Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD
November 26, 2014
So another complaint is unsealed and we have the chance once more to look at what the investigators are prepared to give up from their arsenal. The writing style of HSI is decidedly less informative and more to the point than how the FBI does things – its a little dry. It is not my place to say whether someone is guilty or not, I just calls ’em likes I sees ’em in terms of what information the government puts forward to support its case.
HSI spearheaded this investigation, Schell criminal complaint, page 1
Not a surprise – if you’ve been paying attention for any length of time now, HSI in coordination with the FBI and DEA has been running the majority of the ‘anti dark web’ investigative activity for quite some time. Slightly surprising is that the deponent on this complaint is based in a Cali office, whereas there has been a decided leaning towards operations originating in the New York offices of most of these agencies. This leads me to surmise that whilst we may be looking at an investigation which potentially relates to the Omynous take-downs, it was running parallel from the main ‘dark market’ them of those arrests; perhaps flowing from an initial USPS Inspector’s investigation.
HSI used a variety of sets of data to profile the residents before going in, Schell criminal complaint, page 2 and page 3
Again, not a surprise, but HSI checked who owned the house they were raiding, and also who could be tied to other addresses (namely, mail services) which came up in the investigation. What is interesting to learn is the breadth of the databases they interrogated in ascertaining who might pop up at the address; the list provided in the complaint includes the county assessor’s office, Comcast, DMV vehicle registrations, DMV license records, USPS postal records, UPS client records, business listings held by the city, and the county finance office. It’s a fair and reasonable assumption that review of these accounts have formed a substantial component of the investigation if they’ve been specifically mentioned. Take heed; the cops always do their homework, but seldom do they spell out exactly how they do it in a complaint as they have here.
Sidebar – notably absent from the entire complaint is information relating to internet service monitoring. The mention of the Comcast account being used to determine potential residents, rather than any cell or home phone services, is telling. Rest assured, this is by design. If they don’t need to reveal investigative tactics in publicly accessible documents, they won’t. They’re banking on their case being made via this more ‘gum shoe’ based approach, and arguably, it probably has been relatively well made in that regard.
HSI talks to staff at various post offices to build their case… but who? Schell criminal complaint, page 3
HSI admits to having interviewed quite a number of people in the course of their investigation who are employed by USPS. Notably omitted from the complaint is exactly what their jobs were; I would surmise that this is an intentional omission aimed at obscuring from whom exactly information was procured. There are subsequent references to USPS employees outlining a particular methodology used in packaging which correlated with the goodies dropped in mailboxes on 21 October at page 4. Maybe this team first came to L.E. attention because they were posting large quantities of sticky icky which was just too damn sticky in the mail and the smell, which is specifically mentioned in the complaint, gave the packages away in transit?
HSI surveillance allegedly catches Mr. Schell dropping goodies into mailboxes, Schell criminal complaint, page 3
HSI lays out how they’ve really made their case here; physical surveillance is mentioned, 9 parcels are then seized and the details set out, all on 21 October. It seems to me that whether via physical or camera surveillance, HSI was able to observe Mr. Schell drop product into mail boxes.
HIS surveillance allegedly ties Mr. Schell’s dropped goodies’ packaging style to a particular kind of stamp that he purchases, Schell criminal complaint, page 4-5
And now HSI shows us how good they are at making a chain of evidence with a tiny little taste of circumstantial evidence – a particular type of $1 stamp which showed up on the intercepted parcels is bought in bulk, presumably as per surveillance, by Mr. Schell and Mrs. Schell on 23 and 24 November respectively.
HSI surveillance leads to PO Box at a UPS store, Schell criminal complaint, page 3
Surveillance allowed HSI to deduce that Mr. and Mrs. Schell have a PO Box, obtained using real identification documents, to which mail in the names of two independently verifiably non-existent company entities is sent… and during the investigation, to which $10,000 in hard cash money is sent on 22 October. Not the mark of a pair of pros at all. Also, very interestingly, there are no details as to the source, or indeed any other information revealed, in relation to this wad of money being sent. Its likely this is now part of an ongoing investigation or will float to the surface later.
Endnote – I’ve looked at the address raided on Google Maps. The property is substantial, there is no neighbor over the rear fence line, where a mysterious shed sits at one end and a glasshouse sits at the other behind the main structure and a damn big garage. There’s only one way in or out of the immediate vicinity in terms of residences by road; not what I would call helpful as far as countering being tailed by a vehicle. All the better to surveil you with…
The Criminal complaint: