Category Archives: Hall of Shame

The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we posted a Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities and wondered why Raymond Maxwell’s former office as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the NEA Bureau did not get an organizational box. Our readers here may recall that Mr. Maxwell was one of the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report. On August 20, 2013, all four officials were ordered to return to duty. Mr. Maxwell officially retired from the State Department on November 30, 2013. Prior to his retirement he filed a grievance case with HR where it was denied and appealed the case to the Foreign Service Grievance Board where it was considered “moot and thus denied in its entirety.”

Our blog post last week, also received the following comment from Mr. Maxwell:

“[M]y grievance was found to have no merit by HR, and earlier this month, the FSGB found that the State Department made no errors in the way I was removed from my position, shamed and humiliated in the press, and placed on admin leave for nine months, Further, the FSGB found that I was not entitled to the public apology I sought in my grievance because I had retired. I have two options now. I can spend a great deal of money suing the Department in local courts, or I can let it go and move on with my life. My choice of the latter option neither erases the Department’s culpability in a poorly planned and shoddily executed damage control exercise, nor protects future foreign service officers from experiencing a similar fate. There is no expectation of due process for employees at State, no right to privacy, and no right to discovery.”

We spent the weekend hunting down Mr. Maxwell’s grievance case online; grievants’ names are redacted from the FSGB cases online. When we finally found it, we requested and was granted Mr. Maxwell’s permission to post it online.

The Maxwell case teaches us a few hard lessons from the bureaucracy and none of them any good. One, when you fight city hall, you eventually get the privilege to leave the premises. Two, when you’re run over by a truckload of crap, it’s best to play dead; when you don’t, a bigger truckload of crap is certain to run you over a second or third time to make sure you won’t know which crap to deal with first. But perhaps, the most disappointing lesson of all — all the good people involved in this shameful treatment of a public servant  — were just doing … just doing their jobs and playing their roles in the proper functioning of the service. No one stop and said, wait a minute …. They tell themselves this was such a  sad, sad case; they feel sorry for how “Ray” was treated. It’s like when stuff happens, or when it falls — se cayó. No one specific person made it happen; the Building made them do it. The deciding officials apparently thought, “This was not an easy matter with an easy and obvious resolution.” Here — have a drink, it’ll make you feel better about looking the other away.  See he was “fired” but he wasn’t really fired.  He was prevented from entering his old office, and then not really. Had he kept quiet and did not write those poems …who knows, ey …

We’re embedding two documents below –1) Maxwell’s FSGB case, also available online here (pdf); and 2) an excerpt from the Oversight Committee report that focused on Mr. Maxwell’s  alleged “fault” over Benghazi. Just pray that this never happens to you.

 

 

Below excerpted from the House Oversight Committee report on ARB Benghazi:

 

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Burn Bag: One RMO/P’s ‘just need a man’ prescription

Via Burn Bag:

“When I finally saw the Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist (RMO/P) for help, I was told I just needed a man to make me happy.”

Via reactiongifs

Via reactiongifs

 

 

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The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate

– Domani Spero

We recently blogged about the hold on the commission, tenure and promotion of 1,705 career Foreign Service employees at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (See Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?).

We wondered then if this was one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuclear” option.

Here’s what we were told by AFSA:

“FYI – this has nothing to do with the nuclear option – its strictly about State’s vetting process.”

AFSA then sent us a link of its April 1 notice to its membership: Ask the Senate to Support Foreign Service Employees!

After reading that, we were struck by the following line:

“We urge the SFRC to address issues regarding vetting of names for criminal background checks collaboratively. Simultaneously we ask the SFRC to grant these men and women the commissioning, tenure and promotions for which they’ve been recommended.”

Huh?

We asked AFSA again — what sort of vetting are we talking about here? All these nominees pending on the SFRC have Top Secret clearances and have been vetted by Diplomatic Security.

We got the following response:

“There are some differences in what the State Department does and what DoD does both in substance and information provided to oversight committees. […] it does NOT have to do with DS vetting and TS clearances.  There may be some periods of time and activity that are not being captured by current vetting process and I think State is amenable to working with committee to resolve.”

We did the underline there.  We don’t know what the heck that means!

So nothing to do with the nuclear option.

Nothing to do with Diplomatic Security vetting.

And nothing to do with TS clearances.

Wow!

What a strange mess! Anybody know what this is really all about?

Again from your elected AFSA official:

“Both the State Department and DoD vet/scrub the lists with internal and external agencies before they send the list to the Senate and its respective committees – SFRC, SASC.  This vetting/scrub is what is being discussed.”

Arghhh! Arff! Arff!

AFSA’s letter to the SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Bob Corker does not explain how this mess started in December 2013 but provides some details on the groups impacted by the Senate hold:

Now 1800 FS Employees Stuck at the SFRC

“[W]e are writing to convey our deep concerns about the impact that the delayed confirmations of tenure and promotions for career Foreign Service employees is having on U.S. diplomatic operations and U.S. national interests. When we raised this matter back in December 2013, nearly 1,300 individuals were affected by the holds. As of this time, there are approximately 1,800 members of the Foreign Service from four foreign affairs agencies (Department of State, USAID, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Foreign Commercial Service) who await Senate confirmation of appointment, tenure, or promotion.”

200 FS Employees Waiting to Officially Join the SFS

“Of these, over 200 employees of all four agencies are awaiting confirmation of their promotions into or within the Senior Foreign Service. These members are affected financially in two distinct ways. First, the pay increases earned as a result of their promotions cannot be paid until attestation by the president, nor can the promotions be back-dated so as to overcome this loss of remuneration. Second, unless the promotions are confirmed and attested before April 15, 2014, they are not eligible to be reviewed for, or to receive, performance pay. In addition, uncertainty besets the onward assignments of these 200 members. Failure to confirm these officers as members of the Senior Foreign Service affects the ability of consulates, embassies and USAID missions to conduct the business of the United States overseas.”

Over 900 Waiting for FSO Commissions

“Over 900 of the remaining officers are awaiting commissioning as Foreign Service officers and secretaries in the diplomatic service, almost half of whom have been waiting close to a year. Several of them are approaching the limit of their 5-year Limited Career Appointments. If that expires without their being commissioned, they are supposed to leave the Foreign Service in accordance with Section 309 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC §3949.) Moreover, as untenured officers, they are ineligible to receive some pay differentials for positions, which they currently encumber. Overall, this is having a severe effect on their morale and their eligibility for onward assignments. Unfortunately, this prolonged wait and uncertainty is coloring their impressions of public service at the beginning of their careers.”

Over 600 FSOs Without Consular Commissions

“Finally, over 600 new Foreign Service officers, just starting their Limited Career Appointments, have not yet received commissions as consular officers. Without a Consular Commission, these entry-level officers are technically not authorized to adjudicate visas and perform other consular work. In addition, the possession of a Consular Commission is generally a prerequisite to the granting by a host nation of all necessary diplomatic privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention.”

 

So, when we read this, our immediate reaction was where is the State Department leadership in all this? We know that Secretary Kerry and his top officials are often traveling but  there’s a whole lot of ranking officials in Foggy Bottom who could interface with the leadership and staff of the SFRC. Where is the Under Secretary for Management? Where is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources?

But see – what we heard from insiders is that the State Department reportedly said: “AFSA had the lead on fixing this.” 

Well, that’s terribly odd, isn’t it?

Secretary Kerry was at the SFRC on April 8, and made passing mention of the nominations, but we sorta think he’s talking about the top ranking nominees.  We don’t even know if he’s aware that 1,800 of his employees are stuck in the committee:

“I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee.”

The Secretary did not specifically mention that  Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources on February 17, 2012 has been stuck in committee with Super Glue for 760 days.

Secretary Kerry also did not specifically mentioned the blanket senate hold during the April 8 hearing that affects about 10% of his agency’s workforce. And really — what do you do with 600 consular officers without their Consular Commissions? Have they been adjudicating visas without their Consular Commissions, and if so, what kind of immunity and diplomatic privileges are afforded these officials overseas?

But wait, like on teevee — there’s more!

We are now also hearing disturbing allegations that the genesis of this mess started long before December 2013, even going back to 2012.

It is alleged that this all started with one name on the promotion list. The original initiator (who apparently is not/not a stranger to AFSA and the State Department) allegedly brought a specific name on the promotion list to the attention of a Senate staffer. It is alleged that the action was taken using personal connections cultivated in the Senate. The key question at that time allegedly revolved around the security clearance of one — one specific individual and resulted in the removal of  this individual’s name from the promotion list.

Now, why would anyone do that?

If we could hire Veronica Mars, she’d definitely bug this  Mr. Initiator guy then we’d have the full story.

It is further alleged that  subsequent to the removal of that one name from the promotion list, the same SFRC staffer also identified several other FSOs who were subjects of “investigations” at some point in their careers. In most cases, these investigations reportedly were in the medium to distant past (as much as 10 or 15 years ago). Our source, clearly frustrated says that the fact that these investigations occurred in the past has not deterred the senator’s office pursuit of these FSOs.

This year’s senate hold reportedly started with an assertion by one senator’s office that the military vets people better than State does, and that the State Department list is “riddled with people” whose actions had been questioned “by OIG and others.”  We don’t know who consists of “others.” Our source familiar with this matter but speaking on background said that one senator reportedly vowed “not to approve any FS name until the matter was resolved.” The same SFRC staffer allegedly involved in the initial promotion list snafu works for this one senator. Senior State Department officials have reportedly demonstrated that, unlike the military, all State employees have TS clearances which include name checks. We’re told that at the senate’s request, the SOP on vetting at the State Department now goes “further” than what is required by the military. We do not know what “further” or additional layers of vetting were added.

The following areas were supposedly contentious:

#1. The automatic exclusion of any employees with criminal convictions.
#2. The separate nomination of any employees with “problems.”

Say, wait — how many State Department employees with criminal convictions have been able to hold on to their Top Secret clearance? One, two, a hundred, five hundred?

The number is .. wait for it …. ZERO.

How many State Department employees under investigation or with criminal convictions have been able to keep their names on the promotion list? Hey, don’t they yank your name from that promotion list as soon as there is an investigation with your name on it?

Employees who previously faced investigations and have successfully prevailed/survived the investigations will now be singled out on the promotion list? Why? Should they also be required to wear  “NOT GUILTY BUT” t-shirts to work?

If these employees have been cleared of wrongdoing, why is the Senate hardballing them?

We do not know the full story about this Senate hold involving some 1,800 FS employees but AFSA and the State Department should know who were the names targeted from the promotion lists and why. And if they don’t know the why, then they should find out, of course. If a Senate staffer who has worked in Congress for years just got out of bed one day and decided he/she wants to put a hold on 1,800 names because the “vetting” and “scrubbing” of names have been unsatisfactory all this time — we should all ask why.

Because.  Motive, motive, motive.

Let’s start at the very beginning… oh, where is Sherlock when you need him?

If  the allegation is true, that this whole merry go round mess was initiated by one Foreign Service insider and got out of hand … now then, you’ve got a mess, Houston. One FS person was initially targeted by another FS person using contacts in the Senate. That’s pretty personal.

It looks like you’ve got a petty little beaver who never left hight  high school …

And he’s representing the United States of America.

On Friday, April 11, AFSA released this: Senate Confirms Tenure and Promotion!

 

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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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Donor Ambassadors Are Here to Stay Because — #1 Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey (With ABBA)

– Domani Spero

On February 14, WaPo did the top 10 reasons to keep political ambassadors. It wasn’t terribly funny. The 10th item on the list, “The system is unlikely to change anytime soon” drove our friends insane.  They haven’t recovered yet from that shock and awe. Meanwhile, the uproar over the nominees who bungled their confirmation hearings continue to make waves.  Despite all that, former Senator Max “I’m no real expert” Baucus was confirmed as our next ambassador to China.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had also cleared the way for the full Senate vote for  the other nominees who did their made for Comedy Central moments at the SFRC.

For those who are shocked that an Obama nominee has never been to Argentina, might they also be awed that a George W. Bush ambassador had only visited Canada once–more than 30 years ago on a trip to Niagara Falls, prior to his appointment and subsequent confirmation?  Another George W. Bush ambassador was out of the country 37 percent of the time. (WaPo reported that the nominee’s mortgage company was investigated by 30 state regulators so that may have something to do with the absences.) Not to be outdone, an Obama ambassador to the Bahamas was also absent from post for 276 days during a 670-day period.

These are not the cringe-worthy parts.  But the thing is, this controversy over the nominations of political donors to cushy ambassadorships is a story that regularly repeats itself every few years.  They are typically followed by quite a rumpus ruckus, only to settle down after a short while, and to reappear after a few years.  We do think that political ambassadors, particularly the sub-group of wealthy donors and bundlers who gets appointed as chiefs of missions to our embassies will not go away anytime soon. We’re going to chop down the top reasons why … well, this piece kept getting longer so we’re posting this in parts.

Donor ambassadors are here to stay because –

#1. Elections Cost Money, Money, Honey

If we were a band, we’d write the song,  Money, Money, Money — ohw, but ABBA did it already!

In 2004, President George W. Bush won his second term over John Kerry with 286 of the electoral votes. That presidential election cost $1,910,230,862.  In 2008, President Obama won against John McCain with 365 electoral votes. That presidential race cost $2,799,728,146. In 2012, President Obama won reelection over Mitt Romney with 332 electoral votes.  That race cost slightly cheaper than the previous election at only $2,621,415,792 but there is no reason to believe that we’re on a downward spiral when it comes to big money in politics.

Here is Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics last year:  “You do not wage a financially viable campaign without hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said. “There is far greater reliance on the bundling operation, and I don’t see any evidence or reason to be hopeful that the donor rewards that are attendant to this system will diminish anytime soon. They go hand in hand.”

We imagine that the cost of the 2016 presidential election will be for the records book. All that money will not come from a money tree.

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Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade Strip Search Video Is Fake – Here’s Proof

– Domani Spero

There is a video circulating on social media which claims to be showing the CCTV footage of the strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade after her arrest in New York.   The video was “user submitted” on zemtv.com on January 3, 2013 under the headline CCTV Footage of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade being strip searched By U.S Police. The video is online on Tune.pk, Pakistan’s video sharing website where it has 18.9K views, on DailyMotion where it has 123,011 views and on YouTube, where the video is no longer displayed but the following notice is up “Indian diplomat D…” This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Arup Bhattacharya.” Both videos are 1:10 minutes in length and appears to be the same footage.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04

Click on image to view the video on Tune.pk
(Warning: graphic images)

screen capture of YouTube video

screen capture of YouTube video

This alleged CCTV footage of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s strip search is a hoax.  It is ill-intentioned and could put Americans, particularly official Americans in danger.  Given that the Khobragade’s case has already spawned a good number of conspiracy theories, particularly in India, we don’t think that people will just accept it when we say this is a hoax. “Allegedly a hoax” is how the official denial that this video is a hoax is referred to in some parts of social media.

This is not/not “allegedly a hoax” but a real hoax. Nothing but video fakery and we’ve got proof.

The woman in the alleged Khobragade video is not/not the Indian diplomat but Hope Steffey, a U.S. citizen strip-searched by the Stark County sheriff’s department in Ohio in 2006.  The video was obtained by Ms. Steffey’s lawyer and released to the public in 2008 (See 12:44 minute video with Tom Meyer for WKYC-TV, Channel 3, Cleveland, OH)

The screen capture from a report by WKYC-TV (uploaded by a different YouTube user) shows the same woman on a blue mattress being strip searched.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04

Click on image to view video of Hope Steffey in the Stark Country jail in Ohio, 2008.
(Warning: Graphic images)

In June 2010, WKYC-TV reported that the settlement of the Hope Steffey lawsuit against Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson, accusing his deputies of using brutal and excessive force resulted in the payment of $475,000. The total cost to Stark County to defend and settle the Steffey lawsuit was reportedly more than $705,000.  It also resulted in the insurance premium for the country county to dramatically jump from $34,261 in 2008 to $195,350 in 2010.

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If True That Foreign Diplomats in the U.S. Are “Eligible” for Medicaid — That’s Absolutely Bonkers!

– Domani Spero

In early December, 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”), announced charges against 49 current or former Russian diplomats or spouses of diplomats employed at the Russian Mission in the United States for participating in a widespread fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013 to illegally obtain nearly
$1.5 million dollars in Medicaid benefits. (See 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam).

On December 6, during the Daily Press Briefing, the State Department deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf said this:

“We routinely inform all foreign missions in the U.S. – most recently we did this in November – that we expect their personnel to maintain health insurance coverage. So under U.S. law, nonimmigrants, which diplomats fall under in this case, who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”

Whaaat?!

Lest we get all excited, this is the same spokesperson, of course, who could not say what appropriate consular assistance is provided when an American citizen dies abroad.  Or who says from the podium that “It’s not for any State Department official to sign off on any arrests, right, even regarding a foreign diplomat.”  Whoops!  (We heard that the Special Agents of the Diplomatic Security Service toppled over in their swivel chairs when the clip aired on YouTube).

Then on December 14, UPI reported that “Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “some of the diplomats accused of glomming on to the U.S. healthcare system were actually entitled to do so.”

Entitled to do so?  As in  a legal right or a just claim to receive it?

On December 16, Interfax also reported that Moscow is “already taking disciplinary measures in relation to the Russian diplomats accused in the U.S. of unlawfully receiving Medicaid benefits to cover the pregnancy and childbirth costs.”

The report quotes Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying, “This is a disciplinary offence, because, by being insincere in filing applications and citing inaccurate figures to receive some benefits, they violated the host country’s norms and rules, which a diplomat has no right to do. I’d like to stress once again: they are being subjected and will be subjected to disciplinary action.”  Now, the same report repeats this notion that some of the Russian diplomats were “entitled” to apply for such assistance due to their low income:

“We have looked into this. First, the allegation that none of them was entitled to this because they are foreigners is wrong. There are different laws in various states of the U.S. that allow for using Medicaid benefits by foreigners. Second, it is not quite true that the Russian diplomats’ incomes did not make them eligible for receiving such payments through Medicaid,” he said.

“We have studied the files of the said colleagues, and it turned out that at least some of them had salaries that entitled them to apply for such assistance from the U.S. fund at that moment. 

How bonkers is that?  That American taxpayers are subsidizing the health care cost of foreign diplomats in the United States.  Which part of this makes sense? Medicaid is a federally funded program designed to assist low-income families afford health care. And in this case, if the allegations are true, Russian diplomats took public assistance that would have been  helpful to low income Americans.

The big question now is — can we also call this foreign aid?

Screen Shot 2013-12-26

Extracted from Medicaid Renewal Form
(click image for larger view)

Now Congress wants to know Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is going on here. The SFRC is missing on this but U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently expressed “serious concern about foreign diplomats receiving, and reportedly defrauding, U.S. Government-funded benefits programs.” In his letter to Secretary Kerry, Chairman Royce requested a meeting plus written answers to the following questions:

1.      How will the Administration treat the 11 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, remain in the United States?  Will you ask the Russian government to waive their immunity so that they can be prosecuted?  If not, will the Department declare them persona non grata?

2.      How will the Administration treat the 38 named defendants who, according to the U.S. Attorney, no longer reside in the United States?  Will you request that they be extradited to stand trial?  If not, will the Department impose a U.S. visa ban on them?

3.      How will the Administration treat the unindicted co-conspirators at Russian diplomatic offices in the U.S. who allegedly advised and assisted the named defendants by supplying false documentation to New York officials in support of the fraudulent Medicaid claims?

4.      Will the Administration bill the Russian government for the Medicaid benefits its personnel fraudulently used?  If not, how will New York State’s Medicaid program be compensated for the loss?

5.      On December 5, 2013, Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We are still…reviewing the charges that were unsealed.”  How closely did the U.S. Attorney, Department of Justice, or Federal Bureau of Investigation cooperate with the Department of State during the investigation?  What steps did the U.S. Attorney take to coordinate with the Department of State before filing the complaint on November 18, 2013 or unsealing it on December 5, 2013?

This situation also raises a number of important questions about government programs that provide benefits to foreign diplomats.  I therefore would appreciate written answers to the following questions not later than January 13, 2014:

6.      On December 6, 2013, Department of State Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf stated that foreign diplomats in the United States “who meet certain eligibility criteria may apply for and receive federally funded medical care.”  What are the medical programs for which foreign diplomats may be eligible?  What are the eligibility criteria?  Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have used these programs?  What was the total cost of the benefits provided?  Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization.

7.      Are foreign diplomats eligible for government-funded benefits other than Medicaid (e.g., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)?  If so, which programs and what are the eligibility criteria?  Over the last 10 years, how many foreign diplomats have taken advantage of these programs?  What was the total cost of the benefits provided?  Please provide these data sorted by foreign diplomatic mission or international organization.

8.      Is the Administration aware of other cases where foreign diplomats fraudulently or inappropriately obtained Medicaid or other government-funded benefits?  Please provide the details of these cases, including the cost of any benefits that were inappropriately obtained.

9.      What is the Administration doing to ensure that foreign diplomats cannot inappropriately obtain government-funded benefits in the future?  Has the Administration asked relevant government benefit agencies to check their rolls for the names of foreign diplomats?  Does the Department regularly provide a list of foreign diplomats to relevant government benefit agencies?

And — if some foreign diplomats in the United States are “eligible” for Medicaid, how about some of their underpaid domestic workers, are they eligible, too?

Oh, for god’s sakes, maybe the State Department should just publish a handbook of freebies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Embassy Row’s Dirty Little Secret: Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers by Diplomats

– Domani Spero

The logic behind a restrictive interpretation of functional immunity is that while a diplomat may be protected from some distractions to aid his purpose, there ought to be no need for him to violate the laws of his host state to do so. As many legal scholars have pointed out, a diplomats behaviour in his host country is best described by the Arabic proverb, يا غريب خليك أديب (ya ghareeb, khalleek adeeb) – O stranger, be thou courteous. — Jaideep Prabhu 

Back when ….

In 2007, the Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats may be abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas.  A subsequent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report the following year revealed that 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008. The GAO believes the total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases.

Via GAO 2008

Via GAO 2008

Each year, the State Department issues A-3 and G-5 visas to individuals whose employers are foreign diplomats on official purposes in the United States. Most of these individuals are hired to work for foreign diplomats in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, or Virginia. According to the 2008 GAO report, for fiscal years 2000 through 2007, 207 U.S. embassies and consular posts overseas issued 10,386 A-3 visas and 7,522 G-5 visas.

Recent State Department statistics indicate that from 2008 through 2012, it issued 5,330 A-3 visas to attendant, servant, or personal employee of A1 visa holders (ambassador, public minister, career diplomat, consul, and immediate family) and A2 visa holders (other foreign government official or employee, and immediate family).  It also issued 4,196 G-5 visas to attendant, servant, or personal employee of G1 through G4 (international organization officials and representatives).  That’s about a 50% decrease on A-3 visas and a 44% decrease in G5 visas issued since 2008. What might have accounted for that huge drop?

How about the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008?  Click here for the laws on trafficking in persons dating back to the year 2000.

In any case — five years ago today, President George W. Bush signed the TVPRA to combat human trafficking. Section 203 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires the secretary of state to suspend  the issuance of A–3 visas or G–5 visas to applicants seeking to work for officials of a diplomatic mission or an international organization, if the Secretary determines that there is credible evidence that 1 or more employees of such mission or international organization have abused or exploited 1 or more nonimmigrants holding an A–3 visa or a G–5 visa, and that the diplomatic mission or international organization tolerated such actions.

No secretary of state has ever exercise the authority to suspend any diplomatic mission despite some repeat offenders. For a look at what the State Department has done/not done when it comes to TVPA and domestic employees of foreign diplomats in the United States, read Janie A. Chuang’s critical paper on Achieving Accountability for Migrant Domestic Worker Abuse in the 2010 North Carolina Law Review.  One of the sections talks about the State Department’s “Failure to Use Power to Name, Shame, and Deter Wrongdoers.”

Chief of Mission Accountability

In 2008, the State Department through USUN sent this note verbale on the Treatment of Domestic Workers at UN Missions.

Recently, the host country has learned of a number of allegations of trafficking in persons with respect to domestic workers, including allegations of involuntary servitude and physical abuse. For example, this Mission has periodically been informed of instances where wages actually paid are less than those stipulated in an employment contract; where passports have been withheld from employees; where the actual number of working hours is considerably greater than those initially contemplated and no additional pay is provided; and where an employee is forbidden from leaving an employer’s premises even when off-duty. The United States Mission takes seriously any such allegation brought to its attention and refers these cases, as appropriate, to the United States Department of Justice for review and investigation.  
[...]
The United States Mission also wishes to advise the Permanent Missions that its commitment to fair and reasonable labor conditions is consistent with its commitment to human rights and, further, comports with the practice of other governments and with the requirements imposed by international organizations on their employees who have foreign domestic workers.  Although the United States recognizes that the great majority of diplomats and Mission personnel are law-abiding members of the United Nations community, it is necessary to periodically re-circulate and update information regarding United States laws, regulations and policies regarding the employment of personal domestic servants.
In fact, if you take a look at this archive of diplomatic notes, it is clear that the treatment of domestic employees, their contracts, prevailing wage, pre-notification requirements are recurring subjects.

In a 2009 diplomatic note, the State Department puts the heads of missions on notice that they are generally accountable for the treatment of domestic workers employed by their mission. We presume that this is a recurring reminder that the State Department sends to all diplomatic missions in the United States:

The United States Mission looks to the Permanent Representatives to be responsible for the conduct of the members of their missions and for ensuring that their treatment of domestic workers in their employ evidences respect for all relevant United States laws. In this regard, it is  recommended that the Permanent Mission maintain copies of the signed domestic worker contracts and be able to review such contracts, as well as records of payments made to each domestic worker, in the event that the United States Mission seeks assistance if faced with credible allegations of a mission member’s mistreatment of a domestic worker.

The United States Mission and/or the Department of State refer credible allegations of abuse of domestic workers by mission members which may constitute criminal conduct to the United States Department of Justice. In that context, the United States Mission and the Department of State may take other appropriate action, including, based on the determination by an appropriate prosecuting authority that prosecution is warranted, a request for a waiver of any applicable immunity. Mission members are not only expected to pay the greater of the minimum or prevailing wage and abide by other contract terms, but they should also be aware that in the United States, withholding a person’s passport maybe evidence of the crime of trafficking in persons if it is done with the intent of keeping that person in a state of forced labor or service.

In the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, the State Department notes the following:
Worldwide, domestic workers employed by diplomats suffer abuses ranging from wage exploitation to trafficking offenses. Diplomats are government officials who serve their governments abroad and are generally able to apply for visas enabling domestic workers – often from third countries – to accompany them on their foreign assignments.
Because domestic servants working for diplomats work behind closed doors – cleaning, cooking, and caring for children – they can become invisible to the neighborhoods and communities they live in. Domestic workers brought into a country by diplomats face potentially greater isolation than other workers because of language and cultural barriers, ignorance of the law, and sheer distance from family and friends. They work for government officials who may appear to them to hold exceptional power and/or influence. The resulting invisibility and isolation of such workers raises concerns about the potential for diplomatic employers to ignore the terms of their employment contracts and to restrict their domestic workers’ freedom of movement and subject them to various abuses. Because diplomats generally enjoy immunity from civil and criminal jurisdiction while on assignment, legal recourse and remedies available to domestic workers in their employ – and the criminal response otherwise available to the host government – are often significantly limited.
And in March 2012, during the Annual Meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this:

“We thought it was unfair for diplomats who victimized their own domestic workers were, because of diplomatic immunity, virtually untouchable. So now, we’re making sure that diplomats coming to this country understand their obligations and responsibilities, and we’re taking action when we have evidence that they are not.”

No one paid attention then,  but they’re paying attention now.

In the latest diplomatic row between the United States and India, the Times of India provided an unconfirmed timeline of the events.   It indicates that the State Department reportedly wrote to the Indian ambassador in Washington, D.C. on September 4, 2013 expressing “considerable concern” over the allegations.  On September 21, the Indian Embassy reportedly replied, “that this was none of US’ business and that the maid was seeking a monetary settlement and US visa, whereby subverting both Indian and US laws.”

If that timeline is accurate, one has to ask who miscalculated whose response?

 

“This is happening 10 miles from the White House”

- Martina Vandenberg, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center

Despite the many notable cases of abuse by diplomats ranging from non-payment of wages to sexual assaults, we do not see very often an arrest of a foreign diplomat or international representative in the United States. But following the arrest of  IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011, Reuters did report the following:

Foreign diplomats have been the subject of at least 11 civil lawsuits and one criminal prosecution related to abuse of domestic workers in the last five years, according to a Reuters review of U.S. federal court records. The allegations range from slave-like work conditions to rape, and the vast majority of the diplomats in these cases avoided prison terms and financial penalties.

We have not been able to locate all civil lawsuits but the cases below are just a sampling of abuse allegations by domestic employees against their foreign diplomat-employers in the United States in the last several years.

Tae Sook PARK v. Bong Kil SHIN (South Korean Consulate/San Francisco) | Tae Sook Park, a domestic servant sued Deputy Consul General Bong Kil Shin of the Korean Consulate in San Francisco.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court decision dismissing Park’s claims of labor law violations. It held that the deputy consul was not entitled to immunity under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations or the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and remanded the case back to district court. He later became ambassador.

Swarna v. Al-Awadi (Kuwait Embassy)|  Swarna Vishranthamma took to court her former employers, Badar Al-Awadi and his wife, Halal Muhammad Al-Shaitan and the State of Kuwait in 2009.  At the time of the events in question, Mr. Al-Awadi was a diplomat serving in New York City with the Permanent Mission of the State of Kuwait to the United Nations. According to WaPo,  Kuwaiti government hired a prominent law firm to defend him in the civil case — in court filings, he has denied the allegations — and then later promoted him to be Kuwait’s ambassador to Cuba.

Mildrate Yancho Nchang (Cameroon Embassy) | According to WaPo,  Nchang filed a case against her employers alleging she toiled for three years without pay or a day off and then was hospitalized after being beaten by a Cameroonian diplomat’s wife. She sued in federal court in Maryland, but the case was dismissed in 2006 when the diplomat asserted immunity.

Mazengo v. Mzengi, et.al. (Tanzania Embassy)| In 2007, Ms. Mazengo, a citizen of Tanzania, sued her former employers, defendants Alan S. Mzengi and Stella Mzengi, husband and wife, alleging that they falsely imprisoned her and subjected her to involuntary servitude and forced labor in violation of federal law. Alan S. Mzengi was a diplomat accredited to the embassy of the Republic of Tanzania.  WikiLeaks Alert: See the State-USEmbassy Tanzania demarche on the outstanding restitution for TIP victim, Ms. Zipora Mazengo.

Regina Leo (Kuwaiti Embassy) | In July, 2008, a lawsuit was filed against an attache in the Embassy of Kuwait, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al Naser, and his family, by their former maid, Regina Leo, an Indian immigrant who alleged that she was forced to work as much as 18 hours per day.

Marichu Suarez Baoana (Philippine Embassy) | According to WaPo, in 2009, Ms. Baoana, a Philippine national sued the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, Lauro L. Baja Jr. alleging she was forced to endure 126-hour workweeks with no pay, performing household chores and caring for the couple’s grandchild.

Daedema Ramos (Kuwait Embassy) | In 2010, the Filipina housekeeper left a Kuwaiti diplomat’s Manhattan duplex where she worked 20 hours a day, earning as little s $500 a month. With help from Damayan, a grassroots organization fighting for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers she escape her employer, and was encouraged to fight back. In July 2012, the diplomat settled with her after she demanded unpaid wages.

Sophia Kiwanuka (World Bank) | According to Reuters, World Bank economist, Anne Margreth Bakilana, hired a Tanzanian woman, Sophia Kiwanuka, to work in her home in Falls Church, Virginia, and improperly withheld Kiwanuka’s wages and threatened to send her back to Tanzania, according to court records. She pleaded guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to two years probation and fined $9,400.

Bhardwaj v. Dayal et al (Indian Embassy) |  In 2011, Indian national Santosh Bhardwaj filed a lawsuit against Indian Consul General Prabhu Dayal for allegedly intimidating her into a year of forced labor, where she was subjected to 105-hour workweeks for $300 per month. According to Indian Express, in December 2012, the Indian Ministry of Finance approved payment of $75,000 from the budget of Ministry of External Affairs to a “former domestic assistant” who had filed a lawsuit against India’s consul-general in New York, Prabhu Dayal. Click here to read an interview with Mr. Dayal in India Today concerning his case and the Khobragade case.

Araceli Montuya (Lebanon Embassy ) | She filed a lawsuit against  her former employer, the Lebanese Ambassador Antoine Chedid. On April 2011, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington threw out a case in which Montuya alleged that Chedid and his wife underpaid and verbally abused her.

Four former cooks and housekeepers (Qatar Embassy) |  According to Reuters, on March 2011, four former cooks and housekeepers for Essa Mohammed Al Manai, Qatar’s second-highest ranking diplomat in the United States filed a civil lawsuit alleging they were paid less than 70 cents per hour and “forced to work around the clock” at Al Manai’s six-bedroom home in Bethesda, Maryland. The suit also claimed that one of the women was sexually assaulted. More here.

F.V. (The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office) |  In 2011, Hsien-Hsien “Jacqueline” Liu, 64, of Taiwan, high-ranking representative of Taiwan was charged in federal court with fraud in foreign labor contracting for fraudulently obtaining a Filipino servant for her residence. Liu paid the Filipino worker $400-450 per month, although the employment contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month. Liu allegedly required the victim to work six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, and forbid her to leave the house without permission. (See Taiwanese Official in Kansas Charged for “Fraudulently Obtaining a Filipino Servant”).  Liu was arrested by the FBI on Nov. 10, 2011 and was detained for two months before entering a plea agreement. She eventually entered a plea agreement and was ordered to pay US$80,044 in restitution to the two maids. According to the Taipei Times, in 2012, Liu was suspended from her duties for two years for “seriously damaging the country’s reputation.”

Gurung v. Mahotra (Indian Embassy) | In 2012, a New York City Magistrate Judge  ordered Neena Malhotra, an Indian diplomat and her husband Jogesh to pay nearly $1.5 million reportedly arising from their employment of an Indian girl, Shanti Gurung who alleged “barbaric treatment” while she was employed as their domestic worker.

C.V. (Mauritius Embassy) | According to The Record, in 2012, Somuth Soborun, the Republic of Mauritius’ ambassador to the US pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense in September, admitting that he failed to properly pay a domestic worker minimum hourly and overtime wages between December 2008 and August 2009. He was fined $5,000.  As part of his plea agreement, Soborun has already paid $24,153 in restitution to the domestic worker, who was identified in court papers only by the initials C.V.

Kumari Sabbithi, Joaquina Quadros and Tina Fernandes (Kuwaiti Embassy) | In 2012, the ACLU represented three Indian women who were employed as domestic workers by Major Waleed Al Saleh and his wife Maysaa Al Omar of McLean, Virginia.  The complaint alleged that they were brought to the U.S. in the summer of 2005 and that they were forced to work every day from 6:30 a.m. until sometimes as late as 1:30 a.m. for approximately $250 to $350 a month. The complaint further alleged that they were subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse, including one incident in which Al Saleh threw one of the women, Sabbithi, against a kitchen table, knocking her unconscious. The Kuwaiti government agreed to settle the case brought by three women who claimed that they were trafficked to the United States by a Kuwaiti diplomat and his wife.

USA v. Devyani Khobragade |  In December 2013, the Indian Deputy Consul General Arrested For Visa Fraud and False Statements Related to Domestic Worker

The  reported abuse of migrant domestic workers by diplomats and the staff of international organizations typically include wages and hour violations, passport deprivation, denial of the workers’ right to leave the house or premises in which they work, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and invasion of privacy, where domestic workers often have their rooms searched, their mail opened, and are not allowed to make private phone calls.  For additional reading, see  Joy M. Zarembka’s Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy,which details the plight of some of the domestic workers brought to the U.S. by employees of international organizations.

Maid in Manhattan Case: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Man Who Makes Embassy Row Tremble

We suspect that nowhere is the  Khobragade Affair watched more closely than in the United Nations in New York and in the Embassy Row (the informal name for the streets and area of Washington, D.C. in which embassies, diplomatic missions, and other diplomatic representations are concentrated).  Besides India, that is.  To avoid possible “misunderstanding,” the State Department has recommended that diplomats keep employment records of their domestic workers including work hours and payment, records that should be maintained for the duration of actual employment of domestic employees plus three years.  Would be interesting to see how many diplomatic missions in the United States actually take this recommendation seriously.

In an interview with India Today published on December 23, the former Indian Consul General Prabhu Dayal who was taken to court by his former housekeeper in New York said that “in our consulates in the US, there is a lot of fear today.”

“India’s view has been that the domestic assistants of our diplomats hold Official Passports and should be outside the purview of US labour laws. The US side has not agreed to this, insisting that US laws apply to them. This impasse continues.[...] even if were were to revamp our system relating to domestic assistants, we will not be able to guarantee that our officials in our Consulates will not be arrested or dragged into law courts for some  reason or another in future. The US is a highly litigious country where suing people is a sort of favourite past time. [...] There is no doubt, however that our officers posted at the Consulate in New York have begun to feel very insecure after all these recent cases, and the same may also be true for the other Consulates in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta. How will India protect its diplomats posted to the Consulates given the US position on immunity?”

But perhaps the more telling parts during this incident is the on the record statement made by a senior Indian official quoted by the Times of India below:
“Which Indian would pay a help Rs 6500 ($ 100) a day?” asked Shakti Sinha, a former principal secretary in the government of India who did various stints abroad, including at the World Bank and various UN agencies, assuming eight normal working hours.

FirstPost.com reports  on India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal’s opinion on this matter, quoting the former official as saying:

“There is much chicanery involved here. Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order. To imagine that the US authorities are duped into believing that our diplomats will pay their domestic staff more than what they earn is absurd. The US authorities have been clearing such visas for years to practically resolve the contradiction between reality and the letter of the law.”

And that’s probably why “there is a lot of fear today.”

Apparently, according to NYT, there are 14 other Indian maids working for Indian diplomats in the United States, and “India is negotiating over their status with the State Department.”  If a Deputy Consul General could be hauled to jail for underpaying her domestic employee, who could Preet Bharara go after next?

Dirty Laundry Gets Washed

The State Department’s TIP 2012 report says that “U.S. government employees, their dependents, and members of their households do not have immunity in the U.S. domestic legal framework for acts of human trafficking associated with domestic staff occurring at overseas postings. Any such reports will be fully investigated by Diplomatic Security and/or the Office of the Inspector General and, where appropriate, may result in either an administrative penalty and/or referral to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. These measures apply to Department of State employees overseas as well as their dependents and other members of household.”

It’s not an accident that the above item was included in the report.  The State Department had two recent cases of domestic worker abuse.

Harold and Kimberly Countryman | In 2006, Harold Countryman, a former Department of State agent, and his wife, Kimberly Countryman, a realtor in northern Virginia, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting visa fraud.  According to the plea agreement, Kimberly Countryman admitted to using the fraudulent visa to further the forced labor of a Cambodian woman in their employ. According to court documents, the couple provided materially false information to the Department of State to obtain a visa on behalf of a Cambodian woman, who they then brought to the United States to work for them as a domestic servant for two years. In the plea agreement, Kimberly Countryman admitted that she procured the visa with reason to believe that the visa would be used to commit a felony, namely forced labor. As a result, Kimberly Countryman is subject to an increase in her sentence. Kimberly Countryman acknowledged that she withheld a portion of the woman’s pay, took possession of the woman’s passport, and physically assaulted the woman.  As part of the plea agreement, the Countrymans were required to pay $50,000 in restitution and $50,000 in forfeiture.

Linda  and Russell Howard |  In 2011, Jane Doe, an Ethiopian national in her 30s filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against a State Department employee Linda Howard and her husband, Russell Howard, alleging involuntary servitude, forced labor and human trafficking in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  She alleged that she was forced to work more than 80 hours a week for less than a dollar an hour; the exact amount was $0.88 an hour; the minimum hourly wage at the time of Jane Doe’s employment was $6.55 an hour.  Court awarded a default judgment to Jane Doe for total damages of $3,306,468.  Linda and Russell Howard had reportedly left the United States. See Court Awards $3.3 Million Default Judgment Against State Dept Couple Accused of Slavery and Rape of Housekeeper.

The Signal Plus the Noise, the Diplomatic Edition

The suspension of a high-ranking Taiwanese official for two years for “seriously damaging the country’s reputation” is the only case we are aware of in recent memory where an official was disciplined by the sending country in the aftermath of U.S. federal charges related to the treatment of a domestic worker.  In most cases, it looks like the official in question, protected by the sending state, gets moved elsewhere,  or even gets a promotion with no career repercussion. Clearly underpayment or mistreatment of a domestic employee is not considered a serious offense by a good number of diplomatic missions.

While diplomats continue to dodge cases like this behind diplomatic immunity, and as long as governments stand behind their diplomats when they commit infractions like this, the practice will continue. As the German Institute of Human Right points out: “...[E]mployers’ diplomatic immunity in prac­tice overrules the human rights of the victim and leads to a situation of de facto-unaccountability and –impu­nity for exploitative employers.”

In this India-U.S. row, we note that the outrage is focused on the circumstances of the diplomat’s arrest. And that is understandable. But it is also important to note that while the focus of the  outrage is the strip-search, few are talking about the alleged treatment of the domestic worker.  Unless, of course, we’re talking about the former Khobragade maid as a CIA agent.

In early December, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York also charged 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam. Most of the diplomats charged are no longer in the country. And of the defendants still  here, most are attached to the UN Mission and presumably enjoy diplomatic immunity. If the U.S. may not be able to put anyone in jail nor be able to recoup the thousands of dollars in scammed Medicaid money, why charged them?  We suspect that the charges were brought to put a stop to the scam.  Basically a megaphone saying — we know what you’re doing, shame on you, now stop it.

As complicated as the Khobragade case may seem, it will be resolved eventually. A $90 billion bilateral trade partnership is at stake. Who would throw that partnership over the cliff for a mid-level official?  Or for an underpaid housemaid?  Stay tuned.  Perhaps the more interesting take on this incident is by Alison Frankel who writes, “For all we know, the State Department intended to send a message to the international diplomatic corps, which is often accused of cloaking itself in diplomatic immunity to avoid claims of mistreating domestic staff.”

Do we have an aha moment here?

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Filed under Ambassadors, Compensation, Diplomacy, Diplomatic Immunity, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Hall of Shame, India, Realities of the FS, State Department, Visas

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

FSO Michael T. Sestak Pleads Guilty in Visa Fraud-Bribery Case, Faces 19-24 Years in Prison

– Domani Spero

On November 6, 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.  The Government alleged that the visa scheme had netted more than $9 million in bribes (see related posts below) and that Mr. Sestak had personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand. No sentencing date has been set but Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

Related posts:

Via USDOJ:

WASHINGTON - A U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 42, pled guilty today to conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering charges in a scheme in which he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States.

The guilty plea, which took place in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service Director Gregory B. Starr.

Sestak pled guilty before the Honorable John D. Bates to one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud and to defraud the United States, bribery of a public official, and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from illegal activity. No sentencing date was set. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the applicable range for the offenses is 235 to 293 months in prison.

Under the plea agreement, Sestak has agreed to the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crimes, which includes the sale of nine properties that he purchased in Thailand with his ill-gotten gains. He also has agreed to cooperate in a continuing federal investigation.

“Today Michael Sestak admitted taking millions of dollars in bribes to issue visas to allow nearly 500 foreign nationals to enter the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “This Foreign Service Officer corrupted the integrity of a process designed to screen visitors to the United States, a process that obviously has implications for our national security.  His motivation for betraying his oath of office was cold, hard cash, as he personally received more than $3 million in this visa-for-cash scam, much of which he funneled into the purchase of nine properties in Thailand.  Mr. Sestak has now accepted responsibility for his conduct and is cooperating with federal law enforcement in this continuing investigation.”

“The Department of State became aware of potential visa improprieties in Vietnam and immediately referred the allegations to the Diplomatic Security Service (DS) to investigate, said Director Starr, of the Diplomatic Security Service. “DS worked collaboratively with the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs to identify irregularities in the visa process which allowed agents and consular officials to pursue investigative leads and develop the evidence which led to Mr. Sestak’s guilty plea today.  This case demonstrates how cooperation with DS partners in the region allowed the Department of Justice to pursue charges where Vietnamese citizens were victimized by individuals guided by greed.”

Sestak was arrested on May 13, 2013, and has been in custody ever since. Four others have been charged with taking part in the conspiracy. They include Binh Vo, 39, and his sister, Hong Vo, 27, both American citizens who had been living in Vietnam; Binh Vo’s wife, Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen; and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.

Hong Vo was arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested the following month. Binh Vo was arrested in September 2013. Nguyen remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  Huynh pled guilty on Oct. 16, 2013, to one count of visa fraud and is awaiting sentencing. Binh Vo and Hong Vo have pled not guilty to charges and are held without bond pending trial.

Sestak was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.  His responsibilities included reviewing visa applications, conducting in-person interviews of visa applicants, and issuing visas when appropriate. While employed at the State Department, Sestak held a sensitive position.

In pleading guilty, Sestak admitted that he and Binh Vo met in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 and began a personal friendship. They ultimately came up with a plan to obtain money in exchange for facilitating the approval of non-immigrant visas from Vietnam to the United States. Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers to the visa scheme. Before they appeared at the consulate for visa interviews, Sestak would be informed of the identities of foreign nationals who agreed to pay money in exchange for obtaining visas. He then attempted to issue a visa to each foreign national who had agreed to pay for obtaining a visa, often disregarding the veracity of the information on the application.

Sestak admitted that between February 2012 and September 2012, he caused visas to be approved for people whose applications were part of the scheme.  Payments made by applicants to the conspirators in exchange for visas ranged from $15,000 to $70,000.  Many of the individuals who received visas had been previously denied visas for a variety of reasons.

The entire scheme generated at least $9,780,000.  Of this, Sestak personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand. In an attempt to hide the illegal proceeds of the scheme, Sestak purchased nine real estate properties in Thailand worth over $3 million.  As part of his plea agreement, Sestak agreed to sell these properties and forfeit the proceeds in order to satisfy a portion of the money judgment of at least $6 million that will be entered against him.

Looking forward to hearing what happens to Mr. Sestak’s alleged co-conspirators.  And may his cooperation with the continuing investigation results in tracking down all the fraudulent visa cases he issued and subsequent deportation of those involved.

Also, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the maximum penalty of 24 years among the rotten FSO cases we’ve reviewed.  One of the more notorious visa fraud scandal involving an FSO was that of Thomas Patrick Carroll, a former vice consul at US Embassy Georgetown in Guyana who was arrested in 2000.  He was arrested for selling 800 visas at reportedly US$10,000 – US$15,000 each.  Mr. Carroll did not invest his ill gotten wealth in real estate but according to reports kept some of it in gold bars.  The court originally sentenced Mr. Carroll to 21 years imprisonment in 2002. The prison term was reduced on appeal to 11 years and he was released from prison this past summer.

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Filed under Consular Work, Court Cases, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, FSOs, Hall of Shame, State Department, U.S. Missions, Visas