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Entries in Justice Department (19)

Friday
Feb222013

US Government Joins Civil Lawsuit Against Lance Armstrong

Michael Stewart/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- More legal trouble for Lance Armstrong. The U.S. Justice Department announced Friday that it is joining a civil whistle-blower lawsuit against the disgraced cyclist, accusing him of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service, which sponsored his cycling team.

Earlier this week, Armstrong turned down a deal with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to reduce his lifetime sporting ban, and he is already facing millions of dollars in other litigation. But this suit is expected to be a big one, potentially totaling up to $100 million.  The lawsuit claims the U.S. Postal Service was defrauded out of roughly $30 million paid to sponsor Armstrong's cycling team.  His former teammate, Floyd Landis first filed the suit now being joined by the government.

The filing also includes Armstrong's associates, Johan Bruyneel and Tailwind Sports. The Justice Department alleges, according to a release Friday, that Bruyneel and Tailwind, who managed and owned Armstrong's cycling team, "submitted or caused the submission of false claims to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in connection with its sponsorship of a professional bicycle racing team by regularly employing banned substances and methods to enhance their performance, in violation of the USPS sponsorship agreements."

In an interview with Oprah this past January, Armstrong already admitted to a career fueled by doping and deceit.  However, he declined to take an opportunity this week to come clean to the USADA, the agency that regulates sports doping, blocking his chances of competing professionally again.

According to Friday's release announcing the Justice Department's decision, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen Jr., said Armstrong and his associates agreed to "play fair and abide by the rules -- including rules against doping."  

"The Postal Service has now seen its sponsorship unfairly associated with what has been described as 'the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,'" Machen said.  "This lawsuit is designed to help the Postal Service recoup the tens of millions of dollars it paid out to the Tailwind cycling team based on years of broken promises."

The Justice Department will file its formal complaint within 60 days.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov152012

BP Agrees to $4.5 Billion Gulf Spill Settlement; Three Former Employees Charged

PRNewsFoto(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department announced manslaughter charges Thursday against two BP officials involved in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, in which negligence by well site managers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling ship allegedly led to the country's biggest environmental disaster.

A third BP official has been charged for allegedly making false statements to Congress by providing inaccurate information to investigators about the rate at which oil was flowing from the well.

The criminal charges were announced along with a $4.5 billion settlement, with BP agreeing to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges and admitting responsibility for the deaths of 11 workers aboard Deepwater Horizon. The company has agreed to plead guilty to 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter, Clean Water and Migratory Bird Act violations and obstruction of Congress.

"Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the deaths of the 11 men onboard the Deepwater Horizon could have been avoided," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at a news conference in New Orleans. "The explosion of the rig was a disaster that resulted from BP's culture of privileging profit over prudence; and we allege that BP's most senior decision makers onboard the Deepwater Horizon negligently caused the explosion."

 

Under the settlement, BP has also agreed to a $525 million fine to resolve charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors about the rate of oil flow from the well.

Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, BP's well site leaders, were charged in the indictment with 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter and Clean Water Act violations. The charges alleged the "company men" on board Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig failed to heed abnormal pressure readings in the well as final preparations were made for extracting the oil and gas.

"Kaluza and Vidrine were aware of continued, abnormal, high pressure on the drill pipe," the indictment alleged. "Despite these ongoing, glaring indications on the drill pipe that the well was not secure, defendants Kaluza and Vidrine again failed to phone engineers on shore to alert them to the problem, and failed to investigate any further. Instead defendants Kaluza and Vidrine deemed the negative testing a success."

Kaluza's attorneys, Shaun Clarke and David Gerger, decried the charges.

"After nearly three years and tens of millions of dollars in investigation, the government needs a scapegoat," the lawyers said in a prepared statement. "Bob was not an executive or high-level BP official. He was a dedicated rig worker who mourns his fallen co-workers every day."

Vidrine's attorney, Robert Habens, said his client was innocent and called the charges, "a miscarriage of justice."

David Rainey, former vice president of exploration at BP, has been charged with obstruction of Congress and making false statements for asserting that BP's spill estimates were about 5,000 barrels of oil per day, while he allegedly knew that other BP estimates showed oil flows of up to 92,000 barrels of oil per day being spilled. The charge concerned briefing and materials and a letter that was sent to Congress.

"The company lied and withheld documents, in order to make it seem as though less damage was being done to the environment than was actually occurring," Breuer said."Rainey allegedly cherry-picked pages from documents, withheld other documents altogether and lied to Congress and others in order to make the spill appear less catastrophic than it was.

Rainey's lawyers, Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig, said he did "absolutely nothing wrong."

"We are profoundly disappointed that the Department of Justice is attempting to turn a tragic accident and its tumultuous aftermath into criminal activity," they said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Rainey did not commit the crimes charged in the indictment, period."

As part of the settlement, BP will pay almost $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences. BP has also agreed to take additional steps to enhance the safety of drilling in the Gulf.

"All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident, as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf Coast region," said Bob Dudley, BP's CEO. "From the outset, we stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and funding restoration efforts in the Gulf. We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today's resolution with the U.S. government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions."

Attorney General Eric Holder praised the settlement.

"The $4 billion in penalties and fines is the single largest criminal resolution in the history of the United States," Holder said, "and constitutes a major achievement toward fulfilling a promise that the Justice Department made nearly two years ago to respond to the consequences of this epic environmental disaster and seek justice on behalf of its victims."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep192012

'Fast and Furious' Probe Clears Holder, Faults ATF and Justice Department

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- "Operation Fast and Furious," the controversial undercover operation that allowed U.S. guns to be walked into Mexico, was a "risky strategy" that did not "adequately take into account the significant danger to public safety that it created."

That was the conclusion Wednesday from the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, after an investigation that spanned more than a year and a half.

The OIG investigation found that Attorney General Eric Holder was not aware of the strategy and tactics used in "Fast and Furious," and turned up no evidence that Holder tried to cover up the operation, or mislead Congress about it. Holder was held in contempt of Congress earlier this year for allegedly withholding documents about DOJ's "Fast and Furious" investigation from congressional investigators.

In a statement Wednesday, Holder said, "It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations -- accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion."

The IG report did find that a misleading letter that the DOJ sent to Congress was "troubling" because senior officials who were involved in drafting it knew, or should have known, that reckless behavior had occurred.

The political combat triggered by the flawed undercover operation played out in a series of contentious hearings on Capitol Hill in the past year. Behind the battles, the OIG found, was an undercover operation to catch gun-runners on the Southwest border that quickly turned bad.

Some of the 2,000 guns that made their way into Mexico as a result of "Operation Fast and Furious" were later recovered at crime scenes, including two found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

The "Fast and Furious" strategy called for agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to conduct surveillance and review phone and financial records to track guns they believed to be going to Mexican drug lords, who could then be arrested. But ATF lost track of most of the guns, few arrests were made, and yet "the purchasing activity by Operation Fast and Furious subjects continued unabated, individuals who had engaged in serious and dangerous criminal conduct remained at large, and the public was put in harm's way."

The OIG investigation "revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the Headquarters of the Department of Justice."

The report also details serious mistakes in DOJ's response to congressional inquiries about "Fast and Furious."

The Inspector General's review has recommended 14 Justice Department and ATF officials for disciplinary and administrative review, including the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

As a result of the OIG findings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned his post Wednesday. The OIG report charged that Weinstein, a senior aide to Breuer, did not adequately share critical information about "Fast and Furious," and its predecessor operation, "Wide Receiver," with top DOJ officials.

Because that information did not reach the attorney general, more aggressive oversight of the operation did not occur, and misinformation was passed on to Congress, according to the OIG report. Weinstein and his attorney vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying Weinstein did not receive the key information he needed from the agents carrying out the operation. The former acting director of ATF during the operation, Kenneth Melson, on Wednesday retired from the Department of Justice, effective immediately.

The report was highly critical of William Newell, the former special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office. "Newell also bore ultimate responsibility for the failures in Operation Fast and Furious," the review found, citing his leadership position and involvement in the case.

Newell is working at ATF Headquarters in Washington.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the leading congressional critics of DOJ's handing of "Fast and Furious," issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters. And, we still don't know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General. It's clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious."

The OIG report also detailed the mistakes that lead to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry: "On January 16, 2010, one of the straw purchasers purchased three AK-47 style rifles from a Phoenix-area gun store. ATF agents learned about that purchase 3 days later and, consistent with the investigative strategy in the case, made no effort to locate (the purchaser) or seize the rifles although ATF had identified the suspect in November 2009. Two of the three rifles purchased by (the suspect) on January 16 were recovered 11 months later at the scene of the murder of Agent Terry, who was shot and killed on December 14, 2010, as he tried to arrest persons believed to be illegally entering the United States ... "

The day after Agent Terry's death, ATF agents arrested that suspect, Jaime Avila, and later 20 more alleged gun buyers and traffickers. As of Sept. 1, 2012, 14 defendants, including Avila, had entered guilty pleas to one or more counts of the indictment. In all, "Fast and Furious" identified more than 40 subjects believed to be connected to a trafficking conspiracy responsible for purchasing more than 2,000 firearms for about $1.5 million in cash. The vast majority of the firearms purchased by "Operation Fast and Furious" subjects were AK-47 style rifles and FN Herstal 5.7 caliber pistols.

The OIG report also noted, "What began as an important and promising investigation of serious firearms trafficking along the Southwest Border that was developed through the efforts of a short-staffed ATF enforcement group quickly grew into an investigation that lacked realistic objectives, did not have appropriate supervision within ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and failed to adequately assess the public safety consequences of not stopping or controlling the alarming purchasing activity."

The report indicates that the OIG reviewed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed more than 130 witnesses, many on multiple occasions.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, "We operated with complete and total independence in our search for the truth, and the decision about what to cover in this report and the conclusions that we reached were made solely by me and my office."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul102012

Justice Department Challenges Texas Voter ID Law

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Attorneys for the Justice Department and the state of Texas had a showdown in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday over a new Lone Star State law that requires voters to show a photo ID before they cast a ballot.

In what many view as a challenge to the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 legislation that protects minorities, Texas passed a law that requires voters to possess a driver’s license, a passport or another form of photo ID.

The two sides ended up in federal court when the Justice Department moved in March to block implementation of the law, and Texas sued.

The issue has been the subject of partisan debate for decades.  Republican supporters of the law say it prevents fraud, while Democrat opponents say the rule unfairly targets minorities, most of whom vote Democratic.

Democrats say many members of the minority community do not have a driver’s license or passport.  The Democrats also say voter fraud is a rare occurrence and passing a law to prevent such an infrequent event would disenfranchise thousands.

Attorney Adam Mortara, representing the state of Texas, told the three-judge panel that “no one is stopped from voting by these laws.”  He argued that the Justice Department’s position that a photo-ID requirement disproportionately affects minority voters is based on “flawed analysis.”

Mortara told the judges, “There is no actual ID disparity between the races or ethnic groups.”

Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Westfall argued that the Texas law would make things difficult for the state’s 1.4 million voters who don't have a photo ID.

She told the court, “Texas is unable to meet its burden of showing that the law will not have a discriminatory affect.”

Texas is just one of a number of states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have passed or are developing new laws designed to prevent voter fraud.

The hearing is scheduled to last five days, and a ruling is expected by next month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May212012

'Hacktivists' Target Justice Department -- Again

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The activist group "Anonymous" claims they've hacked into the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics and have leaked 1.7 gigabytes worth of data.  

Posts on the group's website claim they have obtained Justice Department internal emails.  The Department of Justice said they were looking into that unauthorized access to the bureau's online service, but department believes that all the information was available from the public website and that no internal operational information has been compromised.

“The department is looking into the unauthorized access of a website server operated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that contained data from their public website. The Bureau of Justice Statistics website has remained operational throughout this time," said a Justice Department spokeswoman.

She added, "The department’s main website, justice.gov, was not affected. The department is continuing protection and defensive measures to safeguard information and will refer any activity that is determined to be criminal in nature to law enforcement for investigation.”

Anonymous' posted messages, however, claimed they were releasing the hacked information to expose internal Justice Department data and government corruption.
 
The FBI is launching a full field investigation of the computer intrusion.
 
Anonymous has previously targeted the DOJ website, hitting it with a denial of service attack earlier this year when the file-sharing website Megaupload.com was targeted by the Justice Department for intellectual property violations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
May042012

Secret Terrorism-Espionage Wiretaps Increased in 2011

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department sought 1,745 secret wiretapping warrants in 2011, an increase of 239 over 2010, according to correspondence sent to Congressional leaders and oversight committees posted on the Justice Department website.  The secret warrants are governed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and are used in terrorist and espionage investigations by the FBI. The secret warrants are prepared by FBI agents and prosecutors to present to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington.

Sent to Congressional leaders and Vice President Joseph Biden, the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said, “During the calendar year 2011, the government made 1,745 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (hereinafter FISC) … for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes.”

A copy of the letters can be viewed here.

The letter says that 1,676 of the applications were for electronic surveillance. It is impossible to determine based on the information made available if the 69 other warrants were for physical searches during terrorism and espionage investigations.  Some FISA warrants can cover both electronic intercepts and physical searches when FBI agents secretly enter an area and pull information off of computers or documents they are seeking as part of their investigation.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on any specific reasons for the fluctuations in the numbers.

“The number of applications that the government submits to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to conduct court-authorized surveillance in national security matters varies from year-to-year and depends on myriad of different factors.  The annual numbers have gone up and down and up over the past decade.” Boyd said when asked about the change in numbers.

The number of FISA applications was highest in 2007 when there were 2,370 applications to conduct electronic and physical surveillance. The number steadily grew after the 9/11 attacks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr032012

DOJ Breaks Off Negotiations With Defiant Sheriff Joe Arpaio

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has cut off negotiations with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and officials with the Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Office in its effort to install an independent monitor to rein in the unconstitutional tactics used by officers there.

Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” defied the Justice Department suggestion that it could sue the county and the sheriff’s office to force the issue.

“I am the constitutionally and legitimately elected Sheriff and I absolutely refuse to surrender my responsibility to the federal government,” he said in a letter the Justice Department Tuesday. “And so to the Obama administration, who is attempting to strong arm me into submission only for its political gain, I say, ‘This will not happen, not on my watch!’”

In December, the Justice Department released findings in its investigation of Arpaio’s office, noting there were significant civil rights violations, including the use of excessive force, and other systemic problems.

The Justice Department said in a letter to Arpaio’s attorney Friday that despite the sheriff’s office acknowledging the need for an independent judicial monitor to oversee reforms, “MCSO has now walked back from its agreement.”

“DOJ considers the oversight of an independent monitor to be an absolute necessity for meaningful and sustainable reform of MCSO,” Roy Austin, the Civil Rights Division’s deputy assistant attorney general, wrote to Arpaio’s attorney.

“It was disappointing, to say the least, for you to contact us 24 hours before our negotiations were scheduled to continue and raise for the first time, a precondition that you understood would result in the cancellation of negotiations,” he wrote.

“We believe that you are wasting time and not negotiating in good faith,” he wrote. “Your tactics have required DOJ to squander valuable time and resources. The violations of the Constitution and federal law identified in our December 15 letter have not been meaningfully addressed and continue to negatively impact the lives of all Maricopa County residents.”

According to the letter, representatives from the MCSO also canceled a meeting at the last minute on Feb. 27 and took more than two weeks to reschedule the meeting with the Justice Department.

In recent weeks, the sheriff’s office has apparently been claiming it needs additional information from the Justice Department in order to reach a settlement.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has been investigating Arpaio’s office since June 2008.  There is also an ongoing criminal investigation into officials at the sheriff’s office.

In the letter sent Tuesday, the Justice Department said it is moving closer to suing the county and sheriff’s office in federal court, in an effort to implement the federal monitor.

The sheriff’s office said in response that appointing an outside monitor “usurps the powers and duties of an elected sheriff and transfers them to a person or group of persons selected by the federal government … nullifying the authority of the elected Sheriff and eviscerating the will of the citizens of Maricopa County.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar262012

Soldier Charged in Drug Running, Murder for Hire

Colorado County Sheriff's Office(WASHINGTON) -- A lieutenant in the U.S. Army allegedly was willing to work with drug runners and to execute a murder-for-hire plot, according to Justice Department officials.

The Justice Department on Monday announced charges against Kevin D. Corley, who, during much of the alleged plot, was a first lieutenant in the Army and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Federal prosecutors say they became aware of Corley in January 2011 after an associate of his allegedly told DEA agents posing as members of the Los Zetas Cartel "about a friend in the military who could provide military weapons to them."

"The agents were later introduced to Corley, who allegedly identified himself as an active duty officer in the Army responsible for training soldiers," a Justice Department release said. "He offered to provide tactical training for cartel members and to purchase weapons for the cartel under his name."

Authorities claim Corley began to discuss military tactics and even mailed operatives an official Army book on the subject. He allegedly said that for a fee he could could train 40 cartel members in two weeks.

The topic then supposedly turned to the subject of a plan to "raid a ranch where 20 kilograms of stolen cocaine were being kept by rival cartel members."

"Corley confirmed he would conduct the contract killing with a small team, at a minimum comprised of himself and another person who he described as an active duty soldier with whom he had already consulted," prosecutors say.

According to the complaint, Corley agreed to perform the contract killing and retrieve the 20 kilograms of cocaine in exchange for $50,000 and five kilograms of cocaine. He allegedly offered to refund the money if the victim survived and agreed to provide security for marijuana shipments in the United States.

"On March 5, 2012, Corley delivered two AR-15 assault rifles with scopes, an airsoft assault rifle, five allegedly stolen ballistic vests and other miscellaneous equipment to an undercover agent in Colorado Springs, in exchange for $10,000," prosecutors said in a statement.

"At the meeting, Corley and the undercover agent allegedly again discussed the contract killing and the retrieval of the cocaine, which was to occur on March 24, 2012," the complaint said. "Corley allegedly stated he had purchased a new Ka-Bar knife to carve a 'Z' into the victim's chest and was planning on buying a hatchet to dismember the body."

The story ends on March 24, when Corley and two other suspects allegedly traveled to Laredo and met with undercover agents, at which time they discussed the location of the intended victim, the logistics of performing the contract kill and their respective roles.

The three were arrested, during which time a fourth suspect was shot and killed, agents say.

The three are charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine; use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking or violent crime; and conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar222012

Trayvon Martin's Family to Meet With Justice Department Officials

Trayvon Martin's parents address supporters in New York City. John Moore/Getty Images(SANFORD, Fla.) -- The U.S. Attorney in Central Florida and officials from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will be meeting with Trayvon Martin’s family in Florida Thursday as they investigate the death of the 17-year-old.

The unarmed teenager was allegedly shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 as Martin was walking back to his father's fiancé's home after stepping out to buy Skittles and iced tea during the NBA All-Star Game.  Just moments before Martin was gunned down, Zimmerman can be heard muttering something in a call to a police dispatcher, which many believe was a racial epithet.

Attorneys in the justice department are likely looking into whether or not Martin's rights were deprived by Zimmerman during the altercation that led to the teen's death.  They are also looking into whether he was the victim of a hate crime.

The meeting comes amid calls that the man leading the investigation into Martin's shooting death step down.  Sanford, Fla., commissioners conducted a vote of "no confidence" Wednesday night against embattled Police Chief Billy Lee.  Three of five commissioners voted against the chief, and one demanded that he resign. 

It is now up to the city manager to decide whether or not to let Lee go.

Meanwhile, the Martin family took their fight to the streets of New York City Wednesday night as they linked with around 2,000 protesters who marched through Manhattan, demanding justice for the slain 17-year-old.

"We will not go politely in the night," said the teen's father Tracy Martin.  "We will tell people in Florida that we are not alone." 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan192012

Anonymous Attacks Justice Dept. Website After Megaupload.com Indictment

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department website was down Thursday after annoucing the indictment of seven individuals and two companies behind the popular file-sharing website Megaupload.com.  About one hour after the announcement, the Justice Department's website, www.Justice.gov, came under cyberattack with a denial-of-service attack. Anonymous, the hacktivist computer group, is claiming responsibility.

The indictment alleges that the website, which has been touted by stars will.i.am, Kim Kardashian and Puff Daddy, and a shell company associated with the website, Vestor Limited, caused an estimated half-billion dollars in copyright losses and made an estimated $175 million in proceeds. The website was established in 2005 and at one point ranked as the 13th-most-visited website on the Internet.

The feds indicted the site's founder, Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz, a 37-year-old resident of Hong Kong and New Zealand. He was arrested in New Zealand by New Zealand authorities.

Also indicted were employees Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, Julius Bencko, Finn Batato, Sven Echternach, Mathias Ortmann and Andrus Nomm. New Zealand authorities arrested Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk. Bencko, Echternach and Nomm remain at large, officials said.

The indictment accuses the suspects of being members of "the Mega Conspiracy, a worldwide criminal organization whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale."

The case comes a day after Internet companies and websites such as Google, WordPress and Wikipedia protested about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

The indictment returned by a grand jury in Virginia alleges, "In exchange for payment, the Mega Conspiracy provides the fast reproduction and distribution of infringing copies of copyrighted works from its computer servers located around the world. Premium users of the site...are able to download and upload files with few, if any, limitations."

Describing the operation of the site and relations with users, the indictment noted, "For much of its operation, the Mega Conspiracy has offered an 'Uploader Rewards' Program, which promised premium subscribers transfers of cash and other financial incentives to upload popular works, including copyrighted works, to computer servers under the Mega Conspiracy's direct control and for the Conspiracy's ultimate financial benefit."

The seven suspects have been charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement.

If convicted they could face a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio 







ABC News Radio