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Prosecutions

SoCal Foreign Agent Political Fundraiser Pleads Guilty to Multiple Charges

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LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors filed a criminal case this week, charging Imaad Shah Zuberi, a Southern California campaign fundraiser, with falsifying records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials.

The criminal charges allege that Zuberi engaged in lobbying efforts that earned him millions of dollars, much of which was pilfered from his clients.

According to The Daily Beast, Zuberi “donated $900,000 to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.” Additionally, they report “his name also appears on a document tied to an inaugural event featuring foreign power brokers and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the Trump ally who ran the House intelligence committee.”

In addition to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Zuberi is charged in a criminal information with tax evasion and making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions that included funneling money from foreign entities and individuals to influence U.S. elections.

Politico Reports “While Zuberi has drawn attention for his substantial donation to Trump’s inaugural committee, he has a history of supporting candidates of both parties. Last campaign cycle, recipients have included Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, multiple California Democrats in House races and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul.”

Imaad Shah Zuberi

 Zuberi, a 49-year-old resident of Arcadia, California, has agreed to plead guilty to the three counts in the information.

A plea agreement also filed in United States District Court notes that Zuberi faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison once he pleads guilty to the charges.

Zuberi, who operated a venture capital firm called Avenue Ventures, solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments with claims he could use his influence in Washington, D.C. to change United States foreign policy and create business opportunities for his clients and himself.

According to court documents, clients gave Zuberi money for consulting fees, to make investments, or to fund campaign contributions.

As part of his efforts to influence public policy, Zuberi hired lobbyists, retained public relations professionals and made campaign contributions – which gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom took action in support of his clients. As evidence of his access and influence, Zuberi distributed to his clients photographs of himself discussing policy with elected officials.

          While some U.S. officials were willing to take action on issues Zuberi put forward, most of Zuberi’s business efforts were unsuccessful and his clients suffered significant losses. Many of the lobbyists, public relations consultants, and other subcontractors also suffered losses when Zuberi refused to pay them, according to the information.

          Zuberi, on the other hand, became wealthy, primarily as the result of fraudulent representations about his background, influence, and the use of client funds, much of which constituted an “outright conversion of client money for defendant Zuberi’s own personal benefit,” the information states.

          The information details dozens of illegal campaign contributions – including those paid by Zuberi using the names of other people, “conduit contributions” made by others that Zuberi reimbursed, and contributions to U.S. political campaigns that were financed by foreign entities and individuals.

          The information further states that Zuberi accepted money from two foreign companies with promises that the funds would be used to contribute to political campaigns, but Zuberi took the majority of the money – more than $1.1 million – for his own personal use.

          “Mr. Zuberi’s multi-faceted scheme allowed him to line his pockets by concealing the fact that he was representing foreign clients, obtaining access for clients by making a long series of illegal contributions, and skimming money paid by his clients,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna.

“Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention. This investigation has halted his illegal conduct, will result in several felony convictions, and could send him to prison for a lengthy period of time.”

          “American influence is not for sale,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Mr. Zuberi lured individuals who were seeking political influence in violation of U.S. law, and in the process, enriched himself by defrauding those with whom he interacted.”

          The information details other aspects of Zuberi’s scheme through which he personally profited. Zuberi mounted efforts to convince the government of Bahrain to lift sanctions on a citizen of Bahrain in connection with the development of a large resort in that country. The scheme falsely created the appearance that Avenue Ventures had made a major investment in the Bahrain project.

Zuberi lobbied members of Congress to apply political pressure on Bahrain to cease its interference in the project, claiming that it was adversely affecting him as a U.S. investor. In fact, Zuberi designed these efforts to assist the citizen of Bahrain. Zuberi illegally received compensation for these efforts because he failed to register as a foreign agent of the Bahraini citizen.

          Zuberi also converted to his own benefit money invested in U.S. Cares, a company established to export humanitarian items to Iran, according to the information. In 2013 and 2014, investors put approximately $7 million into U.S. Cares, but Zuberi used over 90 percent of the investor funds for his personal benefit – to purchase real estate, pay down mortgages, remodel properties, invest in brokerage accounts, donate $250,000 to a non-profit organization established by a former high-ranking elected official, and to pay down personal credit card debt, according to court documents.

          In 2014, Zuberi entered into a contract with the government of Sri Lanka to rehabilitate Sri Lanka’s image in the United States, which had suffered as a result of allegations of persecution of the country’s minority Tamil population.

Zuberi promised to make substantial expenditures on lobbying efforts, legal expenses and media buys, which prompted Sri Lanka to agree to pay Zuberi a total of $8.5 million over the course of six months in 2014.

According to court documents, days after Sri Lanka made an initial payment of $3.5 million, Zuberi transferred $1.6 million into his personal brokerage accounts and used another $1.5 million to purchase real estate.

          The information states that Sri Lanka wired a total of $6.5 million pursuant to the contract, and Zuberi directed more than $5.65 million of that money to the benefit of himself and his spouse.

Zuberi paid less than $850,000 to lobbyists, public relations firms and law firms, and certain subcontractors did not receive full payment after Zuberi falsely claimed that Sri Lanka had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices, according to the information.

          “This case should deter individuals who seek to provide false statements to the Department and covertly influence our political process on behalf of foreign governments,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “Through misrepresentations in his FARA filing, Mr. Zuberi attempted to deceive our elected officials and the American public on behalf of Sri Lanka. The Department of Justice treats these crimes with the gravity that they deserve and will continue to aggressively identify, investigate and prosecute FARA violations.”

          “Mr. Zuberi was the primary organizer of paid political efforts to mold the opinion of political officials, including members of Congress, to benefit Sri Lanka. Instead, he used shell business entities to divert millions of dollars for his own personal use,” stated Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner of IRS Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Today’s announcement of Mr. Zuberi’s anticipated guilty plea to tax and campaign finance violations demonstrates IRS-CI’s continued commitment to work alongside our federal law enforcement partners to ensure the system remains fair for everyone.”

          In relation to the FARA charge in the information, Zuberi agreed to plead guilty to submitting false registration statements in which he concealed his direction of the Sri Lanka lobbying effort, as well as the millions of dollars he received.

          In relation to the tax charge in the information, Zuberi agreed to plead guilty to one count of tax evasion for failing to report on his 2014 tax return millions of dollars in income he received from Sri Lanka. While the 2014 income tax return claimed income of $558,233, Zuberi failed to report more than $5.65 million he received in relation to the Sri Lanka lobbying effort.

Zuberi admits in his plea agreement that his tax evasion over the course of four years – 2012 through 2015 – caused tax losses of at least $3.5 million and as much as $9.5 million.

          In relation to the campaign finance charge, Zuberi agreed to plead guilty to a charge of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act in 2015 by making conduit contributions in the names of other people, reimbursing contributions made by others, and being reimbursed for contributions he made.

In his plea agreement, Zuberi admits that over a five-year period – 2012 through 2016 – he made or solicited more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

          This matter is being investigated by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section. The National Security Division of the Department of Justice provided assistance to the prosecutors.

Zuberi is expected to make his initial appearance in this case in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles on October 30.

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Prosecutions

Feds Charge Local Man in $410M Medical Fraud Scheme

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GEORGIA — A California man who operated a durable medical equipment (DME) company has been charged for his alleged participation in a massive healthcare fraud scheme. The defendant is the 22nd charged in the Southern District of Georgia as part of an investigation that uncovered more than $410 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, the largest fraud case in the history of the Southern District of Georgia.

Scott M. Hirsch, the operator of JI Medical, Inc., a company formerly based on the Miracle Mile in the City of Los Angeles, is accused of conspiring to pay kickbacks in exchange for obtaining orders for DME that JI Medical, Inc. would then bill to Medicare. As part of this scheme, the physicians receiving the kickbacks from JI Medical, Inc. knowingly signed false medical records describing “consultations” of Medicare patients.

Research shows that JI Medical operated under the name RAMAT Medical at 5812 West Pico Blvd.

“Telemedicine is an important tool for legitimate providers – but paying kickbacks is not part of telemedicine and will not be tolerated under any circumstances,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “While many of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners may be working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, this office continues to work day and night to bring bad actors to justice.” 

The healthcare fraud scheme charged is the largest in the history of the Southern District of Georgia. Previous charges in this string of cases include eight physicians, two nurse practitioners, two operators of telemedicine companies, and two brokers of patient data. The Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries whose identities were used as part of the scheme are located throughout the Southern District of Georgia, including the Augusta, Brunswick, Dublin, Savannah, Statesboro, and Waycross Divisions, as well as elsewhere in the United States. 

The $410 million fraud scheme charged in the Southern District of Georgia is part of nationwide operations by the Department of Justice that thus far has halted a multi-billion dollar fraud network involving fraudulent claims for genetic testing, orthotic braces, pain creams, and other items.

“The growing number of medical providers and equipment providers alleged to have been involved in this ongoing scheme is disheartening,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI and our federal partners will continue to root out such deceitful practices and protect taxpayers and the citizens who deserve the benefits from programs like Medicare, even as telemedicine becomes more common.” 

“This investigation is a stellar example of inter-agency cooperation and working together to bring those who defraud the health care system to justice,” said FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. “The public can be assured that the FBI and our partners will continue to seek to identify and pursue investigations against such egregious offenders.” 

“In these trying times, it’s more important than ever that we safeguard the Medicare trust fund,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “HHS/OIG, along with our partners, will vigorously pursue any provider who puts their own financial gain above that of their patients.” 

“Cases of this magnitude can only be tackled using a strategy that recognizes that the most effective way to fight these large criminal networks is by combining the strengths, resources, and expertise of our federal agencies,” said Resident Agent in Charge Glen M. Kessler of the U.S. Secret Service. “Our nation’s healthcare system cannot tolerate kickbacks to physicians and pharmacies while criminals line their pockets with taxpayer funded healthcare dollars.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service aggressively conducts investigations of those who fraudulently use the U.S. Mail to facilitate complex fraud schemes,” said Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division.  “We will continue to support and work with our federal law enforcement partners to stop those who are engaged in these types of fraudulent activities and defend the U.S. Mail from criminal misuse.”

“The defendant in this case used the U.S. Mail to facilitate his elaborate criminal scheme. Postal Inspectors partnered with other agencies to quickly identify the scheme and worked aggressively with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to dismantle this criminal enterprise. Through cases like these, the Postal Inspection Service upholds its longstanding mission of protecting the public and preventing criminal misuse of the U.S. Mail,” said Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Miami Division.

Indictments or criminal informations contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This investigation is ongoing. As telemedicine becomes an increasing part of our healthcare system, vigilance in ensuring that fraud and kickbacks do not usurp the legitimate practice of medicine by electronic means is more important than ever. If you are aware of any fraud or kickbacks relating to telemedicine, including COVID-19 fraud, please call the FBI hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI. 

This particular prosecution resulted from a joint investigation of multiple agencies and offices.  U.S. Attorney Christine acclaimed the hard work of the investigatory team, led by FBI – Savannah, FBI – Birmingham, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Thomas Clarkson and Jonathan A. Porter are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the United States.

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Prosecutions

Century City Mall Murder Suspect Arrested in Baltimore

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department’s Operations West Bureau (OWB) Homicide investigators have announced the arrest of a suspect in a murder that took place at the Century City Mall. 

On January 20, 2020, West Los Angeles Division officers responded to a call of a shooting in progress at the Century City Mall. Upon their arrival, officers found a victim down and unresponsive.

Brandon Hinton

The investigation revealed that a fight involving the suspect had occurred outside of a nearby restaurant.  The fight involving the suspect stemmed from another dispute inside of the same restaurant.  During the fight, the suspect armed himself and shot the victim to death.  Investigators from OWB Homicide identified Brandon Hinton as the suspect.  It was determined that Brandon Hinton had fled the area and a murder warrant was issued.

On March 16, 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigations Fugitive Task Force agents in Baltimore, Maryland located and arrested Hinton.

On Friday, April 10, 2020, LAPD-FBI Fugitive Task Force agents extradited 26-year-old Brandon Hinton to Los Angeles to face murder charges.  Hinton was booked on a four-million-dollar murder warrant and will be arraigned this week.

Anyone with information, including possible additional victims, are urged to call Los Angeles Police Department’s Operations West Bureau homicide investigators at (213) 382-9470. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247).  

Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call the LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go directly to www.lacrimestoppers.org.  Tipsters may also visit www.lapdonline.org and click on “Anonymous Web Tips” under the “Get Involved-Crime Stoppers” menu to submit an online tip.  Lastly, tipsters may also download the “P3 Tips” mobile application and select the LA Regional Crime Stoppers as their local program.

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Prosecutions

Weinstein Gets New Sex Assault Charge for Bev Hills Hotel Incident

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Man in Handcuffs

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced today that film producer Harvey Weinstein was charged with an additional sexual assault count stemming from an incident that allegedly occurred at a Beverly Hills hotel in May 2010.

Case BA483663 was amended to add one felony count of sexual battery by restraint. Weinstein (dob 3/19/52) was charged in January with one felony count each of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint.

“We are continuing to build and strengthen our case,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “As we gather corroborating evidence, we have reached out to other possible sexual assault victims. If we find new evidence of a previously unreported crime, as we did here, we will investigate and determine whether additional criminal charges should be filed.”

The new charge alleges that Weinstein sexually assaulted a woman at a Beverly Hills hotel on May 11, 2010. The victim was first interviewed by law enforcement in October 2019 as a possible corroborating witness in the case. Last month, she provided detectives with information confirming that the assault took place within the 10-year-statute of limitation.

The original criminal complaint charged Weinstein with sexually assaulting two women during separate incidents in 2013.

If convicted as charged in the amended complaint, the defendant faces up to 29 years in state prison.

Prosecutors have initiated a request for the temporary custody of Weinstein from New Yorkthe first of several steps in the extradition process.

At this time, it is unknown when Weinstein will be transferred to Los Angeles County. Upon his arrival, he will be arraigned on the amended complaint. Once a court date is set, the public will be notified.

Prosecutors also announced today that two cases involving Weinstein were declined for prosecution because the victims did not want to testify against the defendant in this case.

Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson of the Sex Crimes Division is prosecuting the case.

The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills police departments and the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation.

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