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Houston Woman Pleads Guilty To Wire Fraud

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Marvelous Eghage, 39, of Houston, Texas pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller on Monday.

According to court documents, between February 26, 2018, and March 13, 2018, Eghage devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses and promises directed to third parties.

Through her fraudulent scheme, Eghage diverted funds from her victims to a bank account under her controlled by way of electronic wires and later withdrew or transferred the funds for her own personal benefit and the benefit of others.

Specifically, court documents show that on February 26, 2018, Eghage and a co-conspirator electronically transferred $25,400.00 to an account under Eghage’s control. These funds were fraudulently acquired through forged checks from the account of R.B.R.

On March 6, 2018, Eghage and a co-conspirator, fraudulently induced a representative of Colombia-based FDN to electronically transfer $34,965.00 to a Houston, Texas bank account under Eghage’s control.

On March 7, 2018, Eghage and a co-conspirator fraudulently induced N.D. to electronically
transfer approximately $48,000.00 to a Houston, Texas bank account controlled by Eghage.

On March 8, 2018, Eghage fraudulently induced M.R. to transfer money to a bank account under her control.

Lastly, on March 9, 2018, Eghage and a coconspirator fraudulently induced a representative of a law firm based in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to electronically transfer approximately $108,637.00 to a Houston, Texas bank account under Eghage’s control.

Eghage used email communications to induce her victims into her fraudulent scheme. Eghage faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.00.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Everard Potter.

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South Carolina Man Arrested At CEK Airport Based On Outstanding Warrant

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A South Carolina man made his initial appearance in St. Thomas before a federal judge after his arrest based on fugitive-from-justice charges from the U.S. mainland, authorities said.

Maurice Eugene Tucker, 35, of Columbia, heard from U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller that he is currently wanted for illegal weapon possession in South Carolina, U.S. Attorney Delia L. Smith said.

Tucker was released on a $25,000 unsecured bond and other conditions to allow him to return to Columbia, South Carolina for further court proceedings.

According to court documents, on May 4, 2021, a South Carolina grand jury returned an indictment charging Tucker with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

On May 15, 2022, Tucker was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Cyril E. King Airport after he appeared for primary inspection before boarding a flight to the mainland.

Thereafter, Tucker was arrested and taken into custody by officers of the Virgin Islands Police Department.

This matter is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the
District of South Carolina.

United States Attorney Smith reminds the public that an indictment is merely a formal charging document and is not evidence of guilt.

Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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Coast Guard Returns 24 Dominicans After Illegal Voyage Northwest of Aguadilla

SAN JUAN — The Coast Guard Cutter Donald  Horsley repatriated 24 Dominican Republic nationals Monday, following the interdiction of an illegal voyage Wednesday in Atlantic Ocean waters northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

This interdiction is the result of ongoing local and federal multi-agency efforts in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group CBIG.

“The Coast Guard’s highest priority is to save lives at sea, and we do this daily alongside our fellow Caribbean Border Interagency Group partners in our shared unwavering resolve to interdict illegal voyages in the Mona Passage,” said Capt. Gregory H. Magee, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.  “These voyages are extremely unsafe and put thousands of lives at risk every year, while conditions aboard these grossly overloaded makeshift boats are just inhumane.  If you are thinking of taking part in an illegal voyage, do not take to the sea!  If caught, you will be returned to your country of origin or you could find yourself facing criminal prosecution in U.S. courts.”

The aircrew of a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations Enforcement Aircraft detected the suspect illegal voyage Wednesday night, approximately 70 nautical miles northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Following the sighting, the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos interdicted the 30-foot makeshift boat and safely embarked all the passengers. The Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsely later embarked and completed the group’s repatriation to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel near the coast of Juanillo Dominican Republic.

Since Oct. 1, 2021 to May 16, 2022, the Coast Guard has carried out 61 illegal voyage interdictions in Mona Passage and Caribbean waters near Puerto Rico.   Interdicted during this period, are 1,585 non-U.S. citizens comprised mostly of Dominican Republic and Haitian nationals (1,184 Dominicans, 348 Haitians, 01 Cuban, 1 Ecuadorian, 52 Venezuelan, 35 Unknown).

Family members in the United States inquiring about possible family members interdicted at sea, please contact your local U.S. representative. Relatives located outside the United States please contact your local U.S. Embassy.

CBIG unifies efforts between U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action, in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.

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Pennsylvania Fugitive Detained at Cyril E. King Airport: VIPD

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A fugitive wanted on a Pennsylvania warrant was arrested after arriving at Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas on May 4, the Virgin Islands Police Department said today.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contacted police at about 5:41 p.m., and detectives went to the airport and were presented with a warrant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for Craig Vanausdal, according to the VIPD.

Detectives then placed 39-year-old Vanausdal into custody, VIPD Communications Director Glen Dratte said.

Vanausdal was booked, processed, and remanded to custody of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections (BOC) pending extradition, according to Dratte.

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Man Wanted In New Hampshire Shooting Arrested By U.S. Marshals In Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN — A 19-year-old teenager, identified as Eduardo Vázquez Rivera, involved in a shooting that occurred on March 27 in the city of Manchester, in the state of New Hampshire, which left a man injured, was captured in Puerto Rico by the U.S. Marshals Service.

According to the Manchester (New Hampshire) Police Department, at around 5:00 a.m. on March 27, they responded to a call about a shooting in the area of ​​Cedar and Chestnut streets.

The person who called authorities said he heard gunshots and then saw two men fleeing the scene.

“Shortly thereafter, Police were informed that a man arrived at Elliot Hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. In the course of the investigation, Manchester detectives identified Vázquez Rivera as the suspect. An arrest warrant was issued in which Vázquez Rivera was accused of attempted murder in the first degree and two counts of reckless conduct, ”said the local police through their social networks.

On April 14, the Hillsborough Superior Court in Manchester issued the arrest warrant against Vázquez Rivera for the case in which he was accused of attempted murder.

The investigation indicates that the shooting was a planned attack. The victim in this case sustained gunshot wounds to the chest, shoulder, and back area. At this time, his condition is unknown.

The suspect in the crime was arrested in the Mercedita community, on the border between Juana Díaz and Ponce, in Puerto Rico.

The Violent Offenders Task Force of the US Marshals Service was in charge of the arrest, which the young man did not resist.

The subject was handed over to the Special Arrests and Extraditions Division of the Police for the due process of extradition.

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Boxer Who Made Sex Video Of Himself With Underage Girl Goes Down On All Rape Counts

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — After deliberating for nearly seven hours, a federal jury found a former professional boxer guilty on all counts at his rape trial on St. Thomas Friday.

The jury heard closing arguments Friday morning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Rainwater, who said the people who reported John “Dah Rock” Jackson to law enforcement are “heroes.”

The 33-year-old Jackson is the son of legendary St. Thomian boxer Julian “The Hawk” Jackson.

The jury’s actions likely prevented John Jackson from abusing additional victims, Rainwater said.

Jackson was found guilty of all charges filed in a six-count indictment, after jurors deliberated for six-and-a-half hours. The trial began in U.S. District Court on Monday.

Four of the six counts are related to a victim referred to in the indictment as Jane Doe 1 — production of child pornography, first-degree rape of a person whose resistance was prevented “by stupor or weakness of mind” because of an intoxicating substance, aggravated second-degree rape of a person between the age of 13 and 15, and transportation of a minor for sexual activity. The other two counts are transportation of a minor for sex, related to two additional victims, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3.

The local news media is not identifying the young women by name because they are victims of sexual assault.

“The law protects those who cannot protect themselves,” Rainwater said during closing arguments.

There are several federal laws that prohibit adults from having sex with minors under the age of 18, “under any circumstances,” and Rainwater said those statutes are on the books for good reason.

“Teenagers are dumb. They make dumb decisions. Their brains are not fully developed, they cannot comprehend the consequences of some of their dumb decisions. That’s why the law exists,” Rainwater said. “Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable. They want so badly to be accepted.”

She said Jackson didn’t need to use a weapon or physical force to get his victims to do what he wanted.

“A little gift. Some attention. Maybe some weed. It’s pretty easy to manipulate a teenage girl. The law is designed to protect teenagers from their own poor decisions,” Rainwater said.

Jane Doe 1 was intoxicated the first time she and Jackson had sex, and “she was not only a child, she was a drunk child,” Rainwater said. “He knew her state and he took advantage of it.”

The prosecution — Rainwater, Assistant U.S. Attorney Natasha Baker, and Criminal Chief Jill Koster — spent three days eliciting testimony from victims and witnesses, and presenting evidence that Jackson had sex with a succession of three schoolgirls half his age between 2017 and 2019.

The victims each described the sex acts Jackson performed on them, and Jane Doe 2 in particular had trouble getting through the painful process of explaining such intimate details to a room full of strangers.

“It was difficult for her to talk about this,” Rainwater said. “It took multiple questions just to get her to say the words.”

Jackson was arrested by V.I. Police on Feb. 6, 2019, after the father of Jane Doe 1 filed a report.

Jackson was initially released on bond. He was subsequently arrested and charged with federal child pornography crimes after investigators found a video on Jane Doe 1’s cellphone that Jackson had filmed while having sex with her. Prosecutors also filed charges related to the two previous victims, who were discovered after Jane Doe 1 said she had been introduced to Jackson by Jane Doe 2. Jane Doe 3 testified that she introduced Jackson to Jane Doe 2, at his request.

During the trial, jurors watched a video of Jackson admitting to police that he repeatedly had sex with Jane Doe 1 when she was 15, as well as a video Jackson filmed during one of those encounters.

Rainwater made it clear that Jackson is the only person responsible for his crimes.

“Under no circumstances is a 30-year-old man allowed to have sex with a teenager,” Rainwater said. “Adults cannot have sex with minors.”

When Jane Doe 1 told friends about Jackson, one girl realized that the situation was serious, Rainwater said.

That girl, “was a good friend. She acted like an adult and she said, ‘You’re going to tell, or I will. This is wrong, this is illegal. It can’t continue,’” Rainwater said.

Jane Doe 1 cried as she struggled to tell her father what Jackson had done, and “he kept asking, and he kept asking, ‘What’s the matter?’ And she kept crying. And finally she told him, ‘I did something stupid,’” Rainwater said.

“Her father took her to the police station the very next day,” she said.

The victim blamed herself, and it took effort from her family and law enforcement to convince her “this was not your decision, it was his,” Rainwater said. “This is not your burden to carry.”

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U.S. Supreme Court Allows Puerto Rico’s Exclusion From Welfare Program

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court this week rejected a bid to extend a federal program offering benefits to low-income elderly, blind and disabled people to residents of Puerto Rico, finding that Congress had the authority to prevent those living in the American territory from receiving the assistance.

The justices ruled 8-1 in favor of President Joe Biden’s administration, reversing a lower court’s ruling that a 1972 decision by Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program violated a U.S. Constitution requirement that laws apply equally to everyone.

The ruling denies the welfare benefits to an estimated 300,000 people on the Caribbean island who otherwise might qualify. The federal government has said an expansion covering Puerto Rico would have cost $2 billion a year.

“Enough of this colonial status that discriminates against us and affects our quality of life. The only and the best solution is statehood,” Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood governor, said in a statement.

Puerto Rico’s status is a divisive issue on the island, with some favoring remaining a territory while others push for statehood or even independence from the United States.

The ruling, authored by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, found that Congress acted validly under a constitutional provision letting lawmakers treat territories differently than states.

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Puerto Rico's Exclusion From Welfare Program
Visitors walk their dogs across the Supreme Court Plaza during a storm on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 22, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

Kavanaugh said a ruling extending benefits to Puerto Rico could have “far-reaching consequences” inflicting additional financial burdens on its residents — including that they be required to pay federal income tax, which they do not currently do.

“The Constitution does not require that extreme outcome,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents were from Puerto Rico, was the sole dissenter. Sotomayor pointed out that as the island does not have voting representation in Congress, its people cannot rely on Congress to recognize their rights.

“Equal treatment of citizens should not be left to the vagaries of the political process,” Sotomayor wrote.

A provision extending SSI benefits to Puerto Rico is part of Democratic-backed social spending legislation that has stalled in Congress.

Jose Luis Vaello Madero, the disabled 67-year-old man at the center of the case, received SSI benefits when he lived in New York but lost eligibility when he moved to Puerto Rico in 2013. The U.S. government sued him in federal court in Washington in 2017 seeking more than $28,000 for SSI payments he received after moving to Puerto Rico.

“It is unfortunate the court failed to see the discrimination faced by the most needy Puerto Rican Americans whose only distinguishing feature is that they choose to remain in Puerto Rico, their home on U.S. soil. This is a devastating day for Mr. Vaello Madero and for Puerto Rico,” said Hermann Ferre, Vaello Madero’s lawyer.

The United States Justice Department declined comment.

Many Puerto Ricans have long complained that the island’s residents are treated worse than other Americans despite being U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico, which is not a state, is the most-populous of the U.S. territories, with about 3 million people.

SSI benefits are available to American citizens living in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the Northern Mariana Islands, but not the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

The Supreme Court has been instrumental in defining the legal status of Puerto Ricans dating to a series of rulings starting more than a century ago called the Insular Cases, some suffused with racist language. Those rulings endorsed the notion that the people of newly acquired U.S. territories could receive different treatment than citizens living in U.S. states.

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch in a separate opinion said the court in a future case should overturn the Insular Cases, saying they “rest on racial stereotypes” and “deserve no place in our law.”

Congress decided not to include Puerto Rico when it enacted the SSI program. Puerto Ricans are eligible for a different benefits program, called Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled, that allows for more local control but not as much federal funding.

The government’s appeal originally was filed by former President Donald Trump’s administration. Biden’s administration continued the appeal while also urging Congress to extend SSI to Puerto Rico.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Coast Guard Seizes $11.7 Million In Cocaine, Transfers 6 Suspected Smugglers To San Juan

SAN JUAN — Coast Guard Cutter’s Joseph Tezanos and Heriberto Hernandez crews offloaded approximately 1,289 pounds of cocaine and transferred custody of six suspected smugglers at Coast Guard Base San Juan Monday, following two separate vessel interdictions near Puerto Rico.

These interdictions are the result of multi-agency efforts involving the Caribbean Border Interagency Group and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force.  The seized cocaine has an estimated wholesale value of approximately $11.7 million dollars.

The most recent interdiction occurred during a routine patrol April 11, 2022, after the crew of a Customs and Border Protection multi-role enforcement aircraft sighted a suspect vessel in waters northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.  Coast Guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan diverted the cutter Heriberto Hernandez that arrived on scene and interdicted a 25-foot go-fast vessel.  The vessel was carrying four men, Dominican Republic nationals, and six bales of suspected contraband, which tested positive for cocaine.  The cutter crew apprehended the suspects and seized the contraband.

During a routine patrol April 6, 2022, the crew of a Customs and Border Protection multi-role enforcement aircraft sighted a suspect vessel north of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Coast Guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan diverted the cutter Joseph Tezanos that arrived on scene and interdicted a 30-foot go-fast vessel.  The vessel was carrying three men, Dominican Republic nationals, and eight bales of suspected contraband, which tested positive for cocaine.  The cutter crew apprehended the suspects and seized the contraband. One suspected smuggler from this group, who required medical care ashore, was medically evacuated Thursday to a hospital in Puerto Rico.

“Safeguarding the nation’s southernmost maritime border is among our top priorities,” said Capt. Gregory H. Magee, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.  “You can expect to see many more of these interdictions from the Coast Guard and from our local and federal partners as we work together to stop drug smuggling go-fast vessels from making landfall in the Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Special Agents supporting the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force received custody of the detainees and the seized contraband, and they are leading the investigation into this case. The apprehended smugglers are facing federal prosecution in Puerto Rico on criminal charges of Conspiracy to Import Controlled Substance and Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance Aboard a Vessel Subject to the Jurisdiction of the United States. The charges carry a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.

Cutters Heriberto Hernandez and Joseph Tezanos are 154-foot fast response cutters that are homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

CBIG was formally created to unify efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA, for its Spanish acronym), in their common goal of securing the maritime borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant and drug smuggling threats.  The Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigations are also integral partners of the CBIG. 

The CCSF is an initiative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office created to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of HSI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Coast Guard, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Police Department’s (PRPD) Joint Forces for Rapid Action.

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Previously Removed Dominican Republic Man Pleads Guilty to Illegally Re-Entering The USA

CHRISTIANSTED — A previously-deported Dominican Republic national who used a fake ID to try to board a flight from St. Croix to Florida has admitted to his guilt in federal court, authorities said.

Reynaldo Mejia-Mejia, of Santo Domingo, pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge George Cannon, Jr. to illegally reentering the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to court documents, Reynaldo Mejia-Mejia, 33, presented himself to U.S. Customs
and Border Protection (CBP) officers for inspection to board a Spirit airlines flight from St. Croix to Fort Lauderdale on March 23, 2022. He displayed a Washington State driver’s
license in the name of another individual with a photo of his likeness as proof of identification to
travel.

During questioning at the primary inspection, Mejia stated that he was born in Puerto Rico;
however, the CBP officer noticed that Mejia’s accent sounded distinctive to the Dominican
Republic. A subsequent fingerprint check positively identified Mr. Mejia-Mejia, and record
checks revealed that he was previously deported by immigration officials in 2018 and 2019 from
the United States to the Dominican Republic.

CBP officers determined that Mejia-Mejia is not a citizen or national of the United States. Reynaldo Mejia-Mejia is in fact a citizen and national of the Dominican Republic, and he was not in possession of the required legal documents to be present or to enter the United States.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are investigating the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Ortiz is prosecuting the case.

Mejia-Mejia is scheduled to be sentenced on August 18, 2022, He faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Virgin Islands Assistant U.S. Attorney Receives Prestigious Justice Department Award

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Assistant United States Attorney Adam F. Sleeper has been awarded an Attorney General’s Award by the United States Department of Justice for Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee.

“The Annual Attorney General’s Awards recognize Department of Justice employees for their
extraordinary contributions to the rule of law and the pursuit of justice,” U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said. “AUSA Sleeper joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the fall of 2019 and currently serves as the Appellate Chief for the office. In addition to his responsibilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands,
AUSA Sleeper supports our colleagues in the Eastern District of Oklahoma by handling appeals
from that district as needed. He has also provided exceptional assistance to attorneys here in the
territory and across the United States.”

Prior to joining the United States Attorney’s Office, AUSA Sleeper clerked for a federal judge on
the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and for U.S. District Court Judge Curtis V. Gomez in the District
of the Virgin Islands. He is a graduate of Cornell Law School and of Connecticut College.

More information regarding the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s efforts is available at
https://www.justice.gov/usao-vi.