From the daily archives: Monday, October 4, 2010

By Luke Phillips

An apparent murder-suicide in El Centro Monday left an Imperial school teacher and a Holtville city employee dead.

Nathan Veliquette, 31, of Imperial, shot Amber Bryant, 38, also of Imperial, to death as she sat in her vehicle near the intersection of  LaBrucherie Rd.  and Cruikshank Rd., on the northwest side of El Centro.

El Centro Police responded to the shots fired call at 6:59 a.m. According to El Centro Police Commander Jeff Mason, Veliquette was driving a pickup truck south on LaBrucherie when he intentionally ran into a car being driven by Bryant. The collision stopped both vehicles on the west side of the road. Witnesses at the scene say that Veliquette exited his vehicle, walk to the passenger side of Bryant’s vehicle and began firing.

Veliquette then turned the weapon on himself but it misfired. The witnesses say that Veliquette went back to his vehicle and reloaded the gun before returning to Bryant’s vehicle and shooting himself.

The couple’s child was also in the vehicle at the time of the shooting, but was not harmed and is in the care of grandparents.

“This certainly looks like a case of murders suicide,” said Mason. “We are now looking into motivating factors and focusing on potential domestic problems between Bryant and Veliquette.”

Bryant was a 6th Grade teacher at Sunflower Elementary in El Centro and Veliquette was a public works employee with the city of Holtville.

Police are still investigating the shooting and were unable to say where Bryant and Veliquette were driving from, where they were going, or whether Veliquette was following Bryant at the time.

“All we know is they met near the intersection of LaBrucherie and Cruikshank,” Mason said.

Police were also unable to confirm that Veliquette was driving a city-owned vehicle, but said that witnesses did report seeing a City of Holtville logo on the side of the truck.


U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers yesterday stopped the illegal exportation of 11,800 rounds of 30 caliber ammunition and 43 high capacity magazines designed for assault rifles.

click for hi-res
Boxes of ammunition hidden in van seatbacks.
CBP officers in Arizona discovered more than 11,000 rounds of high-powered ammunition hidden in the seats and elsewhere in this minivan.

On Oct. 1, at approximately 11 a.m., CBP officers were screening travelers in the outbound lane that directs traffic from the U.S. into Mexico. The CBP officers became suspicious of a 1999 Ford Windstar occupied by two men. The driver was a 19-year-old man identified as a U.S. citizen and resident of Douglas, Arizona and the passenger was a 19-year-old man identified as a Mexican national and resident of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.

The CBP officers searched the vehicle discovered that the two men were attempting to smuggle 11,800 rounds of 30 caliber ammunition and 43 high capacity magazines designed for assault rifles, in the quarter panels, seats, doors and heater core.

CBP officers seized the ammunition and magazines. The two men were turned over to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation and prosecution.

A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

While anti-terrorism is the primary mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the inspection process at the ports of entry associated with this mission results in impressive numbers of enforcement actions in all categories.


Yesterday afternoon, Indio Station agents seized nearly $1.13 million worth of cocaine while conducting operations at the Highway 86 checkpoint.

At approximately 7 p.m., the driver of a sedan approached the primary inspection area of the checkpoint. While in primary inspection, a canine team alerted to the possible presence of illicit contraband within the vehicle. The vehicle was subsequently directed to the secondary inspection area where the driver consented to a search of the vehicle.

Agents searched the vehicle and discovered several bundles hidden within the vehicle’s rocker panels. The bundles were found to contain cocaine and the total amount had an estimated value of $1,130,000.

The driver, cocaine, and vehicle were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In a separate incident earlier in the day, methamphetamine valued at approximately $140,000 was seized from a pick-up truck.

A Border Patrol canine team alerted to the vehicle’s hood and front fender well as it approached the primary inspection area of the checkpoint. The vehicle was subsequently referred to the secondary inspection area. While in secondary, agents discovered the methamphetamine hidden within the vehicle’s battery.

The driver, narcotics, and vehicle were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration.


Members of the theft ring managed to steal $70 million. View: Wanted poster of suspects

The cyber thieves were smart. Instead of targeting corporations and large banks that had state-of-the-art online security, they went after the accounts of medium-sized companies, towns, and even churches. Before they were caught, members of the theft ring managed to steal $70 million.


Today, with our law enforcement partners in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the Netherlands, we announce the execution of numerous arrests and search warrants in multiple countries in one of the largest cyber criminal cases we have ever investigated.

Cyber Theft Ring
Cyber Graphic
View Graphic (PDF)

“This was a major theft ring,” said Gordon Snow, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division. “Global criminal activity on this scale is a threat to our financial infrastructure, and it can only be effectively countered through the kind of international cooperation we have seen in this case.”

Using a Trojan horse virus known as Zeus, hackers in Eastern Europe infected computers around the world. The virus was carried in an e-mail, and when targeted individuals at businesses and municipalities opened the e-mail, the malicious software installed itself on the victimized computer, secretly capturing passwords, account numbers, and other data used to log into online banking accounts.

The hackers used this information to take over the victims’ bank accounts and make unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time, often routing the funds to other accounts controlled by a network of “money mules.” Many of the U.S. money mules were recruited from overseas. They created bank accounts using fake documents and phony names. Once the money was in their accounts, the mules could either wire it back to their bosses in Eastern Europe, or turn it into cash and smuggle it out of the country. For their work, they were paid a commission.

Yesterday, our New York office arrested 10 subjects related to the case, and we are seeking 17 others. Those arrested are charged with using hundreds of false-name bank accounts to receive more than $3 million from victimized accounts.

In all, the global theft ring attempted to steal some $220 million, and was actively involved in using Zeus to infect more computers. But beyond the actual and potential monetary loss, this case is significant because of the extraordinary level of cooperation among international law enforcement to stop the group. And it also sends a message to hackers around the world that there are fewer safe havens from which they can operate.

“There are many challenges in a complicated global case like this one,” said Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of our Omaha office, where the investigation began in May 2009 when agents discovered a pattern of suspicious banking transactions. “With multiple countries involved, there are differences in times zones, geography, and culture, not to mention that all our cyber laws are not the same. “But those differences were overcome,” Dun said, “and the results speak for themselves.”

He added, “The international tolerance for this kind of criminal activity is decreasing. Our partners overseas are dealing more aggressively and effectively with cybercrime than ever before. The number of nations that collaborated and worked in partnership with the Bureau on this case represents a very significant step forward in the way we investigate these cases.”

National press release
New York press release
Wanted poster
Remarks of Assistant Director Gordon Snow


Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has demanded that JP Morgan Chase prove immediately that it is complying with state law or, if it cannot, halt foreclosing on California homes.

“I’m taking this action to further protect California homeowners on the brink of foreclosure,” Brown said, “JP Morgan Chase, like GMAC/Ally Financial, has admitted that its review of key foreclosure documents was a ruse.”

“I’m directing Chase to prove it is following the law before it continues foreclosures in California,” Brown added.

California law prohibits lenders from recording notices of default on mortgages made between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007, unless, subject to limited exceptions, the lender contacts or tries diligently to contact the borrower to determine eligibility for a loan modification. A notice of default must include a declaration of compliance with California law.

JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s third largest loan servicer, has admitted that employees signed affidavits in 56,000 foreclosure cases nationwide without first personally reviewing the contents of the borrowers’ loan files. As a result, those borrowers lost their homes based on affidavits the bank never confirmed were accurate.

This practice strongly suggests that any purported verification by JP Morgan Chase that it complied with California law before beginning foreclosures here is also questionable.

JP Morgan has suspended foreclosures in 23 other states that, unlike California, require a court order for foreclosures.

On Sept. 24, Brown sent a similar letter to Ally Financial, Inc., formerly known as GMAC, directing it to prove it is complying with California law or cease foreclosures in California until it can. The Attorney General’s office is in contact with Ally.

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