Federal Agents Arrested for Bitcoin Money Laundering and Fraud

Originally published on April 1, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Two former federal agents have been charged with money laundering, wire fraud, and related offenses during their investigation of the online black market, Silk Road. Former DEA special agent Carl Force allegedly abused his authority by stealing from the government and selling sensitive information to the target of their investigation, while former Secret Service special agent Shaun Bridges reportedly diverted over $800,000 Silk Road bitcoins into his personal account instead of confiscating the funds as government property. By taking advantage of encrypted communications, multiple aliases, and hacked administrator accounts, these federal agents operated in the shadows and above the law.

According to court documents, Ross Ulbricht created Silk Road in January 2011 and operated the underground website until law enforcement agencies shut it down in October 2013. By concealing the IP addresses of the computers, the Silk Road became an open market facilitating both legal and illegal commerce. Although the majority of items sold on the website were illicit narcotics, Silk Road also offered computer hacking services, fake IDs, and other forged documents. After Sen. Chuck Schumer learned about the site, he asked law enforcement authorities to shut down Silk Road.

Between 2012 and 2013, agents Force and Bridges served on the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force. As the lead undercover agent, Force established communication with Ulbricht, while Bridges worked as the computer forensics expert on the team. Force initially fed Ulbricht fraudulent information, but the DEA agent also created multiple pseudonyms and began encrypting his surreptitious communications with Ulbricht.

Under the moniker “Nob,” Force posed as a criminal offering to kill Silk Road employee Curtis Green before he could become a potential witness against Ulbricht. Designed to ensnare Ulbricht into a murder-for-hire plot, the sting merely allowed Force to initiate contact with Ulbricht who went by the pseudonym “DPR” or “Dread Pirate Roberts.” After a few months of communication with Ulbricht, Force began encrypting his conversations and utilizing multiple online personas without informing his superiors.

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DOJ Report Criticizes Philadelphia Police Department’s Use of Deadly Force

Originally published on March 25, 2015, at NationofChange.org

After experiencing an escalation in police shootings and civil rights lawsuits, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey requested assistance from the Justice Department in 2013 to investigate the rising incidents of officer-involved shootings. On Monday, the Justice Department released its report criticizing the Philadelphia Police Department’s aggressive use of deadly force, lack of transparency, and inadequate training procedures. Marred by a history of misconduct and scandals, Philadelphia police officers have lost both the public’s trust and cooperation.

Conducted by the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office and written by the nonprofit Virginia-based CNA Corporation, the report issued 48 findings and 91 recommendations for the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) to reform its deadly force practices. Reviewing hundreds of departmental policies, manuals, and training plans, CNA conducted 164 interviews with community members and department personnel between 2007 and 2013.

During that period, the Justice Department found that 540 PPD officers discharged their firearms in 364 officer-involved shootings. 59% of the officers were white, 34% were black, 7% were Hispanic, and less than 1% of the officers were Asian. The average age of officers involved in shootings was 33 years old.

In contrast, 80% of the suspects were black, 10% were Hispanic, 9% were white, and 1% of the suspects were Asian. The average age of the suspects was 20 years old.

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Corrupt Congressman Resigns Amid Scandals

Originally published on March 19, 2015, at NationofChange.org

To avoid a congressional ethics investigation into allegations of corruption, Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois announced his resignation from Congress on Tuesday. Caught failing to report gifts and charging taxpayers for lavish trips, Schock finally decided to step down when the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) began interviewing people close to the congressman. Although the House Ethics Committee will no longer have jurisdiction over Schock, the Justice Department could file criminal charges against him.

On February 2, The Washington Post published an article describing Rep. Schock’s remodeled office decorated in the style of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.” Because Schock’s interior decorator, Annie Brahler, had offered her services for free, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint accusing Schock of accepting an improper gift. Although Schock eventually paid $40,000 from his personal finances to cover the cost, the media attention and his own self-promotion prompted further investigations into his extravagant lifestyle.

Appearing on the cover of Men’s Health while posting photos of himself on Instagram hiking across glaciers, surfing, and hanging out with Ariana Grande, Schock flagrantly flaunted a lifestyle well beyond his pay grade. Since first running for office in 2008, Schock has raised over $10.8 million in campaign contributions without ever facing a serious opponent. Between December 2009 and February 2010, Schock charged taxpayers more than $100,000 for decorations and renovations to his office.

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Ferguson Police Chief Resigns After DOJ Exposes Systemic Racism

Originally published on March 12, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson announced his resignation on Wednesday after a scathing Justice Department report revealed systemic racism throughout the government of Ferguson. Accused of racial discrimination and repeatedly violating civil rights, Chief Jackson has decided to step down along with the city manager, a municipal court judge, and two police officers who immediately resigned in the wake of the Justice Department’s investigation. Although the Department of Justice declined to file charges against Darren Wilson, their investigation exposed a culture of unlawfully targeting black people for profit and ridicule.

“It is with profound sadness that I am announcing I am stepping down from my position as chief of police for the city of Ferguson, Missouri. My resignation will be effective March 19, 2015 to provide for an orderly transition of command,” Chief Jackson wrote in his resignation letter. “I will continue to assist the city in any way I can in my capacity as a private citizen.”

According to the Justice Department report, the police in Ferguson disproportionately stopped, arrested, cited, and used force on black residents while exchanging racist emails between officers and court officials. After analyzing the Ferguson Police Department’s data on stops, searches, and arrests between 2012 and 2014, the DOJ discovered that blacks accounted for 85% of all traffic stops, 90% of citations received, and 93% of people arrested were black. 88% of the cases in which officers reported using force had been against black people, and all 15 people bitten by police dogs were black.

In order to generate revenue for the city, police officers engaged in contests to impose the highest number of unfair fines on black residents. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, officers regularly violated the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments without consequence while charging black residents with unlawful allegations, including “manner of walking along roadway.”

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Albuquerque Cops Charged with Murdering Homeless Man

Originally published on January 13, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Two Albuquerque police officers were charged with murder on Monday for the shooting of a mentally ill homeless man captured on video. Accused of committing unjustified and unconstitutional police shootings by a Justice Department investigation, Albuquerque police officers often condone excessive use of force and escalate potentially hazardous situations. Since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has been involved in over 40 shootings resulting in 27 deaths; many were people with mental illnesses.

Bypassing the state grand jury process, Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg filed documents on Monday in the Second Judicial Court containing a count of open murder against Albuquerque Police Officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez. Authorized by New Mexico state law, Brandenburg filed criminal information records allowing the prosecutor to present charges without an indictment from a grand jury.

“Unlike Ferguson, and unlike in New York City – some recent high profile cases – we’re going to know,” stated Brandenburg. “The public’s going to have that information, you’re all going to have seen the witnesses, heard the arguments, and you’ll understand, hopefully, perhaps why the judge made the decision he or she will make.”

On March 16, 2014, APD officers responded to a report of a homeless man, James Boyd, illegally camping in the Sandia foothills. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and armed with two small pocketknives, Boyd negotiated with police for four hours before agreeing to surrender. According to a helmet camera video released by the APD after the shooting, Boyd had been complying with their orders when an officer fired a flashbang grenade at him.

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America’s Worst Sheriff Faces New Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Originally published on October 9, 2014, at NationofChange.org

The mother of a deceased inmate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio. Found guilty of racial profiling in federal court and under Justice Department investigation, Sheriff Joe Arpaio oversees Arizona jails that have twice been ruled unconstitutional due to mistreatment and inhumane conditions. First voted into office in 1992, Arpaio has cost Maricopa County millions of dollars in settlements resulting from his campaign of abuse and corruption.

On September 30, 2013, Felix Torres was arrested on warrants for driving on a suspended license and failure to appear in court. After notifying officers of his history with ulcers, Torres waited for days before a doctor eventually evaluated him and diagnosed him with hernia pain. The doctor gave Torres an injection of a drug that should not be given to ulcer patients and had him treated for the hernia. After returning to his cell, Torres complained of severe pain but officers ignored his pleas. He was found dead in his cell on October 5, 2013.

“I don’t think the detention staff have done anything wrong in this case,” claimed Deputy Chief Jack Macintyre. “I think they’ve done exactly what they should do within the confines of the responsibilities for monitoring the care and custody of inmates.”

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22 Puerto Rico Cops Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges

Originally published on August 27, 2014, at NationofChange.org

Twenty-two Puerto Rico Police Officers have pleaded guilty to multiple charges of robbery, extortion, civil rights violations, drug dealing, and obstruction of justice. Tainted by a pervasive history of abuse and corruption, the Puerto Rico police department operates with virtual impunity and a blatant disregard for the law. Separate investigations from the DOJ and ACLU confirm multiple reports of the police engaging in the unjustified use of excessive force, lethal force, and criminal activities.

On the evening of November 5, 2008, Lt. Erick Rivera Nazario and Officer Jimmy Rodriguez Vega confronted and killed 19-year-old Jose Luis Irizarry Perez. While Officer David Colon Martinez restrained Irizarry Perez, Lt. Rivera Nazario and Officer Rodriguez Vega beat the teenager to death with their batons. On March 8, 2013, Officer Rodriguez Vega pleaded guilty to one count of depriving Irizarry Perez of his civil rights by striking him with his police baton.

After failing to cover-up the unlawful killing, Officer David Colon Martinez pleaded guilty on August 22, 2014, to one count of making a false statement to the FBI and one count of perjury for lying to the federal grand jury that investigated the incident. Officer Miguel Negron Vazquez joined him in pleading guilty to making a false statement to the FBI.

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