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Weekend Series on Crime: An Interview With an Ex-California Gang Member

DOJ Disrupts Major Ransomware Operation That Victimized More Than 1,500 People

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department dismantled a ransomware gang called Hive that had victimized more than 1,500 people in 80 different countries and collected more than $100 million in ransomware payments. 

The DOJ announced the months-long campaign during a news conference Thursday, saying the group had targeted hospitals, school districts, financial firms, and critical infrastructure.

Since July 2022, the FBI had hacked Hive’s computer networks, captured its decryption keys and offered them to victims worldwide. As a result, the campaign prevented victims from paying $130 million in ransom.

“Last night, the Justice Department dismantled an international ransomware network responsible for extorting and attempting to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from victims in the United States and around the world,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat. But as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to identify and bring to justice, anyone, anywhere, who targets the United States with a ransomware attack. We will continue to work both to prevent these attacks and to provide support to victims who have been targeted. And together with our international partners, we will continue to disrupt the criminal networks that deploy these attacks.”

Hive extorted businesses and others by encrypting their data and demanding cryptocurrency payments. 

“The coordinated disruption of Hive’s computer networks, following months of decrypting victims around the world, shows what we can accomplish by combining a relentless search for useful technical information to share with victims with investigation aimed at developing operations that hit our adversaries hard,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “The FBI will continue to leverage our intelligence and law enforcement tools, global presence, and partnerships to counter cybercriminals who target American business and organizations.”

The campaign came after the Justice Department launched a ransomware task force in 2021. 

“This action demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting our communities from malicious hackers and to ensuring that victims of crime are made whole,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said. “Moreover, we will continue our investigation and pursue the actors behind Hive until they are brought to justice.”

Raleigh Man Gets 3+ Years in Prison for Assaulting Female TSA Officer

By Steve Neavling

A Raleigh man who assaulted a TSA officer in March 2022 after she found fake ID cards inside his luggage was sentenced Friday to more than three years in federal prison.

Adonis Fabian Zorrilla, 27, was going through a checkpoint when the TSA began inspecting his bags. They discovered 17 fake ID cards with Zorilla’s photo and a variety of names. 

At that point, Zorrilla grabbed the TSA officer’s arm and tried to grab the ID cards from her, tearing one of her ligaments. 

He fled the airport, leaving behind his shoes and other belongings at the airport. 

Zorrilla was arrested for forgery in Georgia and brought to the Eastern District of North Carolina. He later pleaded guilty to the charge. 

A federal judge sentenced him to 37 months in prison and three years of supervised release. 

The FBI and Raleigh-Durham Police Department investigated the case. 

FBI Arrests Two Ex-Arkansas Sheriff’s Deputies Caught on Viral Video in Violent Arrest

By Allan Lengel

The FBI on Tuesday arrested two ex-Crawford County, Arkansas, sheriff’s on charges of using excessive force during an arrest last August of a 27-year-old man at a gas station.

Screen shot of video from 5News

Levi White and Zackary King face federal civil rights offenses for using excessive force during the arrest of the man on Aug. 21 at a gas station in Mulberry, Arkansas. The arrest was captured on video that went viral.

Specifically, White and King are accused of striking the man multiple times while he was lying on the ground. He suffered “bodily injuries.”

The two men entered a not guilty plea during their initial appearance in federal court before they were released. Trial is set for April 3.

The FBI Little Rock Field Office investigated the case.

FBI Director Wray: People Need to Pay Closer Attention to Rules Regarding Classified Documents

By Allan Lengel

The discovery of classified documents at the homes of Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Mike Pence has exposed a problem far bigger than initially thought.

FBI Director Christopher Wray (File photo)

Weighing in on the matter Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters at a Justice Department press conference that people with access to those materials need to be far more careful, according to CNN.

“Obviously I can’t comment on any specific investigation, but we have had, for quite a number of years, any number of mishandling investigations,” Wray said.

“That is, unfortunately, a regular part of our counterintelligence division, counterintelligence programs work,” Wray added. “And people need to be conscious of the rules for classified information and appropriate handling of it. Those rules are there for a reason.”

Former High-Ranking FBI Agent Pleads Not Guilty to Latest Criminal Charges

By Steve Neavling

Charles McGonigal, a former high-ranking FBI agent charged with taking money to help a sanctioned Russian oligarch, pleaded not guilty Wednesday, USA Today reports.

The 54-year-old former special agent in charge of counterintelligence at the bureau’s New York Field Office was arrested Saturday and charged with making false statements and concealment of $225,000 in secret payments. 

McGonigal also pleaded not guilty on Monday to related charges in a New York federal indictment of violating U.S. economic sanctions on Russia. 

McGonigal pleaded not guilty Wednesday during a videoconference arraignment before D.C. District Court Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui. 

In that case, he’s accused of receiving a $225,000 payment from a former Albanian intelligence operative who also was an FBI agent. 

McGonigal was allowed to stay out of jail on condition that he surrenders his passport and can’t travel without written pre-approval. 

In the New York case, McGonigal agreed to similar release conditions, in addition to a $500,000 personal recognizance bond. 

He’s scheduled to appear in the D.C. court on Feb. 24 and the New York court on Feb. 1. 

McGonigal, who supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs before his retirement in 2018, is accused of working with Oleg Deripaska, who has been on the U.S. sanctions list since 2018 and was indicted last year on sanctions charges. 

Prosecutors say McGonigal agreed to help Deripaska investigate a rival oligarch and try to get him off the sanctions list. 

McGonigal is accused of working with Sergey Shestakov, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who became an American citizen, to help Deripaska. 

Shestakov was also charged in the case. 

CBP Support Dog Will Help Improve Mental Health of Border Patrol Workers

Peal is a support dog for CBP workers. Photo: CBP.

By Steve Neavling

Meet Pearl. 

She’s the first support canine at Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector, CBP announced Wednesday. 

Border Patrol launched a support canine program last week to help improve the mental health of Border Patrol workers nationwide. 

“The events Border Patrol Agents face leave little time to assess the emotional, spiritual, and psychological effects, and less time to repair themselves from the levels of trauma and crisis they deal with every day,” Border Patrol Executive Director Kathleen Scudder said. “These special dogs will help improve emotional availability, allowing their Chaplain and Peer Support Member handlers to start important conversations that can lead to quicker recovery and healing in a stressful environment.”

Laredo Sector employees met the 6-year-old yellow Labrador on Tuesday, and she was greeted with smiles and hugs.    

Peal, who started as a guide dog, will be visiting other law enforcement agencies and residents at outreach events and will be available during “any critical situation,” CBP said. 

“The United States Border Patrol remains committed to providing the workforce and their families with resources and programs that help promote a balanced, healthy approach to life in the workplace and at home,” CBP said in a news release.

FBI Director Defends Bureau’s Rank-And-File Following Charges against Former High-Ranking Agent

FBI Director Christopher Wray

By Steve Neavling

FBI Director Christopher Wray told bureau employees that the allegations against former high-ranking agent Charles McGonigal do not represent the behavior of the FBI’s rank-and-file, ABC News reports.

McGonigal, the former special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, was arrested Saturday and charged with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and conspiring to commit money laundering. 

He is accused of working with Oleg Deripaska, who has been on the U.S. sanctions list since 2018 and was indicted last year on sanctions charges. 

The FBI did not comment on the internal message, but released a statement from Wray on the charges. 

“The way we maintain the trust and confidence of the American people is through our work — showing, when all the facts come out, that we stuck to the process and we treated everyone equally, even when it is one of our own,” Wray said in the statement.

“The FBI will go to great lengths to investigate and hold accountable anyone who violates the law, including when the individual is an FBI employee. We hold ourselves to the highest standard, and our focus will remain on our mission and on doing the right thing, in the right way, every time,” Wray added.

McGonical pleaded not guilty. 

Prosecutors say McGonigal agreed to help Deripaska investigate a rival oligarch and try to get him off the sanctions list. 

McGonigal is accused of working with Sergey Shestakov, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who became an American citizen, to help Deripaska.