Two Virginia Men Convicted for Their Roles in Investment Fraud Scheme

A federal jury found two representatives of a purported investment company based in the United Kingdom guilty on Oct. 30 for their roles in an investment fraud scheme by which they stole at least $5 million from victim investors.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Inspector in Charge Delany De Leon-Colón of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group, Special Agent in Charge David Archey of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office and Mark C. Christie Chair of the Virginia State Corporation  made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, James Michael Johnson, 69, of Richmond, Virginia and James Leonard Smith, 64, of Midlothian, Virginia, were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.

Brian Michael Bridge, 46, of London, England, a fugitive, was also charged in the superseding indictment.  Sentencing for Johnson and Bridge is scheduled for March 5, 2021, before U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Co-conspirator Stuart Anderson, who pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 13. 

According to evidence presented at trial, Johnson and Smith participated in a worldwide scheme through Chimera Group Ltd.  The scheme operated as an advance fee scheme which involved the defendants as promoters who promised to pay the victims a sum of money at a later date in exchange for an upfront advanced payment.  Among other misrepresentations, Johnson and Smith and their co-conspirators told potential victims that their principal payments would be protected based on letters of credit and other documents that purported to be from a large financial institution.  However, these letters were fabricated.  The evidence also showed that the defendants used escrow attorneys, who were themselves part of the scheme, in order to give the victims the appearance that their money would remain secure until the defendants’ promises had been kept.

The defendants stole at least $5 million from their victims.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group, FBI’s Richmond Field Office and Virginia State Corporation Commission investigated the case.  Trial Attorneys Vasanth Sridharan and Christopher Jackson of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. Moore of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case. 

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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    The U.S. Department of Justice today formally updated its guidelines governing communications between the Justice Department and the White House. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the guidelines, effective immediately, in a memorandum to all Department personnel. 
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  • F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of F-35 Affordability Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements, as discussed in our draft report. Specifically, from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet's average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59 to 69 percent; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32 to 39 percent. Both metrics fall below the services' objectives. For example, in fiscal year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54 percent, versus a 72 percent objective. Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone (see fig.). The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program. Gap between F-35 Affordability Constraints and Estimated Sustainment Costs in 2036 Note: Costs are in constant year 2012 dollars as that was the year when the F-35 program was most recently re-baselined. aSteady state years for the F-35 program are defined in each respective service's affordability analysis as: US Air Force/F-35A – 2036-2041; US Marine Corps/F-35B – 2033-2037; US Navy/F-35C – 2036-2043. Steady state refers to the program's peak operating point. The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD's demonstrated progress would enhance DOD's accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 aircraft with its advanced capabilities represents a growing portion of DOD's tactical aviation fleet—with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy currently flying about 400 of the aircraft. It is also DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with estimated life-of-program costs exceeding $1.7 trillion. DOD plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s at an estimated total acquisition cost of just under $400 billion. The remaining $1.3 trillion in life cycle costs is associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft. This statement, among other things, assesses the extent to which (1) the F-35 has met warfighter-required mission capable rates; and (2) DOD has reduced the F-35's estimated life cycle sustainment costs and made progress in meeting its affordability constraints. This statement is largely based on GAO's draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report and this statement, GAO reviewed program documentation, analyzed performance and cost data, collected data from F-35 locations, and interviewed officials.
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  • Federal Research: NIH Should Take Further Action to Address Foreign Influence
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found U.S. research may be subject to undue foreign influence in cases where a researcher has a foreign conflict of interest. Federal grant-making agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), can address this threat by implementing conflict of interest policies and requiring the disclosure of information that may indicate potential conflicts. GAO found that NIH's policy focuses on financial conflicts of interest but does not specifically address or define non-financial interests, which may include multiple professional appointments. In the absence of agency-wide policies and definitions on non-financial interests, universities that receive federal grant funding may lack sufficient guidance to identify and manage conflicts appropriately, potentially increasing the risk of undue foreign influence. In its report, GAO noted that NIH also requires researchers to disclose information—such as foreign support for their research—as part of grant proposals, and that such information could be used to determine if certain conflicts exist. National Institutes of Health Disclosure Requirements for Grantees as of December 2020 NIH relies on universities to monitor financial conflicts of interest, and the agency collects information, such as foreign collaborations, that could be used to identify non-financial conflicts. NIH has taken action in cases where it identified researchers who failed to disclose financial or non-financial information. Such actions included referring cases to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. Additionally, NIH has written procedures for addressing allegations of failures to disclose required information. In interviews, stakeholders identified opportunities to improve agency responses to prevent undue foreign influence in federally funded research. For example, agencies could harmonize grant application requirements and better communicate identified risks. NIH has taken steps to address the issue of foreign influence in the areas stakeholders identified. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government reported expending about $44.5 billion on university science and engineering research in fiscal year 2019. The Department of Health and Human Services funds over half of all such federal expenditures, and NIH accounts for almost all of this funding. Safeguarding the U.S. research enterprise from threats of foreign influence is of critical importance. Recent reports by GAO and others have noted challenges faced by the research community to combat undue foreign influence, while maintaining an open research environment. This testimony discusses (1) NIH's conflict of interest policy and disclosure requirements that address potential foreign influence, (2) NIH's mechanisms to monitor and enforce its policy and requirements, and (3) the steps NIH has taken to address concerns about foreign influence in federally funded research identified by stakeholders. It is based on a report that GAO issued in December 2020 (GAO-21-130).
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