Visa Fraudster With 25 Fraudulent H-1B Visa Petitions Gets 3 Years Probation and $400,000 Forfeiture

Posted: 12:01 am EDT

 

Via state.gov/ds:

OAKLAND, Calif. – A federal judge has sentenced a British man to three years of probation and the forfeiture of $400,000 for his role in a visa-fraud scheme, announced Special Agent In-Charge David Zebley of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) San Francisco Field Office.

Madhu Santhanam, 41, was sentenced on January 7, 2016, by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in the Northern District of California following Santhanam’s guilty plea to a count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

In his December 10, 2014, plea agreement, Santhanam, owner of Maan Systems of Union City, California, admitted that he had submitted at least 25 fraudulent I-129 petitions between September 2009 and June 2013. Employers must submit these documents to obtain H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrant applicants seeking to work in the United States.

In many of his fraudulent I-129 applications, Santhanam falsely indicated that the applicants would be working at his company or placed at Fortune 500 companies, but instead he placed the workers at unapproved worksites. As part of his plea agreement, Santhanam paid a forfeiture judgment totaling $400,000.

The successful prosecution was the result of an investigation led by the DSS special agent assigned to the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), an interagency investigative body overseen by the Homeland Security Investigations Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

So no jail time, only probation, and he forfeited $400K to USG, which is about $16K per fraudulent H1-B visa petition. A high risk, high return enterprise.

When the guilty plea was announced in December 2014, DOJ says that the maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to commit visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1546, is a maximum term of 5 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and 3 years of supervised release.

Wow! All that work for the feds, and over 12 months after the guilty plea, and not a single day in jail. What does it take before fraud like this gets taken seriously enough that we actually put people in jail?

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Americans Held Hostage at US Embassy Tehran For 444 Days Win Compensation After 36 Years. Finally!

Posted: 4:47  pm EDT

 

Very happy to see that this finally happened after so long a wait!

Via NYT:

After spending 444 days in captivity, and more than 30 years seeking restitution, the Americans taken hostage at the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979 have finally won compensation.

Buried in the huge spending bill signed into law last Friday are provisions that would give each of the 53 hostages or their estates up to $4.4 million. Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks such as the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa would also be eligible for benefits under the law.
[…]
The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000.
[….]
Some former hostages and their family members had expressed frustration at the Justice and State Departments for blocking efforts over the years to get compensation. In a sense, the spending bill represents Congress’s taking control of the BNP Paribas money back from the Justice Department.  Some hostages did not want to discuss the legislation. “It’s enough,” said Barry Rosen, who was a press attaché at the embassy. “We’ve gone through enough.”

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Related posts:

The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation (August 2015)

State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage (September 2015)

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy (March 2015)

November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day (November 2013)

Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran Hostages (May 2012)

Iranian Mob Attacks British Embassy in Tehran — It’s Dejavu All Over Again! (November 2011)

January 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years Later  (January 2011)

Former @StateDept Employee Assigned to PRT Kirkuk Indicted in $2M Government Contract Conspiracy

Posted: 1:50 am EDT

 

On December 18, the USDOJ announced the indictment by a grand jury of former State Department employee, Kenneth Apple, 65, of Beaverton, Oregon, on charges related to his role in allegedly awarding $2 million in micro-dairy contracts from the U.S. government for use in Iraq.

Via DOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia:

According to the indictment, Apple, a former employee with the U.S. Department of State, helped to steer the sole-sourcing of $2 million in micro-dairy contracts to a company in which his son, Jonathan Apple, owned a 50 percent interest.  However, Jonathan Apple and his partner had no technical experience in the industry.  Kenneth Apple conspired to use his official position to pass on non-public information to his son in order to fraudulently award and administer government contracts.  The conspirators further provided false information to, and concealed material details from the U.S. government.

According to the indictment, Kenneth Apple provided templates and technical specifications used in the proposal submitted by Jonathan Apple and his partner to the U.S. government.  In addition, Kenneth Apple caused false and misleading statements to be made to the U.S. government regarding his experience, ownership interest, and the status of the projects.  For example, Kenneth Apple directed a conspirator to keep Jonathan Apple’s name off the company’s website and any ownership documents.  When federal law enforcement agents confronted Kenneth Apple about the scheme, he made false statements, including that he could not recall the owner of the company that won the micro-dairy contracts and that he did not receive any money from the contracts.

Kenneth Apple faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud or obstruction of an official proceeding, and five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy or false statements.  The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Frank Robey, Director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU); and Robert E. Craig, Special Agent in Charge for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office, made the announcement.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Uzo Asonye and Katherine Wong are prosecuting the case.

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According to court records, Kenneth D. Apple was arrested on December 18 in Oregon.  His defense is currently listed as the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Alexandria, Virginia.

The indictment says that Kenneth D. Apple was a civilian employee with the Department of State assigned to the Kirkuk PRT in Iraq from January 2009 through March 2011 as an agricultural advisor.  Micro-dairy processors are self-contained, mini-factories that are used to process milk into cheese and yogurt.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:15-cr-363.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

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Related items:

News: Micro-dairy plant brings Kirkuk local farmers together | Dvidshub.net (2.21.2011)

Beaverton man indicted in alleged Iraqi contracting fraud | Oregon.live

Former US Embassy London Employee Pleads Guilty to Cyberstalking and “Sextortion” Scheme

Posted: 12:47 am EDT

 

We’ve blogged previously about the Michael C. Ford case (see State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in GeorgiaUS Embassy London Local Employee Charged With Cyberstalking, Computer Hacking and Wire Fraud).

On December 9, USDOJ announced that the former State Department/Embassy London employee pleaded guilty to perpetrating a widespread, international e-mail phishing, computer hacking and cyberstalking scheme against hundreds of victims in the United States and abroad. More below:

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia, Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office made the announcement.

Michael C. Ford, 36, of Atlanta, was indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Aug. 18, 2015, with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud.  The names of the victims are being withheld from the public to protect their privacy.

Ford pleaded guilty to all charges and admitted that between January 2013 and May 2015, he used various aliases that included “David Anderson” and “John Parsons” and engaged in a widespread, international computer hacking, cyberstalking and “sextortion” campaign designed to force victims to provide Ford with personal information as well as sexually explicit videos of others.  Ford targeted young females, some of whom were students at U.S. colleges and universities, with a particular focus on members of sororities and aspiring models.

Ford posed as a member of the fictitious “account deletion team” for a well-known e-mail service provider and sent phishing e-mails to thousands of potential victims, warning them that their e-mail accounts would be deleted if they did not provide their passwords.  Ford then hacked into hundreds of e-mail and social media accounts using the passwords collected from his phishing scheme, where he searched for sexually explicit photographs.  Once Ford located such photos, he then searched for personal identifying information (PII) about his victims, including their home and work addresses, school and employment information, and names and contact information of family members, among other things.

Ford then used the stolen photos and PII to engage in an ongoing cyberstalking campaign designed to demand additional sexually explicit material and personal information.  Ford e-mailed his victims with their stolen photos attached and threatened to release those photos if they did not cede to his demands.  Ford repeatedly demanded that victims take sexually explicit videos of “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, and then send the videos to him.

When the victims refused to comply, threatened to go to the police or begged Ford to leave them alone, Ford responded with additional threats.  For example, Ford wrote in one e-mail “don’t worry, it’s not like I know where you live,” then sent another e-mail to the same victim with her home address and threatened to post her photographs to an “escort/hooker website” along with her phone number and home address.  Ford later described the victim’s home to her, stating “I like your red fire escape ladder, easy to climb.”  Ford followed through with his threats on several occasions, sending his victims’ sexually explicit photographs to family members and friends.

Ultimately, Ford sent thousands of fraudulent “phishing” email messages to potential victims, successfully hacked into at least 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs.  Ford sent threatening and “sextortionate” online communications to at least 75 victims.

During the relevant time period, Ford was employed by the U.S. Embassy in London.  The majority of Ford’s phishing, hacking and cyberstalking activities were conducted from his computer at the U.S. Embassy.
[…]
“When a public servant in a position of trust commits any form of misconduct, to include federal crimes such as cyberstalking and computer hacking, we vigorously investigate such claims,” said Director Miller.  “The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to investigating and working with the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate criminal allegations and bring those who commit these crimes to justice.”
[…]
U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the Northern District of Georgia scheduled Ford’s sentencing hearing for Feb. 16, 2016.

The Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI are investigating the case.  Senior Trial Attorney Mona Sedky of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kamal Ghali of the Northern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in London provided assistance in this case.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

According to court records, this individual, a U.S. citizen lived in London and joined the U.S. Embassy there in 2009; which suggests that he was a locally hired employee.  The charging documents do not indicate which section of the embassy he worked in or what was his job. But he apparently used his State Department-issued computer at the U.S. Embassy in London while he did his cyberstalking and sextortion schemes.

There are a few curious things about this case. One, that there’s no mention anywhere in court records about his location of work within the embassy; 2) no explanation of how he came to target Jane Doe, an 18 year old Kentucky resident; where did he find her and his other victims? and 3) he successfully hacked 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs — how come nobody noticed? Was this guy a locally hired IT person, so spending all that time on his computer did not raise red flags? 4) Did Embassy London/HR know that this person had a prior criminal record when it hired this employee? If not, why not?

The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and arrest warrant executed by DSS Agent Erik Kasik is available below:

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Meet John Doe, an Iraqi Refugee Who Works For Uncle Sam, and Still Waiting For Resettlement in the Home of the Brave

Posted: 3:01 am EDT

 

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:

A new Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all; 11% more would accept only Christian refugees from Syria. More than two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have said they’ll oppose Syrian refugees being resettled in their states. And on Thursday the House of Representatives passed a bill blocking the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees unless they pass strict background checks.

According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.

Now this …

 

The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?

We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.

Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.

On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:

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According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts.  But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.

Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.

John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.

He applied as a refugee in 2010:

John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.

He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:

Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.

As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.

John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.

Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.

The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.

If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?

And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis.  He  served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”

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Why Are Court Cases Related to US Passports and Immigrant Visas in Yemen and Pakistan Sealed?

Posted: 2:51 am EDT

 

This past October, we blogged that the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013” (see Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport).

While researching another court case, we discovered the Hasan v. State Department case. This is a case where the petitioner asked for judicial review of a US Embassy Yemen consular official’s decision of ineligibility for an immigrant visa on behalf of a minor child. Following the filing of this case and the closure of the US Embassy in Sanaa, the US Embassy in Cairo apparently became the post designated to handle visa applications from Yemen. US Embassy Cairo reviewed the prior ineligibility, reversed US Embassy Sana’a’s decision and issued the immigrant visa. The parties subsequently agreed to dismissed this case with prejudice at no cost to Mr. Hasan or the State Department.  Except for the court ruling stipulating the dismissal of the case, all other files related to this case are sealed in court.

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1:15-cv-04312-GHW | Hasan v. U.S. Department of State et al.

A closer look at other cases filed in the New York District Court indicates several other court cases against the State Department, US Embassy Yemen, US Embassy Pakistan, Ambassador Matthew Tueller, Ambassador Richard Olson and related federal agencies have also been sealed.

We suspect that these are cases related either to U.S. passport revocations, non-issuance of U.S. passports or immigrant visas in Yemen and Pakistan.

Following the federal court decision ordering the State Department to return the passport improperly revoked by the State Department, we asked State/OIG about this trend and we’re told that the OIG does not have “anything on this issue on which it can comment.” It was suggested that we check with Consular Affairs. And of course, we have previously asked CA about this, but we do not really expect them to address this in terms of oversight.

The court documents in the Omar case suggest that Consular Affairs is revoking U.S. passports contrary to the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual. But this is not the only case. If all similar cases have the same threshold as the Omar case, it is deeply troubling not only because the revocation appears not to follow State Department’s written guidance, State also never seek to denaturalized the plaintiff.  Which basically leaves the plaintiff still a citizen of this country  but unable to travel anywhere.

Which brings us to the question as to why these court files are sealed in court. It is possible that these cases all relate to minor children, could that be the reason for sealing the court records? Or is it something else?

Below are some of the cases we’ve located; all sealed unless noted otherwise:

1:15-cv-06425-NGG  | Abdu v. U.S. Department of State et al — filed on 11/10/2015. Defendants include Secretary Kerry  and US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller.

1:15-cv-05684-FB | Alzonkary et al v. Holder et al — filed on 10/02/2015. Defendants include Secretary Kerry, US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller and CA’s Michelle Bond.

1:15-cv-05587-JG | Mansour Fadhil et al (on behalf of minor children). Defendants include Secretary Kerry.

1:15-cv-06436-FM | Al Zokary v. United States Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller

1:15-cv-04312-GHW  | Hasan v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller. The case was dismissed in August 2015 with a stipulation that it be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees to either party. All files except the Stipulation are sealed.

1:15-cv-01767-ILG  | Hasan et al v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson.

1:14-cv-07093-PAC | Issa et al v. Holder et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller.

1:14-cv-02584-ER | Alsaidi v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and Karen H. Sasahara in her official capacity as charge d’affaires ad interime of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen.  The case was dismissed in 2014 with a stipulation that it be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees to either party. All files remained sealed.

1:13-cv-06872-PKC  | Mohammad et al v. Beers et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry. The case was voluntarily dismissed in July 2014, all files remained sealed.

2:13-cv-04178-ADS  | Arif et al v. Kerry et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and Embassy Islamabad’s Ambassador Olson. The case was dismissed with prejudice in September 2013, with each party bearing its own costs, fees, including attorney’s fees, and disbursements. The files remained sealed.

One passport case from November 2013, 1:13-cv-08299-AJP Kassim v. Kerry is not sealed.  The case was dismissed in March 2014 with a court order for issuance of U.S. passport to plaintiff. “Within 30 days of the entry of this order, Plaintiff will submit to the Department of State a new un-executed but signed passport application (Form DS-11) with passport photos and a copy of the front and back of a valid government identification card. The Department of State will issue Plaintiff a U.S. passport book and a U.S. passport card within 30 days of receipt of Plaintiffs passport application and supporting documentation (described above in subsection 2(a)). This action is hereby withdrawn and dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees.”

One immigrant visa case from 2014, 1:14-cv-03748-KAM | Chaudhry et al v. Holder et al. is also not sealed. The defendants include Secretary Kerry and Embassy Islamabad’s Ambassador Olson. The case was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice in light of the State Department granting of an immigrant visa to Plaintiff.

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Related posts:

Senator Grassley Eyes Linda Howard Case, Seeks Answers on TIP Policy and @StateDept Employees

Posted: 1:45 am EDT

 

On October 20, 2011, State/OIG issued a report entitled Audit of Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Compliance with Trafficking in Persons Requirements (AUD/IP-12-02 – pdf). The audit found that Department employees were not uniformly aware of key matters relating to Trafficking in Persons (TIP), including what constitutes TIP activity, the penalties for TIP violations, and where to report allegations of violations. The OIG report notes that although the Department’s code of conduct prohibited employees from acquiring a commercial sex act and using forced domestic labor, it did not specifically address TIP or require employees to report suspected TIP violations.

Based on the report’s findings, OIG made four recommendations to State’s J/TIP. Of these four recommendations, OIG closed Recommendation 3 on July 23, 2013, based on the Department’s decision to designate OIG to receive reports of TIP violations. However, according to its follow-up report of September 2015 (pdf), the other two recommendations —  enclosure of the U.S. Government’s TIP policy in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), and an expanded code of conduct for employees to cover conduct with respect to TIP activities — remained open.

State/OIG concludes that “by not implementing the recommendations or J/TIP providing an acceptable alternative to fulfill the intent of the open recommendations, the Department is not well-positioned to hold employees accountable for violations of TIP or ensure TIP policies and requirements are understood and followed.”

We missed this — but in September when State/OIG released the follow-up report(officially called Management Assistance Report) related to TIP, Senator Chuck Grassley also fired off a letter to Secretary Kerry asking questions sepcific not just to the OIG report but also the Linda Howard case (see Ex-State Dept Employee Settles Housekeeper’s Claim Over Slavery and Rape).

According to Senator Grassley’s letter, the Howard case “raises questions about the Department’s commitment to holding itself to the same standard by which it judges other countries in assessing their compliance with anti-trafficking standards in its annual TIP report.” Hey, we made it to the footnotes!

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(click image to read the Grassley letter or click 2015-09-17 CEG to State (Trafficking in Persons)

Among the questions Senator Grassley asked Secretary Kerry are the following:

  1. Regarding the two TIP-related OIG recommendations that remain outstanding since 2011:
    1. Why did the Department fail to implement these recommendations?
    2. Who is responsible for the failure to implement them?
    3. Was former Secretary Clinton or any of her aides including Cheryl Mills, HumaAbedin, or Jake Sullivan informed of any of these recommendations, decisions, or findings? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If the Secretary and her senior staff were not informed, please explain, why not.
  2. How does the Department ensure that its foreign service officers treat the domestic workers they hire or sponsor in accordance with the TVPA?
    1. As of the date of this letter, how many domestic workers are employed by Department employees worldwide?
    2. Do Department employees stationed abroad need to obtain approval from the Chief of Mission, the Regional Security Officer (RSO), or any other Department official before recruiting and hiring domestic workers? If so, whose approval is needed and what controls exist to ensure the security and safety of those workers as well as national interests? If not, why not?
    3. Is there an independent and confidential reporting mechanism by which these domestic workers may file a complaint with the Department for alleged abuses by Department employees? If not, will you consider adopting such a mechanism?
    4. Do you think implementing OIG’s 2011 recommendations would help Department employees identify and report suspected instances of TIP violations that may be occurring within their own ranks and housing complexes?

The senator is also asking questions specifically related to the State Department’s handling of the Howard case including:

— Did DS or the Department refer these allegations to any other entity, such as the OIG, or any other law enforcement agency? If so, on what date and to whom?

— At any point in time, was Under Secretary of Management Patrick Kennedy, who oversees DS, apprised of any of the allegations, decisions, findings, or news reports relating to Linda Howard or Russell Howard? If so, when, and what was his response? Please provide all related records, including emails. If not, why not?

— At any point in time, was former Secretary Clinton or any of her aides including Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, or Jake Sullivan informed of any of the allegations, decisions, findings, or news reports relating to Linda Howard or Russell Howard? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If not, why not?

There is an FSGB grievance case (read online) that may or may not be related to the Howard case (names have been redacted) but the timeframe and circumstances appears similar, and it looks like DOJ declined to prosecute the case in 2011:

REDACTED (grievant) is a twenty-year Foreign Service employee of the Department of State (Department, agency). While assigned to the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED, she and her husband, an REDACTED national, were the subjects of a Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) investigation based on allegations by a household worker of sexual abuse and related crimes. This investigation began in June 2009 and ended with a declination of prosecution by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in March 2011.1 Grievant agrees that she curtailed from post in June 2009 for unrelated reasons.

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Related posts:

Former @StateDept Sr. Official Sentenced to 32 Months For Voyeurism and Stalking Charges

Posted: 3:20 am EDT

We previously blogged about Daniel Rosen, a former State/CT official who was arrested earlier this year (see State Dept’s Counterterrorism Official Arrested For Allegedly Soliciting Minor Online;  Daniel Rosen, State Dept Official Pleads Guilty to Stalking and Voyeurism Charges).

Last week, Rosen was sentenced to 11 years in jail but the judge suspended all but 32 months of the time on the condition that he successfully complete five years of probation upon his release from jail. Below is the announcement from DOJ:

Via USDOJ

WASHINGTON – Daniel Rosen, 45 of Washington D.C., was sentenced today to 32 months of incarceration on charges stemming from a series of incidents between 2012 and 2014 in which he secretly took video recordings of women in various stages of undress by aiming his cellular phone through their apartment windows in Northwest Washington.

The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

Rosen, a former senior official of the U.S. State Department, pled guilty on July 29, 2015, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, to six counts of voyeurism and five counts of stalking. He was sentenced by the Honorable Rhonda Reid Winston to a total of 11 years in jail. The judge suspended all but 32 months of the time on the condition that he successfully complete five years of probation upon his release from jail.

“Daniel Rosen trawled city neighborhoods in the late-night hours, sneaking into alleys and aiming his camera into the windows of women who had no idea they were being recorded,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “This sexual exploitation and invasion of privacy took place over a period of years and shattered the victims’ sense of safety and security. This sentence holds him accountable for the harm he caused to so many women and hopefully will deter others from similar conduct.”

According to a factual proffer submitted at the plea hearing, over the course of a three-year period, Rosen purposefully positioned himself outside of the windows of women who resided in basement-level apartments that faced rear, isolated alleys. The women believed they were shielded from outside view by the use of curtains, blinds, or the fact that their windows were situated in enclosed, hard-to-access to areas, either behind fences, through back residential alleys, or down a flight of basement steps. Once positioned behind these women’s apartments, Rosen peered through their windows and used his iPhone to record them. The activities took place in the areas of Mount Pleasant, the U Street Corridor, and Adams Morgan.

Rosen recorded the women in various stages of undress, capturing some in the most intimate and private moments in their bedrooms and bathrooms.  Several women had their blinds or curtains drawn, but Rosen was able to maneuver himself and his cell phone in between the cracks or small openings of the blinds to make his recordings.

All of the recordings took place during the late evening hours, thus enabling Rosen to hide in the shadows as he recorded these women in their lit bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms. At times, Rosen would engage in this conduct while walking his dog, thus disguising his true intentions. None of the women were aware that Rosen was watching and recording them, and none gave Rosen permission to watch and record them.  For several of these women, the defendant returned on more than one occasion to record their private moments.

Click here for WUSA9 coverage.

The case against him for the alleged solicitation of a minor online is scheduled for January. We have so far been unable to find the court documents related to this case.

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Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport

Posted: 2:21 am EDT

 

Back in April, a San Francisco man sued the State Department in federal court, claiming that American embassy officials in Yemen illegally revoked his passport and left him stranded in that country for more than a year. This passport revocation case was just one in a string of lawsuits alleging improper revocation of passports by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

On October 13, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.”

We suspected that the State Department would use its ace in a hole, which is Haig v. Agee, a ruling that upheld the right of the executive branch to revoke a citizen’s passport for reasons of national security and the foreign policy interests of the U.S. under the Passport Act of 1926, and it did. But the court was not persuaded.

This is not the only passport revocation we’ve heard out of US Embassy Sana’a.  But this is one of the most troubling cases. What kind of rules book was used there? It does not appear to be the Foreign Affairs Manual. And what’s the purpose of the Office of Adjudication if there is no stated burden of proof, and there are no rules governing the hearing itself?  We understand that there are/were approximately a hundred cases of passport revocation done at the US Embassy in Yemen. We don’t know if the Yemeni-Americans with revoked U.S. passports were issued single return passports to the United States, or were left stranded in Yemen. A hundred cases are not isolated cases. Frankly, we hope to see the Office of Inspector General look into this.

  • Plaintiff contends that his due process rights were violated when the State Department revoked his passport based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013. […] The statement was made after he had been detained at the Embassy for more than nine hours without food, water, or medication that he needs for his serious medical conditions; no one advised him of his right to leave, to be silent, or his right to consult an attorney; he did not read the statement and no one read the statement to him, and, to the contrary, it was affirmatively misrepresented to him that by signing the document his passport would be returned—the passport he required to return to the United States to obtain his needed medical care. Even if he had been given the opportunity to read the document, he would not have understood it as his English is not very good and his eyes were blurry and he was not feeling well due the deprivation of food, water, and medicine. He signed the statement without knowing its contents because he believed that was the only way to get his passport back.[…] Plaintiff signed the statement as “Mosed Shaye Omar.” It is puzzling, to say the least, why someone who understood that he was signing a confession that his true name is something other than Omar would sign the so-called confession under the allegedly false name Omar. Thus, this signature is consistent with Plaintiff’s testimony and further supports a finding that the statement was unknowing and involuntary.
  • The Hearing Officer based his revocation decision exclusively on the January 23 statement.
  • The Hearing Officer did not apply any standard of proof.”  [T]he same burdens that you might face in a courtroom don’t necessarily apply in this hearing.”
  • In resting his decision solely on the sworn statement, the Hearing Officer faulted Plaintiff for failing to provide evidence from individuals within Yemen who could vouch for his identity prior to his immigration to the United States—over 40 years ago. […] The Hearing Officer thus improperly shifted the burden of proof and faulted Plaintiff for not obtaining documents that the government itself acknowledged were nearly impossible to obtain.
  • Nor does it appear that Defendant Sprague, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, applied a particular standard of proof to her review as she merely signed her name in the approved line on the Hearing Officer’s recommendation.
  • The Secretary claims that once presented with the “confession” it had no choice but to revoke the passport; it could not release the passport when it believed it was obtained with a false name. At the same time, however, for the more than two and half years since his passport was revoked, the United States has not filed any action, administrative or otherwise, to challenge Plaintiff’s citizenship. Instead, it has made it repeatedly clear that it is not challenging his citizenship and, indeed, if Plaintiff filed an action to reaffirm his citizenship, the government candidly surmised that it might argue that such lawsuit does not present an actual case or controversy because the government does not contest Plaintiff’s citizenship. (Dkt. No. 32 at 21- 25.) In other words, the government apparently believes it is proper to revoke a United States citizen’s passport on the grounds that he is not the person that the United States agreed he was when he obtained his citizenship, but then take no steps to actually challenge the citizenship and to instead leave the citizen in a state of legal purgatory. Such tactics at the very least raise serious questions.
  • Defendants’ only asserted interest here is in protecting the public from having a United States citizen travel under his legal name because the government believes that 30 years ago he applied for citizenship under a false name. And the government has not sought to denaturalize the citizen despite having more than two years to do so. The government’s claim of hardship is further undercut by its Foreign Affairs Manual:

(d) Questionable Certificates of Naturalization and Citizenship.

(1) (SBU) By law, 8 U.S.C. 1443(e), Certificates of Naturalization or Citizenship are proof of United States citizenship. Accordingly, an individual remains eligible for a U.S. passport until his/her Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship is revoked by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or a U.S. District court, or unless he/she is ineligible for passport services for reasons other than non-citizenship.

7 FAM § 1381.2(d) 6 (Dkt. No. 14-20 at 2). Thus, the government’s own guidelines provide that the proper course under circumstances similar to those present here is to move to revoke the applicant’s Certificate of Naturalization, not to withhold the applicant’s passport as was done here.

The Court notes that the USG admitted that the above quoted provision was in effect between January 2013 and December 2013. (Dkt. No. 19 ¶ 31.) The government contends that “Plaintiff has selectively quoted from the Manual in a way that distorts its meaning,” but according to the Court’s footnotes, the USG  did not “submit any other Manual provisions or explain how the above quoted provision means anything other than what it says.”

For the record, the State Department considers the section on passport revocation in the Foreign Affairs Manual as Sensitive But Unclassified material and this section of the FAM including the part cited above in court documents are not available for the reading public (also see US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?).

The Court’s decision:

The government revoked Plaintiff’s passport based solely on a written statement that Plaintiff signed without reading or understanding, and only after he had been deprived of food, water, and medication for hours and was desperate for return of his passport so he could travel to the United States to obtain medical care. Plaintiff has therefore established a likelihood of success on his claim that the revocation violated his right to due process and was therefore arbitrary and capricious. See Choy, 279 F.2d at 647. He has also raised at least serious questions as to whether Defendants applied the appropriate standard of review to his passport revocation and whether the revocation is an improper and incomplete collateral challenge to his citizenship. As the balance of hardships and the public interest tip sharply in Plaintiff’s favor, his motion for a preliminary injunction is GRANTED. Defendants shall return Plaintiff’s passport to him within 10 days of this Order.

This case is ongoing with a hearing scheduled for December 10, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.

Read in full here (court doc via Politico): Mosed Shaye Omar v. John Kerry, et.al.

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Picur v. Kerry: Court slaps down FSGB annuity decision as “arbitrary and capricious”

Posted: 1:37 am EDT

 

This case is about a USAID/OIG criminal investigator, an annuity calculation, and a Foreign Service Grievance Board decision.

According to court documents, the starting point for computing an annuity payment under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 4041–4069c-1. is section 4046(a)(1), which provides that:

[t]he annuity of a participant shall be equal to 2 percent of his or her average basic salary for the highest 3 consecutive years of service multiplied by the number of years, not exceeding 35, of service credit obtained in accordance with sections 4056 and 4057 of this title[.]

22 U.S.C. § 4046(a)(1). The statute does not define “basic salary” as that term is used in section 4046(a)(1); however, section 4046(a)(8) makes clear that a participant’s “basic pay” for annuity calculation purposes includes the special differential pay that Foreign Service officers are authorized to receive. Id. § 4046(a)(8). Moreover, section 4046(a)(9) provides that, when determining the average basic salary for the highest 3 consecutive years of service—commonly referred to as the participant’s “high three” (see Compl. ¶ 13)—“the basic salary or basic pay of any member of the [Foreign] Service whose official duty station is outside the continental United States shall be considered to be the salary or pay that would have been paid to the member had the member’s official duty station been Washington, D.C., including locality-based comparability payments[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 4046(a)(9).4

Here is a quick summary of the case:

Plaintiff Gregory Picur served as a Foreign Service criminal investigator for the Office of Inspector General of the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID OIG”) from the 1990s until his retirement in May of 2010. The dispute in the instant case concerns the State Department’s calculation of Picur’s retirement annuity, which Picur alleges is incorrect. (See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 14.)1 Generally speaking, Picur contends that the State Department wrongly based its annuity calculation on what the agency says Picur’s salary should have been at the time of his retirement, rather than on the compensation that Picur actually received. (See id. ¶¶ 9–14.) Picur filed an administrative grievance contesting the agency’s calculation of his retirement annuity, but the State Department denied his grievance (see id. ¶ 4), and on appeal of that denial, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the agency’s calculation (see id. ¶¶ 5–8), finding that the State Department had determined Picur’s retirement annuity in accordance with agency policies (see, e.g., id. ¶ 35). Picur has filed the instant action against Secretary of State John Kerry (“Defendant” or “the Secretary”), asking this Court to review and to set aside the FSGB’s conclusion as arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

[…] Defendant argues that the FSGB’s decision should be upheld because the Board examined the relevant evidence and provided a satisfactory explanation for its conclusion. (See Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. (“Def.’s Br.”), ECF No. 10, at 22–27.) But this Court finds that, when it affirmed the State Department’s annuity calculation, the FSGB did not consider the crucial issue of whether or not the statutory scheme that governs calculation of Picur’s annuity permits the agency to treat the annuity computation process as an opportunity to correct purported prior salary overpayments. In other words, it is clear to this Court that the FSGB ignored a key aspect of the problem that it was deciding in a manner that rendered its decision to uphold the State Department’s annuity calculation arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. Consequently, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment must be DENIED, the FSGB’s decision must be VACATED, and the matter must be REMANDED for further consideration.

The court’s conclusion:

Whatever the appropriate statutory analysis, the administrative record in this case makes crystal clear that the FSGB failed to consult any of the statutory provisions that specifically prescribe how an annuity is properly calculated in this context, and it appears to have merely assumed that the State Department has the power to decide that an annuitant’s actual high three salary average is too high for the purpose of an annuity calculation. Consequently, this Court concludes that the Board failed to consider an important aspect of the problem with which it was presented, and thus its decision was arbitrary and capricious for the purpose of the APA. See, e.g., Olsen, 990 F. Supp. at 40 (granting summary judgment for plaintiff where the FSGB “did not properly consider the legality of the [agency’s] policies”); see also Quantum Enterm’t, Ltd. v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 597 F. Supp. 2d 146, 153 (D.D.C. 2009) (holding that where an agency’s “decision [i]s incomplete, [it] violates the prohibition against arbitrary or capricious agency decisions” (citation omitted)).

We are posting the Memorandum Opinion for Picur v. Kerry, Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) in the the member’s only section of Diplopundit’s forum. Check it out in the forum’s document dump.

The redacted FSGB Record of Proceeding (ROP) for this case is available online here (pdf) via fsgb.gov.

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