Court Ruling Complicates the Prosecution of Online Crimes

State boundary lines and laws that haven’t kept up with technology-based crimes are making the prosecution of offenders more difficult. The increasingly connected world is making these crimes easier.

by Julie Manganis, Gloucester Daily Times / November 12, 2019
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(TNS) — Back in 2011, when North Face fleeces and Coach handbags were coveted commodities, a woman used the credit card information of two Massachusetts women to procure one of each, delivered to the door of her Manchester, N.H., apartment.

In its 2016 decision reversing part of the woman’s conviction on fraud charges, the Massachusetts Appeals Court took it upon itself to ask the question: when can one state prosecute someone for a crime committed in another? It's an increasingly common scenario in the internet age and one with which the law hasn’t managed to keep up with.

The court concluded that in some, but not all, circumstances, the state could prosecute such cases.

“The kind of jurisdictional issue we confront in this case is likely to appear with increasing frequency as criminals exploit our digital and virtual interconnectedness to prey on victims at a geographic remove,” the court wrote in 2016, in the case of Commonwealth vs. Brenisha Thompson.

As predicted, that ruling came into play in a local case last month, when a Salem Superior Court judge dismissed receiving stolen property charges against Kayode Adams.

Adams, 35, of Bladensburg, Maryland, was accused of withdrawing funds — stolen from a Danvers woman’s 401(k) retirement account — from his own bank account in Maryland.

Adams was indicted last March and arrested in April at Dulles International Airport, while getting off of a flight from Nigeria.

Prosecutors say that Adams was the ringleader of a money laundering network. His attorney says Adams, who runs an auto wholesale business that exports vehicles from the United States, was duped into believing that the funds were payment for some cars.

Then, in August, Adams’ attorney, Joseph Hernandez, argued that there was no probable cause to charge his client — and that, in his view, that 2016 Appeals Court decision in the stolen credit card case means that Massachusetts courts do not have jurisdiction over what might have happened in Maryland.

Prosecutor Erin Bellavia disagreed, citing a legal concept that gives a state jurisdiction when a crime has an impact on a resident there.

In his decision last month, Karp said that while he believes there is probable cause to support the prosecution’s case, he shared Hernandez’s view.

“Here, the grand jury was presented with no evidence that Adams ever possessed the stolen funds in Massachusetts,” Karp wrote. Under his interpretation of the law, that would have been a necessary fact in order to prosecute the case here.

Money laundering charge stands

Prosecutors have also indicted Adams on a money laundering charge. Last week, Judge Thomas Drechsler denied a motion by Hernandez to dismiss that count.

Like Karp, Drechsler agreed with the prosecutor that there was ample probable cause to believe that Adams was involved in the transfer of funds from the woman’s 401(k).

But he concluded that at least on the money laundering charge, Massachusetts courts do have jurisdiction.

“There is ample probable cause to believe that the alleged victim at least constructively possessed the funds in question in Massachusetts, and that funds were stolen from her possession in Massachusetts,” Drechsler wrote.

The victim of the theft had approximately $200,000 in her account, money saved during her years at Osram Sylvania in Danvers.

In September 2018, she received a letter from Alight Solutions, which was administrating that benefit, “confirming” that more than $25,000 had been withdrawn from her 401(k) account and transferred to a Bank of America account.

She immediately called Alight — and that’s when she learned about another transfer, more than $127,000, a week earlier.

Police would later learn that someone had simply placed a “hold” on her mail, so that the confirmation letter for that earlier transfer never made it to her Danvers home.

Police later listened to recordings of the calls an unknown woman with an accent, who sounded nothing like the victim, made to Alight, requesting that the funds be transferred to a Bank of America account which, police confirmed, belonged to Adams’ business.

Though the Alight employee sent a confirmation code to the victim’s email address on file, her email had been hacked, it turned out.

Not an issue in ‘grandparent scam’

But in another fraud case involving a defendant from another state last week, the issue of jurisdiction did not come up.

Jason Temprachanh, of Fort Worth, Texas, admitted to sufficient facts in a larceny case stemming from a “grandparent scam,” in which someone posed as the grandson of a Beverly woman and asked her for bail money.

She wired $60,000 to Temprachanh’s bank account before realizing her grandson wasn’t in any sort of trouble. Temprachanh withdrew some of the funds before his arrest but says he thought that the money was from a recording contract. He’ll spend the next two years on probation.

Adams, meanwhile, remains held on $250,000 bail on the remaining indictment and is due back in court on Dec. 11.

©2019 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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