Mikel D. Jones falsified tax forms, used shell companies to steal funds, according to U.S. Attorney’s office
The United States Attorney’s office has filed additional charges against a prominent Philadelphia attorney already accused of defrauding a venture capital fund that was financed by the State of Pennsylvania.
According to U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, a superseding indictment has been filed against Mikel D. Jones in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud a private New York-based lender and the Minority Venture Partners Ltd., a firm managed by the now defunct Philadelphia Community Development Corporation.
Memeger said the superseding indictment adds Jones’ wife, Dona Nichols Jones, as a co-conspirator in the scheme. Additionally, a charge of conspiracy was added to the charges already filed against Jones, who now faces sixteen counts of mail fraud, 10 additional counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. Dona Nichols Jones has been charged with conspiracy, money laundering and 14 counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud.
Jones was originally charged with mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering.
According to investigators, Jones owned and operated a personal injury law firm, Mikel Jones Law Firm LLC, which was located at 1831 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. The indictment alleges that Jones secured at least $150,000 from PCDC and a connected firm known as the Minority Venture Partners Ltd., or MVP to expand his firm. But, federal authorities allege that Jones diverted the funds for his own use, dumping some of the money into a personal bank account, paid off his credit card debt and used other monies to purchase sports tickets and pay personal expenses.
The indictment states that Jones owned and controlled Strata Tech, Inc. and Visions 21st Democratic Club — alleged shell companies that he used to defraud a New York-based lender of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In January 2008, Jones obtained a multi-million dollar line of credit from the lender and agreed that he would only use the line of credit for legitimate expenses related to the operation of his law firm.
But federal prosecutors say that didn’t happen.
Allegedly, Jones and his wife used the shell companies and their daughter’s name to steal the money by supplying false invoices on the companies’ letterheads for services to Jones’ law firm that were never performed.
“Jones created bogus invoices in the name of Strata-Tech, which listed an address of a mail drop in Florida as its business address and stated that Strata-Tech was in the business of, among other things, event management, strategic marketing, speaker placement, corporate identity and advertising. In reality, Strata-Tech was a shell corporation that had no operations,” the indictment said.
In total, it is alleged that between February 2008 and April 2009, the Joneses obtained more than $456,000 by supplying fraudulent invoices.
Mayor Michael Nutter shut down PCDC in June 2009. At the time, Nutter said that reducing administration costs associated with lending would allow the city to better serve small businesses. The Nutter Administration decided, after closely examining the different agencies the city was funding that PCDC’s primary programs were duplicated at the Department of Commerce, PIDC or at other agencies supported by city funding.
According to the indictment against him, in early 2006 Jones applied for funding from Minority Venture Partners Ltd. Based on the information he provided regarding his past legal successes and legal background, MVP agreed to invest $150,000 with the understanding that Jones would repay the funds in 48 months. Jones also agreed to deposit five percent of his sales into a bank account to be used to repay the money.
“In conversations with officials of MVP and PCDC, Jones represented that he would use the $150,000 to expand and operate his law firm and for no other purpose,” said the indictment. “Jones lied to MVP and its operators and did not use the funds as required and did not maintain a bank account in which to deposit a portion of the receipts of the law firm. Instead, Jones transferred the money to his and his wife’s personal bank accounts and used the money to pay his personal expenses.”
Investigators also allege that Jones didn’t file tax returns reporting that he had received the money from MVP in an effort to conceal the fact that he was misusing the funding. When representatives of MVP approached him about repaying the money, Jones allegedly lied about his financial situation and claimed he could only repay $20,000 when he was spending thousands living the high life.
United States Attorney Zane David Memeger indicted former school principal Dorothy June Hairston Brown and four others on charges that she orchestrated a scheme that bilked more than $6.5 million from the three area charter schools she founded.
Brown, 75, founded charter schools The Laboratory, Ad Prima and Planet Abacus, and was influential in the creation of Agora Cyber Charter School. Investigators with the Justice Department and Board of Education have targeted Brown’s dealings with each of her schools, along with the dealings of Brown’s private management firms, Cynwyd and AcademicQuest.
“Public education is a cornerstone of American life, which has provided many with the tools for future success,” said Memeger. “As our public schools are funded through dollars earned by hard working Americans, there is a reasonable expectation that their tax dollars will be used to actually educate students. The indictment in this case alleges that June Brown and her four co-conspirators used the charter school system to engage in rampant fraud and obstruction. My office will continue to vigorously investigate and pursue those charter school operators who defraud the taxpayers and deprive our children of funds for their education.”
The 64-count indictment contends that Brown, along with charter school executives Joan Woods Chalker, Michael A. Slade Jr., Courteney L. Knight and Anthony Smoot of running the scheme. The four will also be charged with conspiring with Brown to obstruct justice; the indictment covers the dealings of Brown and her four codefendants from 2007 through 2011.
According to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the charges of wire fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering each carry a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison. The charges of conspiracy each carry a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison. If convicted, Brown, Chalker, Slade, Knight and Smoot all face substantial terms of imprisonment and significant fines and other financial penalties.
The indictment alleges that Brown used her management companies to defraud the schools; specific attention is paid to the $5.6 million Brown caused Agora to pay to Cynywd for management contracts that didn’t exist. The indictment contends that Agora’s board of trustees was unaware of Brown’s actions.
Further, the indictment alleges that Brown and Chalker, who was the CEO of Planet Abacus, caused Planet Abacus to make fraudulent payments to AcademicQuest totaling more than $700,000 under other fabricated contracts that had never been approved by the Planet Abacus board of trustees.
Memeger’s indictment also claims that Brown fabricated documents, including contracts and board meeting minutes to make it appear that these schools signed off on the Brown-fueled payments; that Brown and her cohorts received unauthorized payments of more than $160,000 from an Angora account in June 2007; that Brown twice ordered payments of $37,000 from a Laboratory account to an employee she hired to work at Cynwyd and that as recently as April, Brown allegedly engaged in witness tampering as Brown tried to prevent the witness from identifying forged signatures on a backdated and fabricated contract between Planet Abacus and AcademicQuest.
Brown could not be reached for comment. Her lawyer, Gregory P. Miller, was also unavailable for comment, but has defended Brown’s track record to the media and hailed her as a nationally respected pioneer in education.
“The School District of Philadelphia will review the indictment from the U.S. Attorney and determine the appropriate course of action. We are very concerned about allegations of financial wrongdoing involving certain charter schools reportedly associated with Dorothy June Brown. The School District will appropriately review and investigate,” said School District of Philadelphia general counsel Michael A. Davis, throwing into doubt the survival of the three schools Brown chartered. “We have asked Michael Schwartz of Pepper Hamilton to assist the Office of the General Counsel in conducting an investigation into the allegations, and advice on any future course of action that may be warranted. In the meantime, pending renewal decisions on any charter school alleged by the indictment to be associated with Ms. Brown will be placed on hold.”
Currently, all three schools remain on the district’s 2012–2013 charter school directory, and each has a new CEO in place.
Investigators had strong words for Brown and her associates.
“Charter schools are funded with public money that is intended to help educate children in our communities,” said Special Agent-in-Charge George C. Venizelos of the Philadelphia Division of the FBI. “When individuals misappropriate those funds, as this indictment today alleges, they trade our children’s education and our children’s future for their own illegal profit.”
Special Agent-in-Charge Steven Anderson, of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General’s Mid-Atlantic Regional office which also assisted the investigation, said the indictment shows that “these school officials chose to line their own pockets with federal education dollars instead of using those funds for the intended purpose — educating the students they promised to serve.”
“That is unacceptable,” Anderson said via a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “OIG will continue to investigate allegations of fraud to help ensure that education funds reach the intended recipients and protect these vital dollars from such calculated plunder. America’s students and taxpayers deserve nothing less.”
No weapon found at scene of traffic stop in North Philly
When questions surface over police officers using excessive force during an arrest, it is an issue that affects the image of an entire department and erodes the trust the community has in the men and women who wear the badge.
The Philadelphia Police Department has seen its share of problems regarding allegations of excessive force over the years. For example, an incident made national headlines in 2008 when a Fox News helicopter videotaped six officers punching and kicking three suspects pulled from a car. In June 2011, a Philadelphia police shot and killed Eric Crawley, 39, a SEPTA bus driver who tried to intervene in a domestic dispute involving his sister. Crawley was allegedly in possession of a firearm and reportedly failed to comply with an officer’s orders to disarm. Allegedly, Crawley drew his weapon and the officer fatally shot him in the chest.
Now the Philadelphia Police Department will once again have to address the question of whether six officers involved in a shooting on Feb. 8, 2011 at 23rd Street and Susquehanna Avenue, discharged their weapons for legitimate reasons during the course of a motor vehicle stop.
Last week, the mother of Jamil Moses, a man killed as he sat in a stolen car, filed suit against the police officers involved in his death. Carolyn Moses alleges her son was murdered, since he was unarmed when he was fatally shot. Her attorney, Paul Hetznecker claims police used excessive force and that the officers have given conflicting accounts regarding what transpired. Philadelphia NAACP President, J. Whyatt Mondesire said he will be asking U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger for a federal investigation into the matter.
The policemen named in the lawsuit were Officers John McCarron, Mark Oliveras, Joseph Burke, George Fox, Craig Coulter, and Brandon Bryant. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department said no comments would be released to the public since the incident is now in litigation.
“I’m in the process of drafting a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office today, asking Memeger to investigate this,” said Mondesire. “We have the forensics and eyewitnesses and no guns were found in the car. Jamil Moses and Frederick Bell were both unarmed. We’ll also be asking the federal government to examine the cases of several other shootings that have resulted in deaths.”
According to Hetznecker, the vehicle Moses and Bell were in was stolen in a carjacking incident 10 days before the incident at 23rd and Susquehanna Avenue. Police observed the Chevrolet Impala and followed it before intercepting it on Susquehanna Avenue.
“This is where things get disputed,” said Hetznecker, who acknowledged that Bell and Moses both had lengthy rap sheets. But that doesn’t mean they deserved to be shot to death, he insists, particularly when they were unarmed. “Some officers report that Bell allegedly rammed a police cruiser, but that’s not supported by the evidence, which shows it was the other way around.
Supposedly two officers were struck on the legs by Bell, who was behind the wheel. But one officer said he didn’t see anyone hit by the car. The Impala was boxed in by six police cars and really couldn’t go anywhere; it was surrounded by numerous officers. Officers issued orders for Bell and Moses to get out of the vehicle. One officer said he heard someone yell the word ‘gun’ and that’s when they opened fire. We’ve gotten conflicting stories about this incident. We have evidence that the passenger door, where Moses was seated, was open, and that he had his hands on the dashboard. Twenty five gunshots penetrated the front window; the rear window was blown out. Oddly enough the passenger window was intact and a police car had a window shot out.”
Hetznecker said Moses was struck twice in the neck and in the chest. Bell was shot 14 times and managed to survive. Carolyn Moses said she wants justice for her son.
"I felt like my son was murdered by the Philadelphia Police Department," she said. “When I first heard that Jamil had been shot I thought it was a mistake, until my daughter, who just happened to be at Temple Hospital because her son was sick, confirmed it. A numbness came over me; you never expect to have to bury your child. What really bothers me is that I never got a call from the police telling me what had happened, maybe because my daughter learned that Jamil had been killed and they assumed I already knew, I don’t know. I don’t understand how this could happen. Maybe they were angry over the fact that they had to chase them, again, I don’t know. But Jamil was unarmed – he didn’t have a weapon and they never found one. It bothers me to no end – why would they shoot him like that?”
The Philadelphia U.S. Attorney’s office announced this week that seven people had been indicted and accused of smuggling more than six kilos of heroin into the United States from the Dominican Republic between November 2010 and March 2012.
According to U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, the defendants were charged in an elaborate drug trafficking conspiracy where recruited couriers would either swallow sealed pellets of heroin or otherwise conceal the packets in a body cavity for later expulsion. Charged as members of the Castillo drug smuggling organization were Higinio Castillo, Michael Nunez-Rodriguez, Philip Osley, Yeltsin Genao, Kevlin Perez, Julio Gabriel Perez-Martinez and Jose Eddy Padilla-Caban.
The charges include conspiracy to import one kilogram or more of heroin, importation of 100 grams or more of heroin, conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, possession of 100 grams or more of heroin with intent to distribute, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and using and carrying a firearm during an in relation to a drug trafficking crime and crime of violence.
Federal investigators allege that on August 24, 2011, drug gang members Genao, Nunez-Rodriguez and Perez attempted to kidnap one of their couriers who had gotten arrested a week before by federal agents and had his drugs confiscated. Except that Genao, Nunez-Rodriguez and Perez believed the courier stole the heroin for himself. When the courier arrived at Philadelphia International Airport, the three gang members allegedly kidnapped the courier and took him to a residence on 19th Street where the defendants bound the courier’s hands and feet, threatened him with physical harm, and brandished and discharged a firearm, in an attempt to locate the missing heroin.
As of Tribune press time all of the defendants are in federal detention.
Wanted for Robbery
The Philadelphia Police Department is asking for the community’s assistance in locating Maurice Connelly, 20. Connelly, who is from the 5900 block of North 21st Street, is wanted for robbing two Game Stop stores on June 24 and June 25 in the East Germantown and Glenwood sections of Philadelphia.
Investigators allege that on June 24, 2012, at 11:55 a.m., Connelly entered the Game Stop at 5301 Chew Avenue armed with a handgun, demanding money from the safe and cash registers. Connelly handed a store employee a backpack and the suspect fled with an undetermined amount of cash, an X-Box game system, X-Box games, employees’ cell phones and store keys.
Investigators believe that over four days, Connelly committed three armed robberies, including a Dunkin Donuts on Chew Avenue, near La Salle University. Law enforcement authorities are becoming more and more concerned about Connelly as his robberies are becoming more aggressive.
Just a few hours apart, two Philadelphia police officers were arrested in unrelated criminal cases, and one of those investigations involves a veteran officer who was allegedly leaking information to known drug dealers.
On Aug. 1, United States Attorney Zane Memeger announced that 23-year veteran police officer Raphael Cordero, 51, had been indicted for interfering in an ongoing federal narcotics investigation. The targets of the investigation were Christian Serrano and Edwin Medina, and federal authorities allege that Cordero was passing information related to the investigation to his half-brother, identified as David Garcia, an alleged member of the drug gang.
According to the indictment, Cordero allegedly told Garcia about a DEA surveillance camera that was installed in the vicinity of the 500 block of East Indiana Street, an area where the gang operated. When the feds executed a search warrant of a garage used by the gang, Cordero showed up, allegedly lied about his reasons for being in the area and offered his help in the search.
His real reason, according to authorities, was to find out where the agents were looking and how many of them there were. Cordero allegedly permitted Garcia to store money at his home, at least $20,000 in drug proceeds. When Garcia was arrested on July 27, 2011, Cordero allegedly told his brother to get the money from his home, an obstruction of justice. The indictment against Cordero details incident after incident of his allegedly informing drug dealers about the movements of narcotics officers related to the gang.
“Police officers are sworn to uphold the law, not obstruct it,” said Memeger. “The defendant’s alleged criminal conduct not only could have destroyed a federal investigation, but also could have threatened the safety and lives of federal agents who were investigating dangerous drug dealers.”
When Cordero was questioned about his actions, he denied everything.
Cordero was attached to the Criminal Intelligence Unit, and faces seven counts of obstruction of justice, lying to federal officers and related offenses. If he’s convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.
In the second, unrelated case, police officer Aisha Pleasant, who has served on the force for three years, was indicted in Atlantic County, New Jersey, for allegedly assaulting a fellow officer in Atlantic City back in March.
Pleasant, 36, has been charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault. She has been suspended for thirty days with intent to dismiss.
Pleasant and Cordero’s arrests make 47 officers in Philadelphia who have been criminally charged since 2009. Just last month Jonathan Garcia, 23, was arrested for selling heroin to federal undercover officers. He has been charged with four counts of distributing heroin and two counts of carrying a firearm during a drug transaction. In at least one of the incidents, he was selling heroin while in uniform.
A Philadelphia Traffic Court judge was indicted by federal authorities on Thursday in connection with filing false tax returns, and a scheme to defraud the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew, 54, Lorraine Dispaldo, 58, and Mulgrew’s wife, Elizabeth, 55, were arrested Thursday morning. According to United States Attorney Zane Memeger, Mulgrew and Dispaldo, an administrative aide to a Pennsylvania state representative, were charged with multiple counts of mail fraud in connection with a scheme to fraudulently receive and misuse state grant funds awarded to nonprofit groups. Mulgrew and Dispaldo allegedly spent thousands of dollars of grant funds for their own personal uses. Mulgrew and his wife are also charged with five counts of filing false joint personal income tax returns for tax years 2006 through 2010, one count of tax evasion for 2005, and obstructing the administration of the internal revenue laws.
If convicted of all charges, Mulgrew faces a maximum possible sentence of over 100 years in prison; five years’ supervised release, a $9.5 million fine, and a $3,800 assessment.
Penis injection fatal, woman faces charges
Law enforcement authorities in Essex County, New Jersey said that a woman has been freed on $75,000 bail pending an investigation into the death of a man who received a silicon penis injection from the defendant.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor, Carolyn Murray and East Orange Police Chief William Robinson said that Kasia N. Rivera, 34, of East Orange, N. J. was arrested and charged in connection with the death of Justin Street, 22, also of East Orange.
According to Murray, on May 5, 2011, Street went to Rivera's home in the 300 block of Glenwood Avenue where he received a silicon injection in his penis. The next day he was dead from a silicon embolism and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. Rivera has been charged with manslaughter and the unauthorized practice of medicine. The investigation into the case in continuing and officials suspect there may be other victims of Rivera who have not yet come forward.
2 veteran police officers arrested
Law enforcement authorities said that a veteran Philadelphia police lieutenant and a patrol officer have been arrested in connection with accusations they stole thousands of dollars worth of public utilities.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said Lt. Aisha Perry, 53, and Officer George Suarez, 54, are accused of siphoning off electricity, water, and gas service from PECO, the Philadelphia Gas Works, and the Philadelphia Water Department. They have been charged with multiple counts of theft of services, conspiracy, and risking a catastrophe. The two have been suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss.
According to investigators, Perry had been under investigation regarding the thefts for over a year.
SWAT officer hit by friendly fire
A SWAT officer is in stable condition after he was struck by friendly gunfire in North Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Investigators said the incident happened just before 10 p.m. in the vicinity of Broad and Parrish streets when two officers stopped a vehicle with three male passengers at a BP gas station. The officers were flagged by a woman who said the men had threatened her with a gun. Police stopped the vehicle to question the men when one of the pointed a gun at Jose Roman, 44.
Officer Roman’s partner fired his shotgun, striking one of the suspects, who were still inside the vehicle. Roman’s life was saved because he was wearing body armor. He was rushed to Hahnemann University Hospital and later released. Investigators believe Roman was struck by ricochet from the shotgun blast.
Broaster brothers connected with 2004 fatal shooting
United States Attorney Zane David Memeger announced the arrests of seven people connected to a crack cocaine and PCP gang, including Cassius and Jerome Broaster, the two men targeted in the 2004 shooting that left 10-year old Faheem Thomas Childs dead.
Charged in the case are: Jerome Broaster, 38, Elliott Broaster, 34, Cassius Broaster, 37, and Larkeem Broaster, 33, Shannon Powell, 36, Nick Higgens, 29, and Ronald Johnson, 26, all residents of Philadelphia. Memeger said that Jerome Broaster is charged in 20 counts of the superseding indictment, including two drug conspiracy offenses. In the first drug conspiracy charge, Jerome Broaster and Powell are alleged to have conspired to distribute 100 grams or more of PCP between August 2011 and October 2011.
Jerome Broaster and Elliott Broaster are alleged to have conspired to distribute 100 grams or more of PCP between August 2011 and August 2012. They are also charged with three counts of distribution of PCP and three counts of distribution of PCP within 1,000 feet of a school.
If convicted Jerome Broaster faces a maximum possible sentence of life, with a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 10 years; a maximum fine of $132 million; a mandatory minimum of 16 years up to lifetime supervised release; and a $2,000 special assessment. If convicted Cassius Broaster faces a maximum possible sentence of 60 years, with a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 1 year; a maximum fine of $6 million; a mandatory minimum of 12 years up to lifetime supervised release; and a $200 special assessment.
The Broaster brothers have long been targeted by law enforcement and Jerome and Cassius Broaster were characterized by former Police commissioner Sylvester Johnson as “the worst people in the city as far as violence is concerned.”
On February 11, 2004, the two brothers were the intended targets in a shootout outside T.M. Peirce Elementary School, at 23d and Cambria Streets. The victim was 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs, who suffered a fatal gunshot to the head and later died on Feb. 16.
Shooting Suspect Arrested
Officials with the Philadelphia Police Department said an anonymous tip led to the arrest of a 23-year old man wanted in connection with a shooting that occurred on Aug. 31.
The suspect is Kamil Singleton from the 1900 block of South 18th Street. Singleton is charged with aggravated assault and related offenses and was arrested Oct. 31.
According to investigators, at 6:15 p.m. on August 31, the 25 year-old victim was sitting on the 1700 block Manton Street when a Black male pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired several shots in the victim’s direction, wounding him in the face. The incident was recorded by nearby surveillance cameras and showed the shooter leaving the scene in a maroon Pontiac with tinted windows. This video footage allowed 1st District officers to identify Singleton as the suspect in this case due to previous encounters Singleton had with police. On Oct. 5, 2012, the Philadelphia Police Department released the surveillance video and a photo of Singleton asking the assistance of the public. Within days, South Detective Division received an anonymous phone call with the whereabouts of Singleton.
Federal authorities have leveled a second superseding indictment against two alleged members of a New Jersey organized crime group.
Louis Fazzini, 45, of Caldwell, New Jersey and Joseph Licata, 70, of Florham Park, New Jersey were both arrested in Newark, New Jersey, according to Philadelphia U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger. They have been charged with racketeering and conspiracy. The indictment alleges that Licata served as caporegime of the North Jersey crew of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra family. Licata allegedly supervised Fazzini, who was an alleged made member. Fazzini allegedly handled an illegal sports gambling operation in addition to other money making businesses.
According to the second superseding indictment, the defendants promoted and furthered their illegal money-making activities through violence, actual and implied threats, and the cultivation and exploitation of the Philadelphia family's long-standing reputation for violence.
In an unrelated criminal investigation, after enduring four months of having their car tires repeatedly slashed, the residents of the city’s Mayfair section finally got some needed relief Wednesday night when they learned that police had arrested a suspect in the ongoing vandalism.
And he was a neighbor.
David Toledo, who was interviewed by local television and print news reporters as an angry neighbor whose tires were slashed, was arraigned on Thursday morning following the Wednesday night arrest at his home. He has been charged with 49 counts of criminal mischief, seven counts of possession of an instrument of crime, and five counts of filing false police reports. Toledo, of the 4000 block of Aldine Street, is being held on $270,000 bail.
According to investigators, 90 cars had their tires slashed in the 4000 block of Aldine Street near Teesdale. Police allege Toledo hit 55 cars between January and April, all while claiming to be a victim and even slashing the tires of his own car, costing local residents thousands of dollars in repairs.
In another unrelated criminal investigation, police arrested a suspect who robbed the Republic Bank at 1601 Market Street Tuesday morning.
Christian Stephens, 30, of the 4500 block of North Darien Street, has been charged with robbery and related offenses for attempting to knock over the bank at 11:45 a.m. But police say he didn’t get very far. A teller loaded an exploding dye pack with the cash and a few minutes into his getaway, the dye pack went off at 17th and Market Streets, covering the money and Stephens in red dye.
Twenty minutes later police picked him up at 18th and Callowhill Streets.
Federal prosecutors announced this week that a 23-count indictment was leveled against Joanna Mastronardo, daughter of the late Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, along with her husband, Joseph “Vito” Mastronardo and 14 other defendants connected to a major illegal sports betting organization that raked in millions every year.
According to United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, Joanna Mastronardo is charged with one count of structuring for allegedly making 72 deposits totaling more than $500,000 over a year. Her husband, Joseph Mastronardo is charged with 23 counts of RICO conspiracy, illegal gambling, money-laundering and related offenses.
Federal prosecutors allege that the Mastronardos and their associates ran a major illegal gambling organization using the telephone, the Internet, Skype, text messaging and one-on-one communication. Allegedly, they met bettors in person and either collected or made payments ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 and more. As a mailing address and a drop off site, the crew used the Five Points gas station on Norristown Road in Blue Bell, Pa. Payments were mailed to the station by Federal Express and other carriers, or delivered in person.
“Technology allowed the defendants to allegedly expand their gambling and money laundering operation far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania,” Memeger said. “Unfortunately for the defendants, however, we have the necessary statutory tools to investigate and prosecute those who openly flout our illegal gambling and financial reporting laws.”
The indictment alleges that “Vito” Mastronardo and his son John supervised the organization, laundered money, collected debts and instructed others to collect. Between Jan. 1, 2005, and Jan. 1, 2011, the crew used websites and telephone numbers that allowed bettors to place sports bets on football, baseball, basketball, golf, horse racing and other sporting events. Residents of Costa Rica staffed the Internet and telephone sites. According to Memeger, the Mastronardos hid more than $1 million in and around their homes, including in specially-built compartments and in utility pipes buried in the yard.
“This alleged racketeering operation was anchored in Montgomery County, but had tentacles spreading across the U.S. and beyond,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa A. Ferman. “Despite our attempt to shut it down in 2006–2007 with a Montgomery County prosecution, my office discovered that the defendants, as is alleged in the indictment, were back in business. We partnered with our federal counterparts to examine the full scope of the alleged illegal gambling operation. Today’s indictment reflects the work of many law enforcement agents across multiple agencies. These defendants tried to ‘game’ the system. Today they crapped out.”
Law enforcement agencies put the cuffs on two fugitives this week, one man who was wanted for murder, and the other for hindering the investigation into his own almost deadly shooting.
On Tuesday, 22-year old Steven Miller was apprehended in Texas by the U.S. Marshals without incident. Miller was wanted for the murder of 24-year old Maurice Kimble, who was gunned down outside the trendy PYT Bar and Restaurant on June 11. Steven Miller will be extradited back to Philadelphia to face first degree murder charges.
Also on Tuesday, 22-year-old James Ellis was arrested and charged with perjury, false report to the police, and hindering apprehension or prosecution. The defendant allegedly lied to police about a shooting in 2011 in the Fairhill section of the city where he was the victim.
On June 27, 2011, just before 7:30 p.m., Ellis was shot multiple times by a still unknown individual. Ellis was driving a 2000 Buick LeSabre at the time, and crashed into several parked cars. Police found Ellis outside the car in a pool of blood, with drugs and a 9mm handgun on the seat. After being treated for his nearly fatal injuries, Ellis continued to tell police that he did not know who shot him, even though investigators were able to find information in Facebook postings by Ellis that clearly indicated otherwise.
In an unrelated criminal investigation, an unlicensed chiropractor pleaded guilty in federal court to 50 counts of health care fraud.
On Tuesday, Tahib Smith Ali, 35, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to 50 counts of health care fraud, 50 counts of false statements in health care matters, and one count of aggravated identity theft. According to United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, Ali allegedly posed as a chiropractor and physical therapist while operating a Philadelphia clinic known as Oasis Holistic Healing Village, located on South 17th Street. Ali, who holds no medical licenses, saw patients, represented to them that he was a chiropractor, and submitted more than $1.5 million in fraudulent claims for chiropractic services to Independence Blue Cross. The claims were allegedly submitted under the name and medical provider number of the licensed chiropractor who no longer worked at the clinic.
He faces a mandatory two-year prison term for aggravated identity theft in addition to a possible sentence of more than 30 months, under advisory sentencing guidelines, for the health care fraud and false statements counts.