ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An Alexandria man pleaded guilty today to stealing over $40,000 in government money during 2018, while he was employed as a senior government official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) in Washington, D.C.
According to court documents, Haroon K. Ullah, 41, admitted that he fraudulently obtained thousands of dollars in government funds by submitting falsified hotel invoices, falsified and inflated taxi and Uber receipts, and by billing the government for personal travel and for travel that had already been paid by third parties.
Additionally, Ullah admitted that he created a falsified letter from a real medical doctor purportedly claiming that Ullah needed to fly in business class at government expense because of a sore knee. By submitting the forged letter from the doctor, Ullah fraudulently obtained costly business class upgrades at government expense, including on lengthy international flights. Ullah admitted to creating many of the false documents on his government-issued laptop computer. As part of the plea, Ullah also admitted that he submitted falsified invoices and repair estimates to an insurance company regarding a claim for repairs to his home in Alexandria.
A former employee of the U.S. Department of State, Ullah became a member of the Senior Executive Service when he joined USAGM as its Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). Ullah committed his crime from February through October 2018, while serving as CSO. Ullah is no longer employed with USAGM.
Ullah pleaded guilty to theft of government money and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on October 11. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg is prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-183.
Mr. Ullah’s website still says that he “serves as Chief Strategy Officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an $800 million global media agency. He is a scholar, diplomat and policy practioner with a special focus on digital strategy, countering violent extremism and transmedia engagement.”
USAGM’s website has removed Mr. Ullah’s bio from its website and info related to him appears not to display prominently on its website; a search still returns events where he was featured as the agency’s CSO, and the Wayback Machine has archived this CSO for eternity.
A Statement of Facts submitted with Mr. Ullah’s Plea Agreement notes that before joining USAGM, he had been employed with the U.S. Department of State since 2010. It also notes the following:
5. During the approximate ninth—month period of February 2018-October 2018, ULLAH submitted for reimbursement multiple falsiﬁed hotel invoices; falsiﬁed taxi receipts; double-billed third party sponsors and USAGM for the same trips; and billed USAGM for personal
trips, either to promote his book, or for week-end trips during which little to no USAGM business was conducted. ULLAH used his government computer, a Microsoft Surface Pro, to create the false documents. He would obtain logos and other graphics on-line and use either an invoice generator or Microsoﬁ Excel in order to create fraudulent hotel invoices. Sometimes ULLAH had stayed with a family member or friend or at a budget hotel, but he created the false invoice for the purpose of ﬁnancial gain in order to maximize his reimbursement from USAGM. With other hotel invoices, ULLAH took a legitimate hotel invoice and changed his address or other data in order to conceal that the hotel room had been paid by a third party, which fact ULLAH intentionally failed to disclose to E2 and USAGM.
8. As part of a scheme to obtain business class travel to which he was not entitled, ULLAH also submitted to USAGM a falsiﬁed and forged letter from a real medical doctor, identiﬁed here by the initials N.A., claiming that ULLAH required an upgrade to business class because of a medical condition that required him to “lie ﬂat” on long ﬂights. The doctor conﬁrmed to law enforcement that the letter was a forgery; that he did not authorize ULLAH to use his identity or to sign his name for him; and that a business class upgrade for ULLAH’s sore knee
was not medically necessary.
Part of the Plea Agreement says:
Further, in accordance with Rule 11(c)(l)(B) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States and the defendant will recommend to the Court that the following provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines apply: Under Section 2B1 .1(b), the intended loss is greater than $40,000 but less than $95,000, thus six levels are added to the base offense level. Under Section 3Bl.2, the United States and the defendant agree to a two level enhancement for abuse of a position of public trust as an employee of the United States.
The Plea also notes:
“The United States will not further criminally prosecute the defendant in the Eastern District of Virginia for the speciﬁc conduct descﬁbed in the information or statement of facts. This plea agreement and statement of facts does not confer on the defendant any immunity from prosecution by any state government in the United States.”