Friday, October 25, 2019

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Forfeiture Of North Korean Cargo Vessel

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, announced today the entry of a judgment of forfeiture regarding the M/V Wise Honest (the “Wise Honest”), a 17,061-ton, single-hull bulk carrier ship flagged in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK” or “North Korea”).  The Wise Honest, one of the largest North Korean-flagged vessels, was used to conduct large illicit shipments of coal from North Korea and to import heavy machinery back to the DPRK.  Payments for maintenance, equipment, and improvements of the Wise Honest were made in U.S. dollars through unwitting U.S. banks, in violation of U.S. law and United Nations Security Council resolutions.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Today’s judgment of forfeiture finalizes the U.S. government’s seizure of the Wise Honest and officially takes this North Korean vessel out of commission.  It will no longer be used to further a criminal scheme.  Using the full set of tools at our disposal, we will continue to investigate and prosecute attempts to evade U.S. sanctions, including by the North Korean regime.”

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said:  “This order of forfeiture sinks the Wise Honest’s career as one of North Korea’s largest sanctions-busting vessels.  The Department of Justice will continue to pursue other property used to violate U.S. and international sanctions, around the globe, with the cooperation of our international partners.”

According to documents filed in Manhattan federal court:

Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) and the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 (“NKSPEA”), the DPRK and individuals or entities that the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has determined are involved in the facilitation of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (“WMDs”) are prohibited from engaging in transactions with U.S. persons, involving U.S.-origin goods, or using the U.S. financial system.  The United Nations Security Council has similarly prohibited the provision of goods, technology, and services to North Korea, including the sale, supply, or transfer of coal.

From November 2016 through April 2018, the Wise Honest was used by Korea Songi Shipping Company, an affiliate of Korea Songi General Trading Corporation – which, in 2017, OFAC determined was “subordinate to the [Korean People’s Army] and involved in exporting North Korean coal” – and one of Korea Songi Shipping Company’s representatives, Kwon Chol Nam, to export coal from North Korea to foreign purchasers and import machinery to North Korea (the “Korea Songi Scheme”).

On March 14, 2018, the Wise Honest was loaded with coal in Nampo, North Korea.  On April 2, 2018, Indonesian maritime authorities intercepted and detained the Wise Honest.  Although maritime regulations require vessels like the Wise Honest engaged in international voyages to operate an automatic identification system (“AIS”) capable of providing information about the vessel to other ships and to coastal authorities, and despite its March 2018 voyage from North Korea, the Wise Honest had not broadcast an AIS signal since August 4, 2017.

Participants in the Korea Songi Scheme additionally attempted to conceal the Wise Honest’s DPRK affiliation by falsely listing the Wise Honest’s nationality or the origin of the illicit coal on board the vessel in shipping documentation, for example, as from Tanzania or Russia.

In connection with Korea Songi Scheme, Kwon paid for numerous improvements, equipment purchases, and service expenditures for the Wise Honest in U.S. dollars through U.S. financial institutions.  Such transfers constitute a provision of services by U.S. banks to both the sender and recipient of the funds, and U.S. law prohibits banks from providing such services to North Korean parties.  In connection with the March 2018 shipment of coal on board the Wise Honest alone, payments totaling more than $750,000 were transmitted through accounts at a U.S. financial institution.

On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the Wise Honest, which had previously been seized pursuant to a warrant issued in the Southern District of New York.  Today’s judgment of forfeiture was ordered by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.

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Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its New York Field Office, Counterintelligence Division, and thanked the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section’s Program Operations Unit and Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of State for their assistance.

Mr. Berman also thanked Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of the late Otto Warmbier, for their willingness to voluntarily withdraw their claim in the action in order to facilitate the forfeiture of the Wise Honest.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit and Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys David W. Denton Jr. and Benet J. Kearney are in charge of the case, with assistance from Trial Attorney Christian Ford of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Monday, October 14, 2019

James Michael Wells Convicted for Murdering Coast Guard Employees

Anchorage, Alaska -- U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced that today, after deliberating for 8 hours, a jury of 6 women and 6 men found James Michael Wells guilty of the April 12, 2012, murders of U.S. Coast Guard Electrician’s Mate First Class James Hopkins (“Hopkins”) and retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate Richard Belisle (“Belisle”).

Wells, now 68, was arrested on Feb. 15, 2013, for the 2012 murders of Hopkins and Belisle, federal employees and Wells’ co-workers at the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) antenna maintenance facility, located at the USCG Communication Station (“COMMSTA”) on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Wells was convicted in 2014 and the case was reversed on appeal by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2017.

Evidence at trial established that on April 12, 2012, between 7:09 and 7:14 a.m., Hopkins and Belisle were shot and killed with a .44 revolver, which was never found, while working at their duty stations in the Rigger Shop at COMMSTA.  First responders noted no evidence of a break-in or robbery and both men appeared to be victims of a targeted killing. Wells was due to arrive at the Rigger Shop the same time respectively as Hopkins and Belisle, but instead left two phone messages for Hopkins and Belisle, noted to be after the victims’ time of death, stating Wells was running late due to a flat tire. Wells ended up arriving to the Rigger Shop well over an hour after his normal start time, immediately claiming to have had a flat tire.

USCG security videos captured Wells passing the Main Gate at Base Kodiak at 6:48 a.m. in his white Dodge truck on his way toward the Kodiak Airport, and returning back toward his residence at 7:22 a.m. However, a small blue SUV, owned by Wells, was captured on USCG security videos passing the Rigger Shop front entrance. The evidence showed Wells drove his white Dodge pickup truck to the airport, where he swapped vehicles and drove Nancy Wells’ blue Honda CR-V to COMMSTA to commit the murders. There was a 34-minute period of time for which James Wells could not account and that unexplained discrepancy captured the attention of the interviewing agents. Additionally, a tire with a nail in it was seized and through extensive testing, the examiner concluded that the nail had been manually inserted into the tire, undermining the foundation of Wells’ alibi that he had picked up a nail while driving to work on the morning of the murders.

At trial, Wells testified that he had a low tire, stopped and went to the bathroom at Servant Air and then went home. He further testified that he removed the nail and replaced it with a larger nail which was the one discovered by investigators.

On October 8, 2019, Wells was convicted on all six counts of the indictment:  two counts of murder in the first degree, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111, one for each victim; two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114, one for each victim; and two counts of possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

Sentencing will be scheduled by the court in the coming days.  The law provides for a mandatory sentence of life in prison.  Wells will remain in custody pending sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder notes that the conviction comes after an extensive investigation led by the FBI, with support from the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Alaska State Troopers.

Deputy Criminal Chief Steven Skrocki prosecuted the case along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Sherman, and Commander Kelly Stevens, U.S. Coast Guard, who was appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Defense Intelligence Agency Employee Arrested for Leaking Classified Information to Journalists

An employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was arrested today on charges related to his alleged disclosure of classified national defense information (NDI) to two journalists in 2018 and 2019.

“As laid out in today’s indictment, Frese was caught red-handed disclosing sensitive national security information for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Frese betrayed the trust placed in him by the American people—a betrayal that risked harming the national security of this country. This is one of six unauthorized disclosure cases the Department has charged in just over two years, and we will continue in our efforts to punish and deter this behavior.”

Henry Kyle Frese, 30, of Alexandria, is a DIA employee and holds a Top Secret//Sensitive Compartmented Information U.S. government security clearance. According to court documents, between mid-April and early May 2018, Frese allegedly accessed classified intelligence reports, some of which were unrelated to his job duties, and provided TOP SECRET information regarding a foreign country’s weapons systems to a journalist (Journalist 1).  According to court documents, Frese and Journalist 1 had the same residential address from August 2017 through August 2018 and, based on reviews of Frese’s and Journalist 1’s public social media pages, it appears that they were involved in a romantic relationship for some or all of that period of time.  The unauthorized disclosure of TOP SECRET information could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security of the United States.

According to the indictment, a week after Frese accessed one of the intelligence reports (Intelligence Report 1) for the second time, Journalist 1 wrote to Frese on April 27, 2018, and asked whether he would be willing to speak with another journalist (Journalist 2). Frese stated that he was “down” to help Journalist 2 if it helped Journalist 1 because he wanted to see Journalist 1 “progress.”

As alleged, in that same communication, Frese and Journalist 1 also discussed a story that Journalist 1 was working on, the subject matter of which was the topic of Intelligence Report 1.  Several days after that communication, Frese searched on a classified United States government computer system for terms related to the topics contained in Intelligence Report 1.  According to the indictment, in the hours after searching for terms related to the topic of Intelligence Report 1, Frese spoke by telephone with both Journalist 1 (twice) and Journalist 2, and within approximately a half hour after Frese’s conversations with the two journalists, Journalist 1 published an article (Article 1) through News Outlet 1, which contained NDI from Intelligence Report 1 classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI level.

In addition, as alleged in the indictment, on Sept. 24, 2019, Frese was captured on court-authorized surveillance of his cell phone orally transmitting classified NDI to Journalist 2. These disclosures contained NDI classified at the SECRET level, meaning that the unauthorized disclosure of the information could reasonably be expected to cause serious harm to the national security of the United States.

“Henry Kyle Frese was entrusted with TOP SECRET information related to the national defense of our country,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Frese allegedly violated that trust, the oath he swore to uphold, and is charged with engaging in dastardly and felonious conduct at the expense of our country. This indictment should serve as a clear reminder to all of those similarly entrusted with National Defense Information that unilaterally disclosing such information for personal gain, or that of others, is not selfless or heroic, it is criminal.”

"Mr. Frese allegedly disclosed highly classified national defense information, which puts our country and people at risk," said Alan E. Kohler Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office Counterintelligence Division.  "He violated his oath to serve and protect the United States.  The men and women of the FBI work hard every day to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution - we will not stand by while trusted government employees violate that trust in such an egregious way."

A federal grand jury returned an indictment yesterday charging Frese with two counts of willful transmission of national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Danya E. Atiyeh and Trial Attorney Jennifer Kennedy Gellie of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.