U.S. Treasury Sanctions China–Mexico Based Enablers of Fentanyl Pill Production

By Harold W. Reid, The Chicago Times

May 31, 2023

WASHINGTON – The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Tuesday sanctioned 17 individuals and entities involved in the international proliferation of equipment used to produce illicit drugs.

The Treasury Department said these targets are directly or indirectly involved in the sale of pill press machines, die molds, and other equipment used to impress counterfeit trade markings of legitimate pharmaceuticals onto illicitly produced pills that are often laced with fentanyl, frequently destined for US markets.

“Treasury’s sanctions target every stage of the deadly supply chain fueling the surge in fentanyl poisonings and deaths across the country,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl constitute a leading cause of these deaths, devastating thousands of American families each year. We remain committed to using all authorities against enablers of illicit drug production to disrupt this deadly global production and counter the threat posed by these drugs.”

Mechanical pill presses compress powdered substances into tablets of uniform size and weight. The US government regulates pill press machine importation, which also includes the regulation of size and capacity.  According to the Treasury Department, the importation and use of illegal pill presses could lead to inconsistent and lethal dosages.

Even worse, illegal pills laced with fentanyl, may be blank or bear custom impressions to mimic trademarked or scheduled drugs without authorization, such as “M30” for schedule II oxycodone products or “Xanax” for schedule IV alprazolam products.

Photo: Drug Enforcement Agency

The Treasury Department designated Chinese pill press supplier Youli Technology Development Co., Ltd. along with three Youli-affiliated Chinese nationals, Guo Chunyan, Guo Yunnian, and Guo Ruiguang, all located in Huizhou, China.  According to the Treasury Department, Youli allegedly shipped pill press machinery to individuals in the United States involved in the manufacture of counterfeit pills using techniques intended to evade law enforcement scrutiny.  Furthermore, Youli allegedly shipped scheduled pharmaceuticals to the United States for counterfeit pill manufacturing. 

The Treasury Department sanctioned China based Yason General Machinery Co., Yason Electronics Technology Co., and Yason General Machinery Co., Ltd., for their role in the supply of press equipment internationally.  According to the Treasury Department, Yason allegedly sells pill press-related equipment and has worked with a Mexico-based pill equipment supplier and contact who previously provided equipment to a Sinaloa Cartel-linked individual. It is alleged that the contact used the machines to create superlabs in Mexico with the capacity to produce millions of fentanyl-laced pills on a weekly basis.  

The sanctions also include Mexpacking Solutions, of Chihuahua, Mexico, which sells pill presses and other equipment and is allegedly controlled by a Sinaloa Cartel pill press supplier.  It is alleged that Mexpacking has been used as cover for an individual involved with making fentanyl-laced pills and with assisting Mexico-based cartel members with pill press operations.  It is further alleged that goods from Mexpacking were shipped to another pill press equipment supplier involved with coordinating shipments of pill press machines and parts to drug trafficking organizations, including the Sinaloa Cartel.

Mexican nationals: Mario Ernesto Martinez Trevizo (Martinez), Cinthia Adriana Rodriguez Almeida (Rodriguez), and Ernesto Alonso Macias Trevizo (Macias) were also sanctioned by the Treasury Department in connection with the above alleged crimes.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned online business Tdpmolds, an entity established and controlled by Zhao Dongdong, a Chinese national located in Yantai, China.  It is alleged that Tdpmolds offers a range of pill press machines and dies for sale, and as recently as 2020, Tdpmolds shipped to the United States several pill press die molds, including ones used to produce counterfeit schedule II oxycodone and amphetamine pill products. 

As a result of Tuesday’s sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to the Treasury Department.  Furthermore, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. 

Pentagon Announces Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine

By The Chicago Times Staff

May 21, 2023

WASHINGTON – The Department of Defense announced today additional security assistance to meet Ukraine’s security and defense needs.  This authorization by the Biden administration marks the thirty-eighth drawdown of equipment from Department of Defense inventories for Ukraine since August 2021.  The authorization includes additional ammunition for US provided HIMARS, artillery rounds, anti-armor capabilities, and critical enablers valued at up to $375 million that Ukraine is using on the battlefield in its struggle against Russian forces. 

Ukraine will be receiving the following:

•    Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);

•    155mm and 105mm artillery rounds;

•    Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;

•    Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems;

•    Laser-guided rocket system munitions;

•    Demolition munitions;

•    Armored bridging systems;

•    Armored medical treatment vehicles;

•    Trucks and trailers to transport heavy equipment;

•    Logistics support equipment; 

•    Thermal imagery systems;

•    Spare parts and other field equipment.

Russian Man Charged with Ransomware Attacks Against Critical Infrastructure

By Clara Thompson, The Chicago Times

May 17, 2023

NEWARK – A Russian national and resident has been charged with using three different ransomware variants to attack numerous victims throughout the United States, including law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey.

According to an indictment unsealed by the Justice Department, it is alleged that from at least as early as 2020, Mikhail Pavlovich Matveev, aka Wazawaka, aka m1x, aka Boriselcin, aka Uhodiransomwar, participated in conspiracies to deploy three ransomware variants.

These variants, known as LockBit, Babuk, and Hive, transmitted ransom demands in connection with each.  It is alleged that the perpetrators behind each of these variants, including Matveev, used these types of ransomware to attack thousands of victims in the United States and worldwide.  The Justice Department claims these victims include law enforcement and other government agencies, hospitals, and schools.  It is further alleged that the total ransom demands  amounted to as much as $400 million.  It is estimated that total victim ransom payments amount to as much as $200 million.

“From his home base in Russia, Matveev allegedly used multiple ransomware variants to attack critical infrastructure around the world, including hospitals, government agencies, and victims in other sectors,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a press release.

It is alleged that on or about June 25, 2020, Matveev and his LockBit co-conspirators deployed LockBit ransomware against a law enforcement agency in Passaic County, New Jersey.  Furthermore, on or about May 27, 2022, Matveev and his Hive co-conspirators allegedly deployed Hive against a nonprofit behavioral healthcare organization headquartered in Mercer County, New Jersey.  It is also alleged that on April 26, 2021, Matveev and his Babuk co-conspirators deployed Babuk against the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.

According to the Justice Department, the LockBit ransomware variant first appeared around January 2020.  LockBit actors have executed over 1,400 attacks against victims in the United States and around the world, issuing over $100 million in ransom demands and receiving over $75 million in ransom payments.  The Babuk ransomware variant first appeared around December 2020 and has executed over 65 attacks against victims in the United States and around the world demanding $49 million in ransom demands and receiving as much as $13 million in ransom payments.  Since June 2021, the Hive ransomware group has targeted more than 1,400 victims worldwide and  received as much as $120 million in ransom payments.

All three ransomware variants operated in the same manner: first, the ransomware actors would identify and unlawfully access vulnerable computer systems, sometimes through their own hacking, or by purchasing stolen access credentials from others.  Second, the actors would deploy the ransomware variant within the victim computer system, allowing the actors to encrypt and steal data thereon.  Next, the actors would send a ransom note to the victim demanding a payment in exchange for decrypting the victim’s data or refraining from sharing it publicly. Finally, the ransomware actors would negotiate a ransom amount with each victim willing to pay. If a victim did not pay, ransomware actors would often post that victim’s data on a public website, often called a data leak site.  

Matveev has been charged with conspiring to transmit ransom demands, conspiring to damage protected computers, and intentionally damaging protected computers. If convicted, Matveev could spend over 20 years in prison. 

The Department of State also announced an award of up to $10 million for information that leads to the arrest and/or conviction of this defendant.  Information that may be eligible for this award can be submitted at tips.fbi.gov or RewardsForJustice.net. 

FBI Offers Reward for Arrest of Fugitive Tiara Thomas

FBI Atlanta

Public Affairs Specialist Jenna Sellitto

May 4, 2023

The FBI is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of Tiara Ann Thomas (aka “Red”) of Macon, Georgia. Thomas is wanted by the FBI Macon Resident Agency for Violation of Pretrial Release for the original offenses of Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances, Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime, and Possession with Intent to Distribute Fentanyl.

Tiara Thomas. Photo: FBI

Thomas, age 23, is described as 5’3” tall, weighing 130 pounds, with dyed red hair and brown eyes. She also has a black tattoo on the left side of her neck. The original offenses that Thomas is charged with occurred in Bibb County, Georgia, between November 2020, and July 2021. She failed to report to her probation officer between July and October 2022 and is believed to have moved from her Macon residence in September 2022. Thomas has not been located since.

Anyone with information about Thomas’s whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI Macon Resident agency at (478) 745-1271 or Macon Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-877-68CRIME (27463).

The public should be reminded that the above are merely allegations and that all persons are to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Treasury Sanctions Officials of Iranian and Russian Intelligence Agencies Over Wrongful Detentions

By Harold W. Reid, The Chicago Times

April 28, 2023

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced Thursday that it has sanctioned four senior officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization for its role in the hostage-taking of US nationals in Iran.

The IRGC-IO frequently holds and interrogates detainees in the notorious Evin Prison.  The Treasury Department said today’s action is the first under Executive Order (E.O.) 14078, “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained U.S. Nationals Home,” which reaffirms the fundamental commitment of the U.S. government to bring home those U.S. nationals held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. 

In addition the OFAC implemented the Department of State’s designation of Russia’s Federal Security Service, in addition to the IRGC-IO, for their involvement in the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals abroad.

“Today’s action targets senior officials and security services in Iran and Russia that are responsible for the hostage-taking or wrongful detention of U.S. nationals abroad,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement. “We are committed to bringing home wrongfully detained U.S. nationals and acting against foreign threats to the safety of U.S. nationals abroad.”

The sanctions announced today will apply to all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.  Furthermore, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. 

Financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned entities and individuals may expose themselves to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action. 

Post Office Averages 2.5 Days to Deliver in Second Quarter

By Sumner Jacobs, The Chicago Times

April 8, 2023

WASHINGTON – The United States Postal Service reported on Friday that delivery performance metrics for the 13th week of the second quarter (FY 2023) was consistent or improved across all mail categories.  USPS claims that mail or package deliveries across the nation remained at an average of 2.5 days.

According to USPS the second quarter service performance scores covered Jan 1 through Mar 31, included:

  • First-Class Mail: 91.0% of First-Class Mail delivered on time.
  • Marketing Mail: 94.6% of Marketing Mail delivered on time.
  • Periodicals: 86.6% of Periodicals delivered on time.

USPS also said that 97% of the nation’s population receives their mail in less than three days.  For the last ten years, USPS has been working to improve performance under their Delivering for America plan to achieve “sustainability” and service excellence, which calls for all deliveries to meet or exceed 95% for on-time service performance for all mail and shipping products once the  plan is completed.  USPS claims that service performance is defined as the time it takes to deliver a mail or package from its acceptance into the postal system through its delivery, as measured against published service standards.