Seven MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Violent Crime and Drug Distribution Conspiracy

A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, returned a 16-count superseding indictment Wednesday, charging seven MS-13 gang members with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and serious firearm-related offenses, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.

Those charged include Carlos Ochoa-Martinez, 31, aka “El Serio,” Jason Sandoval, 35, aka “Bin Laden,” Jorge Flores, 28, aka “Peluche,” all of Nashville; Jose Pineda-Caceres, 22, aka “Demente,” and Franklin Hernandez, 21, aka “Happy,” both of Honduras; Gerson Serrano-Ramirez, 33, aka “Frijole,” of El Salvador and Juan Melendez,” aka “Shaggy,” of Lebanon, Tennessee. 

The indictment alleges that beginning in 2014 and continuing until yesterday, the defendants conspired with each other to obtain bulk quantities of marijuana and cocaine for redistribution in and around middle Tennessee.  Once the drugs were received, the defendants would reduce them into smaller quantities and sell them in and around nightclubs in Nashville and from the parking lots and restrooms of these establishments.  In order to maximize drug distribution in these nightclubs, the defendants would threaten rival and competing drug dealers who sold and attempted to sell cocaine and marijuana in the nightclubs.   

In order to protect their drugs, territory and proceeds, the defendants would acquire, carry and discharge firearms. To maintain and extend control over their drug distribution, the defendants would commit acts involving murder, intimidation and assault against individuals who jeopardized its operations, including rival drug dealers.

All defendants are in custody and will appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge at a later date.

This investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.  Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime & Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Safeeullah are prosecuting this case. 

An indictment is merely an accusation.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    Although more than one-third of adults aged 50 or older have experienced divorce, few people seek and obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), according to large plan sponsors GAO surveyed. A QDRO establishes the right of an alternate payee, such as a former spouse, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan upon separation or divorce. There are no nationally representative data on the number of QDROs, but plans and record keepers GAO interviewed and surveyed reported that few seek and obtain QDROs. For example, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation administered retirement benefits to about 1.6 million participants, and approved about 16,000 QDROs in the last 10 years. GAO's analysis of other survey data found about one-third of those who experienced a divorce from 2008 to 2016 and reported their former spouse had a retirement plan also reported losing a claim to that spouse's benefits. Many experts stated that some people—especially those with lower incomes—face challenges to successfully navigating the process for obtaining a QDRO, including complexity and cost. Individuals seeking a QDRO may be charged fees for preparation and review of draft orders before they are qualified as QDROs and, according to experts GAO interviewed, these fees vary widely. These experts cited concerns about QDRO review fees that they said in some cases were more than twice the amount of typical fees, and said they may discourage some from pursuing QDROs. Department of Labor (DOL) officials said the agency generally does not collect information on QDRO fees. Exploring ways to collect and analyze information from plans on fees could help DOL ensure costs are reasonable. Divorcing parties who pursue QDROs often had orders not qualified due to lacking basic information, according to plans and record keepers we surveyed (see figure). Plan Administrators and Record Keepers Reported Reasons for Not Qualifying a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) DOL provides some information to help divorcing parties pursue QDROs. However, many experts cited a lack of awareness about QDROs by the public and said DOL could do more to make resources available to divorcing parties. Without additional outreach by DOL, divorcing parties may spend unnecessary time and resources drafting orders that are not likely to be qualified, resulting in unnecessary expenditures of time and money. A domestic relations order (DRO) is a court-issued judgment, decree, or order that, when qualified by a retirement plan administrator, can divide certain retirement benefits in connection with separation or divorce and as such provide crucial financial security to a former spouse. DOL has authority to interpret QDRO requirements. GAO was asked to review the process for obtaining QDROs. This report examines what is known about (1) the number of QDRO recipients, (2) the fees and other expenses for processing QDROs, and (3) the reasons plans do not initially qualify DROs and the challenges experts identify regarding the QDRO process. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed available data, and a total of 14 responses from two surveys of large private sector plans and account record keepers, and interviewed 18 experts including practitioners who provide services to divorcing couples. GAO is recommending that DOL (1) explore ways to collect information on QDRO-related fees charged to participants or alternate payees, and (2) take steps to ensure information about the process for obtaining a QDRO is accessible. DOL generally agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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  • North Carolina Return Preparer Indicted for Tax Fraud Scheme
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    A federal grand jury sitting in Greenville, North Carolina, returned an indictment charging a North Carolina tax preparer with conspiracy to defraud the United States and with preparing false returns for clients, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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    The Justice Department today announced that it reached a settlement agreement with Service Minds Inc., dba Mister Sparky (Service Minds), a company that provides contract electrical services to residential customers in Florida and Alabama. The settlement resolves a claim that the company retaliated against a work-authorized job applicant, in violation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), when he and his wife challenged a U.S. citizens-only hiring rule that a recruiter had wrongly claimed was the company’s policy.
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    A Greensboro, North Carolina, business owner was sentenced to 42 months in prison yesterday for failing to pay employment taxes, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin for the Middle District of North Carolina.
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  • VA Research: Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Partnerships and Guide Decision-Making with Nonprofits and Academic Affiliates
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) extramural research spending totaled about $510 million in fiscal year 2019—nearly half of the $1.1 billion in total spending on VA research. Of the $510 million, federal sources, such as National Institutes of Health, funded $382 million (75 percent), and nonfederal sources, including private entities, academic institutions, state and local governments, and foundations, funded $128 million (25 percent). Spending at the 92 VA medical centers that conducted extramural research in fiscal year 2019 ranged from less than $2 million to more than $10 million (see figure). VA medical centers' nonprofit research and education corporations (NPC) and academic affiliate partners administered the grants that accounted for 91 percent of the spending. Figure: Extramural Research Spending by VA Medical Centers that Conducted Extramural Research in Fiscal Year 2019 VA has made efforts to promote and support VA medical centers' partnerships with academic affiliates—for example, by coordinating a mentoring program for local VA research officials—and considers effective affiliations as an enhancement to research. However, VA's Central Office officials have not provided examples of successful practices for strengthening research partnerships with academic affiliates. Having such practices would promote collaborative opportunities for VA medical centers with academic affiliates, particularly for medical centers that have poor communication with affiliates. Additionally, VA's Central Office has provided general guidance but not specific tools to VA medical centers for determining when an NPC or an academic affiliate should administer a project's extramural funds. Having specific decision-making tools could help medical centers make more informed decisions to provide optimal support for the research. VA research, which has contributed to many medical advances, may be funded by VA's appropriation or extramurally by other federal agencies and nonfederal sources. To access extramural funding, investigators at VA medical centers usually work with an NPC or academic affiliate partner to submit a grant proposal. Once a grant is awarded, medical centers' partners administer the grant by distributing funding, fulfilling reporting requirements, and performing other administrative activities. GAO was asked to review VA's extramural research. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) how much VA spent on extramural research in fiscal year 2019 and (2) the efforts VA has made to support medical centers' partnerships for extramural research. GAO analyzed VA policies, documents, and data. It also conducted site visits and interviewed officials from VA's Central Office and from a nongeneralizable sample of VA medical centers, NPCs, and academic affiliates, which GAO selected to represent variation in geographic location and funding. GAO recommends that VA (1) provide more information to VA medical centers on strengthening research relationships with academic affiliates and (2) develop decision tools to help VA medical centers determine whether NPCs or academic affiliates should administer extramural grants. VA agreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.
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  • Southwest Border: Schedule Considerations Drove Army Corps of Engineers’ Approaches to Awarding Construction Contracts through 2020
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Following a 2019 Presidential Declaration of National Emergency, billions of dollars were made available for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' use on border barrier construction. This report provides information on the Corps' contracting for border barriers during fiscal years 2018–2020. Key Takeaways Some Department of Defense funding was only available for a short time before expiring, giving the Corps a tight schedule for awarding contracts. This—and the emergency declaration—led the Corps to depart from its planned acquisition approach. The Corps focused on starting construction quickly and maximizing the miles of border barrier panels it could build. To do so, it: Awarded $4.3 billion in noncompetitive contracts. Competition helps ensure the government gets a good price. Started work before agreeing to terms. The Corps awarded several contracts before terms, such as barrier specifications and cost, were finalized. By focusing on expediency in contracting, the government risks paying higher costs. Contractors completed most DOD-funded border barrier panels by the end of December 2020 as scheduled. A January 2021 Presidential Proclamation paused border barrier construction to the extent permitted by law, and called for a review. In March 2021, DOD officials said they gave input to the Office of Management and Budget, and OMB will present a plan to the President. The Corps has not developed plans to examine its overall acquisition approach and identify lessons learned. Without doing so, the Corps could miss opportunities to strengthen its contracting strategies in future border support efforts. Border Barrier Obligations, Fiscal Years 2018–2020 How GAO Did This Study We reviewed all of the border barrier construction contracts the Corps awarded for projects from fiscal years 2018 through 2020. We also reviewed relevant federal procurement data and interviewed Corps and Department of Homeland Security officials.
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