California man pleads guilty to $1.3 billion Ponzi scheme

On Aug. 7, a California man pleaded guilty to fraud charges in federal court. The 61-year-old Sherman Oaks resident is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 15.

According to prosecutors, the defendant was the CEO of the Woodbridge Group of Companies and used his position to operate a $1.3 billion real estate Ponzi scheme between July 2012 and December 2017. During that time, he and his co-conspirators used high-pressure sales tactics to solicit funding from more than 9,000 investors, claiming the investments were low-risk. In return, the investors were given promissory notes that claimed to pay high monthly interest rates. However, they never received a return on their investments. Instead, the defendant used the money to purchase a long list of luxury items, including a $6.7 million home, $3.1 million in charter flights, $2.6 million in home renovations and various pieces of expensive art and jewelry. He also used $1.8 million of the money to pay his personal income taxes.

California man sentenced for foreclosure fraud scheme

On July 26, the Department of Justice announced that a Vallejo resident was sentenced to four years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud. The offender, along with two co-conspirators, operated a company called Capital Access LLC that reportedly preyed on homeowners nearing foreclosure.

Prosecutors claimed that Capital Access LLC approached homeowners with properties in tax sales or in foreclosure because they were behind in their payments to their mortgage companies. Capital Access bought homeowners out of foreclosure with quitclaim deeds. The offenders then used the equity remaining in the homes for operational expenses, including salaries. Federally insured mortgage companies also lost millions of dollars in the Capital Access case.

Man sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzling

A California man was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison on charges related to embezzlement on July 18. The 64-year-old financial advisor had pleaded no contest to 25 counts of grand theft and money laundering. He reportedly embezzled almost $1 million.

The judge said that he normally did not give prison sentences in cases of white-collar crimes, preferring instead to reserve them for violent crimes. In this case, however, he said he was sentencing the man to prison because he had stolen from injured employees who had workers' compensation funds to pay for future medical expenses. According to the prosecution, the financial advisor convinced clients to give him their settlement checks and then spent the money on himself. The man is also supposed to repay the money he stole, but since his bank accounts were emptied, it is unclear whether the victims will ever get any money back.

California judge sentences alleged gang member to 15 years

A federal judge in California handed down a 15-year prison sentence on July 8 to a 48-year-old Colton man. The man, who is alleged to be a member of a Los Angeles criminal gang, was convicted on three felony firearm and drug charges following a bench trial in March that lasted for just one day. The custodial sentence will be followed by supervised release for a period of five years. The judge who passed sentence was also the judge who found the man guilty of possessing a gun while trafficking drugs, drug possession with the intent to distribute, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The sequence of events that led to the sentencing began in February when Los Angeles Police Department officers pulled the man's Chevrolet Tahoe SUV over for erratic driving in Angelino Heights. According to an LAPD report, the man gave officers permission to search his vehicle without a warrant.

When is making a tax mistake a crime?

Probably no one enjoys paying taxes. Still, by every April 15th, many residents of the United States must tell the federal government how much they owe in taxes. As you likely know, the U.S. tax code is unbelievably complex. If you are not a tax expert, making a mistake may be less difficult than you may think. 

Tax evasion is not exactly uncommon. In fact, according to some estimates, for every 30 individuals and businesses that pay their taxes, one person or company does not. While tax evasion may land you in jail, other mistakes may also carry significant legal penalties. When is making a tax mistake a crime, though? 

California narcotics investigation leads to 54 arrests

The California attorney general announced in a June 16 press conference that a local, state and federal law enforcement initiative named "Operation Red Reaper" had resulted in the apprehension of 54 individuals and the seizure of more than 36 pounds of illegal drugs. Becerra was joined at the press conference by the Kings County Sherriff and a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.

The 10-month investigation focused on the narcotics activities of the Norteño and Nuestra Familia criminal gangs. The initiative was launched in September 2018 following a spike in unsolved homicides in the Central Valley area. Investigators believe that two senior Nuestra Familia members orchestrated the gang's drug trafficking and distribution efforts from the Pleasant Valley State Prison. According to court documents, drugs brought in from locations in Mexico and California were stored at a King's County residence before being distributed throughout Tulare and Kings Counties.

Drugs found in California dog care facility

Police involved in an undercover narcotics investigation took a woman and three men into custody at a dog boarding facility in Orange County on June 5. Media reports suggest that one of the men owns the facility. The four suspects have been booked on charges including suspicion of possessing drugs and suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia. According to the Fullerton Police Department, the facility was being used to provide day-care services to pet owners in the community as well as sell drugs including heroin and methamphetamine.

According to a FPD report, detectives who had been keeping the West Walnut Avenue business under observation acted when they saw an individual walk into the premises who they knew had an open warrant. A search was ordered when detectives learned that the man was living in the facility. During the search, police allegedly found about 28 grams of heroin, 1.6 grams of methamphetamine and items suggesting that the drugs were available for sale.

Two arrested in auto shop drug bust

On May 17, California authorities announced that two men were arrested for allegedly operating a drug-trafficking ring in Apple Valley. The defendants are reportedly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

Media reports state that officers from multiple law enforcement agencies raided an auto repair shop in Ontario on May 15. During the raid, they discovered 500 pounds of methamphetamine, 40 grams of fentanyl, 11 firearms and around $38,000 in cash. The street value of the seized drugs is estimated to be around $1.25 million. The raid was the culmination of a two-month investigation into suspected drug activity at the property.

Federal prosecutors announce dark web arrests

Federal prosecutors have announced that three men have been charged with laundering money and distributing illegal drugs on a website that hid its activities on what is known as the dark net. Federal authorities worked with law enforcement agencies in Germany and other countries during the investigation according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. The three men apprehended are all German nationals and face additional charges in their home country.

The website is said to have concealed its activities by using the encrypted Tor network and accepting payment in cryptocurrencies like Monero and Bitcoin. Prosecutors say that visitors to the site were able to purchase drugs including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The website also allegedly traded in stolen personal data and malicious software. Media reports suggest that the scheme was a profitable one as the men are alleged to have earned about $11 million from sales made on the website.

When is a DUI a felony?

Receiving any DUI charges can be scary and overwhelming whether or not it has happened before. California takes drunk driving very seriously to deter impaired people from getting behind the wheel and endangering others. This means that penalties for a conviction can be numerous and harsh depending on the circumstances.

In most cases, a DUI falls under a misdemeanor. However, some factors bring the charges up to the felony level.

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