Saturday, November 27, 2021

FBI Issues Warning About Holiday Shopping Scams

 The FBI Charlotte Field Office offers Holiday crime prevention tips:

With more people shopping online, FBI Charlotte is warning shoppers to be diligent about what gifts they are buying, and where they're buying those gifts. Scammers count on you not to do your homework, and to believe those expensive gifts in pop-up ads are truly half price. Don’t fall for it. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers may offer too-good-to-be-true deals through phishing e-mails or advertisements. Some may offer brand name merchandise at extremely low discounts or promise gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product.

There are ways to protect yourself when shopping online:

  • Buy directly from a secure and reputable website.
  • Beware of social media posts that appear to offer special vouchers or gift cards, or particularly low prices.
  • Verify the legitimacy of buyers or sellers before making a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check feedback ratings.
  • Avoid solicitations or ads with misspelled words, broken English, or requests to pay for your order with a gift card.
  • Track your order through your original confirmation e-mail.
  • Check your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure no fraudulent charges show up. 

If you suspect you've been victimized:

  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon suspecting or discovering a fraud.
  • Contact local law enforcement.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Handcuffing The Police: My Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat Column On Former Police Chief Mike Chitwood And Why He Believes Reducing Car Stops Hurts Public Safety

Philadelphia Weekly published my second Crime Beat column on Philadelphia stopping car stops for minor violations. 

You can read the column via the below link or the below pages:

Handcuffing the police - Philadelphia Weekly

You can click on the above and below to enlarge.

You can also read my Crime Beat column on stopping stops via the below link:

Former President Of Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market Sentenced To More Than 10 Years In Prison For Stealing $7.8 Million From The Company

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Pennsylvania released the below information:

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Caesar DiCrecchio, 60, of Voorhees, NJ, was sentenced to ten years and one month in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution by United States District Court Judge Cynthia M. Rufe for defrauding the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market of over $7.8 million. 

In April 2021, the defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of aggravated identity theft, and four counts of tax evasion, all of which allegedly caused more than $7.8 million in losses to the wholesale produce business in South Philadelphia.

DiCrecchio, the former President and CEO of the Produce Market, defrauded the Market by using company funds to pay $1.9 million in rent on his Stone Harbor, New Jersey shore house; converting into cash $1.1 million in checks drawn on the Market’s bank account and using the cash for his own benefit; causing $1.7 million in checks to be issued from the Market operating account payable to his friends or relatives; causing the Market to pay for the defendant’s personal credit card expenditures; converting $320,000 in checks that were payable to the Market and cashing them for his own benefit; skimming $2.6 million in cash from the pay gate at the Market’s parking lot, which he used to pay Market employees ‘under the table’ while keeping a substantial portion for his own use; and using Market funds to provide a $180,000 loan to a Market vendor, which the vendor repaid directly to DiCrecchio. The defendant concealed these expenditures in the Market’s books and records by directing that these payments be reflected as legitimate business expenditures, for example: notated as maintenance, snow removal, insurance, legal fees and other false expenditure entries.

DiCrecchio committed aggravated identity theft by cashing checks at a currency exchange using the name of an unwitting victim as the payee. Further, DiCrecchio conspired to engage in money laundering by agreeing with two unnamed individuals to conduct repeated money laundering transactions using money orders drawn on Market accounts and cashed at a currency exchange so that he could pay the rent at his shore house. In total, DiCrecchio laundered approximately $319,736 by purchasing money orders at the currency exchange using Market funds.

DiCrecchio also willfully evaded federal income tax over several years, by failing to report more than $2.1 million in income for tax years 2014 through 2017. DiCrecchio failed to report as income the proceeds of his fraud on the Market, as well as a car allowance, a pension allowance, and consulting income that he received from the Market. 

“As the President and CEO, DiCrecchio had a fiduciary duty to steward the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market honestly,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “Instead, he stole small amounts here and there from various sources over many years in an attempt to hide the enormous scale and severity of his fraud: a more than $7.8 million loss. Our Office is committed to prosecuting this type of complicated financial fraud so that justice can be served for all victims.”

“For years, Caesar DiCrecchio used the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market like his own ATM, to the tune of almost $8 million,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “I’d call that wholesale fraud. Holding DiCrecchio responsible for his crimes is imperative, to send the message that stealing business funds for personal use isn’t such easy money after all.”

“Instead of accurately filing and paying his fair share of taxes, Mr. DiCrecchio chose to hide his income and use his business as his personal ATM,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Yury Kruty. “Justice has been served today, as Mr. DiCrecchio is sentenced to federal prison.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Organized Crime Task Force, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, and the Pennsylvania State Police, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael T. Donovan. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Two Iranian Nationals Charged For Cyber-Enabled Disinformation And Threat Campaign Designed To Influence The U.S. Presidential Election

The Justice Department released the below information: 

An indictment was unsealed in New York today charging two Iranian nationals for their involvement in a cyber-enabled campaign to intimidate and influence American voters, and otherwise undermine voter confidence and sow discord, in connection with the 2020 U.S. presidential election. 

According to court documents, Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, aka Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazem, aka Hosein Zamani, 24, and Sajjad Kashaian, aka Kiarash Nabavi, 27, both of Iran, obtained confidential U.S. voter information from at least one state election website; sent threatening email messages to intimidate and interfere with voters; created and disseminated a video containing disinformation about purported election infrastructure vulnerabilities; attempted to access, without authorization, several states’ voting-related websites; and successfully gained unauthorized access to a U.S. media company’s computer network that, if not for successful FBI and victim company efforts to mitigate, would have provided the conspirators another vehicle to disseminate false claims after the election. 

“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public. The Department is committed to exposing and disrupting malign foreign influence efforts using all available tools, including criminal charges.” 

“As alleged, Kazemi and Kashian were part of a coordinated conspiracy in which Iranian hackers sought to undermine faith and confidence in the U.S. presidential election,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “Working with others, Kazemi and Kashian accessed voter information from at least one state’s voter database, threatened U.S. voters via email, and even disseminated a fictitious video that purported to depict actors fabricating overseas ballots. The United States will never tolerate any foreign actors’ attempts to undermine our free and democratic elections. As a result of the charges unsealed today, and the concurrent efforts of our U.S. government partners, Kazemi and Kashian will forever look over their shoulders as we strive to bring them to justice.” 

“The FBI remains committed to countering malicious cyber activity targeting our democratic process,” said Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran of the FBI’s Cyber Division. “Working rapidly with our private sector and U.S. government partners and ahead of the election, we were able to disrupt and mitigate this malicious activity – and then to enable today’s joint, sequenced operations against the adversary. Today’s announcement shows what we can accomplish as a community and a country when we work together, and the FBI will continue to do its part to keep our democracy safe.” 

According to the allegations contained in the indictment unsealed today:

The Voter Intimidation and Influence Campaign

Starting in approximately August 2020, and proceeding until November 2020, Kazemi, Kashian, and other co-conspirators began a coordinated, campaign to undermine faith and confidence in the 2020 presidential election (the “Voter Intimidation and Influence Campaign”) and otherwise sow discord within U.S. society. The Campaign had four components: 

In September and October 2020, members of the conspiracy conducted reconnaissance on, and attempted to compromise, approximately 11 state voter websites, including state voter registration websites and state voter information websites. Those efforts resulted in the successful exploitation of a misconfigured computer system of a particular U.S. state (“State-1”), and the resulting unauthorized downloading of information concerning more than 100,000 of State-1’s voters. 

In October 2020, members of the conspiracy, claiming to be a “group of Proud Boys volunteers,” sent Facebook messages and emails (the “False Election Messages”) to Republican Senators, Republican members of Congress, individuals associated with the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, White House advisors, and members of the media. The False Election Messages claimed that the Democratic Party was planning to exploit “serious security vulnerabilities” in state voter registration websites to “edit mail-in ballots or even register non-existent voters.” The False Election Messages were accompanied by a video (the “False Election Video”) carrying the Proud Boys logo, which purported, via simulated intrusions and the use of State-1 voter data, to depict an individual hacking into state voter websites and using stolen voter information to create fraudulent absentee ballots through the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) for military and overseas voters.[1] 

Also in October 2020, the conspirators engaged in an online voter intimidation campaign involving the dissemination of a threatening message (the “Voter Threat Emails”), purporting to be from the Proud Boys, to tens of thousands of registered voters, including some voters whose information the conspiracy had obtained from State-1’s website. The emails were sent to registered Democrats and threatened the recipients with physical injury if they did not change their party affiliation and vote for President Trump. 

On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the conspirators sought to leverage earlier September and October 2020 intrusions into an American media company’s (Media Company-1) computer networks. Specifically, on that day, the conspirators attempted to use stolen credentials to again access Media Company-1’s network, which would have provided them another vehicle for further disseminating false claims concerning the election through conspirator-modified or created content. However, because of an earlier FBI victim notification, Media Company-1 had by that time mitigated the conspirators’ unauthorized access and these log-in attempts failed. 

Background on Kazemi and Kashian 

Kazemi and Kashian are experienced Iran-based computer hackers who worked as contractors for an Iran-based company formerly known as Eeleyanet Gostar, and now known as Emennet Pasargad. Eeleyanet Gostar purported to provide cybersecurity services within Iran. Among other things, Eeleyanet Gostar is known to have provided services to the Iranian government, including to the Guardian Council. 

As part of his role in the Voter Intimidation and Influence Campaign, Kazemi compromised computer servers that were used to send the Voter Threat Emails, drafted those emails, and compromised the systems of Media Company-1. Kashian managed the conspirators’ computer infrastructure used to carry out the Voter Threat Emails campaign and he purchased social media accounts in furtherance of the Voter Intimidation and Influence Campaign. 

Kazemi and Kashian are both charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, intimidate voters, and transmit interstate threats, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of voter intimidation, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison; and one count of transmission of interstate threats, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Kazemi is additionally charged with one count of unauthorized computer intrusion, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of computer fraud, namely, knowingly damaging a protected computer, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. 

Concurrent with the unsealing of the indictment, the Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Emennet Pasargad, Kazemi, Kashian, and four other Iranian nationals comprising Emennet Pasargad leadership pursuant to Executive Order 13848, “Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election.” Additionally, the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice Program, is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information on or about the Kazemi and Kashian’s activities. 

The FBI’s Cyber Division and Cleveland Field Office are investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dina McLeod and Louis A. Pellegrino and Trial Attorney Adam Small of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

A Little Humor: Recalling U.S. Navy Chow

My wife and I had a big fight this morning. 

Last night, I complained about her cooking only one meal a day, which was dinner. 

I noted, not for the first time, that when I served in the U.S. Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, we were served three full meals a day, plus MIDRATS (midnight rations). 

My wife suggested, somewhat forcefully, that I rejoin the Navy. 

She went to be bed mad, and I retreated to my basement den and fell asleep in the recliner. 

The next morning, she came downstairs and woke me cheerfully holding a tray that held my breakfast. 

The breakfast smelled great, but I ruined the mood and the meal by complaining. 

You see, the breakfast tray held coffee, orange juice, and a plate of bacon and eggs. 

But the breakfast tray lacked toast, and I was intolerant.   

You can read my sea stories, vignettes, short stories and humor pieces via the below link: