Sept. 1, 2022
Texas woman admits in US District Court Rhode Island that she collected $1.26 million in multi-state ‘romance scam’
PROVIDENCE — A woman from Houston, Texas, admitted to a federal judge on Thursday that she participated in a conspiracy that scammed unsuspecting and trusting victims of more than $2.6 million dollars through internet-based “romance scams.”
Dominique Golden, 31, also admitted in US District Court that she personally collected $1.26 million in cash, checks, money orders, and wire transfers from people across the country, including Rhode Island, US Attorney Zachary A. Cunha announced.
Golden, who had four other aliases, admitted that she opened mailboxes and bank accounts with the names of fake people and businesses in order to obtain and deposit funds from the “romance scam” victims.
An investigation by the US Postal Inspection Service determined that the members of the conspiracy collected a total of $2.6 million. Golden collected more than $1.26 million in just 10 months, from Feb. 4 to Dec. 12, 2018, according to federal prosecutors.
The group worked by contacting victims through the internet and over apps, such as Words With Friends, Facebook, Match.com, and Christian Mingle, posing as romantic interests or distant relatives in need of help, and directed victims to send money.
One contacted a South Kingstown resident in their 70s over Words With Friends, posing as “General Matthew Weyer,” stationed with the US Army in Afghanistan. “Weyer” said he needed money to ship a box to the United States, according to court records. The South Kingstown resident eventually ended up sending $585,346 to Golden and others in the conspiracy, according to court records.
Other victims were from New York, Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina, Missouri, and Florida.
Golden pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and will be sentenced on Dec. 6. According to a plea agreement, she will forfeit all interest in any fraud-related assets traceable or derived from her criminal conduct; this includes a 2018 Bentley Bentayga; a 2017 Mercedes E-Class; a gold oyster perpetual women’s Rolex watch; a gold oyster perpetual men’s Rolex watch; a gold and diamond Rolex bezel; a 16-inch gold rope chain with a diamond coin pendant; a 24-inch gold rope chain; three firearms; and $11,731 seized from her home and from the Bentley.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Denise M. Barton, with the assistance of Assistant United States Attorney Dulce Donovan.
Aug. 31, 2022
Johnston man sentenced to federal prison for possession of child pornography
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A Johnston man who admitted to possessing more than 2,000 videos and images of child pornography has been sentenced to three years in federal prison, US Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said Wednesday.
Jon Knowles, 49, admitted to a federal judge in May that he employed a computer software program to download encrypted “pieces” of files used to assemble digital files. In June and August of 2021, Knowles used the software program to download and assemble at least three sexually explicit video files depicting prepubescent females.
On Nov. 17, FBI agents conducted a court-authorized search of Knowles’ residence and seized several electronic devices. A forensic audit of the devices resulted in the discovery of 2,075 videos and 342 images of child pornography, according to the US attorney’s office.
Knowles pleaded guilty on May 9 to a charge of possession of child pornography. U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy sentenced Knowles on Wednesday to three years in federal prison, followed by 10 years of federal supervised release. Knowles was also ordered to pay $5,000 special assessment, as required by the Justice for Victims Trafficking Act in child sexual exploitation cases where the court makes a finding that the defendant is not indigent.
Aug. 31, 2022
Providence men sentenced on ghost gun and fentanyl trafficking charges
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Two Providence men arrested in a drug-trafficking investigation last fall have been sentenced to prison.
While investigating a drug-trafficking operation, the state police high-intensity drug trafficking area task force had seized fentanyl, cocaine, a ghost gun, a 31-round gun magazine, ammunition, and drug paraphernalia from an apartment on Plainfield Street and a storage unit in Cranston, according to the attorney general’s office.
Lazaro Martinez, 37, and Damian DeAngelis, 39, had pleaded guilty to possession of more than a kilogram of fentanyl, possession of one ounce to one kilogram of cocaine, conspiracy. Martinez also pleaded guilty to possession of a ghost gun and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Robert D. Krause sentenced Martinez to 20 years, with 12 years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions. Krause sentenced DeAngelis to 15 years, with seven years to serve.
This was one of 50 “ghost-gun” cases that the attorney general’s office has prosecuted since the firearms were outlawed two years ago. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a statement Wednesday that his office sought to pass that law “because we knew that they are the gun of choice for those with long criminal records and who continue to engage in serious, often life-threatening criminal activity.”
Aug. 25, 2022
RI State Police: Massachusetts speeder had “ghost gun” and drugs
CUMBERLAND, R.I. – A Massachusetts man stopped for speeding on Route 295 in Cumberland early Thursday had a loaded “ghost gun” and narcotics in his vehicle, according to the Rhode Island State Police.
Gentrit Millanaj, 20, of Medford, was charged with possession of a ghost gun, possession with intent to deliver marijuana and crack cocaine, possession of a firearm while committing a crime of violence, and possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. The state police said that troopers seized a loaded “Patmos” 9mm pistol with no serial number, 19.6 ounces of marijuana, 2.6 grams of crack cocaine, and drug packaging equipment from Millanaj’s car.
Millanaj was arraigned Thursday at District Court, where bail was set at $75,000 with surety.
Aug. 25, 2022
Pawtucket man sentenced to 12 years in state prison for child molestation
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A Pawtucket man has been sentenced to serve 12 years at the Adult Correctional Institutions for molesting a young girl in 2019.
Johnnie Doe, 57, was accused of molesting a girl under 14 years old at a home in Pawtucket in February 2019. The girl, who Doe knew, immediately called 911 after she was assaulted. The attorney general’s office said that the Pawtucket police were able to match Doe’s DNA to evidence on the girl’s skin and clothing.
A jury in Providence County Superior Court convicted Doe in June of four counts of second-degree child molestation.
Superior Court Justice Stephen P. Nugent sentenced Doe on Monday to 25 years, with 12 years to serve at the ACI and a 13-year suspended sentence, along with 25 years probation. The judge also ordered Doe not to have any contact with the girl. Doe is required to register as a sex offender, must attend sex offender counseling, and is subject to community supervision requirements.
Doe is facing sexual assault charges in a separate case that is pending in Providence County Superior Court.
Attorney General Peter F. Neronha praised the girl for coming forward, as well as the investigation by the police.
“The courage that this young victim displayed in reporting the defendant’s crimes against her and facing him in court is something that will stay with me for a very long time. I admire her and her family very much for their commitment to ensuring that this defendant will no longer be in a position to harm others,” Neronha said in a statement. “I am also deeply grateful for the outstanding investigative work by the Pawtucket Police Department in this case and in others as we work together to protect Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents.”
The case was investigated by Pawtucket detectives Craig Letourneau and Robert Cardente and prosecuted by special assistant attorneys general Jonathan E. Burke and Taylor L. Matook.
Aug. 16, 2022
Attorney general finds no crime in alleged hazing of North Smithfield football players; investigation remains open out of concern for youths’ safety
NORTH SMITHFIELD — The North Smithfield police and attorney general’s office said Tuesday that they didn’t find evidence of a crime in their investigation this summer into allegations of hazing by the North Smithfield High School football team.
However, the attorney general’s office said the investigation raised concerns about the safety of football team members, and during the off-season, prospective team members, when no adults are around during team activities.
The North Smithfield School Department told the attorney general’s office on June 21 that it had allegations that older members of the football team had hazed the younger members or prospective members during team activities in spring 2022 when no adults were around.
The attorney general’s office and police immediately launched an investigation, with police interviewing more than 30 adults and youths. (Some parents did not consent for their children to be questioned.)
The attorney general’s office said in a statement Tuesday that no football team member or prospective member reported being subjected to physical contact that they characterized as inappropriate or criminal in nature. No team member or prospective member or parent requested criminal charges against anyone, and no adults, including football team coaches, said they witnessed physical contact among team members or prospective members that could be characterized as inappropriate or criminal in nature.
However, the attorney general’s office said that multiple witnesses credibly reported that there were times immediately before and after team activities that no adults were around. Some said they saw older team members be physical with younger team players or prospective players in ways the attorney general’s office found inappropriate.
Some older team members held down younger members, “making apparent physical contact with them, including in the buttocks and other sensitive areas,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
“Whether this plainly inappropriate conduct rises to the level of criminal misconduct, and whether criminal charges are possible if it does, remains undetermined at this time given the unwillingness to date of any team member or prospective member to come forward to describe precisely the physical contact that they were subjected to and make a criminal complaint to police,” the attorney general’s office said.
The authorities are keeping the investigation open and encourage anyone with information about hazing to contact the police department or attorney general’s office.
Aug. 9, 2022
Former North Kingstown VFW post commander admits falsifying military service and medals to get more than $250,000 benefits and charity
PROVIDENCE — A former social worker at the Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying about being a cancer-stricken, decorated Marine, so she could obtain more than $250,000 in benefits and services for injured veterans.
Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 31, will be sentenced on four federal charges on Nov. 10, the day before Veteran’s Day.
Cavanaugh had been the commander of North Kingstown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 152 and wore a Purple Heart and Bronze Star on a Marine uniform at events, until allegations surfaced in late January that she wasn’t who she claimed to be.
An investigation found that Cavanaugh had stolen the identities of actual veterans who had sought treatment at the medical center, used medical records from a friend’s mother to make it appear she was being treated for cancer, and bought replica medals to display on the uniform.
At a remote hearing Tuesday before US District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr., Cavanaugh pleaded guilty to using another person’s military discharge certificate, the DD-214 form, aggravated ID theft, fraudulently holding herself out as a recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and using communications in furtherance of fraudulent activities.
She faces a mandatory minimum of two years in federal prison, and a maximum sentence of 24 years. Under a plea agreement reached July 1, Cavanaugh has agreed to apply $82,489 toward restitution. The court will decide the final amount of restitution at her sentencing.
“Every day, thousands of American men and women honorably serve this country in uniform,” US Attorney Zachary Cunha said in a statement. “They sacrifice for our safety, putting themselves in harm’s way, often without praise or public recognition, and they deserve our thanks and our respect. This defendant sought to trade on that respect — respect she did not earn, evoked by a uniform to which she had no claim — by pretending that she was a United States Marine battling stage IV cancer, in order to trick generous members of the public into lining her pockets. Her conduct is disgraceful, and it richly warrants her conviction today as a federal felon.”
Jamestown Police: Teens forged signatures on 18-year-old’s nomination papers for governor
JAMESTOWN — Police have arrested two individuals accused of providing officials falsified nomination papers for an 18-year-old gubernatorial candidate.
The Jamestown Police Department charged Gracie Flynn and Owen Lockey, both 18, for allegedly conspiring to forge signatures on nomination forms on behalf of Zachary Hurwitz, an independent candidate for governor in Rhode Island. They were charged with providing a false document to a public official and conspiracy.
Hurwitz needed 1,000 valid signatures for his name to appear on the ballot.
An investigation was launched after the clerk’s office in Jamestown attempted to verify signatures from two Jamestown residents, police said. Both surrendered at Jamestown police headquarters and were released with a summons to appear in court. They will be arraigned on Friday.
— ALEXA GAGOSZ
Smithfield officer possibly exposed to fentanyl while making an arrest
SMITHFIELD — While conducting a search of a Johnston man this weekend, a Smithfield officer was potentially exposed to fentanyl and was taken to the hospital.
Police were called to the Seasons Corner Market on Douglas Pike Saturday morning for reports of a road rage incident, according to police. This unidentified officer spoke to both drivers involved, including 39-year-old Anthony Romano. While searching Romano for weapons, the officer found a plastic bag that contained “a white powdery substance” in his waistband, police said.
After finding the bag, the unidentified officer started feeling unwell. He was given a single dose of Narcan, which treats narcotic overdoses in an emergency situation, by another officer and then transported to Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence for potential fentanyl exposure. The officer was released from the hospital the same day.
Romano also had a brown bag that contained 390 suspected Oxycodone pills on him, according to police. He was charged with possession of more than 10 grams of cocaine and possession of over 10 grams of Oxycodone, police said. Romano was arraigned and released on $10,000 personal recognizance. He is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 7.
Both substances were tested for fentanyl. It’s still unclear whether the officer’s symptoms were from fentanyl exposure, police said.
— ALEXA GAGOSZ
Aug. 5, 2022
Providence man sentenced to 42 years for 2015 murder at Providence apartment building
PROVIDENCE — A Providence man who pleaded guilty for the 2015 murder of a 54-year-old woman has been ordered to serve 42 years in prison.
Earlier this year, Efrain Blanco, 38, pleaded guilty to murdering Zenaida Pacheco at an apartment building on Randall Street in Providence. At his hearing on Aug. 3, Superior Court Justice Richard Raspallo also sentenced Blanco to an 18-year suspended sentence with probation after his time at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston.
On Jan. 13, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to second-degree murder.
Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office said if the case had proceeded to trial, the state was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on Oct. 25, 2015, the defendant strangled Zenaida Pacheco to death in her apartment.
Providence police detectives identified the suspect through cell phone records and surveillance footage. On Nov. 4, 2015, investigators released photos of the suspect to the media. Several weeks later, members of the public identified the suspect as Blanco, who was captured by detectives shortly after.
Investigators determined that Blanco used a power cord to strangle Pacheco. They confirmed Blanco’s DNA on the cord through laboratory testing.
“The day has finally come when this defendant must pay the price for his senseless murder of Zenaida Pacheco, a woman much loved by her family and her community,” said Neronha in a statement Friday. “Nothing can return Zenaida to her family, but we can deliver justice for her and for them, and that has now been achieved.”
Detectives from the Providence Police Department conducted the investigation. Special Assistant Attorneys General Molly Kapstein Cote and Eric A. Batista lead the prosecution of the case.
“The men and women of the Providence Police were again outstanding in their investigation of this case, and I am grateful for our ongoing law enforcement partnership.”
— ALEXA GAGOSZ
Aug. 2, 2022
Providence man sentenced to 14 years for role in gang-related mass shooting
PROVIDENCE — A Providence man who pleaded guilty for his involvement in a gang-related shooting that wounded nine in the city’s Washington Park neighborhood has been ordered to serve 14 years in prison.
Ricardo Cosme Tejada, 21, pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy, both of which carried a criminal street gang enhancement, discharge of a firearm during a violent crime that resulted in injury and conspiracy, carrying a pistol without a license and conspiracy.
Tejada also pleaded guilty to possessing a ghost gun in a separate incident in April 2021.
Before sundown on May 13, 2021, Tejada and three other members of the “Get Money” gang drove to 87 Carolina Avenue, where members of the “Lakeside” gang were hanging out on the porch. The Get Money gang jumped out of their truck and started firing at their rivals — who fired back, wounding all four of them. Four of the people on the porch were also wounded, and another was hit by shrapnel.
Police found 51 spent shell casings from different firearms sprayed on the road and the property at 87 Carolina Avenue, as well as bullets that went through a neighbor’s home.
Investigators also reported seizing 500 rounds of ammunition in various calibers, a dozen gun magazines that included some holding 20, 30, 40, and 60 rounds of ammunition, and multiple pistols, ghost guns, BB guns, and a rifle. They also found marijuana, THC, and Psilocin at the home.
Superior Court Judge Robert D. Krause sentenced Tejada on July 27 to 14 years at the Adult Correctional Institutions, with a 20-year suspended sentence and 20 years of probation for his involvement in the shooting on Carolina Avenue.
Krause also ordered Tejada to a concurrent sentence of five years, with two years to serve, followed by a three-year suspended sentence with probation, for possession of a ghost gun.
“While the Carolina Ave. shooting presents as an egregious example of gun violence in Rhode Island, it shares key characteristics that we have seen in many other shooting incidents since then: the wide availability of illegal guns, the number of rounds being fired, and the use in many instances of high-capacity magazines and ghost guns,” Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a statement Tuesday.
“The defendant was part of a group that that turned a peaceful Providence neighborhood into their own personal shooting range. The long sentence imposed by the court here should send a strong message that gun violence will bring the most serious consequences. The work of our law enforcement partners was exemplary during these cases, and I am grateful for their continuing partnership with this Office.”
Woonsocket man sentenced to five years in federal prison for trafficking crack cocaine
PROVIDENCE — A Woonsocket man who led a crack cocaine distribution operation, and who attempted to disguise his involvement by having others deliver drugs that he had arranged to sell, has been sentenced to five years in federal prison, US Attorney Zachary A. Cunha announced Tuesday.
Anthony Medeiros, 31, arranged at least four sales of crack cocaine, using text messaging, phone calls, and Snapchat, in Woonsocket in early 2020, according to court documents.
Medeiros utilized a “runner” to deliver the drugs that he sold, including, in one case, his girlfriend, according to an investigation by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Medeiros was arrested and detained in federal custody in October 2020 and indicted in November 2020, and pleaded guilty on May 6, 2021, to conspiracy to distribute cocaine base; distribution of cocaine base; and two counts of distribution of 28 grams or more of cocaine base. He was sentenced on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy to 60 months of incarceration, followed by four years of federal supervised release.