U.S. charges Ukrainian, Russian, over cyberattack, seizes $6 million in ransom payments

By Mark Hosenball and Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department has charged a suspect from Ukraine and a Russian national over a July ransomware attack on an American company, according to indictments made in court filings on Monday, with CNN reporting the United States has seized $6 million in ransom payments.

Yaroslav Vasinskyi, a Ukrainian national arrested in Poland last month, will face U.S. charges for deploying ransomware known as REvil, which has been used in hacks that have cost U.S. firms millions of dollars, the court filing showed.

Vasinskyi conducted a ransomware attack over the July 4 weekend on Florida-based software firm Kaseya that infected up to 1,500 businesses around the world, according to the charges filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Vasinskyi and another alleged REvil operative, Russian national Yevgeniy Polyanin, were charged by the United States with conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, among other charges.

The Treasury Department also said the two operatives face sanctions for their role in ransomware incidents in the United States, as well as a virtual currency exchange called Chatex “for facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors.”

The Treasury said the two individuals received more than $200 million in ransom payments paid in Bitcoin and Monero. It added that Latvian and Estonian government agencies were vital to the investigation.

Vasinskyi, 22, was being held in Poland pending U.S. extradition proceedings, while Polyanin, 28, remained at large.

The U.S. indictment of the Ukrainian hacker said he and other conspirators started deploying hacking software around April 2019 and “regularly” updated and refined it. The indictment also accused the hacker of laundering money obtained through a hacking extortion scheme.

Europol said earlier on Monday that Romanian authorities on Nov. 4 arrested two individuals suspected of cyber-attacks deploying the REvil ransomware. Since February, law enforcement authorities have arrested three other affiliates of REvil, Europol added.

Twelve suspects believed to have mounted ransomware attacks against companies or infrastructure in 71 countries were “targeted” in raids in Ukraine and Switzerland, Europol said on Friday.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. Justice Dept. to ask Supreme Court to put Texas abortion law on hold -spokesman

(Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday said it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block a restrictive Texas law that imposes a near-total ban on abortion after a federal appeals court reinstated the law.

The U.S. Justice Department will request the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to reverse the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to lift a judge’s order blocking the law, while litigation over the dispute continues, a spokesman said.

The Texas measure, which bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, took effect on Sept. 1. It makes an exception for a documented medical emergency but not for cases of rape or incest.

The law is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo. That feature has helped shield the law from being immediately blocked as it made it more difficult to directly sue the state.

Critics of the law have said this provision lets people act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Brendan O’Brien; Additional reporting by Sarah Lynch; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

U.S. urges lawyers to volunteer to fight feared surge of evictions

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday urged attorneys across the legal profession to volunteer their time to assist the crush of tenants expected to be forced out of homes now that a COVID-19 pandemic-related eviction moratorium has ended.

The move came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court ended a federal moratorium aimed at keeping people housed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic President Joe Biden and top members of his party in Congress blasted that decision but have not taken further emergency action to stop what could be a wave of evictions.

In a letter addressed to “members of the legal community,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said eviction filings are expected to spike to roughly double their pre-pandemic levels and that lawyers have an ethical obligation to help the most vulnerable.

“We can do that by doing everything we can to ensure that people have a meaningful opportunity to stay in their homes and that eviction procedures are carried out in a fair and just manner,” Garland said.

Garland’s letter encouraged lawyers to volunteer at legal aid providers, or to help tenants apply for emergency rent relief through government programs.

Garland said “the vast majority of tenants need access to legal counsel because far too many evictions result from default judgments in which the tenant never appeared in court.”

The nation’s top court on Thursday granted a request by a coalition of landlords and real estate trade groups to lift the moratorium by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was to have run until Oct. 3, saying it was up to Congress to act.

Over 60 Democrats in the House of Representatives pushed for congressional leaders to take action, writing a letter urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, to revive the national eviction moratorium for the rest of the pandemic.

Congress approved $46 billion in rental assistance earlier in the pandemic, but the money has been slow to get to those who need it, with just $3 billion issued through June for rent, utilities and related expenses, according to U.S. Treasury data.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. probes Phoenix police use of force, treatment of protesters

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether police in Phoenix unlawfully have used deadly force, retaliated against peaceful protesters and violated the rights of homeless people in the latest such inquiry involving a major American city, officials said on Thursday.

Since President Joe Biden took office in January, the department also has launched civil rights investigations into police conduct in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky. Those were among the U.S. cities where large 2020 protests were held after high-profile killings of Black people by police officers.

The inquiries mark a shift in the department’s focus under the Democrat Biden, who has made racial justice a priority in contrast with the administration of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

Phoenix, with a population of roughly 1.7 million, is Arizona’s capital and largest city – and the fifth most populous city in the United States.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, announced the investigation at a news conference. Garland said such probes are “aimed to promote transparency and accountability.”

Racial justice activists have accused Phoenix police of carrying out unlawful surveillance, arrests and malicious prosecutions of protesters. Last month, Phoenix police responding to a mental health call shot and killed a man who pointed an object at them that turned out to be a water gun, authorities said.

Clarke said the Phoenix investigation has the full support of the city’s mayor and police chief.

“We look forward to working together with the city and the Phoenix police department toward the shared goals of ensuring constitutional policing and fostering greater cooperation between law enforcement officers and the community that they serve,” Clarke said.

Justice Department lawyers have met with close to 1,000 community members in Minneapolis and Louisville, and received written messages from hundreds more, Clarke said. Justice Department lawyers have also met with command staff of police departments in Louisville and Minneapolis, Clarke added.

“We will take the same approach in Phoenix,” Clarke said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in a statement welcomed the Justice Department review, adding, “Comprehensive reform of policing in the city of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office.”

U.S. police use of force has been in the spotlight in the aftermath of a series of deadly incidents in various cities in recent years, with protests around the country following the death of a Black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis in June 2020 – a crime in which a police officer as been convicted of murder. Louisville officers last year fatally shot Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, in a botched raid.

Clarke said police officers must use their authority in a manner that does violate the constitutional rights of people, complies with federal civil rights laws and “respects human dignity.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Richard Chang)

U.S. Justice Department to launch new crackdown on firearms trafficking

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department this week is formally launching a new effort to crack down on firearms trafficking, in a strategy that involves the creation of five strike forces that will partner with local law enforcement to disrupt criminals selling guns used in crimes.

The strike forces, which were first announced in June, will be concentrated in “significant gun trafficking corridors” including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

As part of the launch, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will pay a visit to the Washington D.C.-based headquarters of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on Thursday, after which Garland will travel to Chicago to meet with federal and local law enforcement.

“All too often, guns found at crime scenes come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. We are redoubling our efforts as ATF works with law enforcement to track the movement of illegal firearms used in violent crimes,” Garland said in a statement.

Justice Department officials said in a call with reporters late on Wednesday that the plan entails a “long-term coordinated, multi-jurisdictional strategy” to disrupt trafficking patterns.

One department official said the new strategy differed from prior efforts to step up the prosecution of firearms offenses, noting it establishes “cross-jurisdictional coordination” between the areas that supply the illegal firearms and those where the guns are used to commit crimes.

“This new approach that links law enforcement and prosecutors and locations where violence is occurring with the law enforcement and prosecutors in the jurisdictions where the firearms originate broadens our focus to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response in both of those areas,” the official added.

The Justice Department also said that federal law enforcement is stepping up efforts in other ways as well.

For instance, the U.S. Marshals Service recently conducted a sweep with state and local authorities to pick up fugitives wanted for state crimes such as murder, aggravated assault and rape.

Since May 31, more than 700 fugitives have been arrested, 361 of whom were wanted for murder, the official said.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney and Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. to sue Georgia over restrictive new state voting law-source

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file a lawsuit on Friday challenging a Georgia election law that imposes new limits on voting, calling it a violation of civil rights, according to a source familiar with the decision.

The Georgia law is one of a wave of new measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures this year, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s claims that his November election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

After a sweeping Democratic-sponsored bill aimed at protecting access to the ballot died on a party-line vote in the Senate this week, President Joe Biden vowed to take other steps to protect voting rights.

The Republican governors of Arizona, Florida and Iowa have also signed new voting restrictions this year, while state legislatures in Pennsylvania and Texas are trying to advance similar measures.

The Georgia law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp on March 25, tightened absentee ballot identification requirements, restricted ballot drop-box use and allowed a Republican-controlled state agency to take over local voting operations. The state was a key battleground in the 2020 presidential election.

President Joe Biden, who became the first Democratic presidential candidate in three decades to win Georgia, has staunchly criticized Georgia’s new law, calling it an “atrocity.”

Trump repeatedly sought to pressure election officials in Georgia after losing the state to Biden. In a phone call to the secretary of state, Trump asked him to “find” the votes that would be needed to overturn his election loss.

He also pressured the Justice Department to oust the U.S. Attorney in the Atlanta region. His actions are now under investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

U.S. Justice Department to launch new effort to crack down on firearms trafficking

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department is launching a new strike force aimed at cracking down on illegal firearms trafficking, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said on Tuesday.

The strike forces will be focused on reducing violent crime by targeting activity in “significant gun trafficking corridors” including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Monaco said during an event sponsored by the Police Executive Research Forum.

The Justice Department’s new initiative comes as President Joe Biden this week is expected to address recent spikes in shootings and other violent crimes.

Later this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on whether to support the confirmation of David Chipman, Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

Biden administration pushes for Boston Marathon bomber death sentence

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has urged the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, despite President Joe Biden’s stated opposition to capital punishment.

The department in a 48-page brief filed late on Monday argued that a lower court wrongly overturned Tsnarnaev’s death sentence and ordered a new trial to determine what sentence he deserved for carrying out with his older brother the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

The filing marked the latest deviation between the policy views of Biden, a Democrat who has said he wants to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and the Justice Department, whose independence he has vowed to promote.

“The jury carefully considered each of respondent’s crimes and determined that capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted,” Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said in the Justice Department’s brief.

David Patton, Tsarnaev’s lawyer, has argued that the U.S. government should allow his client to serve life in prison. Patton did not respond to a request for comment.

In overturning Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2020 ruled that the trial judge “fell short” in screening jurors for potential bias following pervasive news coverage of the bombing. It ordered a new trial over the sentence he should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes for which he was convicted.

Tsarnaev is a Kyrgyzstan-born U.S. citizen.

The Justice Department under Republican former President Donald Trump initiated the government’s appeal of the 1st Circuit ruling, and the Supreme Court in March agreed to take up the case. It will hear arguments and issue a ruling in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022.

Tsarnaev, now 27, and his brother, Tamerlan, precipitated five days of panic in Boston when they detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013 – tearing through the packed crowd and causing many people to lose legs – and then tried to flee the city.

In the following days, they also killed a police officer, Sean Collier. Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with police.

Jurors in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed Martin Richard, 8, and Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was also killed.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. recovers $2.3 million from Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department on Monday said it recovered some $2.3 million worth of cryptocurrency from the Colonial Pipeline Co ransomware attack.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said investigators had seized 63.7 Bitcoins, now valued at about $2.3 million, paid by Colonial after last month’s hack that led to massive shortages at gas stations along the East Coast just as the summer driving season began.

The Justice Department has “found and recaptured the majority” of the ransom paid by Colonial, Monaco said. Colonial Pipeline had said it paid the hackers nearly $5 million to regain access.

Last month, a cyber criminal group that U.S. authorities said operated from Russia penetrated the pipeline operator on the U.S. East Coast, locking its systems and demanding a ransom.

The hack caused a shutdown lasting several days, leading to a spike in gas prices, panic buying and localized fuel shortages in the U.S. Southeast.

The White House urged corporate executives and business leaders last week to step up security measures to protect against ransomware attacks after the Colonial attack and later intrusions that disrupted operations at a major meatpacking company.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Sunday the Biden administration was looking at all options to defend against ransomware attacks and that the topic would be on the agenda when President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Jan Wolfe, Tim Ahmann, and Christopher Bing in Washington and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Writing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. Justice Department considers law to address domestic terrorism, official says

By Mark Hosenball and Mica Rosenberg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Justice Department is looking into ways to tighten federal criminal law to make it easier to prosecute alleged domestic terrorists, a top Justice Department official told Congress on Thursday.

Brad Wiegmann, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s national security division, noted that U.S. federal prosecutors can charge suspected foreign militants with “material support for terrorism,” but that there is no parallel law prosecutors can use against suspected domestic terrorists.

Legal experts have suggested that disparity should be addressed following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.

“That is something that we are thinking about,” Wiegmann told a House appropriations subcommittee hearing. But he added: “We haven’t reached any conclusions on that yet.”

The power to change the law rests with Congress, not President Joe Biden’s administration. But Biden, whose Democrats narrowly control both houses of Congress, has made tackling domestic terrorism a priority.

“We won’t ignore what our intelligence agencies determine to be the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland today, white supremacy is terrorism,” Biden said in his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

John Godfrey, a senior State Department counterterrorism official, told a separate House Homeland security subcommittee hearing on Thursday that U.S. diplomatic posts had reported rising concerns about links between racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism in the United States and Europe. He added that groups had encouraged individuals to join the military or law enforcement agencies to gain training that could be used to target perceived enemies.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Bill Berkrot)