Category Archives: Court Cases

Tomorrow’s News Today: This Week Could Potentially Be a Heck of a Mess!

– Domani Spero

 

 

The Googles tell me that For the Record is an investigative news magazine on TheBlaze. The show was created by Glenn Beck to “restore the truth” in journalism. We’ve never watched it but just so you know, the show is coming back this week.  It has released two three teasers on YouTube and Twitter; one on September 10, a second one on September 15 and another one on YouTube today.  All flashy clips alleging cover-ups and corruption in the State Department. If you’re an old time Foggy Bottom watcher, you will recognize many of the faces and the names. in these clips.

 

 

 

Here is one posted today on YouTube:

 

It appears from the short clips that this is related to the Richard Higbie case (see Higbie v. Kerry) and the still unresolved? non-public? ongoing? investigation on the CBS News allegations (see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

In November last year, the OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

This past spring, we’ve revisited this investigation without much success. (see Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?). Also  State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations and State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

Today, State/OIG told us that as per OIG policy, the office has no comments to make on the status of any possible, pending, on-going or future investigation.

So upfront we must tell you that we don’t know the disposition of these investigations. What we know is that the show will go on tomorrow, September 17 at 8 pm. Due to the titillating and salacious contents of the CBS allegations, we suspect that this will attract enough eyeballs to make it to next day’s news cycle.

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U.S. Court Awards Damages to Victims of August 7, 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we posted the State Department’s Albright archive of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.  Yes, the interesting thing about that is how 16 years later, the names, the response, the briefings and the narrative are ever so familiar.

The twin-embassy bombings cost the lives of over 220 persons and wounded more than 4,000 others. Twelve American USG employees and family members, and 32 Kenyan and 8 Tanzanian USG employees, were among those killed.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07

U.S. Embassy Nairobi employees joined Charge d’Affaires Isiah Parnell for a wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the victims of the 1998 Embassy bombing in Nairobi. August 7, 2014

In December 2011, U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled (PDF via Legal Times) that the governments of Sudan and Iran will be liable for monetary damages to victims of suicide bombings at U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998. According to Judge Bates’ 2011 order (PDF via Legal Times) , a special master was appointed to figure how much in damages the plaintiffs will receive.  The Court previously ruled that the foreign-national U.S.-government-employee victims have a federal cause of action, while their foreign-national family members have a cause of action under D.C. law.

On July 25, 2014, the Court entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) on several related cases—brought by victims of the bombings and their families—against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (collectively “defendants”) for their roles in supporting, funding, and otherwise carrying out the attacks. The combined cases involve over 600 plaintiffs. The awards range from $1.5 million for severe emotional injuries to $7.5 million for severe injuries and permanent impairment. The total award is reportedly $8 billion.

Judge John Bates in his ruling  (see Wamai, et al.,v. Republic of Sudan, et.al. (pdf) (Civil Action No. 08-1349 (JDB) writes that the 1998 embassy bombings shattered the lives of all plaintiffs.

[T]heir personal stories reveals that, even more than fifteen years later, they each still feel the horrific effects of that awful day. Damages awards cannot fully compensate people whose lives have been torn apart; instead, they offer only a helping hand. But that is the very least that these plaintiffs are owed. Hence, it is what this Court will facilitate.

 

 

Below are some of the embassy employees and their injuries cited in court documents:

  • Many plaintiffs suffered little physical injury—or none at all—but have claims based on severe emotional injuries because they were at the scene during the bombings or because they were involved in the extensive recovery efforts immediately thereafter. Those plaintiffs will be awarded $1.5 million. See id. Typical of this category is Edward Mwae Muthama, who was working at the offsite warehouse for the United States Embassy in Kenya when the bombings occurred. Report of Special Master John Aldock Concerning Edward Muthama [ECF No. 93] at 4. Shortly after the attack, Muthama headed to the blast site and spent days assisting with the gruesome recovery efforts; to this day he suffers from emotional distress resulting from his time administering aid to survivors and handling the dead bodies (and body parts) of his murdered colleagues. Id.
  • Other plaintiffs suffered minor injuries (such as lacerations and contusions caused by shrapnel), accompanied by severe emotional injuries. They will be awarded $2 million. Typical is Emily Minayo, who was on the first floor of the United States Embassy in Nairobi at the time of the bombing. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Emily Minayo [ECF No. 162] at 4. She was thrown to the floor by the force of the blast, but she was lucky enough to escape with only lacerations that were later sewn up during a brief hospital stay. Id. She continues, however, to suffer from severe emotional damage resulting from her experience. Id.
  • To those who suffered more serious physical injuries, such as broken bones, head trauma, some hearing or vision impairment, or impotence, the Court will award $2.5 million. Typical is Francis Maina Ndibui, who was in the United States Embassy in Nairobi during the bombing. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Francis Maina Ndibui [ECF No. 152] at 4. Ndibui became temporarily trapped under debris that fell from the ceiling, and he suffered minor lacerations similar to Minayo’s. Id. Also as a result of the bombing, he continues to suffer from partial vision impairment, which has persisted even through reparative surgery. Id. He also suffers from severe emotional damage resulting from his experience. Id.
  • Plaintiffs with even more serious injuries—including spinal injuries not resulting in paralysis, more serious shrapnel injuries, head trauma, or serious hearing impairment—will be awarded $3 million. Typical is Victor Mpoto, who was at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam on the day of the bombing. Report of Special Master Jackson Williams Concerning Victor Mpoto [ECF No. 136] at 3. The blast knocked him to the ground and covered him in debris, causing minor physical injuries. Id. Because he was only about fifteen meters away from the blast, he suffered severe hearing loss in both ears that continues to this day and for which he continues to receive treatment. Id. He also suffers from severe emotional damage resulting from his experience. Id. at 4.
  • Those who suffered from injuries similar to those plaintiffs who are generally awarded the “baseline” award of $5 million (involving some mix of serious hearing or vision impairment, many broken bones, severe shrapnel wounds or burns, lengthy hospital stays, serious spinal or head trauma, and permanent injuries) will also be awarded that baseline. See Valore, 700 F. Supp. 2d at 84. Typical is Pauline Abdallah, who was injured in the bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Stephen Saltzburg Concerning Pauline Abdallah [ECF No. 117] at 3. She was knocked unconscious by the blast, and later spent about a month in the hospital. Id. She suffered severe shrapnel wounds requiring skin grafts, third-degree burns, and two of her fingers were amputated. Id. Shrapnel still erupts from her skin. Id. She also suffered severe hearing loss. Id. Like other plaintiffs who were injured in the bombing, she suffers from severe emotional damage. Id. at 3-4.
  • And for a few plaintiffs, who suffered even more grievous wounds such as lost eyes, extreme burns, severe skull fractures, brain damage, ruptured lungs, or endured months of recovery in hospitals, upward departures to $7.5 million are in order. Livingstone Busera Madahana was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Kenneth Adams Concerning Livingstone Busera Madahana [ECF No. 175] at 4. Shrapnel from the blast completely destroyed his right eye and permanently damaged his left. Id. He suffered a skull fracture and spent months in a coma; his head trauma caused problems with his memory and cognition. Id. “He endured multiple surgeries, skin grafts, physical therapy, vocational rehabilitation, speech and cognitive therapy, and psychotherapy for depression.” Id.
  • Gideon Maritim was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Jackson Williams Concerning Gideon Maritim [ECF No. 222] at 3. The second explosion knocked him unconscious for several hours. Id. at 4 The blast ruptured his eardrums, knocked out several teeth, and embedded metal fragments into his eyes. Id. He also suffered deep shrapnel wounds to his legs and stomach, and his lungs were ruptured. Id. His hearing is permanently impaired, as is his lung function. Id. at 5. And he suffers from chronic back and shoulder pain. Id.
  • Charles Mwaka Mulwa was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Jackson Williams Concerning Charles Mwaka Mulwa [ECF No. 132] at 3. The bomb blast permanently disfigured his skull, ruptured both his eardrums, and embedded glass in his eyes. Id. He continues to suffer from nearly total hearing loss, and his eyesight is permanently diminished. Id. And he suffered from other shrapnel injuries to his head, arms, and legs. Id.
  • Tobias Oyanda Otieno was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Tobias Oyanda Otieno [ECF No. 181] at 4. The blast caused permanent blindness in his left eye, and substantial blindness in his right. Id. He suffered severe shrapnel injuries all over his body, including a particularly severe injury to his hand, which resulted in permanent impairment. Id. His lower back was also permanently damaged, causing continuous pain to this day. Id. He spent nearly a year recovering in hospitals. Id.
  • Moses Kinyua was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Deborah Greenspan Concerning Moses Kinyua [ECF No. 202] at 4. The blast knocked him into a coma for three weeks. Id. His skull was crushed, his jaw was fractured in four places, and he lost his left eye. Id. The head trauma resulted in brain damage. Id. In addition, he suffered from a ruptured eardrum, a detached retina in his right eye, a dislocated shoulder, broken fingers, and serious shrapnel injuries. Id. He was ultimately hospitalized for over six months. Id.
  • Joash Okindo was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Joash Okindo [ECF No. 163] at 4. He spent about eight months in hospitals, and was in a coma for the first month because he suffered a skull fracture. Id. at 4-5. He suffered from severe shrapnel injuries to his head, back, legs, and hands, and the blast fractured bones in both of his legs. Id. at 4.
  • Each of these plaintiffs also suffered severe emotional injuries. The injuries suffered by these plaintiffs are comparable to those suffered by plaintiffs who were awarded $7–$8 million in Peterson II. See 515 F. Supp. 2d at 55-57 (e.g., Michael Toma, who suffered “various cuts from shrapnel, internal bleeding in his urinary system, a deflated left lung, and a permanently damaged right ear drum”). Hence, the Court will award each of these plaintiffs $7.5 million for pain and suffering. The Court adopts the recommendations by special masters of awards consistent with the adjusted guidelines described above, and will adjust inconsistent awards accordingly.

An attorney for hundreds of the East African victims cited the “need to have patience and determination” in collecting approximately $8 billion from Iran and Sudan, acknowledging it is unlikely that the  two governments would make voluntarily payments for the award ordered by the U.S. court. The lawyers are reportedly looking at Iranian and Sudanese assets seized in the United States or other countries as a source for the court-ordered payments.

 

Related documents ( all pdfs):

07/25/2014 Civil Action No. 2008-1380 ONSONGO et al v. REPUBLIC OF SUDAN et al
Doc No. 233 (memorandum opinion) by Judge John D. Bates

07/25/2014 Civil Action No. 2008-1361 AMDUSO et al v. REPUBLIC OF SUDAN et al
Doc No. 255 (memorandum opinion) by Judge John D. Bates

07/25/2014 Civil Action No. 2008-1349 WAMAI et al v. REPUBLIC OF SUDAN et al
Doc No. 246 (memorandum opinion) by Judge John D. Bates

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US Embassy Colombia: DEA Employee/Spouse Plead Guilty to False Statements in Kidnapping Hoax

– Domani Spero

Via USDOJ:

Nydia L. Perez and John A. Soto, both 44, of Haymarket, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials in federal court on Friday, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director for International Operations John Boles of the FBI.

According to the plea agreement, in December 2013, Perez, an employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and her husband Soto, a private contractor in the United States Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, designed and executed a hoax with the intention of defrauding the United States Embassy in Bogotá.   As part of the hoax, Perez and Soto fabricated a plot to kidnap minors who are United States citizens.

According to court filings, Perez and Soto sent, through electronic mail and courier services, information about a purported threat to the safety of minor United States citizens in Bogotá.   Perez and Soto added detailed descriptions of the targeted United States citizens, including information about their whereabouts and daily routines.   Perez and Soto included photographs of the citizens in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat, and attempted to implicate innocent individuals in the kidnapping plot.   Perez and Soto made numerous false representations to law enforcement and security officials in furtherance of the fabricated kidnapping plot.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman-Jackson is scheduled for Aug. 21, 2014.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Legal Attaché in Bogotá and the Extra-Territorial Squad of the FBI Miami Field Office.   Also participating in the investigation were the DEA, the U.S. Embassy Bogota Regional Security Office, and the U.S. Embassy Bogota Force Protection Detail.   The Department is grateful for the assistance of the Colombia National Police Directorate of Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion.

On the Factual Basis for Plea, the government provides the following details:

  • On December 14, 2013, PEREZ and SOTO caused an e-mail to be sent to the American Citizen Services section of the United States Embassy, which described a plan by unnamed individuals to kidnap SOTO’s minor children, who are United States citizens. The e-mail included photos of the minor children engaged in various everyday activities in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat. In furtherance of the hoax, PEREZ and SOTO also mailed a package to the United States Embassy. The package contained a written description of the threat and additional photos of the children, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of the threat.
  • PEREZ met with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) on December 17, 2013 to discuss the kidnapping threat. PEREZ lied to the FBI as to her knowledge of the purported kidnapping plot, stating that the only person she could think of who was capable of creating a kidnapping plot was her family’s doorman, Heder Vargas. PEREZ falsely represented that she and SOTO, as well as SOTO’s minor children, were potential targets of the purported kidnapping plot, although she knew the kidnapping plot was in fact a hoax. During the December 17, 2013 meeting, PEREZ did not inform the FBI that she knew there existed no actual threat to herself, SOTO, or SOTO’s children.

 

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colobia Photo via state.gov

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia
Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

We really don’t get this.  The intention was to defraud the U.S. Embassy in Bogota? How were they doing to do that? Since the U.S. Government cannot participate in developing and implementing a ransom strategy in kidnappings, it follows that ACS Sections do not have hidden money in their vaults.  In any case, whatever was the plan, it didn’t work.

Which made us dig up this section of the FAMeven overseas, kidnapping of U.S. citizens are federal crimes for which the FBI has authority to investigate under the U.S. Criminal Code. And certainly, kidnapping threats against a mission employee/family would be handled beyond the Consular Section.

According to court filings, Count One, Making a Materially False Representation, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2) (a Class D Felony) carries a maximum sentence of five (5) years of imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and a $100 special assessment, a three (3) year term of supervised release, an order of restitution, and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines or restitution not timely made.

Sentencing is scheduled for 8/21/2014 at 10:00 AM in Courtroom 3 before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The case is USA v. PEREZ, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00086-AK and USA v. SOTO, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00087-AK.

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Oh, la vache! U.S. Court on French Embassy’s “transparent ploy” over discrimination case

– Domani Spero

Judge James E. Boasberg of the District Court for the District of Columbia was not happy with the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.. In a court ruling dated April 17, 2014, Judge Boasberg chastised the French Embassy writing that the “defendant may delay these proceedings, but it may not evade trial by means of this transparent ploy”as embassy asserted immunity on the eve of a discrimination trial.

The civil case is between Ashraf-Hassan and the Embassy of France in United States.  The plaintiff is Saima Ashraf-Hassan, a former employee of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and a French citizen who was born in Pakistan. According to court papers, she originally came to the United States to complete research for her Ph.D. in law. After arriving in Washington, Ashraf-Hassan obtained an internship with the French Embassy, which later led to an offer of full-time employment:

During her five years of employment, Ashraf-Hassan alleges that she suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, religion, and pregnancy, all in violation of Title VII. See id. at *2. In addition to claims of unlawful termination, Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment that was permeated by harassment so severe and pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment.
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Evidently dissatisfied with this result and with trial looming a few weeks away, the Embassy now invokes the doctrine of sovereign immunity, claiming that after nearly three years of proceedings before this Court, it retains the power to divest itself of the suit at any time it pleases. See ECF No. 51 (Mot. to Dismiss). While at the outset of this litigation, the Embassy acknowledged that it was not entitled to assert immunity, it also stated – somewhat opaquely – that it “reserve[d] the right to raise its immunity should it be necessary to protect the confidential character of [its governmental] activities.” See ECF No. 11 (prior Mot. to Dismiss) at 1. This time has now come, according to Defendant.

In his memorandum opinion, Judge Boasberg writes:

In May of 2011, Plaintiff Saima Ashraf-Hassan brought this suit, alleging that her employer, the Embassy of France in the United States, had violated Title VII by discriminating against her on account of her national origin, race, religion, and pregnancy. In the intervening years, the parties have conducted discovery, attempted to solve their dispute through mediation, and filed assorted motions and other pleadings. Indeed, Defendant has previously moved to dismiss and has also sought summary judgment, but it has repeatedly failed to convince the Court to deny Plaintiff a trial on her discrimination claims.

Now, three years into this litigation and on the eve of trial, Defendant seeks to secure dismissal by claiming for the first time that the Court no longer has subject-matter jurisdiction. Despite its early concessions to the contrary, the Embassy now suggests that it never fully ceded its sovereign immunity when it hired Ashraf-Hassan or when it willingly entered into this litigation. The Embassy contends that it reserved the right to assert immunity at any time of its choosing and that it has the unfettered ability to walk away whenever it deems the claims to be meritless or the proceedings unfair. It protests, moreover, that this suit is now an affront to its dignity, yet Defendant offers no colorable basis to justify dismissal on sovereign-immunity grounds. This case falls squarely within multiple exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a reality that no amount of invective and indignation can change. Defendant may delay these proceedings, but it may not evade trial by means of this transparent ploy.

Read the case here: Ashraf-Hassan v. Embassy of France in United States Civil Action No. 11-805 (JEB).

 

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US Embassy Ottawa: Canadian Court Sets Aside FSN Sandra McDonald’s $240K Default Judgment For Now

– Domani Spero

Via Ottawa Citizen, a wrongful dismissal case filed by Sandra McDonald, a former Foreign Service National (local employee) of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Sandra McDonald, now in her early 60s, worked at the embassy for nearly 30 years as one of its locally engaged staff. She sued for wrongful dismissal after she was fired in early 2011 while on long-term disability with complex regional pain syndrome.

McDonald’s lawyer, Bijon Roy, said she was “very disappointed” with the judge’s decision and that it might force her to fight the case all over again.

In July 2012, Ontario Superior Court Justice Heidi Polowin issued a default judgment in McDonald’s favour after U.S. officials failed to file a statement of defence or contest the case in court. The embassy had been served notice of the case through Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and was kept informed of the matter on a regular basis. McDonald’s story also received high-profile coverage from Ottawa media, including the Citizen.

In court this week, embassy officials, seeking to overturn the default judgment, said they had “explicable and plausible” reasons for not having responded to McDonald’s lawsuit, and a “good defence” to be made against it. According to court documents, the Americans claimed that they’d “lost the documentation”, “could not open the email attachment”, that the documentation was “inadvertently directed to the wrong office at the State Department”, and that it was “not indexed correctly”.

Superior Court Justice Timothy Ray questioned how U.S. State Department officials could claim not to have been aware of McDonald’s default judgment. “Its embassy apparently failed to see the front page of the Ottawa Citizen (on) Sept. 11, 2012,” the judge commented.
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Ray said he would set aside Polowin’s default judgment on conditions the embassy pay McDonald’s legal costs and put the $240,000 award in a court trust within the next 60 days.

Read in full: U.S. Embassy wins bid to set aside wrongful dismissal judgment.

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Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 Months

– Domani Spero

On November 6, 2013, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  Two women were also charged in the visa fraud-bribery conspiracy:  Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.  On September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The last one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.

On Febraury 4, 2014, court records indicate that the case of ANHDAO T. NGUYEN was “directly reassigned to Calendar Committee as she has been a fugitive for more than 90 days.”

On March 7, 2014, BINH TANG VO was arraigned on Counts 1ss,2ss-14ss,15ss-27ss, and 28ss before Judge John D. Bates. Plea of NOT GUILTY was entered by BINH TANG VO as to all Counts of the Superseding Information.

In the case of  Vietnamese national Truc Tranh Huynh, court records indicate that sentencing was held onFebruary 21, 2014 before Judge John D. Bates as to Ms. Huynh (5) on Count 23s. Defendant was sentenced to Sixteen (16) months of incarceration and Twelve (12) months of Supervised Release; Special Assessment of $100. Defendant committed; commitment issued.  She previously entered a plea agreement in October last year.

According to court records, defendant Hong Vo also pleaded guilty to one count of a criminal information arising out of her participation in a wide spread visa fraud scheme.  The Government’s memorandum in aid of sentencing filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. on the case of Ms. Vo says in part:

 The defendant’s participation in this multi-million dollar scheme implicated both the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, thus, warrants an appropriately strong sentence. The need for proper deterrence is especially important where, as here, individuals could be drawn into a scheme in the hope of procuring a financial windfall. A 16 month sentence would have a real deterrent effect and will serve as a clear warning to anyone tempted to defraud the U.S. State Department’s visa-issuing procedures for financial gain.

Court records indicate that this case had also been resolved:

Sentencing held on 3/7/2014 as to HONG CHAU VO (4), before Judge John D. Bates on Count 1ss: Defendant sentenced to Ten (10) months split sentence: Seven (7) and a half months of incarceration and Two (2) and a half months of Home Detention; Thirty (30) months of Supervised Release. Special Assessment of $100.00. All counts of Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are dismissed as to this defendant. Defendant remains in 3rd Party custody.

On March 10, 2014, defendant Michael T. Sestak submitted a status report on the disposition of his real properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand as part of his plea agreement:

Since the last report filed on January 24, 2014, Mr. Sestak has engaged Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates, to act as his agent in Thailand. Mr. Sestak is in the process of authorizing this firm to act on his behalf. [...] Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates in Thailand have met with potential appraisers for the Phuket and Bangkok properties. Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates have also spoken with potential brokers in Phuket and have several meetings planned this week with several additional brokers.

Case title: USA v. SESTAK et al; Magistrate judge case number: 1:13-mj-00463-AK

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US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso

– Domani Spero

We’ve blogged previously about the US Consulate -related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in 2010.  The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate.

El Paso Times’ Diana Washington Valdez has covered this case from the beginning. According to EPT, the jury was selected on January 31, 2014:

Jury selection gets underway today in the trial of an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez in 2010.

Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, who pleaded not guilty, claims in court filings that he confessed to the crime because he was tortured and his wife raped by Mexican police before he was extradited to the United States in 2012.
[…]
U.S. officials have not offered a clear motive for the three slayings in 2010, except to suggest that the killers might have confused the victims for rivals. Evidence from the trial may shed light on why the trio was attacked.

The three victims had left a children’s party in Juárez attended by consulate employees and their families, and were in two separate vehicles, Redelfs and his wife in one, and Salcido in the second vehicle. Both vehicles were white in color.

Shooters, who were also in separate vehicles, followed the two white cars and shot them up in Juárez near the Stanton Street bridge.

Read more here.

Catch up on the trial below — see links to the El Paso Times coverage:

Juarez consulate killings: Opening statements begin
02/03/2014 – The government presented opening statements this morning in the trial of Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010.

US Consulate trial: Barrio Azteca gang member recounts killings during Juarez cartel war
02/04/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member gave bone-chilling testimony Monday about his role in the violence that ignited Juarez during the drug cartel wars and left among its victims a U.S.

Juarez consulate trial: FBI agent says the accused never told him he was tortured in Mexico
02/05/2014 – The defendant in a federal trial accused of conspiring to kill three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010 did not tell FBI agents that Mexican police tortured him…

Juarez consulate killings: Witness says Barrio Aztecas were trained by Zetas cartel
02/05/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member turned government witness testified Tuesday that his gang had received training on how to become better killers from the notorious Zetas drug cartel.

Juarez consulate trial: Relative of kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testifies
02/07/2014 – A relative of Mexican drug kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testified Thursday as a government witness in the federal trial of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged Barrio Azteca leader accused of conspiring to kill three people with links to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez.

El Paso Barrio Azteca gang helped arm counterparts in Juarez
02/08/2014 – Barrio Azteca gang members in El Paso provided firearms and ammunition to counterparts in Juarez and used women as drug mules to smuggle heroin into the United States, said former gang members

US Consulate trial: DEA source set up secure network for Juarez cartel
02/11/2014 – A telecommunications specialist from Mexico testified Monday that he helped set up a secure radio network for the Barrio Azteca and La Linea members in 2010 that was used to relay orders to kill …

US Consulate killings trial: Witness says defendant ordered the slayings
02/12/2014 – A Barrio Azteca member who admitted taking part in the March 2010 slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez testified Tuesday that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon gave the order…

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Joan Wadelton: Time To Fix The State Department (via WhirledView)

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— Domani Spero

We have previously posted about the case of FSO Joan Wadelton. (See Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time!Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to CongressGAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain). She is now on her tenth year of a legal dispute with the Department of State’s Bureau of Human Resources (HR). She recently guest posted at WhirledView and put her views on the record  “about how to correct the systemic failings that I have encountered over the last 10 years in the Bureau of Human Resources, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of the Legal Advisor.” Quick excerpt below:

The pervasive lack of oversight has led to near total impunity for those guilty of incompetence, cronyism and corruption within State.  A small group of career officials has taken advantage of this to gain control of the bureaucracy’s administrative functions.  Their pernicious influence has persisted for years.

The longevity of the group has been made possible by its control of the personnel system.  Senior managers at State stay in place for years – and when they do retire, they are rehired in a lucrative pay status, allowing them to remain in senior positions for more years.   Thus, the same people turn up repeatedly in ambassadorships and assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary jobs.

Not only does this discourage fresh thinking, it has bottled up the personnel system at the top.  With the jobs at the higher ranks endlessly filled by the same people, the cohort five or 10 years behind them in the career service cannot move up to become the next generation of leaders.  And as a consequence, many FSOs are forced to retire at the peak of their expertise.

Members of this inner circle have used their control of HR to give themselves and their friends promotions, prestigious assignments, cash bonuses and jobs for family members.  Conversely, they have used HR as a weapon against employees they dislike – including removing them from promotion lists and blocking plum assignments and cash bonuses – no matter how qualified those disfavored people might be.

Ms. Wadelton  was a Foreign Service Officer from 1980-2011.  She served in Africa, Latin America, Russia and Iraq.  In addition to assignments in the State Department, she was an advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a director of the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Continue reading Time to Fix the State Department.

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US Embassy Greece: What Happened to Sgt Laloup’s Heart? Parents Seeking Answers File Suit

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– Domani Spero

According to a lawsuit filed by his parents, U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian LaLoup, 21, died after he attended an off-duty embassy party, on August 12, 2012. Sgt. LaLoup served as part of the Marine Corps Security Group assigned to the American Embassy in Athens, Greece. During the party, Sgt. LaLoup reportedly told a fellow service member that he was thinking about suicide and was reported to the Detachment Commander.  The lawsuit alleged that the Detachment Commander “failed to follow appropriate protocols and procedures, which required him to obtain supervision and medical treatment for Sgt. LaLoup, and instead decided to take him out for more drinking. Prior to leaving and despite being visibly intoxicated and distraught, Sgt. LaLoup was allowed to pass the guard at the entry to the chancery and enter the response room. The chancery, which had been left unsecured, is where weapons were stored. Thereafter, according to military reports, Sgt. LaLoup shot himself in the head with an embassy service weapon.”

Sergeant LaLoup enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on May 8, 2008 and was on continuous active duty from February 9, 2009 until the date of his death.  Prior to his assignment in Greece, Sgt. Laloup was posted at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.  Sgt. LaLoup reported for embassy security duty at Embassy Athens on May 20, 2012, On August 12, 2012, the United States Marne Corps informed Beverly and Craig LaLoup that their son had passed away.

The lawsuit alleged that at the time his body was returned to the United States, Plaintiffs, Sgt. LaLoup’s parents, Craig and Beverly LaLoup, were given knowingly false information about Sgt. LaLoup’s remains and as a result, “the LaLoups unwittingly buried their son without his heart.” According to Mrs. LaLoup:

1St SGT Dixon was at our home at 106 Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, PA to have us sign more papers. During this visit, I asked him what would happen if more of Brian’s scalp was recovered. Would it be returned to us? He looked at me funny as he started to go thru his folder and said “Ma’am, what are you talking about?” I replied, the missing scalp parts. What would be done if more was recovered. He replied to me, as he was still searching for something in his folder, that the scalp is not what was missing. He even stated that he had just gone thru the folder before he came to make sure he was familiar with everything and did not recall seeing anything about missing scalp parts. We all sat there for a few moments as he continued to go thru his folder. Finally, he found what he was looking for and said, “Ma’am, that is not what was missing.” “I stated, what do you mean?” He extended to me a piece of paper as he stated it was his heart that was missing asked him why were we told it was parts of his scalp. His reply was, “that they were not going to tell us because that is not something you tell a grieving mother.” I read the document he had handed me and sure enough, it was a letter from the Dover Mortuary to Marines Casualty Office informing them “remains of the above individual are incomplete. Please obtain subsequent recovery instructions from the next of kin. Remains Summary: Non-intact body. Embalmed and autopsied in Greece. Missing heart”. It was validated by Jairo E. Fortalatin, Investigator and Authorized by AbuBakr Marzouuk, Col USAF, MC, FS.

The complaint further alleges that “in an attempt to pacify” the Laloups, the defendants and the Greek government “had a heart shipped to Dover claiming that it was Sgt. LaLoup’s missing heart” but that DNA testing revealed that the heart was not Sgt. LaLoup’s heart.

Philadelphia’s Metro reports that a letter shared through U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey’s office quotes the then U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Smith about the efforts made to prevent an autopsy.

Smith told the hospital not to autopsy LaLoup’s body, and also notified the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the letter. When Smith’s staff requested the hospital release LaLoup’s body on Aug. 16, they declined and said they would autopsy the body. Smith says he called the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Foreign Minister insisting there be no autopsy, and on Aug. 17 called again to say that an autopsy would violate the Vienna Convention.

The autopsy took place on Aug. 18. After the LaLoups told Smith on Sept. 18 that Sgt. LaLoup’s body was missing its heart, his staff interviewed the physician who performed the autopsy.

Ambassador Daniel Smith was appointed chief of mission to the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 2010.  In October last year, President Obama nominated him to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (State/INR). He is currently awaiting Senate confirmation.

Last month, the Laloups reportedly added the Greek government and the Athens hospital that conducted the autopsy to the list of defendants to their lawsuit. Philly.com’s report here includes a quote from the spokesman of the  Armed Forces Medical Examiner System:

“Remains of most U.S. service members who die overseas are sent to the United States for autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. However, some countries – including Greece – maintain the right in formal agreements with the U.S. military to investigate such deaths using their own medical staff.”

The complaint is  LALOUP et al v. UNITED STATES DEPT. OF DEFENSE et al, Pennsylvania Eastern District Court, 2:2013cv07124.

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Howard v. Kerry: USCG Naples EEO Case Now a Civil Lawsuit in Federal Court

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– Domani Spero

Kerry Howard’s allegations against the former Consul General in Naples made the news last year (see NYPost – State Department swept sex scandals under the rug and Whistleblower accuses consul general of trysts with subordinates and hookers).

Kerry Howard’s LinkedIn profile indicates that she has been in Naples, Italy since January 2008.  The court document also says that she is the spouse of an FSO who was employed as Consulate General Naples’ Community Liaison Officer from February 2010 to May 2012.  Ms. Howard has now filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT):

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination based on race, color, religion,  sex or national origin. (42 USC 2000e-2(a)  and its anti retaliation provision forbids discrimination against an employee or job applicant who inter alia has “made a charge,  assisted or participated in a Title VII proceeding or investigation. Section 2000e-3(a)

An employer which creates or tolerates a work environment  permeated with discriminatory intimidation,  ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment and which creates an abusive work environment is in violation of Title VII.”

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The NYPost currently has a screaming headline that runs, American diplomat ran consulate like party pad: suit. The report says that the official “has since been reassigned from the Italian post to a position at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, which is also administered by the State Department.” Huh?

While the lawsuit is against Secretary Kerry as head of the agency, if this go to trial, there presumably will be a long list of witnesses from the who’s who at USCG Naples and US Embassy Rome a the time when this incident is alleged to have occured.  The court filing includes the names and positions of several officers in Naples, Rome and the State Department, including the then Deputy Chief of Mission in Rome, the then FLO director, and an FS couple who was alleged to have been “blacklisted” for services at post and alleged to have been subsequently “involuntarily curtailed” from Naples.

Remember last summer’s CBS scoop on allegations by OIG investigator Aurelia Fedenisn over interference of politically delicate investigations at the State Department?  According to NYT,   that report became public as a result of  … that’s right, another civil suit, this one filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. “His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”   We can’t imagine what stuff will come out of this case which includes allegation that the State Department “indifference” to a senior official’s misconduct  “gave consent to the creation of working conditions for women which could be so difficult, unpleasant or intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.”  

In a 19-page complaint demanding jury trial, Ms. Howard asks for reinstatement, full value of compensation and provide the retroactive benefits including those incident to full year service rights to other government positions she would have received had she not been the victim of unlawful discrimination,” compensatory and liquidated damages in the amount of $300,000, and the costs and expenses of litigation including reasonable attorney’s fees and witness fees.

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