Tampa woman sentenced for laundering $2 million in international "child modeling" websites
TAMPA — A Tampa woman was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for her involvement in a money laundering conspiracy in connection with an international enterprise which operated subscription-based sexually exploitative “child modeling” websites. These cases were investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Tampa and the High Technology Investigative Unit of the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), with substantial assistance provided by HSI offices in Fort Lauderdale; Vienna, Austria; Athens, Greece; and the Hague; U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as the IRS Criminal Investigation in Tampa.
According to court documents, Patrice Wilowski-Mevorah, 53, laundered at least $2.3 million for the Newstar Enterprise, an Internet-based business aimed at for-profit sexual exploitation of vulnerable children under the guise of child modeling. Wilowski-Mevorah joined the Newstar Enterprise around 2009 and fraudulently opened payment-processing accounts and bank accounts under the pretense of a phony jewelry company. For 10 years, she routinely used the phony company’s accounts to conceal criminal proceeds from the Newstar websites and transfer those proceeds back to principal members of the Newstar Enterprise. Wilowski-Mevorah continued to launder money for the enterprise until November 2019, when law enforcement authorities executed several search warrants across the United States and simultaneously seized the Newstar servers in the United States and Europe. Law enforcement officers then disabled the servers hosting the Newstar Websites. Wilowski-Mevorah pled guilty on July 6, 2021.
In addition to her prison sentence, Wilowski-Mevorah was ordered to forfeit $236,410.70.
The Newstar Enterprise and status of other defendants
According to court documents, founded around 2005, the Newstar Enterprise built, maintained, hosted, and operated the Newstar Websites on servers in the United States and abroad. To populate the Newstar Websites with content, Newstar Enterprise members sourced, enticed, solicited, and recruited males and females under the age of 18, some of whom were prepubescent, to use as “child models” for the Newstar Websites. Using the recruited child-victims, the Newstar Enterprise produced more than 4.6 million sexualized images and videos to distribute and sell on the Newstar Websites. Some of those images and videos, though non-nude, depicted minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. For example, images and videos sold on the Newstar Websites depicted children as young as 6 years old in sexual and provocative poses, wearing police and cheerleader costumes, thong underwear, transparent underwear, revealing swimsuits, pantyhose, and miniskirts. Most of the child-victims - recruited from Ukraine, Moldova, and other Eastern Europe nations - were particularly vulnerable due to their age, family dynamics, and poverty.
The Newstar Enterprise maintained a membership list for subscribers and customers of the Newstar Websites, who originated from 101 nations across the world. Images in the websites’ galleries were freely available to the public to preview, but greater access and more content required purchasing a subscription. The sale of purported “child modeling” content on the Newstar Websites generated more than $9.4 million during course of the conspiracy. To process, receive, and distribute this money, Newstar Enterprise members fraudulently opened merchant and bank accounts in the United States and laundered proceeds using the bogus company.
Other Newstar Enterprise members included Kenneth Power (deceased at 58, of Weston, FL), a principal member of the Newstar Enterprise who directed and controlled its operations; Mary Lou Bjorkman (58, Lutz) who recently pleaded guilty to laundering money for the Newstar Enterprise; Kenneth Power’s wife, Tatiana “Tanya” Power (41, Weston), who is awaiting trial on money laundering charges in connection with the Newstar Enterprise; and Anthony Lee Kendall (deceased at 55, Mossyrock, WA), who was recently charged with laundering approximately $1 million for the Newstar Enterprise.
The defendants have also been notified that the United States intends to forfeit a total of $9.4 million, which are alleged to be traceable to proceeds of the offenses, in addition to real property located in Florida.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Murray of the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorney Kyle Reynolds of the CEOS are prosecuting these cases.
This investigation benefited from foreign law enforcement cooperation and substantial assistance by the Republic of Bulgaria, Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and National Investigation Service; the Republic of Moldova, Office of the Prosecutor General and National Inspectorate of Investigations; International Legal Assistance Center (IRC), North-Holland Unit; the Czech Republic, Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office, Czech Police and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs. The Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) provided technical assistance.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.