Articles Posted in Federal Crime

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A ring of 74 suspected drug dealers allegedly infiltrating Lake County with cocaine, heroin and prescription pills have been charged with various drug-related charges.

These arrests come after a four-month undercover investigation where the Lake County Sheriff’s Office claims the members of the drug ring were caught red handed. The charges resulted from the undercover operation dubbed “Close to Home,” which was started due to numerous citizen complaints. Investigators claim they seized two pounds of heroin, seven ounces of cocaine and about 300 prescription pills, totaling nearly $140,000 in street value.

The Sheriff’s Office announced that those involved in this alleged drug ring never strayed too far from home. They allegedly made transactions where families are shopping with their children.

5829666604_516663f8ee_mSo far, arrest warrants have been served on 67 suspects. The investigation was conducted by the Lake County Sheriff’s office along with Clermont, Mount Dora and Leesburg police departments, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando division of the U.S. Marshal’s Office. The state Department of Children and Families is also involved. Children found in the homes that were searched have been placed with other family members.

Investigators also seized 23 vehicles, including two BMWs and two Suzuki motorcycles, along with 20 guns and about $33,000 in cash. According to officials, the vehicles will be sold or used by the participating agencies.

A majority of the suspects, ranging in age from 18 to 60, are from south Lake, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Police believe the suspected ring leader is a 27-year-old man from Clermont who has a history of drug and criminal charges.

In most large-scale drug trafficking investigations, it is quite common for police to conduct multiple undercover drug transactions with the same suspect, or in this case suspects, before making an arrest. This is just one tactic that allows police to gain new evidence as well as new suspects as they continue to perform undercover transactions. This also gives law enforcement and the State’s Attorney’s Office a powerful edge in negotiating strategies as they can prosecute suspects for numerous different criminal counts.

Those who are facing any type of drug charges must take these matters very seriously. A conviction will likely result in jail time, not to mention a criminal record, which could limit one’s chances of obtaining employment or qualifying for a loan.

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A Plant City youth group volunteer is facing child pornography charges.

Polk deputies arrested the 28-year-old man at his Lakeland home.

According to the sheriff’s office, members at the church came forward after they found explicit images on a shared computer and became concerned.

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Investigators claim they discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in marijuana from seven grow houses in Pasco County after they stopped by to check out claims of electric theft.

According to reports, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said they were alerted to the seven houses by officials with Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative after the company learned that more than $206,000 worth of power had been stolen over the course of the past two weeks.

When investigators got to each home, they allegedly found elaborate marijuana grow operations. The sheriff’s office believes the grow houses are the work of of an organized crime ring because the wiring installed to steal the electricity at each home appears to be the same.

4151958797_286773e01e_mAs of now, only one arrest has been made. A 50-year-old Port Richey man has been charged with trafficking and cultivating marijuana and theft of utilities. Police anticipate more arrests as the investigation continues to unfold.

While the manufacturing of marijuana may not take place in a laboratory the same way many drugs like methamphetamines are produced, the cultivation of marijuana is a very serious offense in the state of Florida. Due to its Schedule I classification as an illegal substance, arrests stemming from marijuana-related offenses will generally result in felony charges.

If you have been charged with or have been arrested for or accused of growing marijuana, you are probably feeling extremely scared and under intense pressure. Consulting with a Pasco County Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton could help alleviate some of your stress, and at the same time provide you with a plan of action to make it through the legal process without suffering life-altering consequences.

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The local chair of American Civil Liberties Union is calling for a federal review of Central Florida’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

Ret. Army Col. Mike Pheneger, the chair of the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU, said there are many problems with these “To Catch a Predator”-style undercover stings, which are extremely popular in West/Central Florida.

Pheneger, who has also held ACLU leadership positions at the state and national level, said this: “The Justice Department (should) be asked to look into this, since this is federal money that’s involved here. Find out if they are following the rules, because it would appear they are not.”

gavelThe Central Florida ICAC task force, under the authority of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, started reaching out to men who were simply posting perfectly legal ads on legitimate dating websites. A handful of judges have even criticized officers’ overreach, their “failing to follow procedures” during undercover operations, as well as methods used to nettle “a law-abiding citizen to commit a crime.”

According to a 10 Investigates analysis, out of more than 1,200 Florida arrests since 2008, many of the subjects of the stings often had no previous criminal record and were able to avoid jail time. In fact, many prosecutors have shown leniency, based on the facts of the case and the likelihood the accused might actually commit a crime on a real child.

“It’s important to put actual sex offenders in jail,” Pheneger added. “Law enforcement should be going after those people, not trying to entice people who have shown no disposition to any kind of criminal behavior toward children.”

Many local agencies, such as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, do not take part in these sting operations. Rather, they focus their efforts on more immediate dangers in the cyber crime realm, such as child porn and sex trafficking.

ICAC guidelines, which were obtained by 10 Investigates through court records, demonstrate that these online undercover stings, which usually don’t involve real children or victims, are not even specified in the list of priorities agencies are supposed to use to target suspected predators. Here are the regulations:

  1. A child is at immediate risk of victimization.
  2. A child is vulnerable to victimization by a known offender.
  3. A known suspect is aggressively soliciting a child(ren).
  4. Manufacturers, distributors or possessors of images that appear to be home photography with domiciled children.
  5. Aggressive, high-volume child pornography manufacturers or distributors who either are commercial distributors, repeat offenders, or specialize in sadistic images.
  6. Manufacturers, distributors, or solicitors involved in high-volume trafficking or belong to an organized child pornography ring that operates as a criminal conspiracy.
  7. Distributors, solicitors and possessors of images of child pornography.
  8. Any other form of child victimization.

ICAC guidelines also mandate that law enforcement must uncover whether there is reasonable cause to investigate every possible suspect. However, according to 10 News, Judd said he would not turn over public records on the sting because every single person his task force came in contact with, even those who showed zero interest in the underage decoys, was still “under investigation.”

Pheneger said it would be a clear violation of civil liberties if Judd was investigating men who exhibited no signs of breaking the law as there is no “reasonable cause” for them to be investigated.

There has been much disappointment expressed over the fact that Judd told 10 Investigates just last week that he had no remorse about holding a press conference to call men “sexual predators” who had been cleared of wrongdoing.

Judd, as well as other local law enforcement agencies, stand to lose millions of dollars in federal grants if there are ICAC violations.

It will be interesting to see if there are any ICAC violations stemming from these online sex stings and if so, what the consequences will be.

Unfortunately, being the target of an undercover sex crimes investigation can be humiliating and problematic for your work, social and personal life. The mere accusation of being a sexual predator can create a very negative situation for you and those close to you.

Charges resulting from Internet sex stings can start in state court and possibly move to federal court. A Polk County Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton is equipped to handle both state and federal charges, which is very important because if you are facing federal charges, the consequences are much harsher, including mandatory-minimum prison terms.

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Several law enforcement agencies from the federal, state and county level have joined forces with the hopes of catching alleged sexual predators.

While the operation spans across nine counties, including Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, the message is the same: “We’re going to get you.”

10673440736_06f59d7f30_mThe message was made loud and clear Tuesday when the agencies released details from a recent online sex sting- “Operation Cyber Vigilance”- during which they are tracking down men believed to be looking to arrange sexual encounters with children.

Due to the fact that the Florida Sheriff’s Association has made catching child predators its number one priority, the agencies are utilizing each other’s manpower to make the biggest impact, and the most arrests.

So far, officials have arrested more than 130 people.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made a note to let everyone know they are going after the worst of the worst, and described one of the most recent arrests.

“So she’s out there working- trying to provide for the family. He’s at home with a 13 and 14-year-old sleeping, and what’s he do? He gets online, and starts chatting with one of our undercover detectives,” he explained. “And he leaves his 13 and 14-year-old daughters at home sleeping in bed, and comes up to Pinellas County to have sex with a 12-year-old.”

This most recent operation is designed for agencies to help one another. with that said, if the Polk County Sheriff’s Office launches an undercover sting, it might get help from Pinellas, Sarasota and Lee Counties, and visa versa.

In addition to the nine counties conducting the operation, eight others are contributing to the efforts.

The criminal justice system is often merciless when it comes to child sex crimes cases – they make it known that they are out for blood. Unfortunately, this usually means the innocent get swept up along with the guilty.

Detectives are so eager to catch alleged sexual offenders in undercover Internet stings that they tend to go overboard, often entrapping unsuspecting adults. Police will enter online chat rooms and masquerade as young boys or girls, or even parents or guardians of young children, looking for a partner to introduce them to the world of sex. They will drum up online conversations with adults and in many cases, manipulate them into soliciting illegal sexual activity.

And we all know what happens next – that person will be arrested and charged with a sex crime. In a matter of minutes, a person’s life can be flipped upside down. The legal consequences of a conviction can result in years in prison and mandatory registration as a sexual offender. The social and professional consequences of a sex crimes conviction can be just as bad for those convicted of child sexual abuse or child pornography.

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A New York high-security prison guard is accused of purchasing a purple Rapunzel costume from a Disney store and sending it to Florida in February as part of a plan to have sex with an 11-year-old girl, according to a federal complaint.

The 34-year-old man allegedly answered an online ad last summer from a self-described single mom who was on the hunt for a man who could teach her daughter how to please him.

However, the ad was fictional, and just bait to trap suspected predators.

The “mom” was a Tampa-based agent for Homeland Security Investigations and the “girl” was not real.

The man was booked Tuesday into the Pinellas County Jail on federal charges of attempted child enticement, attempted production of child pornography and attempted receipt of the porn.

The Buffalo resident was initially arrested in New York on July 2.

Court records allege the man sent the “mom” a camera and asked her to take nude photos of the girl.

The adults apparently swapped hundreds of explicit texts and emails. In January, the man’s communication became more overt, according to reports. During this same time, the agent apparently told the man the “girl” was 11, not 12 as was the age first mentioned.

According to a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the man is on leave without pay. He was hired as a corrections officer in 2006.

266430661_ce7d19cfa8_mIt is a crime for anyone to use the Internet to try to entice someone into having illegal sex.  In fact, in order to be prosecuted for this crime, the act does not even have to actually be carried out. Additionally, as this case shows, there does not even have to be an actual victim for charges to be filed. Rather, your intent and efforts to achieve any unlawful contact will lead to an arrest.

Being accused of an Internet sex crime is quite serious. As soon as you are accused of a sex crime, your reputation is on the line. In most cases, your job, family and friends are jeopardized as well. A conviction could mean lengthy time behind bars, substantial fines and the permanent label as a registered sex offender. After you have been charged with a federal sex crime, you need to enlist the help of a Federal Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible. These types of crimes are far too serious to even contemplate handling any phase of the case without having an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner.

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A former sheriff’s deputy, wanted since 1991 for capital sexual battery in Bradenton, Florida, was arrested on identity theft charges early Friday at his home in Eagle River, Alaska.

Police claim they found the man living life on the lam in Alaska after he used his late stepbrother’s name to apply for a driver’s license and unemployment benefits.

gavelThe 60-year-old man has been the subject of a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution since 1993.

The man was living under the identity of his stepbrother, who died in his teens in the 1970s in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska.

The man is charged in an indictment with two counts of unlawful use of a Social Security number for allegedly using his deceased stepbrother’s name and number to apply for an Alaska driver’s license in 2009 and unemployment benefits in 2013. He has also been charged with aggravated identity theft.

The Social Security Administration notified federal authorities of the alleged identity theft, according to reports.

The former deputy faces up to 12 years for the federal charges in Alaska, and could receive the death penalty in Florida if he is extradited.

Reports indicate that the former road patrol deputy was arrested in 1990 after he was accused of raping a 6-year-old girl in the 1970s. He fled the state before he could be tried.

Every state has the ability to make its own decision on whether to demand extradition. While each state has different standards for making this decision, it is likely that the state of Florida will seek to have this man brought back and tried for the alleged rape he is accused of. For the most part, states will not demand extradition for misdemeanors or minor criminal infractions. Moreover, the U.S. Constitution only requires that states demand extradition in the case of felonies and treason. The decision to extradite a fugitive can be made by prosecutors strictly based on the facts of the case.

In 1985, Congress passed the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act to set up a process for interstate cooperation when returning fugitives back to the state that is demanding them. All 50 states, which includes Florida, have adopted many of the provisions of the UCEA.

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A former correctional officer has pleaded guilty to committing tax fraud and using inmates’ identities.

According to investigators, the 26-year-old was working at the Zephyrhills Correctional Facility when he used Florida Department of Corrections databases to access the personal identifying information of inmates between January 2011 and May 2014.

The man allegedly used the information to file 182 fraudulent tax returns. Investigators claim the total amount of fraudulent funds requested in those returns is estimated to be more than $500,000.

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Florida will have 159 new laws starting Tuesday that address various issues, including college tuition, corporate tax credits, abortions and sex offenders.

One of the most prevalent laws is one that aims to protect children and others from dangerous sex offenders. The laws are intended to keep the most violent sexual offenders locked up longer and close any loopholes in a law that allows the state to send predators to a high-security treatment center once they have served their time in prison. The new laws will subject more offenders to potential civil commitment and prosecutors, detectives and victim advocates will be part of the committee that reviews their cases.

The sexually violent predator package of bills was among the first of the legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott during the 60-day session that ended in May. The new laws are meant to create a better child welfare system in Florida. As of now, Florida is the only state in America that has a 50-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for violent sexual offenders.

gavelAnother law that seeks to protect children concerns the Department of Children and Families. The law changes how the department investigates and responds to cases; now placing a higher emphasis on shielding a child from abuse rather than focusing on keeping a family together. Moreover, the law also pays for 270 additional child protective investigators so that caseloads can be reduced and a response team can be sent out quickly to investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous dealings with the system.

Another law will establish a statewide pilot program to pay for foster children’s driver’s education classes, license fees and car insurance so that they can be better prepared to gain employment when they turn 18 and leave the system.

The children of immigrants in the country illegally will now be able to receive in-state tuition at state universities after Scott changed his position on the issue. Another bill will give tuition breaks to honorably discharged veterans as well as waive professional licensing fees for them.

Local school boards now have the responsibility of selecting textbooks, whether or not they are on a state-adopted list, and will be required to put policies in place that allow parents to object to the books they choose.

Another new law took effect on June 20 that expands a voucher program, giving corporate tax credits to companies that provide money for low-income families to send their children to private schools.

As far as criminal laws go, there will be increased penalties for spiny lobster poachers, people leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury and people who illegally sell prescription drugs. Additionally, electronic cigarette sales to minors are now illegal in Florida. Another law forbids sending text messages soliciting products to residents on the state’s “no sales solicitation calls” list.

Florida has also changed its definition for its late-term abortion ban. Abortions will be illegal in Florida at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy if her doctor concludes that the fetus could survive outside the womb. The previous law banned abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. An exception can be made to this law if the mother’s life is at risk.

Lastly, new laws will create a Florida Tourism Hall of Fame and the position of state poet laureate to promote poetry in Florida.

Laws across the United States are constantly changing. When you have been accused of committing a crime in Florida, only a Florida Trial Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can provide you with the legal representation that you need. While many attorneys are quick to negotiate with prosecutors to obtain a plea bargain instead of pursuing trial, our Florida Criminal Attorneys know that sometimes trial is the best option for your situation. We thoroughly evaluate every case and will always advise you of your best legal defense strategy.

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The owner of an Altamonte Mall jewelry store has been arrested on federal charges after his business was raided Wednesday as part of a nationwide sweep on synthetic drugs.

According to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official, the jewelry store owner allegedly oversaw a large synthetic drug operation in Central Florida.

A federal grand jury indicted the man Wednesday, the same day DEA agents raided his Windermere-area home, Altamonte Springs jewelry store and a warehouse on John Young Parkway where he is accused of storing drug paraphernalia.

spiceAgents claim that the man was not selling drugs out of the jewelry store, but allegedly laundered the proceeds through the business.

The owner and his two alleged associated were each indicted on two federal drug charges.

If convicted, prosecutors would seek to forfeit more than $13 million from the suspects, as well as the jewelry store owner’s nearly 8,200-square-foot home on McKinnon Road.

This drug sweep is part of “Project Synergy,” a multi-agency operation targeting all levels of the global synthetic drug market.

In an announcement on Wednesday, the DEA said that the latest phase of “Project Synergy” ended with the arrests of more than 150 people nationwide. Around 200 search warrants were executed across 29 states.

Authorities claim they confiscated hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs, hundreds of kilograms of raw synthetic products and more than $20 million cash.

Synthetic drugs are often promoted as bath salts, herbal incense, jewelry cleaner or plant food and have increased in popularity.

Bath salts, which are illegal in Florida, are comprised of substances that are meant to mimic the effects of LSD, cocaine or methamphetamine. These drugs are marketed under names such as “Ivory Wave” and “Vanilla Sky.”

Synthetic marijuana, also referred to as “K2” or “Spice,” is also illegal in Florida and a growing concern among teens and young adults.

Synthetic marijuana and bath salts are considered controlled substances under both state and federal law, which means you are looking at prison time if you are charged with a drug crime involving either of these drugs. Even if you purchased these illegal substances at a smoke shop or head shop in the Altamonte Springs area, you can still be arrested and charged with a drug crime by local authorities or even the DEA.

Along with ecstasy, peyote and LSD, synthetic marijuana and bath salts are classified as schedule I controlled substances under federal law. Schedule I controlled substances are considered highly addictive and are believed to have no medical value. A conviction for a federal drug crime charge, including possession, manufacturing, distributing or trafficking will result in mandatory minimum sentencing, which usually means several years behind bars.

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