FSGB’s Noteworthy Cases Filed in 2019 and Pending Decision

The following cases are extracted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s 2019 Annual Report dated February 2020:
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-045 was assigned to a country where the Zika virus was widespread. When his wife became pregnant, she was medically evacuated from the post. When the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, State/MED contacted grievant’s wife and instructed her to forward the results of genetic testing done on the fetus, and she complied. Grievant claims that the Department gained access to these records under false pretenses and shared them in violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). He has asked that State/MED destroy the records. The Department has asserted that the Board lacks jurisdiction over the claims, and that grievant’s redress is through the Privacy Act.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-036 is an employee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors. He was hired in a position that had a salary cap of FP-02. In 2012, grievant was assigned to a position designated FP1/SFS (Senior Foreign Service). Grievant claims that at the time it was agreed that a mechanism would be found to lift the cap so he could compete for promotion to the higher grade. In 2012, a personnel form SF-50 was issued showing a skill code change to effect the desired change in status. Subsequently, however, the Human Resources Office advised grievant that the conversion was done incorrectly and that he was not eligible for promotion until the issue was resolved. Grievant claims that despite repeated requests from him, nothing has been done.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-020 claims that the Department retaliated against him when he questioned three grant activities involving his predecessor on the grounds of conflict of interest and violations of the ethics regulations. He claims that, as a consequence, his responsibilities were reduced and, ultimately, he was asked to curtail from post.
FSGB Case No. 2019-008 involves four claims, one of which is being resolved separately. In the first three claims, grievant challenges the Developmental Areas of three EERs and a low-ranking statement. In the fourth claim, grievant contends that his security clearance was wrongfully suspended and revoked. Although his clearance has subsequently been reinstated, he claims that harm to his career resulted.
In FSGB Case No. 2019-052, the grievant was assigned to a country in which the ambassador was a political appointee of the previous administration. Grievant believed she enjoyed good relations with him, despite a number of difficult issues the embassy encountered. However, when the ambassador chose to leave post early, he advised grievant that he was requesting her involuntary curtailment. On the advice of colleagues, she instead opted for a voluntary curtailment. She claims that although she was told by post management at the time that she would not be receiving an EER, she was later given one for a four-month period. That EER was the basis for a low ranking. Grievant claims that the EER includes a number of falsely prejudicial statements as well as procedural errors.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-040 is a female officer who claims that an EER she received is the result of gender bias and retaliation on the part of her rater. The EER formed a basis for low ranking.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-039 was the subject of an investigation, on the basis of which the Department originally recommended a 45-day suspension. While the charges were pending, the grievant was reached for promotion; however, the promotion was withheld pending the close of the disciplinary proceedings. Grievant was advised at the time that if the charges were resolved satisfactorily, his promotion would be made retroactive. At the close of the disciplinary procedures a number of years later, the penalty was reduced to a letter of admonishment. However, the Department maintains that the White House currently will not forward recommendations for retroactive promotions to the Senate for confirmation. It therefore forwarded a recommendation for promotion in 2019, not to be retroactive. Grievant claims back pay and benefits to the time he was reached for promotion.
The grievants in FSGB Case No. 2019-021 are new FSOs hired while already living in the Washington, DC area. They claim that they were improperly denied locality pay while assigned to long-term training prior to their first overseas assignments.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-024 is part of a tandem couple. When she was assigned to her first overseas post, her husband was granted Leave Without Pay to accompany her. According to State regulations, his official assignment was therefore Washington, D.C. Grievant and her husband returned to Washington after that assignment, in transit to their next post, where she took home leave and annual leave and had four months of language training. Rather than considering grievant as being on TDY and thus entitled to receive per diem, the Department classified her as having the same status as her husband, a Washington-based assignment, in accordance with its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on tandem couples. Grievant contends this is a violation of Department regulations, which treat each member of the Service as individuals entitled to their own benefits. Approximately one year after the grievance was filed, the Department, with AFSA approval, modified the operative SOP to permit tandem employees in grievant’s circumstances to be on TDY and receive per diem; however, the Department maintains that the modification was not retroactive and, therefore, does not apply to grievant.
Advertisements

Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick Expelled From Vanuatu After US Embassy Papua New Guinea’s Request

 

Via USDOJ:
Inigo Philbrick Defrauded Investors and Lenders Out Of More Than $20 Million In Connection With Works by Notable Contemporary Artists

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of a Complaint in Manhattan federal court charging INIGO PHILBRICK, an art dealer specializing in post-war and contemporary fine art, with galleries in London, United Kingdom, and Miami, Florida, with engaging in a multi-year scheme to defraud various individuals and entities in order to finance his art business.  In total, PHILBRICK allegedly fraudulently obtained more than $20 million as a result of the scheme.

Federal law enforcement agents took PHILBRICK into custody yesterday in Vanuatu, after Vanuatu authorities expelled PHILBRICK from Vanuatu at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea in light of the charges in the Complaint.  PHILBRICK was then transported to Guam, where he is expected to be presented in federal court on June 15, 2020.     

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million.  You can’t sell more than 100 percent ownership in a single piece of art, which Philbrick allegedly did, among other scams.  When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country.  Now he is in U.S. custody and facing justice.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Mr. Philbrick allegedly sought out high-dollar art investors, sold pieces he didn’t own, and played games with millions of dollars in other people’s money.  The game ended when investors began wondering where their money went.  Hats off to the FBI NY Joint Major Theft Task Force/Art Crime Team who worked diligently to track down Mr. Philbrick and bring him back to the U.S., where, if convicted, he might have to trade in his jet-set life for a drab federal prison cell.”
[…]
PHILBRICK, 33, a U.S. citizen previously residing in London, United Kingdom, and a fugitive since October 2019, was charged in the Complaint with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.  The wire fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.  The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
[…]
To report information related to this case, please contact the FBI’s Art Crime Team at NYArtCrime@fbi.gov.

The allegations in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Read the full statement here.
The Complaint was unsealed on June 12 in Manhattan federal court.

 

Contractor Resolves Charges Relating to Fraud on GSA Contract to Modernize the Harry S. Truman Building

 

Via USDOJ:
Government Contractor Resolves Charges Relating to Fraud on General Services Administration Contract to Modernize State Department Building

Alutiiq International Solutions LLC (AIS), a subsidiary of Afognak Native Corporation (Afognak) and an Alaskan Native Corporation, within the meaning of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, that performs construction work on government contracts, has entered into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) and has agreed to pay over $1.25 million to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into a kickback and fraud scheme perpetrated by a former AIS manager on a U.S. Government contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

As part of the NPA, AIS has agreed to pay $1,259,444 in victim compensation payments to the GSA.  Under the terms of the NPA, AIS and its parent company, Afognak, have agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation and prosecution of individuals, and to report to the department evidence of allegations of violations of U.S. fraud, anti-corruption, procurement integrity, and anti-kickback laws.  Afognak and AIS also agreed to enhance their compliance program and internal controls, where necessary and appropriate, to ensure they are designed to detect and deter, among other things, fraud and kickbacks in connection with U.S. federal government contracts.

According to AIS’s admissions contained in the NPA, beginning in or around June 2010, the AIS project manager assigned to a multi-million dollar GSA contract to modernize the Harry S. Truman Federal Building in Washington, D.C., began receiving kickbacks from a subcontractor on the project in exchange for steering work to the subcontractor.  These kickbacks initially were paid in the form of meals, vacations, and other things of value but, by 2015, the AIS project manager began demanding cash kickbacks equivalent to 10 percent of the value of contract modifications that were being awarded to the subcontractor.  At the same time, the AIS project manager billed the GSA for services purportedly provided by an on-site superintendent when there was no superintendent on site.  The AIS project manager’s false and fraudulent billings caused the GSA to pay $568,800 to AIS that it should not have paid.  Additionally, when making contract modification requests to the GSA, the AIS project manager illegally inflated the estimated costs that AIS received from its subcontractor, resulting in $690,644 in monies paid by GSA to AIS.
[….]

A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment charging the AIS project manager, Elmer Baker, with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act, and four counts of wire fraud, in May 2019.  Trial is currently scheduled for Dec. 7, 2020, before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Read the full statement here. Download AIS Non-Prosecution Agreement