Friday, December 13, 2019

Two Service Members Charged With Distributing Narcotics To Overdose Victim At Electric Zoo Music Festival In 2018

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Dermot Shea, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today the arrests of LAGARIA SLAUGHTER and TANNER HOWELL, both of whom are service members stationed at a base in New York State, and the unsealing of a Complaint charging SLAUGHTER and HOWELL with distributing Molly on September 1, 2018, to a young woman attending the Electric Zoo music festival in New York, who subsequently died of a drug overdose.  The Complaint also charges SLAUGHTER with conspiring to distribute Molly and LSD between May 2018 and March 2019.  SLAUGHTER and HOWELL were arrested this morning and will be presented later today in federal court in Manhattan before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, Lagaria Slaughter and Tanner Howell supplied the dangerous drug Molly to a young concert-goer, who overdosed and died after using Molly and other drugs.  Tragically, this is not the first time my Office has charged people in connection with the overdose death of a concert-goer at the Electric Zoo festival.  Today’s arrests should serve as a dual-purpose reminder:  To those who peddle dangerous and potentially lethal drugs, this Office and the NYPD are committed to apprehending and prosecuting you.  To prospective users of these drugs, there is nothing ‘recreational’ about drugs that can kill you.”

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said:  “The NYPD is committed to bringing those who commit these acts to justice. I commend the members of the Detective Borough Bronx Overdose Squad, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District, and the FBI, who dedicated themselves to help move this case forward.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint[1]:

On September 1, 2018, a young woman (“Victim-1”) began experiencing the effects of a drug overdose after using drugs while attending the Electric Zoo music festival (the “Festival”) on Randall’s Island in Manhattan.  Victim-1 died on September 3, 2018, after being treated for the overdose at a hospital in Manhattan.  Following an investigation by the NYPD, law enforcement identified SLAUGHTER and HOWELL, both members of the U.S. military stationed at a base located in New York State (the “Base”), as individuals who distributed Molly (3,4-methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) to Victim-1 on September 1, 2018, while she was attending the Festival and shortly before she fatally overdosed.  Medical records show that Victim-1’s death was caused by acute intoxication from the combined effects of multiple drugs, including Molly.

Days earlier, SLAUGHTER had organized a trip to New York City with other service members to attend the Festival.  At that time, SLAUGHTER was involved in trafficking both Molly and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).  From May 2018 to March 2019, SLAUGHTER worked with others to sell Molly and LSD to customers on and off the Base.  While in New York City for the Festival, SLAUGHTER and another individual met HOWELL at a nightclub.  HOWELL told SLAUGHTER that he was going to the Festival the following day with a large group of friends and they wanted to buy Molly to take while at the Festival.  SLAUGHTER agreed to supply the Molly for distribution to the group.  The following day, September 1, 2018, HOWELL arranged to purchase 57 capsules of Molly from SLAUGHTER, at a total price of $560.  SLAUGHTER and another individual traveled to the Festival to sell the Molly.  HOWELL had two female members of his group – Victim-1 and her friend – meet SLAUGHTER and the other individual outside the concert entrance to retrieve the Molly to be used by the group.  HOWELL paid for the Molly via electronic payment, and SLAUGHTER provided the 57 capsules of Molly to Victim-1 and her friend.  Upon completion of the transaction, Victim-1 and her friend entered the Festival with the Molly.  Victim-1 overdosed later that day and died two days later.

On April 24, 2019, law enforcement searched SLAUGHTER’s barracks at the Base.  Law enforcement recovered, among other things, approximately 10 capsules of Molly, 55 doses of LSD, and drug packaging materials.  Text messages recovered from SLAUGHTER’s cellphone show SLAUGHTER offering to sell hundreds of capsules of Molly to other service members on the Base.

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SLAUGHTER, 25, of Jefferson County, New York, is charged with one count of conspiring to distribute Molly and LSD, and one count of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute Molly.  Both counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

HOWELL, 22, of Jefferson County, New York, is charged with one count of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute Molly, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the NYPD.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Dominic A. Gentile and Peter J. Davis are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint, and the description of the Complaint set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Georgia Man Masking as Purple Heart, Silver Star Recipient Pleads Guilty to Stolen Valor

Discharged Army Vet Claimed PTSD Benefits from Fake Tour in Afghanistan

COLUMBUS, Ga. – A discharged veteran of the military who reaped monetary benefits for faking a mental health condition triggered by a combat experience that did not occur, and who falsely claimed to have earned two of the highest honors bestowed for military service entered a guilty plea in federal court Wednesday for his crimes, announced Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. Gregg Ramsdell, 61, of Columbus, entered a guilty plea to one count of false statements and one count of violation of the Stolen Valor Act before U.S. District Judge Clay Land on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Defendant Ramsdell is facing a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for false statements and a maximum one year in prison and a $250,000 fine for stolen valor. Sentencing is scheduled for March 23, 2020. There is no parole in the federal system.

Defendant Ramsdell admitted that he falsely claimed to have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when he applied for disability payments from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) on September 7, 2014. Defendant Ramsdell wrote that he witnessed horrible atrocities during deployment in Afghanistan from October 2008 to March 2009. Among other stressors, he stated he had seen "men, women and children being executed. Women holding babies while detonating themselves. IED explosions causing severe bodily injuries and death. Retrieving body parts and bagging them. Having blood and body excrements being blown onto my uniform." He also falsely claimed that these experiences made him “unable to live a normal life.” As a result of Defendant Ramsdell’s false claims, the VA gave him added PTSD benefits retroactive to his military discharge date of June 1, 2014 totaling $76,000. In truth, Defendant Ramsdell was not in Afghanistan during that period of time that he claimed to witness the atrocities that supported his false PTSD claim, and he admitted to investigators that he lied about having PTSD. In addition, Defendant Ramsdell applied for and attained a coveted civilian position at U.S. Army Fort Benning in 2017, in part because his resume listed that he was both a Silver Star and Purple Heart with Cluster recipient. He never received these honors.

“Faking serious wartime injuries to gain undeserved benefit, and claiming valor where there is none, do a disservice to our brave veterans and service members who selflessly risk their lives protecting this country,” said U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler. “Fraud of this kind and theft of taxpayer money will not be tolerated, and we will continue to prosecute those who commit such crimes. I want to thank the FBI investigators assigned to this case for their excellent work.”

“Ramsdell’s actions are an insult to every veteran who has served our country, and in particular every veteran who suffered physical or mental trauma because of their honorable commitment and valor,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI is committed to seeking justice for anyone who lies about serving our country, and who illegally takes money from federal programs that help veterans who rightfully deserve it.”

The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it a crime for people to pass themselves off as war heroes in order to claim money, employment, property or other tangible benefits. The Silver Star medal is the third highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Army. The Purple Heart medal is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are wounded or killed in battle. An additional Oak Leaf Cluster is given to Army and Air Force service members to indicate being wounded in combat on more than one occasion.

The case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melvin Hyde is prosecuting the case for the Government. Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.

U.S. Attorney Announces Charges Against West Point Staff Sergeant For Distributing Child Pornography

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the arrest of PATRICK EDWIN GORYCHKA for distributing child pornography.  GORYCHKA was arrested yesterday and presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith McCarthy in White Plains federal court and released on bail.

 According to the Complaint[1] filed yesterday in White Plains federal court:          

In October 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) received information from an FBI Online Undercover Employee (“UC-1”) concerning UC-1’s communications with an individual using the Kik user name “epg84” (“User-1”) in a Kik chat room known to be frequented by individuals with a sexual interest in children.  UC-1 identified himself as a 48-year-old uncle who had engaged in sex acts with his niece.  User-1, who identified himself as “Eric G.,” asked UC-1 for photos of UC-1’s niece.  UC-1 told User-1 that UC-1 had met a “pedo mom” (“UC-2”) in New York.  UC-1 told User-1 that “she keeps kids of illegals while they work for a couple weeks” and “makes some $ on the side.”  User-1 stated, “Omg that’s hot” and asked UC-1 to connect him to UC-2.  

Thereafter, UC-2, going by the name “Jane,” and User-1 engaged in numerous communications from in or about October 31, 2019, through in or about November 16, 2019.  During these communications, User-1 said he was interested in “preteens” and told UC-2, “I heard that you could potentially facilitate certain things.”  User-1 said that he was interested in a “similar setup” as UC-1 and told UC-2, “I have money.”

On November 2, 2019, User-1 transmitted two links to Mega, a New Zealand-based cloud storage platform that permits users to store and share ESI, including images and videos. [2]  Both links contained numerous images and videos of children engaging in sexually explicit activity.

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GORYCHKA, 37, of New Windsor, New York, is charged with one count of distribution and receipt of child pornography, which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The statutory minimum and maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised the efforts of the FBI, West Point’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Town of New Windsor Police Department, in connection with this investigation.  He added that the investigation is ongoing.                    

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorney Marcia S. Cohen is in charge of the prosecution. 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

[2] With respect to Mega, a user can send a link to a Mega cloud account to another person.  Once the link to the Mega cloud account is transmitted, the person who clicks on the link to the cloud account can access, view, and download the files contained in that Mega cloud account.