Category Archives: Follow the Money

Who killed King Joffrey? And what about the State Dept’s “missing” $6 billion?

– Domani Spero

We recently posted about that $6 Billion Alert. What Does The Spox Say? Goring-ding-ding-ding … “Grossly Inaccurate” But …. On April 3, WaPo went with State Department inspector general issues alert over $6 billion in contracting money.  On April 4, TheBlaze.com reported that The State Department Has Lost Track of More Than $6Billion. On April 4, Washington Free Beacon has State Department Misplaced $6B Under Hillary Clinton. On April 6, Fox News (blog) screamed $6 Billion Went Missing From Hillary Clinton’s State Department …. Also on April 6, the Examiner.com - ‎reported State Department $6 billion missing: ‘Creates conditions conducive to fraud’.  On April 8, ABC News (blog) added a twist with Blackwater Named in State Department Probe, Spent $$ on Pricey  On April 9, AllGov has State Dept. Can’t Locate Files for $6 Billion Worth of Contracts. Russia’s RIA Navosti found itself an expert and ran with $6 Bln Vanished from US State Department Due to Corruption – Expert.

Finally ….

 

 

On April 13, ten days after WaPo first reported the $6 billion contracts and just when we could not stop talking about ‘The Lion And The Rose’ episode of ‘Game Of Thrones‘, State/OIG’s Steve Linick wrote to the editors of WaPo “about the State Department’s “missing” $6 billion:

WaPo, Sunday, April 13

The April 3 news article “State Department’s IG issues rare alert” reported on the management alert issued recently by my office. In the alert, we identified State Department contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located. The Post stated, “The State Department’s inspector general has warned the department that $6 billion in contracting money over the past six years cannot be properly accounted for . . . . ”

Some have concluded based on this that $6 billion is missing. The alert, however, did not draw that conclusion. Instead, it found that the failure to adequately maintain contract files — documents necessary to ensure the full accounting of U.S. tax dollars — “creates significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions.”

Steve Linick, Washington

The writer is inspector general for the U.S. Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

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$6 Billion Alert. What Does The Spox Say? Goring-ding-ding-ding … “Grossly Inaccurate” But ….

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, State/OIG issued a Management Alert on Contract File Management Deficiencies at the State Department. The Alert is reportedly intended to well, alert senior Department management to the serious nature of this issue and provides “recommendations to assist in eliminating or mitigating those vulnerabilities.” The main thing is this:

“In sum, over the past 6 years, our audit work has uncovered significant contract file management deficiencies in Department contracts/task orders with a total value of more than $6 billion.”

The alert dated March 20, 2014 was addressed to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy and the Assistant Secretary of Administration Joyce A. Barr. The signatory of this Management Alert is not State/OIG Steve Linick but three of the four Assistant Inspector Generals of State/OIG namely: Norman P. Brown, Assistant Inspector General for AuditsRobert B. Peterson, Assistant Inspector General for Inspections;  Anna S. Gershman, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations.  Mr. Brown has been AIG since July 2013, Mr. Peterson since 2003, and Ms. Gershman since 2011.  The official response to this alert is dated March 28, 2014 from Ms. Barr who as head of the Bureau of Administration reports to Mr. Kennedy at “M.” Ms. Barr has been “A” since 2011.  Mr. Kennedy has been “M” since 2007.

Do you know why it took six years for this alert to be issued? And how is it that this alert is not addressed to the State Department’s Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom?

Since $6 billion is a lot of resources spent, it made a huge splash – described as “lost,” “missing,” “misplaced,” “lacks files,” or “not totally sure” where the money went.

It made the Daily Press Briefing, of course:

QUESTION: Marie, do you have any comment on the OIG report that was made public today on the $6 billion?

MS. HARF: I do. Just give me one second. Well, reports that there is a $6 billion that can’t be accounted for are grossly inaccurate. The OIG’s report noted that there were a number of incomplete files for our contracts and that these contracts’ cumulative value was about 6 billion. As highlighted in our response to the OIG, this is an issue of which the Department is aware and is taking steps to remedy. It’s not an accounting issue. I think it’s more like a bureaucratic issue. But it’s not that we’ve lost $6 billion, basically.

On March 20th, our new Inspector General did issue a management alert on contract file management deficiencies. The Bureau of Administration responded with a plan to address their three recommendation. Those are all posted on the IG’s web page now.

QUESTION: So how much money can you not account for if it’s not 6 billion?

MS. HARF: I have no idea.
[…]
QUESTION: But it’s way less than 6 billion? I mean, you said it was grossly inflated.

MS. HARF: Grossly inaccurate. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Okay. So do – you must have –

QUESTION: What’s a rounded-up figure –

MS. HARF: I’m not – no –

QUESTION: You must have an estimate of what it is if you have an understanding –

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding that it’s not an accounting issue. It’s not that we can’t account for money. So I don’t – I’m not sure that there’s any money that we can’t account for.

QUESTION: So how is it grossly inaccurate, then?

MS. HARF: Because it’s not that there’s $6 billion we can’t account for. They said there were incomplete files –

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — and that the files were – their cumulative value for those contracts was about $6 billion. So it’s a filing issue. It’s not a “we lost money” issue.

QUESTION: So you’re sure that you know where all that money is even though you acknowledge that the files are not complete?

MS. HARF: I – that’s my understanding, yes. But again, all of this is posted on the IG’s website in much more detail.

QUESTION: But –

MS. HARF: I don’t have the $6 billion.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I just – (laughter) – it sounds like it may be more of a distinction without a difference, saying it’s an accounting error, like maybe –

MS. HARF: No, because the notion that we can’t find $6 billion, right, would mean that it’s an accounting issue, that somehow we lost money that – you can understand why when people hear that they think that it means we’ve lost $6 billion. That’s my understanding that that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, regarding this IG issue, it’s like every other day something is coming out of –

MS. HARF: IG’s been very busy, apparently.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, because there was no IG before, no five years.

MS. HARF: We have a new IG, yep.

QUESTION: Yeah, it came on September. Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to figure out – I mean, when he’s like – when you say grossly and inaccurate, does he presenting these things with information or just like a number?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So the way the IG works in general – and I don’t have the details about their methodology here – is they are independent and they undertake independent reviews, some I understand that are done just routinely, some I think are in response to people submitting things to them. And in general, after the IG does a draft report they submit it to either the post overseas or the office here or the bureau that deals with it so they can have a chance to review it and comment on it and to begin implementing recommendations, if there are any that they think are helpful. So there’s a process here. Then they eventually release the final report that sometimes takes into account comments, sometimes they disagree. We have a variety of ways to respond.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking because these things are related more about overseas activities and contracts. Does the State Department officially – when you say grossly inaccurate, are you going to say what is accurate?

MS. HARF: Yes. And as I said, our response and the entire report is up on the IG’s website. I’m happy to dig into it a little bit more. But yes, we do. I mean, that’s why we give responses and they’re published.

A good excuse to post this again:

Below are some of the cases specified in the $6 billion State/OIG alert:

  • A recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan.  The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion.
  • Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by FAR 4.8. The value of the contracts in the 48 incomplete files totaled an additional $2.1 billion.
  • An ongoing OIG audit of Bureau of African Affairs contracts revealed that CORs were unable to provide complete contract administration files for any of the eight contracts that were reviewed. The value of these contracts totaled $34.8 million.
  • In two joint audits conducted with DoD OIG,5 we found that, for two task orders valued in excess of $1 billion, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs had neither ensured that the COR for the Civilian Police contract in Afghanistan established or maintained contracting files that were complete and easily accessible, nor finalized and fully implemented standard operating procedures for maintaining COR files.
  • A joint audit with SIGIR,  we reviewed four task orders from the Worldwide Personal Protective Services II contract, with an estimated total cost of $1 billion as of May 29, 2008, and found that COR files maintained in both Washington, DC, and Baghdad, Iraq, were not accessible, complete, or maintained in accordance with Department policy.
  • One investigation revealed that a contract file did not contain documentation reflecting that modifications and task orders were awarded to the company owned by the spouse of a contractor employee performing as a Contract Specialist for the contract. This contract was valued at $52 million.  (Note: We think this is the relevant case - Former State Department Contract Employee And Husband Plead Guilty To $53 Million Fraud)
  • In another investigation, OIG found that a CO falsified Government technical review information and provided the contractor with contract pricing information. The related contract file was not properly maintained and for a period of time was hidden by the CO. This contract was valued at $100 million.
  • In a third investigation, OIG found that a COR allowed the payment of $792, 782 to a contractor even though the contract file did not contain documents to support the payment. Furthermore, an additional OIG investigation revealed that the contract file was missing a COR appointment letter required by FAR 1.602-2 (d).
  • COR files for a $2.5 million contract lacked status reports and a tally of the funds expended and remaining on the contract. OIG discovered other instances in which contract files lacked contract performance documentation and COR appointment and training certification; CORs failed to maintain technical information and performance records needed to monitor contractor performance; and COR filing systems were disorganized.

 

The Management Alert issued concludes that “The failure to enforce those requirements exposes the Department to significant financial risk and makes OIG oversight more difficult. It creates conditions conducive to fraud, as corrupt individuals may attempt to conceal evidence of illicit behavior by omitting key documents from the contract file. It impairs the ability of the Department to take effective and timely action to protect its interests, and, in turn, those of taxpayers. Finally, it limits the ability of the Government to punish and deter criminal behavior.”

If these contract documents were never completed, what is there to file? If these were filed but misplaced, how do you find files that date back to 2008 for instance on the Worldwide Personal Protective Services II contract in Iraq? Also, without accurate files how do we even know that “It’s not a “we lost money” issue?” 

This is the second Management Alert issued by State/OIG under Steve Linick this year. We have not been able to locate previous management alerts issued by any of his predecessors as Inspector Generals of the State Department.  Perhaps they’re available, not just to the public. But this scrub down is smart.  Every new sheriff should do it. We’re also looking forward to the next alert. It’ll tell us where the new IG is looking under the hood.

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Related items:

-03/31/14   Management Alert – Contract File Management Deficiencies (MA-A-0002)  [1768 Kb]  Posted online April 3, 2014

-01/13/14   Mgmt Alert on OIG Findings of Significant and Recurring Weaknesses in the Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted online January 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US Consulate Kentucky Offers Diplopundit a Green Card Lottery Visa in ALL CAPS, and Wrong Font!

– Domani Spero

We just got this ‘Congratulations! You Won the Green Card Visa Lottery‘ email purporting to originate from the State Department.

Yup, not just from the State Department but from the United States Consulate in Kentucky.  In ALL CAPS. And in wrong font.  You dolts!  Didn’t you get the memo?  12 pt Times New Roman!

In exchange for “a processing fee” of $890 – $1420, the U.S. lottery visa that we apparently “won” also includes free tickets to — the United States. How do we claim this prize and free ticket if we’re already in the United States? We desperately needed a vacation and would like tickets for Hawaii. We were going to call the phone number provided to inquire (offer says do not email because they’re “busy”) but the country code says +66. Mr. Googles says that country code belongs to Thailand.  And here we thought US Consulate Kentucky is in the land of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

Don’t you just want to head to Thailand for spring break, find U.S. Consulate Kentucky’s Secretary General Brooke and punch him in the face?

Screen Capture from US Embassy London

Screen Capture from US Embassy London

So below is the U.S. Consulate in Kentucky, USA with a phone number in Thailand headed by a Secretary General who uses an email without a .gov.  Kidding aside, if you don’t want to be a fraud victim, read this one:  Diversity Visa Program Scammers Sending Fraudulent Emails and Letters.

Apologies for inflicting an ALL CAPS post on our readers but doing this as a PSA:

 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 

NATIONAL- VISA- CENTER 32  ROCHESTER  AVE,

PORTSMOUTH , NH 0358801-2  USA 

CASE- NUMBER::FRC 55865663318AA

PREFERENCES- CATEGORIES:-  (DV DIVERSITY)
FOREIGN- STATE -CHARGEABILITY

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE AMONG THE LUCKY SELECTED WINNERS OF THE U.S. GREEN CARD EMAIL BALLOT LOTTERY PROGRAM OF THE 2014 EDITION .

DETAILS.
THIS E-MAIL BALLOT VISA- LOTTERY- PROGRAM WAS INNOVATED ON 2ND OF MARCH BY- USAFIS, THIS IS THE 2ND EDITION OF THE PROGRAM AND ITS DESIGNED TO BE HELD EVERY YEAR, THE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE PROGRAM IS TO GIVE FREE- VISA’S TO CITIZENS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD WHO WISHES TO TRAVEL TO U.S AND START A NEW LIFE AND WORK.

IN THIS INNOVATED PROGRAM, NO -REGISTRATIONS WERE BEING MADE OR REQUIRED AS THE PROGRAM WAS BEING CONDUCTED THROUGH COMPUTER DRAW SYSTEM OF E-MAIL RANDOM EXTRACTIONS FROM WORLD WIDE REGISTERED WEBSITES.

IN THIS 2ND EDITION OF THE PROGRAM, TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE (225) U.S- VISA’S WERE RELEASED AND 6.3 MILLION E-MAIL ADDRESSES WERE EXTRACTED FROM WORLD WIDE REGISTERED WEB-SITES DURING THE 33-DAYS EXTRACTION PERIOD THAT RAN  FOR FINAL SELECTION, ALL EXTRACTED EMAIL ADDRESSES WERE ASSIGNED TO DIFFERENT TICKET NUMBERS FOR REPRESENTATION AND PRIVACY FOR FINAL- SELECTION THROUGH COMPUTER- DRAW- SYSTEM.

YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS ATTACHED TO TICKET- NUMBER (564002-188) DREW -THE LUCKY- NUMBER’S WHICH SUBSEQUENTLY WON YOU THE U.S VISA AND WE ARE SENDING THE WINNING- NOTIFICATION- DIRECTLY THROUGH THE- SELECTED- WINNING E-MAIL ADDRESS WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU RECEIVE THE WINNING- NOTIFICATION IN YOUR MAIL BOX THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED- AMONG THE LUCKY- WINNER’S.

APPROXIMATELY ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FIVE (155) LUCKY- SELECTED- WINNER’S HAD BEEN NOTIFIED- THROUGH THEIR SELECTED E-MAIL ADDRESSES- INCLUDING YOU TODAY

YOUR VISA- WINNING -IDENTIFICATION- CASE -NUMBER IS (FRC55865663318AA) NOTE THAT YOUR VISA- WINNING IDENTIFICATION CASE NUMBER IS YOUR PIN CODE TO CLAIMING YOUR VISA.

DISQUALIFICATION,
ANY -SELECTED- LUCKY- WINNER FROM THE SOME COUNTRIES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED, THIS IS BECAUSE EACH HAS MORE THAN 50,000 CANDIDATES IN THE U.S:-

BASIC- QUESTION.
HOW CAN I MAKE THE CLAIM OF MY VISA?
YOU WILL OBTAIN YOUR VISA THROUGH THE- U.S CONSULAR OFFICER IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR COUNTRY OF YOUR PRESENT RESIDENCE AND NOTE THAT THE U.S CONSULAR OFFICER IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR COUNTRY OF YOUR PRESENT RESIDENCE WILL NOT ATTEND TO YOU WITHOUT YOUR PROCESSED DOCUMENTS OF WHICH TO ACCESS YOUR VISA WINNINGS THROUGH THEIR NETWORK DATABASE.

OUR VISA PROCESSING AGENTS HAD BEEN APPORTIONED AMONG SIX GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS, ALL SELECTED LUCKY WINNER’S WILL NEED TO ACT ON THEIR CLAIMS APPLICATIONS QUICKLY BEFORE THE VISA CLAIM EXPIRATION DEADLINE(30TH APRIL 2014)

FOR YOUR- VISA- FORM AND REQUIREMENTS,CONTACT OUR ASIA/PACIFIC/MIDDLE EAST -AGENT VIA THIS CONTACT DETAILS,  NAME: MRS DONNA WHITE 

E-MAIL:  ussdc@america.hm
E-MAIL:  usavisa@linuxmail.org


TEL:+66-948762973

 N.B: PROCESSING FEE.
SINGLE- US$890
DUAL- US$1,420

HOW CAN I PAY THE PROCESSING FEE? 
THE FOLLOWING FORMS OF PAYMENT ARE ACCEPTED: 

WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER.
MONEY GRAM.
BANK TRANSFER.

BENEFITS. 
ALL THE SELECTED -LUCKY -WINNER’S WILL GET FREE AIR TICKETS TO THE U.S. YOUR AIR TICKET WILL BE SEND TO YOU BY- OUR  ASIA  /PACIFIC /MIDDLE EAST AGENT TOGETHER WITH YOUR PROCESSED DOCUMENTS.

PLEASE READ AND FOLLOW ALL THE ENCLOSED INSTRUCTIONS VERY CAREFULLY.

DO NOT REPLY BACK TO THIS NOTIFICATION E- MAIL (BUSY)

FOR FURTHER INQUIRIES; 
CONTACT OUR  ASIA  /PACIFIC AGENT WHERE YOUR VISA WINNING DETAILS FALLS.

SINCERELY YOURS,
MR. TONY BROOKE 
SECRETARY GENERAL US CONSULATE  KENTUCKY 

 

If you are not too familiar with visas and the United States, please know that there are no/no U.S. embassies or consulates inside the United States. There is no such thing as a Secretary General or a U.S. Consulate Kentucky. To learn more about the green card lottery, officially called the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program, please check out the official page of the U.S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/immigrate/diversity-visa.html.

 

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Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-03

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U.S. Embassy Pakistan to Get ‘Camel Contemplating Needle’ Sculpture at Reduced Price, Let’s Buy Two!

– Domani Spero

 

Joshua White, the deputy director for South Asia at the Stimson Center tweeted this last week:

On March 30, The Skeptical Bureaucrat blogged about it:

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

Today, it became a Buzzfeed Exclusive, U.S. Taxpayers To Spend $400,000 For A Camel Sculpture In Pakistan:

A camel staring at the eye of a needle would decorate a new American embassy — in a country where the average income yearly is $1,250.
[...]
Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)

To emphasize Baldassari’s fame, the contracting officials pulled a section from Wikipedia. “John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images.”

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, points out to Buzzfeed that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

“Things cost what they cost” would make a nice motto.

In December 2013, The Skeptical Bureaucrat also blogged about the  artwork of Sean Scully that will be displayed at the future new U.S. Embassy in London:

The incomparable State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf displayed some performance art of her own at last Friday’s daily press briefing when she tried to explain why she thinks this purchase is “a good use of our limited resources” (yes, she does):

Okay, on the artwork, we have an Art in Embassies program run through the Office of Art in Embassies which curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. It’s a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. For the past five decades, Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and the artist exchange.

In terms of the London piece, like much of the art purchased by this program, this piece was purchased under the market price after considerable negotiation with both the artist and the gallery. This is an important part of our diplomatic presence overseas. We maintain facilities that serve as the face of the U.S. Government all throughout the world, and where we can promote cross-cultural understanding, and in this case do so for under market value, we think that’s a good use of our limited resources. Yes, we do.

Expect the official response to inquiries on the albino camel with blue eyes contemplating a gigantic needle artwork to take a similar line.

Go ahead, and just write your copy already.

Here’s one that reportedly takes 3 days to clean to bring on the full shine!

Tulips by Jeff Koon U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Tulips by Jeff Koon
U.S. Embassy Beijing, China Photo via Art in Embassies/FB

 

The Office of Art in Embassies, in the Directorate for Operations, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO/OPS/ART) curates, plans, and administers exhibitions of original art for the chief of mission residences overseas. It is also the office which oversees all aspects of the creation of permanent collections for new embassies and consulates through the Capital Security Construction Program. With a focus on cultural diplomacy, these collections feature the artistic heritage of the host country and the United States.

So far, we have not been able to locate a list of the artworks in the State Department’s permanent art collection.

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US Embassy London: Don’t Worry, Be Happy — New Digs Not Funded By Appropriated Funds

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– Domani 
Spero

The U.S. Ambassador to London Matthew Barzun used his new Tumblr to dispel possible misconceptions concerning the construction of the U.S. Embassy in London following reports of funding prohibitions under the FY2014 Omnibus:

I noticed a few news outlets this week reporting that funding for the construction of our new Embassy building may be removed. As this might cause concern among those excited and invested in the redevelopment of Nine Elms, I wanted to put minds at rest.

The new building project is being funded entirely by the proceeds of the sale of other U.S. Government properties in London, not through appropriated funds. This has always been the plan. The proposed Omnibus Spending Bill does not provide any new, additional, restrictions to that plan.

So, construction continues and each month we get closer to the opening day. In the meantime, every six months, the State Department will report to Congress on progress. Our shared future, in a new part of this great city, continues.

The above item is posted here: http://matthewbarzun.tumblr.com.

Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr

Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr

We should note that the State Department signed a conditional agreement with the real estate developer Ballymore to acquire a site in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area in Wandsworth for the construction of a new embassy back in oh, October 2008. That initial agreement was conditioned on the approval of the United States Congress and local planning authorities. In November 2009, the Department entered into an agreement to sell the Chancery in London, located in Grosvenor Square.  The sale is to Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company headquartered in Doha, Qatar.  Then Ambassador Robert Tuttle, President George W. Bush appointee from 2005-2009, led the search for a new site. The 2009 sale agreement with the Qatari company was signed by President Obama’s first appointee to London, Ambassador Louis B. Susman. In November 2013, President Obama’s second appointee to London, Ambassador Barzun presided the groundbreaking ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in the Nine Elms neighborhood in London.

While the sale of the U.S. Embassy property in Grosvenor Square was widely reported, the selling price was not widely known.  The London Evening Standard in 2009 reported that the embassy building was sold to Qatari Diar — the property development arm of the Qatari royal family — for an estimated £500 million (The report also noted that the 225,000 sq ft building could be worth as much as £1 billion when developed).  According to news report quoting Adam Namm, then acting director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (now current ambassador to Ecuador), the new embassy in London estimated to cost $1-billion would be “in the ballpark of the most expensive embassies we have built.”

The FY2014 Omnibus was signed into law by President Obama on January 17, 2014. The only reference to the U.S. Embassy in London that we could locate is under Sec. 7004 under Diplomatic Facilities (p.1148):

(e)(1) The limitation and reporting requirement regarding the New London Embassy contained in section 7004(f) of division I of Public Law 112–74 shall remain in effect during fiscal year 2014.

We dug up PL 112-74 to take a look. Here’s what it says:

(f)(1) None of the funds appropriated under the heading ‘‘Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance’’ in this Act and in prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, made available through Federal agency Capital Security Cost Sharing contributions and reimbursements, or generated from the proceeds of real property sales, other than from real property sales located in London, United Kingdom, may be made available for site acquisition and mitigation, planning, design or construction of the New London Embassy.

(2) Within 60 days of enactment of this Act and every 6 months thereafter until completion of the New London Embassy, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations a report on the project: Provided, That such report shall include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

So no appropriated funds and the funding prohibition in the proposed omnibus does not appear to be in the final version signed by the president. The reporting requirement remains the same at 60 days and every six months thereafter until the embassy is completed in 2017.

Now — if the cost of building a new one in London is about $1 billion and Congress did not and will not make any appropriation for its construction, then that sale price must have cost more than the estimated £500 million. Just an aside — the US Embassy in Iraq, the most expensive embassy we have built to completion todate was started in 2005 and was completed in 2008 at a total cost of $592 million. VOA reported cost of more than $600million, USAToday reported total cost of $700million and in June 2012, WaPo’s Walter Pincus reported cost at $700 million plus $115 million to upgrade.

In any case, two things can happen here: 1) total sale price covers all construction cost and new embassy debuts in 2017; 2) total sale price covers all construction cost of the new embassy but not potential technical/design adjustments or potential cost overruns. If #2 happens, Congress will, at least, have a 6-month notice. If Congress decides to pay expenses in excess of funds from sale, it has two more fy appropriation cycle to make funds available.  Or not. If that happens, the State Department will have to look for other sources of funding. It sits on an annual visa collection fees of over $3 billion, by the way, but that will need congressional approval. Also  Winfield House is on 12 acres of grounds in Regent’s Park, so there’s that.  The mansion reportedly only cost US taxpayers $1.00 when the USG bought it from American heiress Barbara Hutton after World War II. Of course, the mansion which serves as the ambassador’s residence is in the Secretary of State’s Register of Culturally Significant Property, so there’s that, too. Lots of ifs but that’s all potentially in the future, which should be far and away and uncomplicated unless you’re Doctor Who.

No, as far as we know … no, they’re not planning to auction you to pay for the new embassy.  But the groundbreaking just occurred a couple of months ago, so there’s a long ways to go.

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FY2014 Omnibus – State and Foreign Operations Appropriations: $49 Billion

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– Domani Spero

On January 13, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, House Appropriations Ranking Member Nita Lowey, and Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Richard Shelby announced the release of the fiscal year 2014 consolidated appropriations bill.  The bill provides $1.012 trillion for the operation of the federal government and avoids a government shutdown. The Omnibus contains all 12 regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014, with no area of the government functioning under a Continuing Resolution.  Below is a quick summary of the FY 2014 Omnibus – State and Foreign Operations Appropriations:

The State and Foreign Operations portion of the fiscal year 2014 Omnibus contains funding to support American interests, diplomatic operations, and humanitarian assistance abroad. In total, the legislation provides $49 billion in discretionary funding – $4.3 billion less than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.

Within the total, the bill provides full funding for embassy security – plus additional funds for upgrades of temporary missions, such as Benghazi – to prevent and protect against future terrorist attacks, unrest, and other acts of violence.

The bill also provides funding to support security and stability in the Middle East – including for our key allies such as Israel and Jordan and the frontline states of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. For Afghanistan, the bill provides the resources needed for diplomats and development experts to operate safely, but scales back assistance programs to a more sustainable level as U.S. armed forces drawdown during 2014. In addition, contingency funding is included for other areas of conflict and emerging crises, such as Syria and Africa.

In addition, the bill prioritizes global health, humanitarian, and democracy promotion programs – while reducing funding in other lower-priority areas – to advance American interests around the globe and to fulfill the nation’s moral obligation to those in dire need.

State Department Operations and Related Agencies – The bill contains a total of $15.7 billion in base and contingency funding for operational costs of the State Department and related agencies – a decrease of $2.4 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $1 billion less than the request. Within this total, the legislation provides $5.4 billion – $25 million above the amount requested – for embassy security costs relating to the protection of personnel and facilities.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Operations – The bill contains $1.3 billion for USAID operations, a reduction of $215 million from the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. Within this total, $91 million is provided for contingency funding for USAID operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and for the USAID Inspector General to conduct appropriate and rigorous oversight of U.S. taxpayer dollars in those countries.

Funding Prohibitions – The bill seeks to promote good government and rein in unnecessary spending by prohibiting or eliminating funding for a variety of projects and activities. Some include:

    • A prohibition on funding for the renovation of UN Headquarters in New York;
    • A prohibition on appropriations for a new London embassy;
    • Providing no funding or authorities for debt relief for foreign countries;
    • A prohibition on funding to move the Vatican embassy unless certain conditions are met to maintain its importance and authority;
    • A prohibition on aid to Libya until the Secretary of State confirms Libyan cooperation in the Benghazi investigation;
    • A prohibition on funding to implement the UN Arms Trade Treaty; and
    • Providing no funding for assessed and voluntary contributions for the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Groundbreaking Ceremony, U.S. Embassy London November 2013 (Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

Groundbreaking Ceremony, U.S. Embassy London
November 2013
(Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

International Security Assistance – The bill provides a total of $8.5 billion in base and contingency funding for international security assistance. This includes funds for international narcotics control, anti-terrorism programs, nonproliferation programs, peacekeeping operations, and other critical international security and stabilization efforts. It also provides funds to support ongoing counter-narcotics and law enforcement efforts in Mexico, Colombia, and Central America.

Israel: In addition, the legislation provides security assistance to key allies, including fully funding the $3.1 billion commitment to the United States-Israel Memorandum of Understanding.

Egypt: Allows requested funds to be provided to Egypt if certain conditions are met – including maintaining the strategic relationship with the United States, upholding the peace treaty with Israel, and meeting milestones Egyptians have set for their political transition.

Palestinian Authority: The legislation stops economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinians obtain membership to the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement with Israel. In addition, the bill puts new restrictions on aid if the Palestinians pursue actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court. New language is included to ensure that the Palestinian Authority is taking action to counter incitement of violence.

Afghanistan:  Withholds funds for the Government of Afghanistan until certain conditions are met, including having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement and safeguards being in place to ensure that U.S. assistance is not taxed. It also withholds a portion of funds until proper security is in place for implementers of USAID and State Department programs. In addition, the legislation strengthens requirements on the rights of Afghan women and girls and combatting corruption.

According to WaPo, the measure includes $85.2 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, a $2 billion cut from fiscal 2013 due in part to ongoing troop reductions. But the agreement also withholds money for the Afghan government “until certain conditions are met,” including a decision to sign a new bilateral security agreement (via).

The bill reportedly also authorizes a 1 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers and U.S. military personnel.

Read more on State here. See the Appropriations Committee here.  WaPo has a quick look at the winners and losers of the new spending bill. here.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Bills, Congress, Follow the Money, FS Funding, Govt Reports/Documents, New Embassy Compound, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

Couple in State Dept $53 Million Contract Fraud Gets 18-24 Months in Prison

– Domani Spero

In May and September 2013 we blogged about this case (See State Dept Contract Employee/Husband Indicted For Alleged Secret Scheme to Steer More Than $60 Million Contracts to Their Company and Ex-State Dept Contract Employee And Husband Plead Guilty To $53 Million Fraud. The Daily Caller broke this story in July 19, 2013.  The contractor, Kathleen McGrade was reportedly fired the day after.

Last week, the same couple at the center of this contracting fraud was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., were sentenced to 24 and 18 months incarceration, respectively.  Given that each defendant faced a maximum penalty of 360 months or 30 years imprisonment, the 18-24 months incarceration is a bargain.

WaPo reports additional details during the sentencing:

In a lengthy speech before she was sentenced, McGrade offered various explanations for her misdeeds and told a federal judge in Alexandria that she was in court only because she had “been told that somehow the procurements that took place were illegal.”
[…]

As O’Grady handed down the two-year sentence — far short of the five years and 10 months that federal sentencing guidelines had called for as a minimum — he said McGrade had nearly persuaded him to impose a stiffer penalty.

“That was almost a delusional recitation of what has occurred here,” O’Grady said. “To convince yourself that it’s everybody else’s fault is astonishing, given the facts of this case.”

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Contract Employee And Husband Sentenced For $53 Million Fraud | December 6, 2013

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., were sentenced today to 24 and 18 months incarceration, respectively, by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia for committing major fraud against the government, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Dana J. Boente, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State; and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Section, Washington, D.C. Field Office, made the announcement following the sentencing hearing.

According to Court records, McGrade and Collinsworth admitted that McGrade was a contract employee for the Department of State and performed the role of a contract specialist for an office that awarded construction contracts for work done at U.S. embassies worldwide.  Collinsworth worked at one of the companies that received contracts.  In 2006, the defendants married, but did not tell others at the Department of State.  The defendants started a company, the Sterling Royale Group, or SRG, with McGrade being the president and Collinsworth the vice-president and project manager.

In late 2007, McGrade caused a State Department contracting officer to sign a contract between the Department of State and SRG, when McGrade failed to disclose her role in SRG, her marriage, or that proper contracting competitive procedures had not been followed.  The contract made SRG eligible to receive task orders for work to be done at embassies and McGrade  began steering work to the company.  She acted as the contract negotiator between the Department of State engineers responsible for getting the jobs done, on the one hand, and Collinsworth, who was acting on behalf of SRG and the subcontractors, on the other.  Between 2008 and 2011, McGrade caused  Department of State contracting officers to sign 17 task orders awarding work worth almost $53 million.  In 2010, the defendants also lied about their marriage to investigators conducting McGrade’s background investigation regarding renewal of her security clearance.

In the summer of 2011 a news article disclosed the defendants’ marriage, and the Department of State terminated her employment.  The Department of State, however, had paid SRG about $39 million, and after the defendants had paid their subcontractors, they still had millions of dollars.  Among other things, they bought houses, a condominium, a yacht, a Lexus automobile, jewelry, and a Steinway piano with the fraudulently obtained money.  The defendants were ordered to forfeit all of those items in the amount of $7,864,795.

This case was investigated by the Department of State, Office of Inspector General, and the Global Illicit Financial Team, a task force led by the Criminal Investigation Section of the Internal Revenue Service.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jack Hanly and Mark D. Lytle are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.

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Filed under Contractors, Court Cases, Federal Agencies, Follow the Money, Hall of Shame, State Department

49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam

– Domani Spero

Well, this isn’t good.  The defendants are current or former Russian diplomats or spouses of diplomats connected with the Russian Mission in the United States.  The alleged widespread Medicaid fraud occurred from 2004 to August 2013. Apparently, approximately $1,500,000 in fraudulently received benefits were obtained by the defendants and dozens of other co-conspirators not named in the complaint in the last 9 years.

Via USDOJ:

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), today announced charges against 49 defendants for participating in a widespread fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013 to illegally obtain nearly half a million dollars in Medicaid benefits. Each of the defendants charged in the Complaint unsealed today is a current or former Russian diplomat or the spouse of a diplomat employed at either the Russian Mission to the United Nations (the “Mission”), the Russian Federation Consulate General in New York (the “Consulate”), or the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in the USA, New York Office (the “Trade Representation”). The Complaint alleges that each of the defendants and their unnamed co-conspirators participated in a widespread scheme to illegally obtain Medicaid benefits for prenatal care and related costs by, among other things, falsely underreporting their income or falsely claiming that their child was a citizen of the United States.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country. Here, as alleged, a multitude of Russian diplomats and their spouses ran a scam on a health care system designed to help Americans in need. As the Complaint alleges, the scam exploited a weakness in the Medicaid system, and the charges expose shameful and systemic corruption among Russian diplomats in New York.”

According to the announcement, each of the defendants was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to health care matters, which carry maximum sentences of ten years and five years in prison, respectively.

Apparently, of the 49 defendants, 38 no longer reside in the United States.  There are, however, still 11 currently in the country. According to USDOJ, five of those individuals are diplomats working at the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York. Another five of those individuals are the spouses of the diplomats. One defendant is currently employed at the Russian Federation’s embassy in Washington, D.C., but at the time of the charged offenses, was employed at the Consulate.

According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed on December 5 in the Manhattan federal court:

Medicaid is a largely federally funded program in the United States designed to assist low-income families afford health care. In New York State, the Department of Health administers the Medicaid program, and the New York City Human Resources Administration oversees the program and processes applications in New York City. In New York State, pregnant women can receive immediate prenatal care following a preliminary assessment of the pregnant woman’s, and, if applicable, her spouse’s, income. If the pregnant woman provides an income level that is higher than the Medicaid eligibility threshold, the provider will generally not process the Medicaid application. Proof of United States citizenship is not required for a pregnant woman to receive Medicaid benefits because the unborn child is presumed to acquire United States citizenship by virtue of being born in the United States. Once completed, the pregnant woman is entitled to Medicaid benefits pursuant to the original application until the 60th post-partum day, and the newborn child is entitled to benefits on the mother’s initial application until the child’s first birthday. Diplomats, their spouses and children are generally not entitled to Medicaid benefits except in cases of emergency.

While in the United States, the individuals employed by the Mission, Consulate, and Trade Representation are paid a salary by the Russian government, which is not subject to United States federal, state, or local taxes. Employees of the Mission and Consulate generally live in housing, the vast majority of which is paid for by the Russian government. The Mission and Consulate historically have also paid for the medical expenses of their employees, including hospital and doctor bills, as well as dental expenses. Each of the defendants named in the Complaint is a Russian diplomat who works or worked at the Mission, Consulate, or Trade Representation, or was married to such an individual. As a result of an international convention among multiple nations and a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia, children born in the United States to Russian diplomats generally do not acquire United States citizenship.

The investigation revealed the widespread submission of falsified applications for Medicaid benefits associated with medical costs for prenatal care, birth, and young children by the defendants, which enabled the defendants to obtain Medicaid benefits that they were not otherwise entitled to receive. Approximately $1,500,000 in fraudulently received benefits were obtained by the defendants and dozens of other co-conspirators not named in the Complaint. In general, the defendants underreported their income to an amount below or at the applicable Medicaid eligibility level in order to qualify for Medicaid benefits. In support of the underreported income, the defendants generally submitted letters signed by employees of the Mission, Consulate, or Trade Representation, purporting to corroborate that the falsely underreported income was the true income amount. The defendants’ true income was often hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more per month than what was falsely reported to Medicaid. Moreover, before, during, and after the time that the defendants received Medicaid benefits, several of the defendants opened credit card accounts in which they reflected salaries thousands of dollars higher than they reported to Medicaid.

[...]

Three other defendants falsely claimed that their children – Russian nationals residing in the United States pursuant to visas issued by the Department of State reflecting their Russian citizenship – were citizens of the United States in order to obtain Medicaid benefits for their children. To support these lies, a United States social security card was provided for one application, and both a United States Social Security Card and a birth certificate issued by the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene was provided in support of another application.

[...]

Moreover, before, during, and after the time that the defendants applied for and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Medicaid benefits, they spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury items, including cruise vacations and purchases such as watches, shoes, and jewelry, at stores such as Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, Prada, Bloomingdale’s, and Burberry.

If you want to read the official complaint, click here: Kuleshov, Mikhail et al. 13 MAG 2711 Complaint

Meanwhile, at the State Department, the Spokesperson said on 12/5: “We are still at the State Department reviewing the charges that were unsealed. We’re not yet in a position to speak to the types of specifics about what might happen. Obviously, there is a legal procedure that will be unfolding from this point.” Below is an additional back and forth during the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: Well, does it concern you at all that employees of the Russian Government, while in this country, were involved in – allegedly involved in such a scam? Will you ask the Russian Government to repay what was – what they allegedly stole, for lack of a better word?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re still looking into the charges and the type of specifics in terms of reimbursement and all of that. We’re still – we don’t have any position on that yet. We’re still looking at the charges. And as we go forward, we may have more to share.
[..]

QUESTION: I would suggest to you that 49 is more than a handful, and this appears to have been going on over a sustained period of time. And it’s unlikely that the Russian Government was unaware that these people were –

MS. HARF: I don’t know if they were –

QUESTION: You’ve read the charges?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if they were –

QUESTION: I mean, they were buying incredibly expensive jewelry, taking these fabulous vacations. You would think –

MS. HARF: I honestly don’t know if they were aware. We don’t think this should affect our bilateral relationship with Russia. Quite frankly, there are too many important issues we have to work on together. The justice system will proceed in the way that it does here in the States, and we don’t think it should impact our relationship.

Quite frankly, this was an FBI undercover operation  that went on for about a year and a half.  So a little appreciation for the work done by law enforcement agents would not be too undiplomatic, is it?  The FBI agent’s statement also notes that of the 63 births to the Russian diplomats and their spouses in New York City between the years 2004 and 2013, 58 of those families, or 92% were allegedly paid for by Medicaid benefits. False letters from senior Russian officials were allegedly routinely annexed to the Medicaid applications. The Russian official signatories include a Deputy Trade Representative, a consul, an attache’ and a counselor, according to the complaint.

Now, can you imagine Elizabeth Jennings doing something like this?

WaPo is reporting that the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the charges “no more than a cheap spin effort, no more than a desire to fulfill the order of Russophobic forces in the United States.” Also just so everyone knows, Ryabkov added that “We have many complaints about U.S. diplomats in Moscow, but we aren’t taking them into the public domain.”

This is now a diplomatic embarrassment. Friends at US Mission Russia, watch yourselves.

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