Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

A guest post by another criminal defense lawyer, detailing computer crimes and steps one can do to protect themselves from theft or fraud…

Computer Crime and You: The Money Mule Epidemic

About the Author: Vincent Imhoff is a writer and Los Angeles criminal attorney who acts as a managing partner at Imhoff & Associates, P.C. He earned his law degree at Chicago-Kent College and his undergraduate degree at Lewis University. When he isn’t writing or practicing, Vincent finds time to ski on his favorite slopes and get some jogging in.

When we think of the Wild West, we think of cowboys and bandits, saloons and jailhouses, and a landscape filled with adventure and danger. The internet is not so different. The World Wide Web offers a landscape that is still largely untamed, with criminals loitering on the borders of the net, looking to scheme and scam their way to riches–much like the bandits that used to outrun sheriffs in our classic depiction of the time. One interesting parallel to be drawn is the bank heist, where the masked bandit would wave a gun around and leave with bags full of money. Even into the 21st century, bank robberies of this sort survived, though they are slowly being replaced by heists of a different kind. These heists don’t involve guns, masks, or getaway cars. Instead, they now fall under the category of computer crime, and employ the use of complex codes, swift keystrokes, and a willing participant: you.

SpyEye and Zeus

Instead of guns, hackers are committing computer crime using toolkits to send viruses out to computers all over the world with the aim of infecting the victim’s machine and stealing their credentials and banking information. The most commonly used toolkits are named SpyEye and Zeus, and they have recently become so available that authorities are having a harder time distinguishing who is carrying out these attacks. Generally hackers will secretly and remotely install these products onto your computer. They may steal from you, but generally they target large businesses, and run a program that will automatically withdraw money from their account. This is where they recruit outside help, posing as a legitimate business.

Christine Palmer

Bloomberg’s online magazine ran a story in August of 2011 (indicative of how long this has been going on) that centered on a woman named Christine Palmer, who was down on her luck and desperate for a job when she received a callback from a company called CS Office Services. What she didn’t know was that CS Office Services doesn’t exist and only served as a front for an elaborate hacking scheme that utilized the SpyEye/Zeus toolkits. Palmer’s job duties required processing online transactions, and she was able to perform them on one occasion. $98,000 was deposited into her Bank of America account in the morning on a Thursday, and she received instructions to withdraw and then transfer a large majority of it, though she was told she could keep $1,800 as a transfer fee. Bank of America caught on to what Palmer hadn’t and halted the operation, freezing her account and claiming that Palmer, though unknowingly an accomplice of the computer crime, was responsible for repaying $9,000 that she’d withdrawn and transferred overseas.

A Money Mule

In the past, the job that Christine Palmer was duped into taking would usually have been performed by an Eastern European students with a J1 visa, either knowingly or unknowingly. Some underground parts of the web even openly advertise the services of what is known as a money mule, a go between that helps to launder money for a percentage of the cut–just like Palmer did. Because of the way that laws regarding computer crime work, these money mules are held responsible for the funds that they move, being charged with crimes such as scheme to defraud. Meanwhile the original hackers generally sit back in a foreign country and let the money come in, untouchable due to anonymity and jurisdiction laws.

If it Sounds Too Good to Be True…

The good news is that many of the folks who actually are unwittingly duped are not slapped with harsh fines or charges, though their involvement in computer crime can affect credit standing and lead to criminal charges. The hiring of an experienced computer crimes defense lawyer may help ensure your punishment is minimal at best. It all depends. So how can you protect yourself from becoming a mule? The best rule to follow is: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The internet is a wild and dangerous place at times. Protect yourself and your computer at all costs, and don’t get duped into becoming a money mule.
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A guest post by Joseph Peterson, writing about computer crimes the potential penalties…

Cyber Fraud: An Emerging Trend

Over the past few decades, the amount of information that we store in virtual databases has skyrocketed. Now, almost every aspect of a person’s life is available in some form or another in cyberspace. However, this can create the potential for others to use and exploit this information for personal gain, including impersonating others or otherwise committing fraud.

In order to combat this potential issue, legal regulations of cyber technology use have been developed throughout the country. The exact details of these regulations can vary significantly, both between different states (such as Florida) and between state and federal authorities. However, in many cases, cyber fraud is treated as a very serious crime, with penalties ranging from fines and community service to long prison sentences, depending on the nature of the crime itself.

Forms of Cyber Fraud

Cyber fraud, broadly speaking, is the use of internet technology to commit an act of fraud. This can encompass a wide variety of different acts, and in some cases, the line dividing legitimate use of the internet from fraud can be quite thin. However, a number of acts are generally recognized as being fraudulent in all or most cases. These include some of the most common forms of cyber fraud, such as:

• Use of another person’s identity to purchase goods • False or misleading online marketing • Identity theft• Health insurance fraud • Ponzi or pyramid schemes • Advance payment fraud
All of these potential criminal actions can put those who are accused of committing them in an extremely compromised legal position. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of the cyber fraud regulations and penalties in Florida.

Unfortunately, sometimes the language of the laws against cyber fraud can be so vague that it can create a potential situation in which a person may not be aware that what they are doing is against the law. Because of the serious implications that a conviction for the crime of cyber fraud may have for the rest of a person’s life, it’s important that those who have been charged with this crime speak with a qualified criminal lawyer to help defend themselves in this situation.
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An article in today’s Tampa Bay Times talks about a former Tampa teacher who has been arrested for drug trafficking after he was accused of stealing over 9000 hydrocodone and 7000 alprazolam pills!

The man worked as a technician for CVS pharmacy and took these pills over a period of just over two months. Previously, he had been a teacher at a Lutz high school but the principal has already stated that the man would not be coming back to teach.

This article brings up two important considerations: 1. How this current “pill scourge” can trap anyone and 2. the role of sentencing guidelines for trafficking amounts of illegal drugs.

1. Drug addiction may be more common then you can imagine: As a criminal defense lawyer, I get to see the real cost and face of drug addiction everyday. The common myth is that most drug addicts were always poor, uneducated and from the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks”. In reality, drug addiction can and does strike rich, poor, unemployed, doctors, lawyers, teachers and all professions.

The state of Florida has spent millions of dollars studying the patterns of drug addiction. The most important trend they found was that drug use/addiction has been starting at a younger age. These stats found prescription drugs in particular were being abused at a much earlier rate then just a few years before. This early experimentation that often turns to abuse is what many experts believe is causing the rapid increases in pill addicition.2. Sentencing guidelines for trafficking and the “war on drugs”…what you need to know.

When most people think of drug trafficking, they often imagine a drug kingpin such as “Scarface” or a heavily organized empire selling illegal narcotics. In reality, a person can be charged with drug trafficking not just on a sale but by merely possessing a controlled substance in a sufficient amount to trigger the trafficking charge! With certain drugs, it does not take much at all to be charged with drug trafficking. Florida statute 893.135 goes into great detail about the weights and punishment that may result from its violation.

In particular section (c) shows how few pills it actually takes before the “minimum mandatory” prison time and large fines become reality. This section reads as follows:

(c)1. Any person who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, or brings into this state, or who is knowingly in actual or constructive possession of, 4 grams or more of any morphine, opium, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, or any salt, derivative, isomer, or salt of an isomer thereof, including heroin, as described in s. 893.03(1)(b), (2)(a), (3)(c)3., or (3)(c)4., or 4 grams or more of any mixture containing any such substance, but less than 30 kilograms of such substance or mixture, commits a felony of the first degree, which felony shall be known as “trafficking in illegal drugs,” punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. If the quantity involved:

a. Is 4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 3 years, and the defendant shall be ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.

b. Is 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years, and the defendant shall be ordered to pay a fine of $100,000.

c. Is 28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 25 calendar years and pay a fine of $500,000.

In reality four gram’s weight worth of these drugs are not much. This is the weight of 5-6 pills, a weight that could put a person in prison for three years and give them a $50,000 fine! Another important point is that this weight is not just the drug itself, but any fillers it is combined with such as aspirin or mixers! For instance, if a person is caught with 6 MG of oxycodone pills they could be charged with drug trafficking. In reality, the actual amount of oxycodone that would be possessed would probably be well under a gram, the rest would be a combination of fillers and mixers.

Coming up, another blog post will go into more detail about drug trafficking sentences and possible ways to avoid or lessen these “minimum mandatory” sentences.
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A rather disturbing story was featured in today’s St. Pete Times about a Seminole mother who tried to sell her son for $2,000 because of her addiction to prescription drugs.

The 5-year-old boy was excited to start kindergarten Tuesday in Tampa.

Jim and Betty Gardner, who have helped raise the boy since he was an infant, were working hard to prepare him by establishing a morning routine.

Now, they’re worried how his first school year will begin.

The child was taken into protective custody Saturday after authorities arrested his mother and accused her of trying to sell him to the Gardners for $2,000.

Jessica Mickles Beers, 28, whose last known address was in Seminole, was charged with Felony Sale of Parental Rights along with a Violation of Probation (VOP) on her pending Grand Theft charge. At her First Appearance Hearing on Sunday, bail was set at $10,000.Gardner, 58, said he and his wife met Beers when the boy was just a few months old after she called their church for assistance. They took food and diapers to her.

Beers essentially was homeless, but was living with other people. She asked to move in with the Gardners and they agreed, Gardner said.

For the next five (5) years or so, the Gardners, who have fostered numerous children over the years, helped take care of Beers and her child.

About two years ago, Beers began talking about having the couple take guardianship of her son but never followed through with it. Early Saturday, Gardner said, Beers called him and offered to sign away her parental rights if the Gardners would pay her $2,000.

“It was money or else …” Gardner said. “I thought ‘Whoa, that’s illegal.’ “He contacted the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), which arrested Beers at a Seminole grocery store when she came to collect the cash.

The child was not with Beers, but she told authorities where he could be found, Gardner said. Gardner said he believes Beers is addicted to prescription drugs.
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As reported by BayNews9, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is at it again.

In another “cost-cutting” measure, the Polk County Jail will no longer provide free underwear to its inmates.Normally, when an inmate is booked in the jail, they are given an orange shirt, orange pants and underwear.

In order to save money, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has proposed making males inmates pay if they want their “tighty whities.”

The cost-saving measure was part of the sheriff’s 2011-2012 budget he presented to county commissioners Thursday afternoon. Judd said it will save the county $45,000.

Although women behind bars will still be provided underwear, the men will have to pay.

“For those who don’t want to pay, they can let the breeze blow up one leg and out the other,” Judd said (in classic Grady Judd fashion).

The idea drew smiles from several county commissioners and laughter from the crowd.

“You and I buy it at the store. So, if they want it, they can buy it,” he said. Judd said they are also cutting eleven (11) positions, including six (6) supervisors.

Judd says while his department is doing more with less, his highest priority remains keeping the people of Polk County safe.

Judd said the new policy will not cause the quality of service from the department to go down.

“None of these cuts will keep us from answering the call,” Judd said.

FYI — As for the underwear, it’s about $2.50 for briefs and $4.50 for boxers. The choice is up to the inmates.

“We give our inmates choices at our jail,” he said.

The new underwear rule will breeze into effect Aug. 1st.
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The widely-reported case against former Speaker of the House Ray Sansom came to an abrupt end on Friday when State prosecutors dropped all criminal charges.

In a dramatic end to a Jury Trial nearly two (2) years in the making, criminal charges against Sansom were dropped, in Court, Friday after prosecutors said a judge limited evidence of an alleged Conspiracy to get $6 million in state funding for an airport building a developer wanted to use.Flanked by friends and his lawyers, Sansom, 48, said it was vindication.

“First I want to thank God,” he said, then praised his attorneys. “When I first met with them, they said ‘Ray, the truth will set you free’ and we saw that today.”

Asked if he would have done anything differently, Sansom replied, “absolutely not.”

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs also dropped the case against Sansom’s co-defendant, developer Jay Odom. Both men had been charged with Grand Theft and Conspiracy to Commit Grand Theft. According to the prosecution, the $6 million was steered to Northwest Florida State College, where Sansom took a job (coincidentally) on the same day he was sworn in as speaker of the Florida House in 2008 .Sansom and Odom agreed to pay about $103,000 each to Northwest Florida State College — two-thirds of the amount the college spent on planning the airport building. The trustees scrapped the project after Grand Jury indictments were handed down in April 2009 and then-Governor Charlie Crist asked for the money back.

The State’s case unraveled on the fifth day of Sansom’s Jury Trial, just before a lunch break.

The jury was out and defense lawyers raised objections to testimony State Attorney Meggs planned to introduce to establish a Conspiracy. He was going to bring up a key witness, former college president Bob Richburg, who was also criminally charged but two (2) weeks ago agreed to testify (otherwise known as “snitch”) against Sansom and Odom.

Richburg, Meggs later said, would have described conversations with Sansom and Odom about the airport project prior to Sansom getting the money. Meggs also planned to introduce e-mails showing conversations about the building.

But the defense mounted a challenge, saying the state had to prove there was an illegal agreement.

“There’s no evidence of conspiracy because there’s no evidence of an illegal agreement,” attorney Larry Simpson said.

After a lengthy discussion, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said, “I don’t think you have enough to show a conspiracy.” He said several college employees and an architect said they were aware of the private use.

Meggs had argued that college trustees did not (two testified during the trial) and neither did other legislators.

But if he could not lay the ground for the conspiracy — the planning for a hangar and attempts to conceal its nature that he said were clear before Sansom got the money — Meggs said his case was damaged.

What’s more, Meggs said he was limited because the proposed jury instructions would have said, “the passage of legislation, including an appropriations bill, by itself, cannot constitute theft by any of the defendants.”

So during lunch, Meggs offered “a plea deal” to both defendants. He would drop the charges if they agreed to wrongdoing, did community service and paid restitution (otherwise known as buying their way out of the criminal charges?).In the end, Sansom and Odom only agreed to pay the money, and Sansom’s attorney, Steve Dobson, said his client resisted that as well. Sansom blamed Meggs and the news media.

Dobson declared, “They were not guilty.”

Meggs maintained there was wrongdoing and attributed the defeat to “fundamental” differences in understanding of conspiracy law with Lewis.

“I agree the State was not able to carry its burden of establishing a conspiracy with the court,” Meggs said. “And so if I can’t establish a conspiracy with the court before the appropriation, I can’t get in statements of co-conspirators after the appropriation. And that’s what all our evidence is about, is what they did after the appropriation was put into place.”

The trial started Monday and more than a dozen witnesses had testified for the State of Florida, leading up to its primary witness, Richburg, who agreed March 11 to testify for the prosecution (“turn State’s evidence”).

Meggs had argued that the three (3) men worked together to accomplish Odom’s goal of getting an airplane hangar then worked to conceal it as an educational facility, contending that college officials scrambled to find a use for the building and even then planned to use half of the space. Meggs presented documents and testimony showing the bulk was for a hangar.

Noting that Meggs first charged the men with Official Misconduct then changed it to Grand Theft after the charges were mostly gutted in court, Dobson said, “I would say the state attorney lost big time.”

As if this wasted prosecution hasn’t cost the citizens of the State of Florida enough already, Florida law allows a public official who is charged with a crime to seek payment of legal fees if he’s not convicted when the charges arose from his public duties. Dobson said he plans to seek payment from the Legislature.

Dobson said he did not know yet what the total fees would be but “because of Mr. Meggs’ dogged pursuit, it’s going to be big.”

Federal investigators have been looking at some aspect of Sansom and Odom’s dealings (an FBI agent sat in on some of the depositions of witnesses in the state case). Asked about that, Dobson said “if they are charged in Federal Court, we’ll fight that, too. If I am retained.”

I particularly love how that last quote was quickly modified…
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According to a recent online story in the Bizarre Florida section of the St. Pete Times, a California adult entertainment company is about to make some south Florida husbands pretty upset with Federal lawsuits seeking up to $150,000 in damages (each) for copyright infringement.

As initially reported in the south Florida Sun Sentinel, married men who illegally downloaded the movies “Bootylicious Girls” and “Brazilian Babes” may have a really awkward conversation coming with their wife and/or girlfriend.

Adult entertainment company Elegant Angel filed a series of Federal lawsuits last week against 58 “John Does” in South Florida who allegedly pirated its movies. Elegant Angel, based in Canoga Park, California, has the Internet addresses of the computers used to illegally download the movies and wants Judges to allow it to subpoena the computer owners’ names through their Internet service providers (ISP’s).”I firmly believe that everyone has the right to protect their intellectual property,” said M. Keith Lipscomb, one of the Miami attorneys for Elegant Angel. “Right now, the adult entertainment industry is being tremendously damaged by the infringement of its copyrights over the Internet.”The adult entertainment industry has become more aggressive within the last year in pursuing copyright cases. In many instances, film companies have filed lawsuits against dozens–even hundreds–of “John Does” at a time, accusing them of downloading videos using BitTorrent, a file-sharing
program. Continue reading

According to an online story on The, Facebook investment scams are proliferating on the Web and investors should be on the lookout, the securities industry’s main self-policing organization warned on Tuesday.Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) warned in a a statement that con-artists have been pitching fake investments in Facebook and other “well-known social media companies.” The scams usually take the form of “pre-IPOs”, or the sale of unregistered shares in a private company to an investor prior to the initial public offering.

The release notes the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently settled a civil action against one trader “who allegedly bilked more than 50 U.S. and foreign investors out of more than $9.6 million in a series of pre-IPO scams involving purported shares of Facebook, Google and other well-known companies.”Among the tips FINRA is disseminating to the public, the release urges investors to ask themselves “why would a total stranger tell me about a really great investment opportunity?'”

The warning comes as Wall Street firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have climbed aboard a mini-Gold Rush in hot, privately-traded social media companies. Continue reading

According to an online story on, a Polk County teenager and her Juvenile friends made a costly trip to the shopping mall and now they are all facing criminal charges.

Ashley Turner, 16, went to the Lakeland Square Mall and ended up getting more than she bargained for from her local Spencer’s Gifts store.

“We just went in there and sprayed some spray,” she said. “I didn’t know I was Shoplifting.”

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