Business as usual for federal prosecutors, despite intense Atlanta corruption probe

By David Pendered

Even as the federal corruption investigation continues at Atlanta City Hall, the U.S. prosecutor in Atlanta is locking up other crooks – including bank robbers, scam artists who preyed on the elderly and a former medical examiner who doled out opioids in exchange for sex and romance.

Richard B. Russell Federal Building, U.S Courthouse

Federal prosecutors based in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building continue the meat and potatoes work of criminal investigation even as an intense probe focuses on an apparent culture of public corruption at Atlanta City Hall. Credit: cxgbs.com

On Wednesday, a 23-year-old Atlanta man was sentenced for armed bank robbery and brandishing a weapon during a crime of violence. Donte Deshawn Alston was sentenced to 10 years and a month in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. He may be about 36 years old before he’s free to go about his business.

The evidence clearly indicated Alston intended to rob the bank. He crashed his getaway vehicle in the ensuing chase by Marietta police officers and was captured as he ran away from the wreck, according to a statement released Wedneday by the office of U.S. District Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.

Here’s the full statement about the crime, which is part of a litany of recent actions by Pak’s office:

  • “On April 5, 2017, Alston robbed Fifth Third Bank in Smyrna at gunpoint then led police on a high-speed chase before hydroplaning into a fence. Alston entered the bank wearing a hooded sweater, black mask, and gloves. He fled the bank with approximately $2,500 in cash that he placed inside his backpack. Alston did not know that the bank’s funds included a GPS tracking device that allowed the Marietta Police Department (MPD) to immediately track the movement of a 2006 silver Chevy Aveo that he was driving.”

The scam artists who filed guilty pleas Wednesday ran a con game that stole more than $3.5 million from dozens of elderly folks and transferred most of the money to bank accounts in Costa Rico.

“This case shows an international border is no defense for those who defraud senior citizens, and HSI is committed to using its unique cross-border authority to investigate and hold accountable persons who commit such crimes,” Nick S. Annan, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta, said in a statement.

This is how the scam worked, according to the statement released by Pak’s office:

  • “From February 2016 through September 2017, dozens of victims, most of whom were elderly, were contacted by telephone and told that they had won a sweepstakes or lottery. The victims were told that they could receive their sweepstakes winnings after they paid various expenses, such as taxes and fees.

    Costa Rica, locator map

    Five con artists have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta to scamming dozens of senior citizens of a total of more than $3.5 million and stashing some of it in Costa Rica. Credit: Google Earth, David Pendered

  • “The victims were directed to pay the expenses to various companies controlled by the defendants, such as J.G. Services, RF Financial Services, and Master Builders. The victims would then mail payments via personal and cashier’s checks to addresses that were linked to mailboxes rented by the defendants.
  • “The defendants deposited the checks, totaling over $3.5 million, into their bank accounts and then transferred the majority of the funds to Costa Rican bank accounts.”

Four defendants pleaded guilty Wednesday, all of them with addresses in Buford. A fifth defendant who pleaded guilty provided an address in Costa Rica. Sentencing for all is scheduled in mid November on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering.

Another bank robbery case involves the gunmen pointing guns at two employees who’d been ordered to lie facedown on the floor, while a teller was loading cash into a bag under the orders of another gunman. Here’s how the statement from Pak’s office summarizes the incident following the Aug. 23 arraignment of one of five alleged bank robbers:

  • “Three of the defendants … entered United Bank in Woodbury shortly after noon on June 28.  The robbers had covered their faces to disguise their identities, and they were armed with two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle.
  • “After entering the bank, the men ordered two bank employees to lie face down on the floor.  [One robber] allegedly stood over them with the semi-automatic rifle, while [two other robbers] pointed handguns at a teller and demanded that she fill a backpack with money. The men then exited the bank through a back door, but thanks to the quick response of the City of Woodbury Police Department, their getaway driver … fled before he could pick up [the three robbers]. At that point, the three robbers ran into the nearby woods on foot.
  • “After hiding in a nearby house for several hours, [two robbers] were captured by the FBI. [T]he third robber remained unidentified and at large until local news stations played a clip of him in the backyard of a residence without his face concealed by a mask. Several tipsters then identified [the robber], who the FBI arrested shortly thereafter.”

Finally, Dr. Joe Burton, a former county and state medical examiner and forensic pathologist, was sentenced to prison for conspiring to illegally distribute opioid painkillers. Burton, 73, of Milton was sentenced to serve eight years in prison, followed by three years of supervised released. He’ll be about 84 years old when he’s free to go about his business.

Joe Burton

Joe Burton, police mug shot

Pak put a fine point on the apparent motive:

  • “As a medical professional, Dr. Burton violated both his legal and ethical responsibilities when he knowingly wrote hundreds of illegal opioid prescriptions in exchange for sexual favors.”

Authorities caught on to Burton when they realized he was dispensing prescriptions for opioids even though he didn’t have a medical clinic or regular list of patients. Here’s the description released by Pak’s office:

  • “Over a roughly two-year period beginning in July 2015, Burton wrote over 1,500 prescriptions for controlled substances – including over 1,100 prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – irrespective of any legitimate medical purpose and outside the normal course of professional practice.
  • “These illegitimate prescriptions amounted to over 108,000 individual doses of opioids, including over 66,000 30 mg oxycodone pills.
  • “Burton wrote the bulk of these prescriptions to women in exchange for sexual favors and romantic affection.  With his knowledge, many of the recipients of these prescriptions, in turn, sold or bartered the prescriptions.  The approximate street value of the oxycodone pills that Burton prescribed exceeds $2 million.”

 

Joe Burton, magazine cover

Dr. Joe Burton was a highly regarded, progressive death investigator when he appeared on a magazine cover in 1983. Credit: deargarp.wordpress.com

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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