor, the detective in question, had a long line of complaints about his behavior as an undercover officer and detective. Among the complaints are an abuse of authority and having sex with prostitutes.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn, the child – 13 at the time, and known only as H.H., came into contact with Taylor. She was a ballet dancer and was invited to dance a party for money, from a woman who claimed to be Taylor’s wife. She showed up to the party, where she was ‘sold’ for $500.00. When H.H. balked, she alleged that Taylor said he was a detective, and if she did not follow his orders, he would throw her in the street and arrest her for prostitution.

He forced her into prostitution and eventually passed her on to another pimp. Prior to this incident, the evidence revealed that Taylor had been the subject of 25 complaints. Three had been cleared, but the remainder were pending. Taylor pleaded guilty, but the Judge in the matter believed that had the NYPD adequately investigated and disciplined Taylor for his bad conduct, he would not have felt that he could have prostituted H.H.

In other disturbing news, another NYPD cop has been caught sending sexually inappropriate texts to a 16-year old. He also worked as a girls’ volleyball coach through the “Cops and Kids” program of the Police Athletic League. Andre Patnett accepted an unspecified penalty instead of a department trial, being allowed to keep his shield. However, he could still be terminated.

Another police officer of the NYPD, Reynaldo Lopez, has been arrested after he tried to bring 3 kilograms of heroin into the city – a small part of a massive scheme involving credit card fraud and counterfeit cash. Lopez had been caught after another undercover officer handed off the drugs during a meetup in New Jersey. According to court records, he was also seen carrying his own personal handgun during the drug deal. He became a target after the NYPD and FBI had carried out a sting investigating a counterfeit credit card ring earlier in the year. Lopez is accused of receiving stolen credit card information and accepting stolen identities from another undercover officer. He used these fraudulent credit cards to spend over $13,000.00 at various luxury retail stores around New York and New Jersey. Possession of narcotics over 1 kilogram carries with it a maximum life sentence.

After internal disciplinary reports of the NYPD were released to the public, it is clear that there is a rash of cover-ups and corruption occurring in the department. The NYPD allowed over 300 cops accused of significant and serious misconduct (beating civilians, perjury, selling drugs, etc.) to stay on the force. Prosecutors are implicated, with many of them dropping cases concerning bad police conduct, meaning they could not be held accountable to the public. Perhaps the City should look to the strides Philadelphia has made. Prosecutors have publicly released a list of officers they could not have as witnesses based on their past serious misconduct. This would be a start in increasing transparency and accountability of the NYPD.