USAID’s Tresja Denysenko Dies Unexpectedly While Serving With DART in Haiti Earthquake Response

 

USAID Administrator Samantha Power released a statement on Tresja Denysenko’s unexpected passing while serving with the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Haiti. Excerpt below:

It is with great sadness that on behalf of the USAID family I relay the passing of Tresja Denysenko, a tireless disaster response expert with our Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Tresja passed away unexpectedly on August 19, 2021, while serving on USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) responding to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I want to express my heartfelt condolences to Tresja’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Tresja first joined USAID in 2005, and during her career she responded to many humanitarian emergencies, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the West Africa Ebola outbreak, the Venezuela regional crisis, and the conflicts in South Sudan and the Tigray region of Ethiopia. In all of her postings, she played a critical role in providing aid to the world’s most deprived and marginalized people. In addition to her work on disaster responses, Tresja was instrumental in establishing and refining the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance’s processes for delivering aid into the hands of those most in need. Tresja was also an inspiring mentor, training staff across the Bureau on how to deliver aid quickly and appropriately to save lives in some of the world’s most complex and dire humanitarian crises. Tresja’s legacy will live on in USAID through the work of the many colleagues who learned from her and who now occupy a wide range of roles across the Agency.

Originally from Minnesota, Tresja is survived by her husband and daughter, as well as her mother and stepfather. She is remembered as a beloved wife, mother, daughter, and dear friend. Tresja’s kindness and heartfelt passion for providing humanitarian assistance and improving the lives of people in need touched many communities around the world and here at home.

EEOC Reasonable Accommodation Case Gets Damage Award of $50K

 

Via EEOC Appeal 2019003637 (June 16, 2020):
Commission Increased Award of Damages to $50,000.
The Agency found that Complainant was denied reasonable accommodation, and awarded him $2,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages.   The Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal.  The Commission found that Complainant’s pre-existing knee injury was aggravated when the Agency denied Complainant access to a closer parking lot and required that he walk up a steep hill to and from his building even though his work restrictions on file limited his walking and restricted him from climbing steep hills.  The Commission considered statements from Complainant’s wife and two coworkers, who indicated that Complainant’s behavior changed following the denial of accommodation.  These individuals noted Complainant was no longer a “happy-go-lucky guy,” had sleepless nights, became disengaged from his family, and was a “different person” after the discrimination.  The Commission concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support an award of $50,000, which was consistent with awards in similar cases.  The Commission affirmed the Agency’s denial of past pecuniary damages finding that Complainant had not provided any documentation to support his purported personal costs associated with the discrimination.  Lowell H. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal 2019003637 (June 16, 2020).
Details below from EEOC Appeal:

During the period at issue, Complainant worked as a Motor Vehicle Operator, GS-8, at the Agency’s Operations Division in Washington, D.C.

On January 3, 2018, Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint claiming that the Agency discriminated against him based on disability (torn left medical collateral ligament (MCL) in left knee, torn left rotator cuff and left toe)2 when:

1. Complainant was denied a reasonable accommodation;

2. on August 17, 2017, Complainant received a memo regarding disciplinary action;

3. on September 20, 2017, Complainant received a Letter of Warning; and

4. Complainant was subjected to a hostile work environment, characterized by, but not limited to heightened scrutiny regarding his requests for leave, inappropriate language, and yelling.

Complainant was diagnosed with these conditions following a December 17, 2016 work-related injury. The injuries restricted Complainant to driving no more than four hours a day, limited Complainant’s use of his left arm to handle luggage, and limited walking to no more than twenty-five feet (including no climbing of steep hills).

On November 7, 2018, following an investigation, the Agency issued a final decision concluding that Complainant had established a failure to accommodate his disability in connection with parking privileges, the approval of leave requests, and the issuance of a letter of warning. For relief, the Agency ordered, among other remedies, a supplemental investigation into his claim for compensatory damages.

On April 10, 2019, the Agency issued a final decision on compensatory damages. The Agency rejected Complainant’s request for $300,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. Instead, the Agency awarded Complainant $2,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. In reaching this amount, the Agency reasoned that Complainant did not provide sufficient evidence to support that he suffered any long or short term physical or mental harm due to being denied his preferred parking arrangement, denied consideration of his leave requests, or being issued attendance-related discipline. With respect to his parking assignment, the Agency noted that Complainant indicated that his parking assignment at Navy Hill “aggravated” his pre-existing knee injury, without explaining the extent or type of aggravation he experienced. The Agency also disputed Complainant’s claim that he missed “a few sessions of therapy,” and indicated that the Agency’s November 7, 2018 decision only determined that Complainant was denied leave for one medical appointment. Finally, the Agency indicated that Complainant’s request for $300,000 is more akin to a request for punitive damages, even though punitive damages are not permitted on a federal-sector complaint.

The Agency awarded $2,000 in nonpecuniary damages. We find, however, that that an award of $50,000 is more consistent with the amounts awarded in similar cases.

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USAID/OIG General Counsel Nicole Angarella to be the Next USAID Inspector General

 

President Biden announced his intent to nominate Nicole Angarella who serves as the general counsel to the USAID Inspector General to be the next USAID Inspector General. The WH released the following brief bio:

Nicole Angarella, Nominee for Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development

Nicole Angarella serves as the general counsel to the USAID Inspector General. In that position, Ms. Angarella leads a team of attorneys and specialists that provides independent legal counsel to the Inspector General, deputy inspector general, senior managers, and staff. Her office provides comprehensive legal advice, research, and guidance to the Offices of Audit, Investigations, and Management within the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Her office also updates the Inspector General and staff on legal developments and represents OIG in Federal and administrative litigation.

Prior to her appointment as general counsel, Ms. Angarella served as a senior legal counsel at USAID OIG and at the Department of Transportation’s OIG. Ms. Angarella has spent her entire federal career in the Inspector General community. She is Chair of the Council of Counsels to the Inspectors General. Before joining the U.S. Government, she worked as an associate attorney in the General Litigation & White Collar Criminal Defense Practice Group at Cozen O’Connor, an international law firm representing corporate and individual clients in Federal investigations and complex criminal and civil matters. She also worked as an associate attorney specializing in employment and labor relations law at a law firm in Washington, DC. Ms. Angarella has a B.A. in political science from the University of Mary Washington and a law degree from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America. Ms. Angarella is a member of both the Virginia State Bar and the District of Columbia Bar.

If confirmed, Ms. Angarella would succeed Inspector General Ann Calvaresi Barr who served at USAID from November 2015 until her retirement from Federal service on December 31, 2020. Thomas J. Ullom, who served for more than 2 years as Deputy Inspector General, became USAID’s Acting Inspector General on January 1, 2021.

Related posts:

 

Ex-USG Employee Pleads Guilty: 24 Women, Six Countries, 487 Videos/Images in a 14 Year Crime Spree

 

In October 2020, we blogged about the notorious case involving ex-USG employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond (see Ex-USG Employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond, Called an “Experienced Sexual Predator,” Ordered Removed to D.C. Oct 28. 2020).  We did a follow-up post in March 2021 (USA v. Raymond: Court Issues Protective Order Pertaining to Classified Information). Court records do not identify Raymond’s agency employer, and no agency has claimed him! Public records only say that he was an employee of the U.S. government.
On July 23, USDOJ announced that “a California man pleaded guilty today to sexual abuse and admitted to the abusive sexual contact of numerous women, as well as photographing and recording dozens of nude and partially nude women without their consent during his career as a U.S. government employee.”
According to court records, Raymond accepted a plea deal on May 27, 2021, one day before the plea offer was set to expire.  The plea agreement was entered into court on July 23, 2021. Also on July 23, Raymond waived his right to trial by jury. The USG and Raymond also agreed to a Statement of Offense:

“These facts do not constitute all of the facts known to the parties concerning the charged offense; they are being submitted to demonstrate that sufficient facts exist that the defendant committed the offenses to which he is pleading guilty: Sexual Abuse of AV-7 and AV-9, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2), and transportation of obscene material, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462.

Some notable items in the Statement of Offense:

#1. Between on or about August 21, 2018 and June 1, 2020, Raymond, now 45 years old, was a U.S. government employee working at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico. During that time, Raymond lived in an apartment assigned to him by the U.S. government. Raymond’s residence in Mexico City has been leased by the U.S. government since April 2013 for use by U.S. personnel assigned to diplomatic, consular, military, and other U.S. government missions in Mexico City. The U.S. government currently maintains a nine-year lease of the property. This residence falls within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction (““SMTJ”) of the United States, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 7(9).

2. On May 31, 2020, there was an incident at Raymond’s embassy-leased residence in Mexico City.During an interview with law enforcement on June 2, 2020, Raymond stated that he had sexual intercourse with an adult woman, hereinafter referred to as AV-1, on May 31 and that it was consensual. AV-1 was interviewed and reported that she has no memory of the incident and did not consent to sexual intercourse with Raymond. After the May 31, 2020 incident, law enforcement executed several premises and device search warrants, including but not limited to search warrants for Raymond’s phones, laptops, tablets, thumb drives, and memory cards, Raymond’s Mexico City residence, his parents’ residence in La Mesa, California, Tinder and other social media accounts, email accounts, and his iCloud account.

4, Agents found approximately 487 videos and images of unconscious women in various states of undress on multiple devices belonging to Raymond and in his iCloud account.

6. Through its investigation, law enforcement learned that from 2006 to 2020, while working as a U.S. government employee, Raymond recorded and/or photographed at least 24 unconscious nude or partially nude women (AV-2 through AV-25).

7.  Raymond discussed having sex with AV-7 with a friend via text message the following day.

9. In March 2020, approximately two months before his interaction with AV-7, Raymond also texted the same friend mentioned above about having sexual intercourse with AV-9. AV-9 is a resident of Mexico and primarily a Spanish speaker. He texted the same friend that he had to pay for an Uber for AV-9 and expressed that it was annoying but ultimately worthwhile because he was able to have sex with her. 

Item #11 in the Statement of Offense includes a chart that depicts the victims, the number of photos/videos, locations, dates, and example of the obscene depiction of victims.  In addition to victims AV-7 and AV-9, the list of victims include 18 other individuals. Locations include California, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., as well as Mexico and “Countries 3, 4, 5, and 6 [are] known to the government and to the defendant.”
Item #14 in the Statement of Offense notes:

“Raymond stipulates and agrees that from 2006 until 2020, including on the dates listed on the chart above, he recorded and/or photographed at least 24 unconscious and nude or partially nude women, some of whom are not mentioned in this plea agreement or statement of facts, and that during the same time frame, he touched the breasts, buttocks, groin area, and/or genitalia of numerous women, some of whom he recorded and/or photographed and some of whom are mentioned in this agreement. Raymond engaged in this conduct while the women were incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. The women who have been interviewed reported commonalities in their contact with Raymond, including Raymond’s provision and/or preparation of alcoholic beverages and their subsequent memory loss. None of the women consented to being touched while unconscious and/or asleep, and none of them consented to Raymond’s photographing and recording of them in that state.”

The Plea Agreement says:

” …a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2) carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; a fine of $250,000; a term of supervised release of at least 5 years but not more than life, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k); mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. § 3663A; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.

Your client understands that a violation of of 18 U.S.C. § 1462 carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment; a fine of $250,000; a term of supervised release of at least one year but not more than three years, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3559; restitution under 18 U.S.C.§ 3663; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.

Your client also understands that the court shall impose mandatory restitution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2248, which restitution amount shall reflect the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victims’ losses.”

Under Additional Charges:

“In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense(s), your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office or the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section for the conduct relating to victims AV-1 through AV-26 that is described in the Statement of Offense. This office has consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and understands that it will also not bring charges for that conduct. Additionally, if your client’s guilty plea to Counts One, Two, and Three of the Information is accepted by the Court, and provided the plea is not later withdrawn, no charges related to the inducement and/or transportation of AV-15 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought against the defendant by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

Moreover, provided the plea is accepted and not later withdrawn to Counts One, Two, and Three, no charges relating to the inducement of AV-2 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and no charges relating to the inducement of AV-17 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought by the Northern District of Illinois. This agreement does not preclude any U.S. Attorney’s Office for bringing charges against your client for criminal conduct that is distinct from that set forth in the Statement of Facts. For example, if the investigation later revealed that your client had been engaged in sexual activity with a minor and/or involved in commercial sex acts or money laundering, this agreement would not preclude a prosecution for those crimes.”

Under Restitution:

“Your client understands that the Court has an obligation to determine whether, and in what amount, mandatory restitution applies in this case under 18 U.S.C. § 3663A and 18 U.S.C. § 2248 at the time of sentencing.

The Court shall order restitution to every identifiable victim of your client’s offenses. Your client agrees to pay restitution in the amount of $10,000 per victim to AV-1 through AV- 26, provided they are identified at or before the time of sentencing. Furthermore, your client
agrees that, for purposes of this plea, AV-1 through AV-26 are all victims of the offense and are entitled to the same rights as victims so designated under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (“CVRA”), to include the right to be reasonably heard at the sentencing hearing and the right to full and timely restitution. See 18 U.S.C. § 3771. By agreeing to this, your client is not acknowledging that each of these victims would be a victim of a federal offense, nor is your client agreeing that these victims would be so designated should this case go to trial. Similarly,
by agreeing to the terms of this plea, the Government does not concede that federal offenses do not exist for these victims, nor does it concede that the victims would not be victims under the CVRA should this case go to trial. In addition, your client agrees to pay restitution to any other victim that he recorded/photographed nude while that victim was unconscious, provided that victim is identified at or before the time of sentencing, and further agrees that they are crime victims in this case and entitled to the rights as victims so designated under the CVRA. Your client understands that these victims still maintain a right to request a larger amount of restitution from the Court, and that the agreed upon payment to each victim is the minimum amount due.”

The Plea Agreement includes a sex offender registration requirement for the remainder of Raymond’s life “…. client is required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life, and to keep the registration current in jurisdictions where your client resides, where your client is employed and where your client is a student.”
The Plea Agreement notes that the Government’s proposed estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is 262-327 months (the “Estimated Guidelines Range’). The Defendant’s proposed estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is 135-168 months.  So potentially anywhere between 11 years and 27 years.
A similar case to this in 2011 involved Andrew Warren, 43, a former official with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  That case involved charges of abusive sexual contact and unlawful use of cocaine while possessing a firearm. The sexual assault occurred at a US Embassy property in Algeria, and involved one victim. Warren was sentenced to 65 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release following his prison term (see Former CIA Station Chief to Algeria Gets 65 Months for Sexual Assault on Embassy Property).
Via USDOJ: If you believe you have been a victim, have information about Raymond or know of someone who may have information about Raymond, the FBI requests that you fill out this secure, online questionnaire, email FBI at ReportingBJR@fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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Help! State/OBO’s Office of Fire Protection Is On Fire!

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

State/OIG released its inspection report of the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations/Office of Fire Protection (FIRE). Here is a quick summary:
Background

The Department of State (Department) is required to establish and maintain an effective fire protection program for its overseas operations under 29 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 1910, 1926, and 1960.The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), Directorate of Operations, Office of Fire Protection (FIRE) manages and directs this program …

FIRE is led by an Office Director and the office’s staff consists of 43 Civil Service employees, 1 personal services contractor, and 11 thirdparty contractors.2 The office has three divisions: Fire Protection Analysis and Field Engineering (FPA) Division, Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) Division, and Fire Protection Systems and Engineering (FPS) Division. The FPA Division conducts fire and life safety evaluations, fire investigations,training, and fire as a weapon analysis.3 The division also evaluates local and contract fire services,oversees the emergency incident management and disaster response oversight,and administers the fire and life safety equipment logistics program for overseas posts.

Office Director Did Not Fully Model the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles

OIG found that the FIRE Office Director did not fully model the Department’s leadership and management principles outlined in 3 FAM 1214,6 especially with regards to communication, selfawareness, and managing conflict. In OIG interviews, 42 percent of FIRE staff interviewed described the director’s leadership style as difficult, specifically“autocratic” or “micromanaging” because he preferred to retain control over decisions with little input from his staff and he often involved himself in administrative activities that would be better handled by firstline supervisors. Staff also told OIG that the Office Director had a propensity for favoritism toward some FIRE employees. Some staff also said FIRE had low morale because of the Office Director’s stance on administrative issues such as not allowing overtime in situations where employees felt it was warranted to meet the office’s mission and his failure to address concerns about the accuracy of FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions and grade levels, which they believed were inaccurate.

The Office Director acknowledged to OIG that his leadership style was difficult for some FIRE employees. He noted that a longstanding dispute about the accuracy of the FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions and grade levels had a detrimental effect on morale.7 In addition, at OBO’s request,8 the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) conducted an organizational assessment in 2019.9The organizational assessment focused on FIRE leadership issues,including communication, technical expert participation in the decision-making process, and collaboration among FIRE divisions. It also focused on a range of administrative issues, including the accuracy of the FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions, standard operating procedures for overtime, and service passports for third-party contractors. During the inspection, FIRE began implementing the recommendations in GTM’s organizational assessment report. However, based on FIRE’s lack of progress on standard operating procedures for overtime and obtaining service passports for third-party contractors at the time of the inspection, OIG made recommendations to address these issues, as described in the Operational Effectiveness and Program Implementation and Resource Management sections of this report. Additionally, OIG suggested to the Office Director that he contact the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School to engage a neutral third-party facilitator to address the leadership, morale, and administrative issues reported by FIRE staff. He agreed to use these Foreign Service Institute Leadership and Management School resources to address the issues described above.

Wait, the director told the OIG that his leadership style was difficult for some FIRE employees?”  That’s some 42 percent of the staff who gave him a thumbs down.  Does it need to be 51 percent?
The same individual who does not seem to acknowledged a deficient leadership style is now asked to call FSI’s Leadership and Management School for a third party facilitator “to address the leadership, morale, and administrative issues reported by the staff?” And this was made as a “suggestion” and not even included in the formal recommendations? A suggestion by its nature may be accepted or rejected.  So there will be no follow-up required, hey?
C’mon, folks, 2035 is tad far off for a status update on these issues; your poor blogger may be living in a colony in Mars by then with spotty wifi or in the midst of a zombie apocalypse!
The good news is — the directors of the three divisions of Fire Protection Analysis and Field Engineering (FPA), Fire Protection Engineering (FPE), and Fire Protection Systems and Engineering (FPS) received positive ratings in OIG’s survey and in employee interviews.5  Apparently, the OIG survey respondents rated the three Division Directors very good to excellent for all the 10 leadership and management principles found in 3 FAM 1214, “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees.”
We can’t tell from the report when was the last time this office was reviewed by the OIG. It is possible that it may not been inspected for many, many years; we have not been able to find any previous reports. The current report talks about “the past 14 years” and six fiscal years, so there’s that.
Fire Casualties/Fatalities

Over the past 14 years, FIRE reported three fatalities and five injuries.10 Although the number of firerelated fatalities and injuries remained low, the number of fire incidents and the associated monetary loss fluctuated over the past 6 fiscal years, ranging from 95 to 154 incidents per fiscal year, with associated annual losses from $358,206 to $37,291,962.11 Overall, OIG found that FIRE carried out its mission to prevent firerelated fatalities and injuries and generally met its performance objectives.

Footnote 10 notes that OBO/FIRE reported three fatalities over the last 14 years:
— one locally employed staff in Islamabad in 2006,
— one Foreign Service officer in Moscow in 2014 (Also see US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies); Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude
— one local contractor in Addis Ababa in 2017
FIRE also reported five injuries:
— one locally employed staff in Islamabad in 2006
— one Foreign Service officer and one locally employed staff in Dhaka in 2007
— one locally employed staff in Addis Ababa in 2015
— one Foreign Service officer in Quito in 2019.
Footnote 11 notes that “Of the $37,291,962 total loss, which occurred in FY 2020, $35million was attributable to a fire at Embassy Baghdad following a terrorist attack.”
Other notable items:

— OIG found no requirement for COMs to attest or certify in the annual SOAthat their postshad an effective fire protection program. In addition, the templates in Annex 1o f the SOA required COMs to attest to the effectiveness of eight facility management programs but none were related to the fire protection program.

— OIG found that low participation in fire prevention training at overseas posts hindered the effectiveness of FIRE’s fire protection program. According to a cable sent to all overseas posts,14 often fewer than 20 percent of personnel assigned to post attend fire prevention training15 provided by fire marshals during their visits.

— OIG found that a lack of service passports19 for FIRE’s 11 thirdparty contractors, which would allow them to carry work tools and fire system repair parts through foreign customs,affected operational effectiveness.20FIRE’s thirdparty contractors sometimes were subjected to increased scrutiny from local customs and immigration officials when traveling on their tourist passports.For example, one of FIRE’s thirdparty contractors was detained for several hours when host government authorities discovered hand tools and electronic detection and testing equipment in his luggage, while in another instance, some of his equipment was seized. FIRE reported that obtaining a business visa from the host country has not prevented these issues.CA recommends that most thirdparty contractors should continue to travel on tourist passports. FIRE first tried to obtain a service passport for a thirdparty contractor in 2017, but CA denied the request because it determined that FIRE’s justification was insufficient.

— OIG found FIRE had an inefficient manual system for tracking overseas posts’ compliance with its fire safety inspection recommendations. Specifically, FIRE used spreadsheets to track compliance with its recommendations for more than 90 overseas post inspections.

— FIRE’s overtime policy did not fully comply with Department standards in 3 FAM 3133.1, 3 FAM 3133.2,and 3 FAM 3133.3governing regularly and irregularly scheduled overtime.22 Although FIRE’s overtime policy addressed irregularly scheduled overtime, it did not include guidelines for regularly scheduled overtime that must be scheduled in advance of a workweek. Additionally, OIG reviewed statements from supervisors in FIRE documents instructing employees that the office does not pay overtime, that employees should not submit requests for paid overtime, and that FIRE has had for many years an unwritten policy that overtime is and shall be unscheduled and therefore paid by compensatory time and not overtime pay.

Related posts:

SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On May 28, 2021, USDOJ/Southern District of New York announced the arrest of SINA MOAYEDI, the owner of a construction company on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of bribery of a public official. According to the announcement, “Sina Moayedi allegedly paid lucrative bribes to a State Department insider in exchange for confidential bidding information, and fraudulently induced the State Department to pay his company approximately $100 million.” Excerpt from the announcement:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Sina Moayedi made misrepresentations about his employees’ qualifications and his company’s ownership in order to induce the State Department into awarding approximately $100 million in lucrative construction contracts to Moayedi’s company, Montage, Inc.  Moayedi also allegedly cultivated a State Department insider, and paid the insider lucrative bribes in exchange for confidential State Department bidding information.  Moayedi must now be held accountable for his alleged brazen fraud on the government.”

Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said:  “As alleged, the defendant’s scheme to undermine the Department’s procurement process for personal gain caught up with him today and he will now be held accountable.  His alleged actions not only hurt other legitimate businesses competing for awards, but also damage the public’s trust in the effective and efficient utilization of taxpayer money.”

According to allegations in the Complaint[1]:

Montage, Inc. (“Montage”) is a U.S.-based business that is primarily involved in worldwide Government construction projects, including embassies, military posts, consulates, and similar overseas properties owned and operated by the United States Government.  Montage has performed over $220 million in contracting work for the U.S. Government, including for the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Since 2014, Montage appears to have focused primarily on competing for and obtaining contracts with the State Department.  During that period, the State Department has awarded Montage approximately six overseas U.S. Embassy/Consulate construction project contracts totaling $100 million, in locales such as Ecuador, Spain, Sudan, the Czech Republic, and Bermuda.  The founder of Montage is SINA MOAYEDI.

Montage engaged in at least two fraud schemes.  The first scheme alleges that, from approximately 2014 to September 2020, MOAYEDI and Montage lied that it was a female-owned business in order to secure unmerited advantages in the bidding process.  By way of context, it is advantageous to a company, when bidding for federal government contracts, to be majority-owned by an individual from a socially or economically disadvantaged community.  In fact, certain contracts (or portions of contracts) are “set aside” for – i.e., only available to – such companies.  MOAYEDI and Montage repeatedly represented falsely in submissions to the State Department that Montage was female-owned, or female-owned and minority-owned, in order falsely to induce the State Department to award Montage lucrative construction contracts.  In actuality, MOAYEDI repeatedly lied about Montage being a female-owned business, and indeed, MOAYEDI controls Montage and makes all material decisions on Montage’s behalf.  As MOAYEDI revealed to a bank that inquired about Montage’s ownership status, “I am the sole owner and president of Montage and have always been.”  Montage and MOAYEDI also repeatedly misrepresented, and significantly overstated, the qualifications of Montage employees.  MOAYEDI made these misrepresentations in order to, among other things, meet State Department and contractual requirements for minimum experience in certain key positions.

The second scheme charged in the Complaint is a bribery scheme during at least 2016 and 2017.  Insider-1 is employed in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (“OBO”), which, according to OBO’s website, “directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.”  Specifically, Insider-1 works for the State Department’s OBO Project Development and Coordination Division, European division.  
[…]
MOAYEDI, 66, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is charged with one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 20 years, and one count of bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 15 years.  
[…]
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Download U.S. v Sina Moayedi complaint (21 mag 5598).pdf
Excerpt from complaint:

15. Based on my review of State Department records, I am aware that between approximately 2014 and 2017, Montage was awarded six U.S. embassy/consulate construction projects with the State Department, worth a total of approximately $100 million.
[…]
26. Based on information derived from witness interviews, I reviewed resumes submitted by Montage for various State Department projects. Department requirements referenced in the contract specify certain levels of experience in order to serve as “key personnel” (i.e., personnel whom the State Department has deemed critical to the safe, successful, and timely completion of a project).
[…]
In the course of my review, I identified numerous deficiencies regarding the resumes of key personnel submitted to the State Department for the Guayaquil, Ecuador project.

a. For example, Montage submitted an individual for the key role of Project Controls Engineer and Site Health Project Manager. In the claimed experience for this individual, it stated that he was employed at Montage since 2008 and had “inspected emergency egress and life/safety issues” and conducted “inspections of asbestos containment.” In fact, this individual had only been employed at Montage for approximately one year, and served in an office staff capacity, performing none of those duties.
[…]
[O]ne Montage employee’s resume claimed that he had earned a bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and also claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field in various capacities over several years. Neither representation was true. In fact, this individual testified at a deposition that they did not graduate; and this individual’s SF-86 security clearance application noted that this individual had actually sold meat as a door-to-door salesman, was a landscaper, and built swimming pools for several years during the period that they had claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field.
[…]
39. I am aware, from my personal participation, that a judicially authorized search warrant was executed at the residence of Insider-1, on or about May 20, 2021. On that date, Insider-1 was informed, in substance, that she was not in custody, she was free to go, and she was not required to speak with law enforcement agents. She then participated in a voluntary interview with myself and an SDNY Special Agent on her back porch, and she made the following statements, in substance and part:

a. At first, Insider-1 claimed to have sold a large green rug to SINA MOAYEDI, the defendant, for about $60,000, but she said that the payment for the rug came from MOAYEDI’s friend.

Read more here.
The Daily Beast has identified the OBO insider in their May 27 report as well as provided the link to the Salehi Search Warrant; she has not been charged.
The document is 145 pages, the allegations spans many years and the government appears to be looking at multiple embassy projects.  The project in Guayaquil, Ecuador gets top mention. The search warrant executed includes “Records and information relating to forged submittals for the Guayaquil Consulate Project in Ecuador, and other State Department or other Government construction projects” and “Records and information that constitute evidence concerning persons who either (i) collaborated, conspired, or assisted (knowingly or unknowingly) the commission of the criminal activity under investigation; or (ii) communicated with MOAYEDI or other MONTAGE employees about matters relating to the criminal activity under investigation, including records that help reveal their whereabouts.”

Related news:

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Do you know the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes?

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

Gibson v. Office of Personnel Management, No. 2020-1651 (Fed. Cir. September 9, 2020) (MSPB Docket No. PH-0831-20-0011-I-1): The appellant sought survivor annuity benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System, contending that she is a “widow” of a retired Federal employee. OPM denied the appellant’s application for benefits, finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes under 5 U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A), because the marriage to her husband lasted from May 21, 2018, until his death on February 15, 2019 (270 days). This was short of the “at least 9 months” requirement. On appeal, the Board affirmed OPM’s determination. Before the Federal Circuit, the appellant contested the application of the term “months” and argued that each month should be counted as having 30 days, meaning her 270-day marriage was 9 months in duration. The court rejected this argument and affirmed the Board’s final decision. Citing Supreme Court precedent as support, the court concluded that the phrase “9 months” has an “ordinary public meaning” that counts time as calendar months. The court further explained that Congress often uses, including in the statute at issue, “days” as a unit of measurement and could have done so in 5U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A) if that were its intention. The appellant presented no grounds for “erasing the clear distinction between familiar counting methods.”

http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/20-1651.OPINION.9-9-2020_1649543.pdf

 


 

 

Three Current/Former @StateDept Employees Float to the Top in Crowded Bad News Cycle

/Updated 7:28 pm EST with comment from State Department.

Ugh! Three in less than three weeks!
Three current and former employees of the State Department are currently in the news. One case before the court is a political appointee arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection.  Apparently, the individual was not happy with the accommodations at the D.C. jail.  After the charges were read, the charged individual reportedly asked the court if he could sleep where there are no cockroaches everywhere. Via WaPo:
“I wonder if there’s a place where I can stay in detention where I don’t have cockroaches crawling over me while I attempt to sleep…I mean, I really haven’t slept all that much, your honor. It would be nice if I could sleep in a place where there were not cockroaches everywhere,” Klein said.
Two other cases involved career employees. We see that there are already calls for an investigation or firing of these employees on social media. Note that unlike political appointees, career employees have certain job protections (political appointees only need a big dog to look after them, see IO).
We’ll have to wait and see what happens with these cases.  The State Department (with few exceptions)  typically will not publicize or even elaborate on personnel actions, but it is likely that any actions possibly resulting from these cases could end up in the Foreign Service Grievance System, as provided by regulations. Cases that make news, even those noted for notoriety often take a while to go through the system. Exceptions are for cases where there is a criminal offense and an individual is charged; there is no grievance case then, only a court case.
Former political appointee Federico Klein was arrested in relation to the January 6 insurrection.
On March 4, a former political appointee at the State Department Federico Klein was arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection. According to the Statement of Facts by an FBI agent:
Based upon the information provided by Tipster 1 and Witness 1, your affiant determined that KLEIN had been an employee of the United States Department ofState (DOS) on January 6, 2021. KLEIN resigned his position on January 19, 2021. You affiant also learned that, on January 6, 2021, KLEIN possessed a Top Secret security clearance that had been renewed in 2019.
On February 10, 2021, your affiant and a DOS Diplomatic Security Special Agent interviewed an identified individual ( hereinafter“Witness 2 , former colleague of KLEIN’s at DOS. Witness 2 andKLEIN worked together from approximately February 2019 through January 2021. KLEIN was a Schedule- C political appointee who began working at DOS in 2017 in the office of Brazilian and Southern Cone Affairs. Witness 2 worked with KLEIN in-person multiple times per week throughout the time they worked together. Witness 2 reported that they had no animosity towards KLEIN. Witness 2 last saw KLEIN on January 19, 2021; Witness 2 recalled the specific date because it was prior to President Biden’s inauguration and KLEIN’s resignation from DOS. Your affiant showed Witness 2 several still photographs from a video posted on YouTube that depicted some of the events at the United States Capitol onJanuary 6 ,2021. Witness 2 positively identified KLEIN in the photos.
During the March 5 DPB,  State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: 
“… we do not have a specific comment on Mr. Klein. This is a matter that’s being investigated by the FBI, and they are the appropriate agency to answer questions specific to the charges. I believe the Department of Justice will be in a position to provide more details on those charges today.
Generally speaking, Mr. Klein served as a Schedule C presidential employee at the Department of State from 2017 until his resignation in January. He worked as a staff assistant with the transition team and as a special assistant in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, but we of course wouldn’t comment on any pending criminal charges.”

Diplomatic Security’s Nick Sabruno made it to CNN, and not/not in a good way:
On March 4, CNN reported that Nick Sabruno, a top State Department diplomatic security official in Afghanistan was removed from his role for declaring the “death of America” and making racist comments about Kamala Harris in a post on his Facebook page when Trump lost the presidential election. In November 2020.  Uh, SDO fella, try not to pat your back too hard, you might break it!
“I think it is completely out of line. And I am damn proud of the steps we took to remove him from post pretty damn quickly,” said a State Department official familiar with the matter.

Foreign Service Officer Fritz Berggren made the news here, there, and in Israel:
On February 26, Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported that FSO  Fritz Berggren for several years has been publicly calling for the establishment of Christian nation-states, warning that white people face “elimination” and railing against Jews as well as Black Lives Matter and other social movements. He has a blog, and is on multiple social media platforms. He is big news in Israel and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has called for a full investigation. As of this writing, his blog remains up and appears to have regular updates.


 

 

Trump’s New E.O. Launches Wrecking Ball at the Civil Service

 

On October 21, Trump issued an Executive Order on Creating Schedule F In The Excepted Service:

“Pursuant to my authority under section 3302(1) of title 5, United States Code, I find that conditions of good administration make necessary an exception to the competitive hiring rules and examinations for career positions in the Federal service of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character. These conditions include the need to provide agency heads with additional flexibility to assess prospective appointees without the limitations imposed by competitive service selection procedures. Placing these positions in the excepted service will mitigate undue limitations on their selection. This action will also give agencies greater ability and discretion to assess critical qualities in applicants to fill these positions, such as work ethic, judgment, and ability to meet the particular needs of the agency. These are all qualities individuals should have before wielding the authority inherent in their prospective positions, and agencies should be able to assess candidates without proceeding through complicated and elaborate competitive service processes or rating procedures that do not necessarily reflect their particular needs.”
[..]
Schedule F. Positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition shall be listed in Schedule F. In appointing an individual to a position in Schedule F, each agency shall follow the principle of veteran preference as far as administratively feasible.”

FedWeek notes that the “estimates of the potential number of employees affected range from the tens of thousands to 100,000 or more.”
The Partnership for Public Service released a statement that says in part ““Our civil service is the envy of the world and must be strengthened and enhanced. Without strong safeguards, the risk of hiring and firing for political reasons is high. The president’s executive order creating a new Schedule F job classification is deeply troubling and has the potential to impact wide swaths of federal employees over the next few months without engagement from Congress, civil servants and other key stakeholders.”
On October 27, 2020, H.R. 8687: To nullify the Executive Order entitled “Executive Order on Creating Schedule F In The Excepted Service”, and for other purposes was introduced in Congress. Of course, this bill must be passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and then signed by the President to become law.
The new E.O. which amends the Civil Service rule, requires a preliminary review of positions covered within 90 days of the issuance of the order, that places the due date on January 19, 2020, a day before the presidential inauguration of 2021. A complete review is due within 210 days, which is August 19, 2021. Agency heads will determine which positions should be placed in Schedule F category:

Sec. 5. Agency Actions. (a) Each head of an executive agency (as defined in section 105 of title 5, United States Code, but excluding the Government Accountability Office) shall conduct, within 90 days of the date of this order, a preliminary review of agency positions covered by subchapter II of chapter 75 of title 5, United States Code, and shall conduct a complete review of such positions within 210 days of the date of this order. Thereafter, each agency head shall conduct a review of agency positions covered by subchapter II of chapter 75 of title 5, United States Code, on at least an annual basis. Following such reviews each agency head shall:

(i) for positions not excepted from the competitive service by statute, petition the Director to place in Schedule F any such competitive service, Schedule A, Schedule B, or Schedule D positions within the agency that the agency head determines to be of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character and that are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition. Any such petition shall include a written explanation documenting the basis for the agency head’s determination that such position should be placed in Schedule F; and

(ii) for positions excepted from the competitive service by statute, determine which such positions are of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character and are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition. The agency head shall publish this determination in the Federal Register. Such positions shall be considered Schedule F positions for the purposes of agency actions under sections 5(d) and 6 of this order.
[…]
(b) The requirements set forth in subsection (a) of this section shall apply to currently existing positions and newly created positions.

(c) When conducting the review required by subsection (a) of this section, each agency head should give particular consideration to the appropriateness of either petitioning the Director to place in Schedule F or including in the determination published in the Federal Register, as applicable, positions whose duties include the following:

(i) substantive participation in the advocacy for or development or formulation of policy, especially:

(A) substantive participation in the development or drafting of regulations and guidance; or

(B) substantive policy-related work in an agency or agency component that primarily focuses on policy;

(ii) the supervision of attorneys;

(iii) substantial discretion to determine the manner in which the agency exercises functions committed to the agency by law;

(iv) viewing, circulating, or otherwise working with proposed regulations, guidance, executive orders, or other non-public policy proposals or deliberations generally covered by deliberative process privilege and either:

(A) directly reporting to or regularly working with an individual appointed by either the President or an agency head who is paid at a rate not less than that earned by employees at Grade 13 of the General Schedule; or

(B) working in the agency or agency component executive secretariat (or equivalent); or

(v) conducting, on the agency’s behalf, collective bargaining negotiations under chapter 71 of title 5, United States Code.

(d) The Director shall promptly determine whether to grant any petition under subsection (a) of this section. Not later than December 31 of each year, the Director shall report to the President, through the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, concerning the number of petitions granted and denied for that year for each agency.

It looks like they expect that this would be challenged in court:

(d) If any provision of this order, or the application of any provision to any person or circumstances, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this order and the application of any of its other provisions to any other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

On October 23, 2020, OPM issued a memo with Instructions on Implementing Schedule F.

This Executive Order excepts from the competitive service positions that are of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character, typically filled by individuals not normally subject to replacement or change as a result of a Presidential transition. As a result of this Executive Order, such positions will be rescheduled into the newly created Schedule F and exempt from both the competitive hiring rules as well as the adverse action procedures set forth in chapter 75 of title 5 of the United States Code.
[..]
The Executive Order directs each agency head to review positions within his or her agency and identify those positions appropriately categorized as confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating, and then petition OPM to place those positions in Schedule F. Agencies have 90 days to conduct a preliminary review of positions and submit petitions, with an additional 120 days to finalize that review and submit any remaining petitions.

If Biden wins, how quickly do you think this E.O. gets rescinded?
If there is a Trump second term, we expect that the wrecking ball now directed at the Civil Service will soon extend to all parts of the federal service.
Go VOTE!