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In this Case, By Quickly Tracking His Electronic Trail Around the Globe


Graphical MapAn old-fashioned vendetta ... or a sign of things to come? Both, actually.

It was five years ago this week that computer/electronics repairman George Rocha pled guilty to bombing two home improvement stores in North Carolina (badly burning one woman and injuring 4 others) ... and threatening to bomb more if he wasn't paid $250,000 on the double.

Turns out, Rocha was a former employee of the retail chain who was not only short of cash, but also miffed that he'd been fired for trying to pilfer company merchandise.

What's fascinating about the case, though, is how Rocha tried to pull off his crime using global financial networks. And how, with our growing international presence, we quickly solved the case by following his electronic trail across multiple continents.

Here's how it played out: On November 9, several weeks after the bombing, Rocha ordered the company to wire the quarter-million dollars to an overseas bank account in Riga, Latvia ... through an intermediary bank in Stockholm, Sweden. Rocha sneered in his extortion note that the account was registered as a Panamanian Corporation "not traceable back to me." The chase was on.

FBI Agents in Charlotte, North Carolina, quickly reached out to our agents overseas.

… Our man in Panama City—with the help of longstanding partners in that country—tracked down records on the Panamanian firm. Turns out, it was a shell corporation. A dead end.

… The agent in our new Copenhagen office confirmed that the money passed through Stockholm on its way to Latvia.

… Our agents in Tallinn, Estonia, contacted the Latvian bank moments after the money was sent and found the bank account had been opened through e-mail. They relayed the e-mail address to our Computer Crimes Squad in Charlotte, which traced the message back to a home telephone number in the U.S. The number belonged to George Rocha in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bingo.

… Meanwhile, our agents in Estonia turned up a U.S. mailing address in the Latvian bank application. Charlotte agents pursued the lead. They learned that the address belonged to a local doughnut shop in Winston-Salem and that a man closely matching Rocha’s description had picked up a package of financial documents at the store, pretending the package was a misdelivery. We had our man.

All of these investigative activities—which took place over three continents—happened in less than three days. By November 11, Rocha was under arrest and had confessed to his crimes.

Back to the future. Five years later, the case continues to resonate ... not just as a success story for law enforcement, but also as a clear indication of what it takes to fight crime and terrorism in our emerging global village.