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DOJ Team Walking to Yakima Federal Courthouse Prior to the Easterday Sentencing
DOJ Team Walking to Yakima Federal Courthouse Prior to the Easterday Sentencing
Tri-Cities Rancher Sentenced to Eleven Years in Federal Prison and Ordered to Pay $244 Million in Restitution for "Ghost Cattle" Fraud (Photo) - 10/04/22

Defendant Sentenced in the Largest-Ever Criminal Fraud Scheme in the Eastern District of Washington 

Yakima, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that Cody Allen Easterday, age 51, of Mesa, Washington, was sentenced by Chief District Judge Stanley A. Bastian to serve 132-months in federal prison for defrauding Tyson Foods Inc. (Tyson Foods) and another company out of more than $244 million by charging them for approximately 265,000 head of cattle that did not exist. Easterday entered into a guilty plea on March 31, 2021 to wire fraud for his $244 million “ghost cattle” scam, which is one of the largest-ever fraud schemes in the Eastern District of Washington.

At Easterday’s sentencing, Chief Judge Bastian remarked, this case involves “the biggest theft or fraud I’ve seen in my career – and the biggest I ever hope to see.” Chief Judge Bastian further remarked to Easterday that “you destroyed” the very “empire you spent so much time building. It all came to a collapse because of what you have done.” Chief Judge Bastian ordered Easterday to pay $244,031,132 in restitution, subject to offsets Easterday already paid, and imposed a three-year period of supervised release after Easterday is released from federal prison. 

According to court documents and information disclosed during court proceedings, Easterday and the business he led, Easterday Ranches Inc., entered into agreements with Tyson Foods and another company (collectively the Victim Companies), whereby Easterday Ranches agreed to purchase and feed cattle on behalf of the Victim Companies. Under these agreements, the Victim Companies advanced Easterday Ranches the costs of buying and raising the cattle. After the cattle were slaughtered and sold at market price, Easterday Ranches would repay the costs advanced – plus interest and certain other costs. Easterday Ranches would then keep as profit the amount the sale price exceeded what was repaid to the Victim Companies.

Over a period of approximately four years, however, Easterday and his company collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the Victim Companies for more than a quarter million heads of cattle that Easterday and Easterday Ranches never purchased, raised, or fed. The fact is, none of these cattle ever existed; yet, Easterday and his company collected approximately $244 million for the purported costs of purchasing and raising these 265,000 “ghost cattle.” 

As set forth in court filings, Easterday used most of the fraud proceeds to cover approximately $200 million in losses Easterday incurred from commodity futures trading on behalf of Easterday Ranches. In connection with these losses, Easterday also defrauded the CME Group Inc. (CME), which operates the world’s largest financial derivatives exchange, by submitting false paperwork, thereby exempting Easterday Ranches from certain position limits in live cattle futures contracts. The remainder of the $244 million Easterday stole from the Victim Companies went toward Easterday’s personal use and for the benefit of the Easterday farming empire – an empire that, by 2020, included more than 22,000 acres of farmland, 150 employees, revenues of over $250,000,000, and even a private plane and hangar.

“The Criminal Division is committed to holding those who carry out fraudulent schemes accountable, especially those that are complex, long-running, and seriously affect our nation’s food industry and commodities market,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. 

U.S. Attorney Waldref stated, “No one is above the law. Mr. Easterday amassed significant personal wealth, yet, he wanted more, so he defrauded his victims of nearly a quarter billion dollars by charging for cattle that never existed.” She continued, “But for the combined and incredible efforts of our law enforcement team, today’s sentence and the $240,000,00- restitution award – one of the largest in our District’s history – would not have been possible. Fraud has a debilitating impact on society by draining our communities’ limited resources. Accordingly, we will continue to prosecute fraudsters to the fullest extent so we can keep our communities safe and strong in Washington State and throughout our great Nation.”

Shortly after Easterday’s massive fraud was uncovered, Easterday Ranches and another of his companies, Easterday Farms, Inc., went into bankruptcy in the matter In re Easterday Ranches, Inc. et al., No. 21-00141-11 (Bankr. E.D. Wa.). Over the following year and a half, Easterday’s companies and their assets, including large amounts of real property, heavy farm equipment, and even aircraft, were liquidated in one of the largest bankruptcy cases in Eastern Washington history. Through the bankruptcy proceedings, the Victim Companies were able to recover approximately $65 million. 

“The scale and brazenness of Mr. Easterday’s fraud is immense,” said Assistant United States Attorney Brian M. Donovan, who handled restitution and bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of the United States. “The amount he stole – nearly a quarter of a billion dollars – would  have funded the combined police, courts, and fire department budget of Yakima, which is a city of nearly 100,000 people, for more than four years. Mr. Easterday’s greed destroyed his family’s farming empire and harmed innocent victims.” 

This case was investigated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG) and U.S. Postal Inspection Service Criminal Investigations Group (USPIS-CI). The case was prosecuted by Deputy Chief Avi Perry and Assistant Chief John “Fritz” Scanlon of the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Fraud Section as well as Brian M. Donovan and Russell E. Smoot, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington. 

Case No: 4:21-cr-06012-SAB (E.D. Wash.)

Former Washington State Correctional Officer Sentenced to Forty-Six Months in Federal Prison for Conspiring to Smuggle Drugs and Cell Phones into the Benton County Jail - 10/04/22

Richland, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that Eric Christian, age 34, of Kennewick, Washington, was sentenced by Chief District Judge Stanley A. Bastian to serve 46-months in federal prison for conspiring with inmates of the Benton County Jail to smuggle contraband into the jail in exchange for money. Christian, who pled guilty in December 2021 to Conspiracy to Provide Prohibited Objects to an Inmate of a Prison, was also sentenced to three-years supervised release after he completes his time in federal custody. 

According to court documents and information disclosed during court proceedings, Christian, along with six co-defendants, conspired to introduce multiple cell phones, methamphetamine, heroin, suboxone strips, and other contraband into the Benton County Jail. As part of the conspiracy, which began in January and continued until April 2020, Christian and his coconspirators also provided access to dangerous offenders and gang members so that they could identify, assault, and retaliate against cooperating defendants as well as inmates charged with certain types of offenses. 

“Mr. Christian was charged with protecting our community, and he breached that trust by providing dangerous criminals and gang members with access to illegal narcotics and unmonitored cell phones in the Benton County Jail,” U.S. Vanessa R. Waldref stated. “Here, a corrections officer breached the community’s trust and accepted money to break the law – exposing inmates at the jail to drugs and violence. Fortunately, this case is the exception, not the rule. I am sincerely grateful for the dedication and service of the vast majority of law enforcement officers, who work tirelessly to honor their duty to keep our communities safe and our neighborhoods strong.”

U.S. Marshal Craig Thayer stated, “Integrity throughout the criminal justice system is essential to the fair administration of justice. It is unacceptable for a public official to violate their responsibility and position of community trust. Law enforcement will not tolerate the very few who dishonor their badge, as the vast majority continue to serve with honor and integrity.” 

“Mr. Christian broke his oath to serve and in doing so threatened the safety of other inmates,” said Jacob D. Galvan, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Seattle Field Division. “I thank all of our state, local and federal partners who assisted in this investigation and work tirelessly every day to ensure illegal contraband, including dangerous narcotics, are kept out of the corrections system.”

“This investigation came to a successful conclusion as a result of the efforts and teamwork of the detectives, the corrections staff, and the prosecutors involved,” stated Benton County Sheriff Tom Croskrey, “The Sheriff’s Office worked in collaboration with Benton County Corrections, the Benton County Prosecutor’s Office, and with our federal law enforcement partners.” Sheriff Croskrey continued, “We maintain a high level of expectations of those in law enforcement. When these standards are compromised and criminal conduct occurs, we will hold these individuals accountable.”

At sentencing, Chief Judge Bastian noted that Christian not only allowed phones and drugs into the jail, which threatened the stability and safety of the inmates, but he was directly responsible for allowing other inmates to be targeted and assaulted: “This abuse of trust,” and Christian’s “turning a blind eye” when other inmates were assaulted, shook the very core of a system that “depends on correctional officers to keep inmates safe.” 

The case was investigated by the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Drug Enforcement Administration Tri- Cities Task Force, and the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Stephanie Van Marter, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. 

Case No: 4:20-CR-06029-SAB-2

Renton Doctor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Accept Kickbacks in Connection with Fraudulent Genetic Testing Scheme - 09/27/22

Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that Christopher B. Bjarke, M.D., age 61, of Renton, Washington, pled guilty to conspiring to accept kickbacks in connection with a fraudulent genetic testing scheme that targeted elderly Medicare beneficiaries throughout Washington and in other states. Senior District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson accepted Dr. Bjarke’s guilty plea, and set sentencing for January 10, 2023 at 1:30 p.m. in Spokane, Washington. 

The Medicare program provides health insurance coverage for elderly and disabled Americans.  Medicare generally provides coverage for diagnostic laboratory testing only if the test is ordered by a physician who is treating the beneficiary for a specific medical problem, and uses the test results to treat the patient for that specific problem.  According to the Plea Agreement and information disclosed in court proceedings, Dr. Bjarke engaged in a conspiracy and scheme through which he placed orders for Medicare for genetic testing for Medicare beneficiaries in the Eastern District of Washington and elsewhere that he was not treating and with whom he had no physician-patient relationship.  According to the Plea Agreement and other court documents, Dr. Bjarke’s sole contact with these patients was when he was connected with the beneficiaries for a telephone call for a few minutes through telemarketers. After Dr. Bjarke had ordered the tests, the laboratories then billed Medicare for the test, while another company billed Medicare for a purported “telemedicine” visit, sometimes for as much as tens of thousands of dollars. 

According to the Plea Agreement, through this scheme and conspiracy, Dr. Bjarke’s orders were responsible for more than $18.6 million paid by Medicare.  In return for his participation in the scheme, between December 2020 and September 2021, Dr. Bjarke received $167,996.73 from his co-conspirators, which Dr. Bjarke admitted were kickbacks because they constituted payment in return for ordering medically unnecessary genetic testing and other services for patients that he was not treating and with whom he had no physician-patient relationship. 

“Health care fraud and kickback schemes are serious public health and safety problems,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “They divert precious public funds away from treating patients, drive up the cost of health care services, and undermine trust in our health care system, often putting quality health care beyond the reach of those who need it the most.  Telemarketing schemes that target and exploit the elderly are especially pernicious because they prey on those who are often most in need of a doctor’s independent judgment that is not tainted or biased by the doctor’s own personal financial interest.” 

“Dr. Bjarke placed making money above the welfare of patients and preyed upon elderly and vulnerable members of the community,” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “This conspiracy not only victimized taxpayers via Medicare, but also impacted the patients, who underwent unnecessary medical screenings, thereby affecting their peace of mind. Medicare ultimately paid over $18 million for medically unnecessary testing, a fact that should outrage every law-abiding taxpayer.”

“I am grateful for, and commend, the stellar investigative work on this case performed by HHS OIG and the FBI,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to make our communities safer and stronger, by aggressively pursuing telemedicine kickback schemes, healthcare fraud, and elder abuse.”

The conspiracy offense carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in federal prison.  The case was investigated by HHS OIG and the FBI.  Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.  

Case No. 2:22-cr-00123-RMP

Moses Lake Resident Pleads Guilty to Fraudulently Obtaining $50,000 in COVID-19 Relief Funds - 09/21/22

Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that Dondre Charles Jackson, age 29, of Moses Lake, Washington, pled guilty to fraudulently obtaining $49,999 in COVID-19 relief funds.  This case is part of the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this year.  District Judge Thomas O. Rice accepted Thomas’ guilty plea, and set sentencing for January 5, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. in Spokane, Washington. 

On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  The CARES Act provided a number of programs through which eligible small businesses could request and obtain relief funding intended to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic for small and local businesses. One such program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided forgivable loans to eligible small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses.

According to the plea agreement and information disclosed in court proceedings, Jackson fraudulently obtained two PPP loans totaling $49,999 for his purported catering and food service business, and submitted fraudulent tax documentation in support of his application.  According to the plea agreement and other information disclosed during court proceedings, Jackson’s business was fictitious, the documentation he provided was false and fraudulent, and he was therefore not eligible for any PPP funding. 

“COVID-19 relief programs quickly ran out of money due to the number of people and businesses that requested funding, which meant that some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “We created the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force because it is critical to the strength and safety of our communities that we all work together to combat pandemic-related fraud and bring much-needed accountability to these programs.  The Strike Force works to ensure that limited resources are used to protect our local small businesses and the critical jobs and services that they provide for the community.” 

In February 2022, U.S. Attorney Waldref and the U.S. Attorney’s Office began working with federal law enforcement agencies to create and launch a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force that would leverage partnerships between different agencies to aggressively investigate and prosecute fraud against COVID-19 relief programs in Eastern Washington.  The Strike Force consists of agency representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs OIG, General Services Administration OIG, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Energy OIG, Department of Homeland Security OIG, and others.  Cases investigated and prosecuted by the Strike Force have resulted in numerous indictments, criminal prosecutions, and other penalties.   

“I commend the stellar investigative work on these cases performed by the Strike Force and especially in this case by SBA OIG and the Secret Service,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to strengthen our communities by protecting our small and local businesses.” 

“In addition to the Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General and other Task Force partners, Greg Ligouri, Resident Agent in Charge of the Spokane Office of the U.S. Secret Service, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and Moses Lake Police Department for their collaboration in this investigation. RAIC Ligouri went on to say that communities are safer and better served when law enforcement agencies are able to marshal resources as was done in this case.”

The case was investigated by the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force, and in particular by the SBA OIG and U.S. Secret Service.  Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.  

Case No. 2:22-CR-89-TOR

Spokane Woman Sentenced to 23 Years For Child Sex Trafficking - 09/21/22

Spokane – On September 21, 2022, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice sentenced Kylie Ruby Flores, 31, of Spokane, to 23 years in prison for conspiracy to engage in the sex trafficking of a six-year-old girl, whom Flores made available to an adult man for sexual abuse in exchange for housing, cash, and sneakers.  Flores will also be on federal supervision for the remainder of her life. 

Flores conspired with codefendant Trever Harder to engage in the sex trafficking of a six-year-old girl. After meeting Harder online on the dating application Plenty of Fish, Flores knowingly agreed to trade sexual access to the girl for a place to stay, small amounts of cash, and the promise of new Nike running shoes.  According to the Plea Agreements entered by Harder and Flores, the child was able to describe the specific ways that Harder sexually abused her, including acts of sodomy. Law enforcement officers recovered a video that Harder had recorded after he set up a camera on a cat tree in his apartment in Cheney, Washington.  The video depicts Harder raping the little girl on the couch in his apartment. Harder has also pleaded guilty and is pending sentencing.

“The facts of this case present some of the most egregious sexual abuse of a child one can imagine.  Today’s sentence is important, but it is equally important to remember that Flores’s sentence will likely be much shorter than the lifelong impact on the child,” said Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District. “No sentence can return the child’s innocence, but our community is now safer and stronger.  Most important, the child is now in a safe place.” The U.S. Attorney emphasized the importance of protecting children.  “The little girl in this case was only six years old when her abuse began. Thanks to an effective and cooperative investigation, she is neither missing nor murdered today—but she is not the only child in danger.  Today’s sentence sends a clear message to those who seek to sexually abuse children: justice is coming.”

David M. Herzog, the Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted the case, thanked the agencies responsible for the investigation and the protection of the young victim.  “Incredibly dedicated FBI agents worked hand-in-hand with state, local, and tribal law enforcement to secure justice for the victim in this case. I am particularly grateful to Chelsea Sayles, the Quileute Tribal Attorney, and our partners with Quileute Indian Child Welfare, who worked hand-in-hand with the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office to protect this child from further sexual abuse.”

“It is inconceivable as a parent how someone could participate in the victimization of a child under their care.“ said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle field Office. “While the sentence in this case is significant and truly justified, it only brings a small measure of justice to the victim.  I hope the dedication of FBI agents and our partners to hold predators like Ms. Flores accountable serves as a message to those who would victimize our most vulnerable among us.”

This case was pursued as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the United States Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.  Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals, who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. The Project Safe Childhood Initiative (“PSC”) has five major components:

  • Integrated federal, state, and local efforts to investigate and prosecute child exploitation cases, and to identify and rescue children;
  • Participation of PSC partners in coordinated national initiatives;
  • Increased federal enforcement in child pornography and enticement cases;
  • Training of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents; and
  • Community awareness and educational programs.

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. For information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the tab “resources.”

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Spokane Resident Office and the Spokane Police Department, with significant assistance from the Quileute Nation. The case was prosecuted by David M. Herzog, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. 

2:21-CR-00165-TOR-2

Drugs and Grocery Bag
Drugs and Grocery Bag
Spokane Man Sentenced to 200 Months in Federal Prison for Drug Trafficking Offenses (Photo) - 09/16/22

Spokane, Washington – United States District Judge Thomas O. Rice sentenced Bradley Dale Hull, age 55, of Spokane, Washington, to 200 months in federal prison after Hull was convicted by a jury on May 18, 2022 of Possession with Intent to Distribute 100 Grams or More of a Mixture or Substance Containing Heroin and Possession with Intent to Distribute 50 Grams or More of Actual (Pure) Methamphetamine.

According to court documents, on February 7, 2020, a detective with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office was surveilling Hull’s residence in Spokane, Washington. After a separate search warrant was executed on Hull’s girlfriend’s residence, Hull was observed running through the snow barefoot towards a parked car. Hull was carrying a grocery bag which, after Hull was detained, was found to contain substantial quantities of methamphetamine and heroin. The grocery bag also contained more than $13,000 in U.S. Currency along with a number of collector coins. During the trial, Hull testified. Hull acknowledged that he collected coins, but denied the drugs were his, claiming the detective had seen someone else running with the bag. The jury, in returning a guilty verdict, rejected Hull’s claims. In announcing the sentence, Judge Rice observed that Hull had made false statements and perjured himself during his testimony. 

United States Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref, the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the Eastern District of Washington, stated, “Mr. Hull possessed large amounts of methamphetamine and heroin and was in such a hurry to evade law enforcement that he ran barefoot to his car on a February morning in Spokane. At trial, Mr. Hull sought to evade responsibility by making false statements to Judge Rice and the jury.” U.S. Attorney Waldref continued, “I’m grateful for the tireless efforts of our law enforcement team, who protect our community by removing dangerous drugs from our neighborhoods.”

Assistant United States Attorney Michael Ellis, who tried and prosecuted the case, thanked the agents and law enforcement officers who investigated the case. AUSA Ellis stated, “Whenever a case goes to trial, there is a tremendous amount of work that takes place behind the scenes. As an AUSA, I have the privilege of working closely with some the best law enforcement agents and officers in the United States. The verdict and sentence in this case are the direct result of the agents’ dedication and service within the Spokane community.”

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. This case was prosecuted by Michael J. Ellis, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

2:20-cr-00128-TOR-2

U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref to Lead Attorney General's Advisory Subcommittee on Environmental Justice - 09/15/22

Spokane – U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref for the Eastern District of Washington has been selected to lead the Environmental Justice & Environmental Issues Subcommittee for the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC).  As the leader of the Environmental Justice Subcommittee, U.S. Attorney Waldref will play a key role in advising the AGAC on environmental matters of importance to the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country.

“I am gratified that my colleagues and Attorney General Garland selected me for this important role,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “The Department of Justice makes critical contributions to protecting the environment and public health. We all benefit from robust enforcement of laws that ensure a healthy environment for all families to live, learn, play, and work.” 

As Subcommittee Chair, U.S. Attorney Waldref also serves as a leader to implement the Department of Justice’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Strategy. U.S. Attorney Waldref is training Assistant United States Attorneys throughout all of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices to develop an environmental justice practice and engage in community outreach on the critical environmental issues impacting each District. U.S. Attorney Waldref stated, “I am thrilled to build an infrastructure within the United States Attorney’s Offices around the country to tackle environmental protection cases that defend critical resources and ensure safe living and working conditions for all the residents of our communities. No group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or policies.” 

Prior to her appointment, U.S. Attorney Waldref worked in the Department of Justice’s Environment and National Resources Division advocating for the enforcement of pollution control statutes. While she was an Assistant United States Attorney, she also taught several courses at Gonzaga Law School, including Environmental Law, where her teaching focused on the concrete ways that environmental and workplace safety regulations protect our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces.   

U.S. Attorney Waldref is committed to enhancing the environmental protection practice in her home district: “In Eastern Washington, we have great pride in the beauty of our mountains, trees, lakes, and rivers and the sustenance that our natural resources provide. Indigenous people first lived on these lands, cultivating these resources for future generations. Protecting our resources for fishing, hunting, agriculture and a healthy, high quality of life makes our region safer and stronger.”

The Attorney General’s Advisory Committee was established nearly 50 years ago by Attorney General Elliott Richardson.  The Committee's purpose is to give United States Attorneys a voice in Department policies and to advise the Attorney General of the United States.

Reporting public health and safety concerns supports a safe community for all. EPA’s online reporting form directs concerns to the appropriate regulatory authority: https://echo.epa.gov/report-environmental-violations. When reporting environmental, health and safety concerns, U.S. Attorney Waldref encourages Eastern Washington residents to also contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office dedicated Civil Rights and Environmental Protection phone line at (509) 835-6306 or email at USAWAE.Environment@usdoj.gov. Notifying the U.S. Attorney’s Office helps us protect the community from harmful violations of federal environmental, health & safety laws.

Yakima Area Business Owner Indicted by Federal Grand Jury for Selling Rotten and Adulterated Fruit Juice - 09/15/22

Indictment Alleges that Company Violated Food Safety Laws, Lied to Regulators, and Sold Rotten and and Dangerous Juice Products to Customers, Including for Use in School Lunches

Yakima, Washington – Today, Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Mary Ann Bliesner, age 80, of Sunnyside, Washington, with twelve felony counts of fraud, conspiracy, false statements, and violating food safety laws in connection with her company, Valley Processing Inc. (VPI), which was also charged in the Indictment. 

The Indictment alleges that between October 2012 and June 2019, Bliesner and VPI conspired with others to introduce unsafe, adulterated, and misbranded fruit juice products, including apple juice and grape juice concentrate, into interstate commerce by selling them to customers worldwide.  The Indictment alleges that these adulterated juice products contained harmful substances, that they were produced under unsanitary and filthy conditions, and that they were unsafe and unfit for human consumption.  The Indictment further alleges that Bliesner and VPI lied to customers about the age and quality of their products, which, in some cases, included grape juice concentrate that had been stored in unsafe conditions outside the VPI facility for years and exposed to the elements before being sold and shipped to customers, including customers producing grape juice for the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced-cost lunches to more than 20 million children each school day. 

Additionally, the Indictment alleges that Bliesner and VPI failed to register two facilities that they used to store fruit juice products, and lied to inspectors with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about their existence and use.  According to the Indictment, one of these facilities, located in Sunnyside, Washington, and known as the “Grape Road Facility” was used to store tens of thousands of gallons of grape juice concentrate for years in concrete vats that were not properly covered or cooled.  According to the Indictment, when FDA investigators finally learned about the facility during a May 2018 inspection, the juice concentrate had a layer of mold and crust so thick and firm that a live rat was observed and photographed walking on top of it.  The Indictment also alleges that testing of samples taken at the Grape Road Facility indicated that the product there was contaminated with bird and rodent feces, fur, insects, decaying remains of animals, mold, yeast, and other contaminants. 

In November 2020, the United States filed a complaint in federal court seeking to enjoin Bliesner and VPI from producing, storing, or selling juice or juice products.  In January 2021, Bliesner and VPI agreed to a consent injunction in which Bliesner and VPI promised that they were not processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding, or distributing any type of food, and would not do so in the future without first notifying and receiving approval from the FDA. 

The charges against Bliesner carry a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, while the potential charges against VPI carry fines of $500,000 or more for each of the twelve counts charged. 

Reporting public health and safety concerns supports a safe community for all. EPA’s online reporting form directs concerns to the appropriate regulatory authority: https://echo.epa.gov/report-environmental-violations. Concerns regarding the safety of FDA-regulated products such as food, beverages and medicines, can be reported at 1-888-463-6332. When reporting environmental, health and safety concerns, U.S. Attorney Waldref encourages Eastern Washington residents to also contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office dedicated Civil Rights and Environmental Protection phone line at (509) 835-6306 or email at USAWAE.Environment@usdoj.gov. Notifying the U.S. Attorney’s Office helps us protect the community from harmful violations of federal environmental, health & safety laws.

This case was investigated by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene and Trial Attorney James J. Hennelly of DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch. 

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Case No:         United States v. Bliesner, 1:22-cr-02097-SAB

United States Attorney's Office Issues Statement on the Passing of Former United States Attorney William D. Hyslop - 09/15/22

Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, joined the Spokane legal community, area law enforcement, and the Hyslop family in mourning the death of former U.S. Attorney William D. Hyslop, who passed away on September 11, 2022. Mr. Hyslop is the only person to serve two separate terms as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. In 1991, he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. Twenty-eight years later, Mr. Hyslop again was appointed to lead the United States Attorney’s Office, serving in that position until early 2021.

Mr. Hyslop grew up in Spokane and devoted significant time to the Spokane community. He attended Shadle Park High School, graduated from Washington State University, and attended the Gonzaga School of Law. His voluntary activities included, among other things, serving as the co-chair of the effort to remodel Lewis and Clark High School and as the vice chair of the Use of Force Commission, which was formed to implement changes to police training and procedure.

For more than 40 years, Mr. Hyslop practiced law in Washington State, serving as the President of the Washington State Bar Association and working as a principle at the Spokane law firm of Lukins & Annis. While Mr. Hyslop greatly enjoyed his career in private practice, he remarked that “serving our great Country as the United Sates Attorney has been the highest honor and most fulfilling duty of my professional career.” 

U.S. Attorney Waldref, who succeeded Mr. Hyslop as the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer in Eastern Washington, stated, “We were saddened to learn of Bill’s passing, and our hearts go out to his wife, two children, and grandchildren. Bill was a lifelong friend to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a dedicated public servant. I was honored to serve with Bill, and I was impressed with his passion for serving the Spokane community. We will miss him greatly.” 

Timothy J. Ohms, an Assistant United States Attorney who served under Mr. Hyslop, expressed his gratitude for Mr. Hyslop’s leadership:  “Bill absolutely loved being a lawyer. He was passionate about the law and government service. I had the privilege of serving with Bill when he was a new U.S. Attorney in the early 1990s and again when Bill was reappointed in 2019. Bill was a thoughtful leader, who sought to achieve a just result in each and every case.”

Earl A. Hicks, who has served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Spokane for more than forty years, stated, “It was an honor to work with Bill during both of his appointments as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the Eastern District. He was a strong leader, who devoted his career to serving others. Bill was particularly good at working with law enforcement – bringing together federal, state, tribal, and local leaders to address difficult issues and serving side by side with law enforcement to keep Eastern Washington safe. Our community will surely mourn his loss.” 

At the time of Mr. Hyslop’s resignation as the United State Attorney in 2021, Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl stated, “U.S. Attorney Hyslop has been a constant partner with SPD in our efforts to keep Spokane the safe community that we all long to live in and raise our families. His engagement with local law enforcement, and commitment to safety first through prevention, education and enforcement, is second to none. We honor his commitment to justice through compassion and accountability, with the needs of the community being his priority.” Upon learning of Mr. Hyslop’s passing, Chief Meidl added, “Bill was thoughtful and reflective in how he approached community safety, an issue that was close to his heart.  He closely partnered with the Spokane Police Department on many different programs, including fentanyl awareness and community engagement.  He was a mentor and friend, and his passing will leave a gap that cannot be filled. I will miss him greatly.”

In February 2021, as he completed his service as the United States Attorney, Mr. Hyslop stated, “I intend to work to the last day on behalf of the people of Eastern Washington.” He then added, “I want to continue to do all I can to advocate for law enforcement and the hard work they do for us every day to keep us safe.” Mr. Hyslop was true to his word. Following his service as the United State Attorney, Mr. Hyslop became a founding board member of the Spokane Alliance for Fentanyl Education (“SAFE”). In his role at SAFE, Mr. Hyslop continued to work closely with state and federal law enforcement to help the community to better understand the significance and danger of fentanyl in Eastern Washington. 

Mr. Hyslop will be sorely missed by the law enforcement community, especially those in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who served alongside Mr. Hyslop at various points over the past three decades.

U.S. Attorney's Eastern Washington COVID-19 Strike Force Announces Indictment of Two West Richland Residents - 09/09/22

Indictments Allege that Defendants Collectively Received More Than $800,000 in Fraudulently-Obtained COVID-19 Relief Funding, Seek Forfeiture of West Richland Residence Purchased with Fraudulently-Obtained Funds

Richland, Washington – Today, Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that a federal grand jury has indicted two additional individuals for COVID-19 Fraud as part of the Eastern Washington COVID-19 Strike Force.  The Indictments announced today are the most recent charges brought by the Strike Force, which has brought criminal charges against numerous individuals and recovered millions of dollars in fraudulently obtained COVID relief funding. 

On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act.  The CARES Act provided a number of programs through which eligible small businesses could request and obtain relief funding intended to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic for small and local businesses.  One such program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided government-backed loans to small businesses which could be forgiven so long as the proceeds were used for payroll and other eligible expenses.  Another program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, provided low interest loans that could be deferred until the conclusion of the pandemic to provide “bridge” funding for small businesses to maintain their operations during shutdowns and other economic circumstances caused by the pandemic. The PPP and EIDL programs have provided billions of dollars in aid, the vast majority of which have not been paid back, including hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed within Eastern Washington.  

One indictment announced today charges Jimia Rae Cain, age 52, of West Richland, Washington, with seven counts of fraud in connection with PPP and EIDL loans that she obtained in 2020.  The Indictment alleges that Cain used false statements and fraudulent documents to obtain more than $330,000 in CARES Act funding for her purported business.  The Indictment further alleges that Cain attempted to secure an additional $280,000 in EIDL funding, but this additional funding was declined. 

The second Indictment announced today charges Andrei Borgheriu, age 45, of West Richland, Washington, with three counts of fraud in connection with $500,000 in EIDL funding that he obtained on behalf of his company Artway Transport, LLC.  The Indictment alleges that Borgheriu falsely represented that the funding would be used as working capital for his company, but instead that Borgheriu used it for an all-cash purchase of a personal residence in West Richland, Washington.  The Indictment alleges that, soon after receiving the EIDL funding, Borgheriu wired nearly all of the EIDL funding to the title company for the purchase of the personal residence.  As set forth in the Indictment, the United States therefore also seeks forfeiture of the residence based on allegations that it represents proceeds from the fraudulently-obtained EIDL funding.

“COVID-19 relief programs were designed to lift up our community during crisis, and due to the number of people and businesses that requested funding, some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “We created the Strike Force in order to ensure that those who misused COVID-19 relief funding are held accountable and to protect the strength and safety of our vital small business community.”

In February 2022, U.S. Attorney Waldref and the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) began working with federal law enforcement agencies to create and launch a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force that would leverage partnerships between different agencies to aggressively investigate and prosecute fraud against COVID-19 relief programs in Eastern Washington. The Strike Force consists of agency representatives from the USAO, Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs OIG, General Services Administration OIG, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) OIG, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Energy OIG, and others. 

“I commend the continuing investigative work performed to date by the Strike Force, including by SBA OIG, FBI, and TIGTA,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “As the Strike Force’s work moves forward, we will continue taking aggressive action to pursue property that was purchased with fraudulently-obtained funds, to ensure that those funds are returned to the public and that wrongdoers are not able to reap the benefit of homes and other property purchased with fraudulently-obtained funds.  We also will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to vigorously prosecute those who abuse and misuse COVID-19 relief funding, and to strengthen our communities by protecting our small and local businesses.” 

The fraud charges against Cain carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison, while the fraud charges against Borgheriu carry a maximum sentence of up to 20 years.  This case was investigated by the Eastern District of Washington COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force and by the FBI, SBA OIG, and TIGTA.  The United States Attorney also thanks the West Richland Police Department for graciously providing critical support and assistance.  The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter, Frieda K. Zimmerman, Tyler H.L. Tornabene, and Brian Donovan

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Case No:         U.S. v. Cain, 4:22-cr-6042-MKD
                      U.S. v. Borgheriu, 4-22-cr-6040-MKD

Yakima Man Sentenced to Ten Years in Federal Prison for Drug Trafficking - 09/09/22

Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that Michael Ryan Shoemaker, 35, of Yakima, Washington, was sentenced in federal court in Yakima for Distribution of Fifty Grams or More of Pure (Actual) Methamphetamine. Chief United States District Judge Stanley A. Bastian sentenced Mr. Shoemaker to a total of 120 months in federal prison and ordered Mr. Shoemaker to serve a five-year term of supervised release. Mr. Shoemaker pled guilty on February 2, 2022.

According to court documents, in October 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration Yakima Task Force identified Mr. Shoemaker as a largescale methamphetamine trafficker, operating in the Yakima area. Relying on a confidential source, DEA conducted a controlled purchase of methamphetamine from Mr. Shoemaker at his home near downtown Yakima. There, Shoemaker sold the confidential source more than 100 grams of methamphetamine. 

United States Attorney Waldref commended the efforts of law enforcement for working to keep the Eastern District safe: “The DEA’s Yakima Task Force identified Mr. Shoemaker and quickly put a stop to his distribution of methamphetamine in the Yakima community.” U.S. Attorney Waldref continued, “Today’s sentence removes Mr. Shoemaker from the community for ten years and reiterates the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to vigorously prosecuting those who distribute poison in Eastern Washington.” 

“This investigation is another example of the DEA’s commitment to protect our communities, and this sentence should serve as a warning to those who question our resolve in bringing to justice those who choose to distribute illicit narcotics,” said Jacob D. Galvan, Acting Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration Yakima Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Todd Swensen prosecuted the case. 

1:21-CR-02014-SAB

Sacramento Man Sentenced to 10 Years for Drug Trafficking - 09/08/22

Spokane, Washington –United States District Judge Thomas O. Rice sentenced Dennis Ray Hopkins, Jr., 42, of Sacramento, California, to 10 years in federal prison for offenses related to trafficking in methamphetamine and heroin and the unlawful possession of firearms. Judge Rice also ordered Hopkins to forfeit his interest in $5,685. Hopkins will also serve five years of supervised release following his release from prison. Hopkins pleaded guilty to the four offenses on March 23, 2022. He has been in federal custody since his arrest on July 29, 2021. 

According to court documents, after Hopkins checked out of a Spokane-area hotel in June of 2019, hotel employees found abandoned property in his room that included approximately 600 grams of methamphetamine. No state charges were filed against Hopkins at that time. Two years later, on July 29, 2021, federal agents served a search warrant on another room rented by Hopkins at a Spokane-area hotel. Agents seized over twelve ounces of methamphetamine, nearly five ounces of heroin, and three firearms. As a prior convicted felon and an unlawful user of controlled substances, Hopkins was prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. As part of his plea agreement, Hopkins accepted responsibility for the abandoned methamphetamine found in 2019 and the methamphetamine, heroin, and firearms seized during the search in 2021. 

Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, praised the investigative team for building the case that resulted in the issuance of the 2021 search warrant and Hopkins’ arrest. She also remarked on the importance of interagency cooperation in combating drug trafficking that crosses state lines, especially in cases involving firearms. “Mr. Hopkins had multiple firearms in a Spokane-area hotel along with large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin,” U.S. Attorney Waldref stated. “Where guns and drugs intersect, we will continue to work closely with our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to ensure dangerous offenders are held accountable.” 

“The FBI is dedicated to combating violent crime through the investigation of drug and firearm violations,” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office. “The FBI and our partners are working every day to protect the communities where we live and work.  Mr. Hopkins’s case is a perfect example of the hard work we all do to combat violent crime in Washington state.” 

This case was investigated by the Spokane Resident Office of the FBI, with significant assistance from the Spokane Safe Streets Task Force (which includes the FBI, the Spokane Police Department, the Spokane Valley Police Department, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington Department of Corrections, and the United States Border Patrol). The FBI Montana Regional Violent Crime Task Force also contributed to this case. The case was prosecuted by Timothy J. Ohms, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. 

2:21-CR-0114-TOR

Department of Justice Awards $400,000 to the Yakama Nation to Enhance Its Sex Offender Registry - 09/08/22

Yakima, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, today announced a $400,000 Department of Justice grant to the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. The grant provides support and resources to the Tribes for maintaining a sex offender registry and ensuring sex offenders’ registration is current at all times.

The grant, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, was awarded on September 6, 2022.  Funding was awarded pursuant to the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, 34 U.S.C. § 20901, et seq. In accordance with this Act, funding is made available to assist jurisdictions with developing and enhancing programs to meet two goals: (1) ensuring that all states and federally-recognized Indian Tribes maintain an active sex offender registry; and (2) requiring registered sex offenders to maintain a current registration in each jurisdiction where the individual lives, works, or goes to school. 

In announcing the $400,000 award, U.S. Attorney Waldref stated, “The United States Justice Department is committed to devoting resources to support keeping communities safe and strong.” She continued, “Sex offender registration and community notification are essential to improving the safety of our communities. The $400,000 award will help ensure that the Yakama Nation and individual members of the community are able to track and monitor convicted sex offenders. This information is vital to ensure that parents, teachers and conscientious members of the community have the tools they need to keep our children and families safe in their schools, neighborhoods and homes.” 

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) sets forth a comprehensive set of minimum standards for sex offender registration and notification in the United States. Among other things, SORNA requires that sex offender registries include the following information:  duration of registration, in-person verification of sex offender registration information, participation in the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW.gov), and interjurisdictional notification of relocating offenders. More specific information about the implementation of SORNA is available at https://smart.ojp.gov/sorna. Information specific to implementation of SORNA in Indian Country is available at https://smart.ojp.gov/IC-SORNA-guide

Additional information about grants and funding through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs is available at https://www.ojp.gov/

United States Attorney's Office Obtains Multi-Decade Sentences in Child Exploitation Cases - 09/07/22

Spokane – On Wednesday, September 7, 2022, the United States Attorney’s Office obtained sentences of 20 and 15 years against two child exploitation defendants.  Senior U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson sentenced Jessica Ann Barrington, 31, of Spokane, to 20 years in prison for sexually violating a three-year-old girl and sending images of that conduct to at least ten men she met online.  Judge Peterson also sentenced Jason Dean Talbott, 44, of Spokane, to 15 years in prison for receiving child pornography in a secret lair that he created at a friend’s home – while he was on federal Supervised Release for a prior federal conviction for child pornography. When they are released from these lengthy terms, each defendant will be on federal supervision for the remainder of his or her life.

Documents and hearings associated with these cases revealed chilling conduct by the defendants. 

Defendant Barrington sought out men online to exchange sexual images of minor girls, and to discuss plans for raping, torturing, and one day impregnating them.  At one point she contacted a man online who ran a child pornography blog and used the handle “daddy4ltlgrl” and told him she had access to three little girls. When that man asked her if she “played” with them, Barrington sent him an image depicting a three-year-old’s genitals and followed that up with images depicting herself engaging in the sexual abuse of the girl.  She later invited the man to come to Spokane from California, offering “to share them with you or just watch you with them.”  She also offered to allow him to lock himself in a room with the children so he could rape them. 

Defendant Talbott is a recidivist child pornography collector.  In 2012, he was sentenced to 60 months in custody after he was convicted of Receipt of Child Pornography, in violation of federal law.  In 2019, after he was released on his first conviction, he built a computer system in a room at a friend’s house and downloaded significant new quantities of child pornography.  A search of his digital devices revealed that he had been collecting child pornography since as early as 2001, both before and after his first prison term. On December 30, 2019, Talbott was arrested by the FBI on an airplane that had just landed at Spokane International Airport after a flight from Denver.  In addition to a huge quantity of child pornography stashed at his secret computer lair, Talbott also had child pornography on his person, in his luggage, and in his car.

 “The FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office stand ready to respond with thorough investigations, aggressive prosecutions, and significant sentences for anyone who abuses children,” said Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District.  “Although no sentence can give these children back their innocence, our community is safer with these criminals behind bars.”  U.S. Attorney Waldref also emphasized that these crimes involve vulnerable victims: “In one case today, the victim was only three years old, and in the other, there were thousands of child victims whose trauma and abuse was recorded so it can circulate online forever.  Today’s sentences send a clear message to those who seek to abuse children, whether behind closed doors or computer screens: justice is coming, and the consequences of abusing children will be severe.”     

David M. Herzog, the Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted the cases, thanked numerous agencies responsible for securing justice.  “FBI worked hand-in-hand with state and local law enforcement in each of these cases, along with members of the United States Probation Office.  I am particularly grateful to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, which was in lockstep with the U.S. Attorney’s Office throughout.  Seamless cooperation across law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies allows us to reach fair global resolutions that will protect this community for decades.” 

“I am heartbroken at the unspeakable horror these children endured, including from adults who should have protected them,” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office. “While nothing can reverse the harm to the victims, we hope these sentences send a strong message to would-be child abusers and bring our community peace of mind.”

This case was pursued as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the United States Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.  Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals, who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. The Project Safe Childhood Initiative (“PSC”) has five major components:

  • Integrated federal, state, and local efforts to investigate and prosecute child exploitation cases, and to identify and rescue children;
  • Participation of PSC partners in coordinated national initiatives;
  • Increased federal enforcement in child pornography and enticement cases;
  • Training of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents; and
  • Community awareness and educational programs.

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. For information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the tab “resources.”

These cases were investigated by the FBI’s Spokane Resident Office and the Spokane Police Department, with significant assistance from the United States Marshal’s Service and the United States Probation Office. The cases were prosecuted by David M. Herzog, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. 

United States v. Barrington, 2:19-CR-00127-RMP-1
United States v. Talbott, 2:20-CR-00101-RMP

Asotin County Man Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Producing Child Pornography - 09/06/22

Spokane – Senior United States District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson sentenced Justin James Krasselt, age 27, of Clarkston, Washington, to over 273 months in federal prison today for Production of Child Pornography.  When combined with the time Krasselt has been in state custody since his arrest, the result is a 25-year prison sentence. At the conclusion of his prison term, Krasselt will spend the rest of his life on federal supervision. Senior Judge Peterson also imposed financial assessments aimed at victim compensation in the amount of $8,000.  Krasselt entered a guilty plea on June 7, 2022. 

According to court documents, Krasselt shared child pornography within a public chat group on the Kik messaging application in June 2020. An undercover Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent captured the child pornography posted and observed that one of the videos appeared to be produced by Krasselt. Days later, on June 16, 2020, law enforcement executed a federal search warrant at Krasselt’s Clarkston, Washington, residence. There, agents seized electronic devices, including Krasselt’s phone. 

When interviewed by law enforcement, Krasselt admitted to using Kik on his phone and to sending and receiving sexually exploitative images of minors. The investigation and forensic review of Krasselt’s phone, however, revealed that Krasselt had done more than send and receive child pornography. Investigators found ten sexually exploitative videos that Krasselt recorded of an 8-year old girl. During a separate investigation, images and videos of this young child were discovered as far away as Dandenong, Victoria, Australia. A review of the electronic devices in Australia revealed a Kik chat between the foreign suspect and Krasselt. The devices in Australia also contained images and videos depicting Krasselt’s victim, which Krasselt sent through Kik. 

“It is chilling how common internet messaging applications like Kik can be used to exploit the most vulnerable among us and how exploitive images can quickly be spread across the world through social media,” U.S. Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref stated. “Parents, teachers, conscious members of our community, and law enforcement must work together to ensure that social media applications are not misused to harm children. Today’s sentence should serve as a warning to those who victimize children through social media and otherwise: Our office is committed to prioritizing and aggressively pursuing cases involving child predators and holding them accountable for victimizing the most innocent members of our community.”

Assistant United States Attorney Ann T. Wick, who prosecuted the case, stated, “The victim’s mother said it best in her written statement to Senior Judge Peterson: ‘[Krasselt] took away something from a child that shouldn’t [have] been taken.’” AUSA Wick continued, “While the criminal justice system cannot give it back, the sentence today removed a predator from the streets and ensured that the victim can spend the rest of her childhood free of the man who harmed her.” 

“Children are our most vulnerable population, and law enforcement must ensure that those who exploit children are held accountable to the fullest extent,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in the Pacific Northwest. He continued, “Advances in technology have emboldened child predators to perpetuate their crimes with ease and share illicit material across the internet. Today’s twenty-five year sentence sends a strong message that child exploitation will not be tolerated. We also hope that this sentence brings some measure of peace to the family.” 

This case was pursued as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the United States Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.  Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals, who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. The Project Safe Childhood Initiative (“PSC”) has five major components:

  • Integrated federal, state, and local efforts to investigate and prosecute child exploitation cases, and to identify and rescue children;
  • Participation of PSC partners in coordinated national initiatives;
  • Increased federal enforcement in child pornography and enticement cases;
  • Training of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents; and
  • Community awareness and educational programs.

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. For information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the tab “resources.”

In a separate, but related investigation, Krasselt pleaded guilty in Asotin County, Washington, Case No. 20-1-00056-02, to three counts of child molestation in the first degree. On November 16, 2020, Krasselt was sentenced to 12 years in state prison in the Asotin County case. 

The federal case was investigated by the Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the Clarkston Police Department and Moscow, ID, Police Department. This case was prosecuted by Ann T. Wick, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. 

2:20-cr-00129-RMP-1