Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?

Posted: 7:01 pm ET

 

This is not a new case but we have not been aware of this case until we started digging around.  In 2009, a Policy Analyst with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked as a liaison to the State Department (the Agency).

According to EEOC records, in and around May 2009, the DHS employee (Complainant) was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was a State Department contractor. The incident took place in a State Department-leased apartment in Prague, Czech Republic. The EEOC decision dated June 16, 2011 notes that the accused individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency.

The complainant had to make several attempts to report the sexual assault. She was eventually directed to contact the EEO office at DHS, who took no action, and refused to take her case because the attacker was not a DHS employee. She was sent to the Violent Crimes Unit of Diplomatic Security, who investigated the case and referred it to DOJ for prosecution. DOJ took no action. A DS investigator advised her to contact State/OCR. She interacted with that office for 6-7 months but these “activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications” according to the EEOC.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Then State/OCR dismissed the case for failure to state a claim and untimely contact with an EEO counselor.

Sexual assault is a crime punishable by law. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same.  Sexual assault describes the catch-all crime that encompasses unwanted sexual touching of many kinds, with links to state penal code and federal law on related crimes.  It includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts.

FindLaw notes that Federal law directs judges to examine a number of factors, including the defendant’s criminal history and his or her acceptance of responsibility, when setting a punishment. The federal law criminalizing sexual assault sets a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and also provides for fines. In addition, federal law provides that those convicted of sexual assault must compensate their victims for any expenses directly related to the crime. This can include costs for medical care, physical or occupational therapy, attorney’s fees, and other related expenses.

But first, you’ve got to investigate, charge the perpetrator and find him or her guilty.

The complainant here alleged that she was sexually assaulted in USG-leased housing, why did people send her to an Equal Employment Opportunity office for godsakes? Why did DOJ take no action? If there was probable cause for Diplomatic Security to refer this case to DOJ for prosecution, how did the contractor become a State Department employee? This incident happened in 2009, the victim did not get to file her case until a year later, and the EEOC did not make a decision until 2011. At some time during this lengthy process, the victim resigned from federal service. The unnamed alleged attacker may still be in the bureaucracy.

Sure, we could call this abysmal systems failure.

But just about every part of this process was deplorably bad. And the people who worked in the system made it so.

Excerpts below from the EEOC decision (we underlined some parts for emphasis):

Reporting sexual assault — Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

In and around May 2009, Complainant was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was an Agency contractor.1 This individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency. The record does not indicate in what capacity he was employed or the date his employment began.

After making several attempts to report the sexual assault and being redirected to various components in DHS, Complainant was eventually directed to contact DHS’ EEO office, which she did on June 1, 2009. The record suggests that DHS engaged in limited EEO counseling, but took no action to process Complainant’s allegations as a potential EEO complaint.  Instead, approximately a week after her June 1 contact, DHS effectively dismissed Complainant from the EEO process, concluding that it could not entertain her issues because the alleged attacker was not its employee.  DHS then advised Complainant to contact the Agency, which she did on June 11, 2009.

Soon thereafter, a criminal investigation was initiated by the Violent Crimes Unit of the Agency’s Office of Diplomatic Security. Complainant was cautioned to refrain from discussing the May 10 incident until the investigation was complete. In October 2009, the Agency referred the matter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution upon finding probable cause to believe Complainant’s allegations were true. For reasons not reflected in the record, DOJ took no action.

On October 23, 2009, pursuant to the advice of the Violent Crimes Unit investigator, Complainant contacted the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). During the next six or seven months, she interacted with various OCR representatives whose activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications.  On May 24, 2010, Complainant filed a sparsely worded formal complaint which contained a single averment of discrimination relating to the sexual assault and several items of requested relief.

In a September 28, 2010 FAD, the Agency dismissed the May 24 complaint upon finding that it failed to state a claim and that Complainant failed to timely contact an EEO counselor.  The instant appeal followed. We note that Complainant is pro se.

Contentions on appeal

In a statement accompanying her appeal, Complainant argues that the chronology of relevant events belies the Agency’s finding that she was untimely in initiating EEO counseling. She also appears to raise questions regarding the trustworthiness of the FAD (final agency decision) by noting several errors of fact reflected in the Agency’s reasoning. The Agency filed no response.

EEOC reversed the State Department’s dismissal

The Agency does not dispute that the alleged assault occurred on May 10, 2009.  Nor does it dispute that Complainant first sought counseling on June 1, 2009 with DHS. The Agency’s finding that Complainant was untimely is premised on the apparent view that her DHS contact had no significance under subsection 105(a)(1). We conclude that it did. To rule otherwise would require the Commission to ignore the plain wording of the subsection, which provides only that aggrieved individuals contact “a” Counselor within the stated time. There is no requirement that the Counselor be from the agency that receives the complaint.3  In this case, Complainant logically initiated contact with a Counselor in the agency where she was employed.

It is self-evident that June 1, 2009 is within 45 days of May 10, 2009. We, therefore, find that Complainant’s counseling contact was timely and reverse the Agency’s dismissal on this ground.

Alleged perpetrator went from contractor to employee

The Commission’s regulation at 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1) authorizes an agency to dismiss a complaint that fails to state a claim that can be remedied through the EEO process.  In its FAD, the Agency concluded that Complainant failed to assert a remediable claim because neither she nor her alleged attacker was functioning in work status when the “event in question” occurred. The non-work status of Complainant and her alleged attacker, on May 10, 2009,  would likely be dispositive of this appeal were we to find that the “matter” in question, when the complaint was filed, was clearly confined to the alleged assault.4 Such a finding cannot be made, however, on the basis of the current record.

We are mindful, initially, that the counseling process was unduly erratic and prolonged in this case. Indeed, more than a year had elapsed before Complainant was provided the opportunity to file a formal complaint. Several events occurred, in the interim, which are potentially relevant to the sufficiency of her complaint.

For instance, by the time the complaint was filed, there had been a change in status of the individual the Agency believed had “probably” assaulted Complainant. He went from being an Agency contractor to an Agency employee. Although it is not clear whether, as a DHS “liaison” to the Agency, Complainant had (or would have)  been required to work with (or for) this individual, we find it significant that, at some point prior to filing the complaint, Complainant resigned from federal service. The record suggests that the resignation was under duress and may have related to a requirement that she refrain from discussing her ordeal.  See Complaint File, April 21, 2010 email from Complainant to named Agency official (“I don’t want to be forced to keep [the attacker’s] secret when I’m the one being hurt and losing.”)

At this juncture, we do not know how (if at all) Complainant’s employment may have been affected by the May 2009 incident. The record is wholly undeveloped in this regard. However, we can say that, if the Agency had directed Complainant to remain silent in order to protect the alleged attacker or facilitate his employment, it could hardly be found (as the Agency did) that the incident did not “involve” any term or condition of her employment. Without suggesting that the known facts in this case, by necessity, implicate a potential claim of “sexual harassment,” it is relevant to note that the Commission has recognized that harassment which occurs outside of work may state a claim when the effect of the off-duty incident creates an “intolerable influence on the employee’s working conditions.” Kokangul v. Department of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 01A61380 (July 6, 2006)

Deficient EEO processing — looking at you S/OCR

We make no finding with regard to the existence of a viable discrimination claim arising from the May 2009 incident. We merely find that deficiencies in processing, as well as the record, render it impossible to determine the full measure of the concerns Complainant sought to pursue through the EEO process.  The quality of the EEO counseling, provided by the Agency and DHS, left much to be desired in terms of ensuring the record would be adequate to assess the sufficiency of any formal complaint that Complainant might file.

Incomplete files

It is unclear, for example, why the Complaint File does not include the Violent Crime Unit’s report, given its obvious relevance to the matter that prompted Complainant to seek EEO counseling. Also inexplicably missing from the record is a “statement” Complainant apparently prepared during the course of the counseling process.6 The absence of this and other information renders the record insufficient to determine the nature of any claim Complainant may have sought to assert.

Should have – what, whose contractor?

Finally, we note that the Agency also relied on 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(a) as a ground for dismissing the complaint, finding that Complainant should have filed it against DHS because the alleged attacker was a DHS contractor.7 This ground is also found to be without merit. There is nothing in the record that contradicts the statements made by Complainant and others that her attacker was a contractor (and later an employee) of the Agency—not DHS.

*

The complainant here would have been under chief of mission authority in Germany where she was assigned a tour of duty. We don’t know what would have been her status in the Czech Republic where the alleged attack took place. But the incident occurred in a State Department-leased apartment. So we expect that the State Department would have been the investigating authority.  This case happened in 2009 and decided by the EEOC in 2011.  This got us thinking on what procedure is in place for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We’ve spent the last several days trying to locate the Foreign Service Manual or Foreign Affairs Handbook for the procedure in reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, but have been unsuccessful, so far. We were able to find 7 FAM 1940  REPORTING CRIME VICTIM CASES, but this section only apply to non-official, private Americans and the reporting covers only crimes reported to a consular officers abroad by victims, their families or by the host country government and which result in a consular officer or officers providing substantial assistance to the victim.

We’ve asked the State Department for its sexual assault regs and guidance; we’ve received a response but it deserves a separate post.

link

#

OPM’s Security Clearance Backlog Now At 500,000+ Govt-Wide

Posted: 4:14 am ET

 

The State Department recently sent an agency-wide message from the Under Secretary for Management which provide timelines for job applicants and employees who are in the process of applying or renewing their security clearances. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security adjudicates security clearances and renewals for all State Department employees but we understand that contractors are mostly processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The message notes that OPM currently has a backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide.

In terms of length of adjudication, apparently 60% of the Department’s initial Top Secret investigations are completed within six months while 66% of its initial Secret investigations are completed in four months. When compared government-wide, the Department adjudicates security clearances much faster than the government-wide average. So that’s good, except, of course, if you’re the one waiting for it, six months is a loooong time. We don’t know what is the average wait time for the remaining 40% awaiting their TS clearance or the 34% awaiting for their Secret clearance?

But the OPM backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide? Not so good.  With a new administration transitioning in next year, waiting for a security clearance may just be like Beetlejuice waiting at the DMV without an appointment.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

In related news, OPM is also in the news because the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report yesterday on The OPM Data Breach: How the Government Jeopardized Our National Security for More than a Generation (read PDF or read below).  The report details the  exfiltration by two hacking teams of the security background data on 21.56 million individuals, the personnel files of 4.2 million former and current US government employees and the fingerprints for 5.6 million of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that OPM/OIG has warned since at least 2005 that the information maintained by OPM was vulnerable to hackers. US-CERT had also warned the department of a malware  operating on its servers in 2012, and again in 2014, CERT warned that a hacker had managed to get information out of the OPM servers. The report notes that the damage could have been mitigated if the security of the sensitive data in OPM’s critical IT systems had been prioritized and secured.

Read the report here:

 

#

Three American Contractors Kidnapped in Iraq Tell Their Story

Posted: 1:54 am ET
he men were released to Iraqi middlemen who took them to the Green Zone, the government complex where the U.S. Embassy is housed. That day, Feb. 16, was the last the Americans saw of Abu Marina, the Iraqi held captive with them. Attempts to reach him via his Facebook account failed; his whereabouts are unknown.

Coverage of the kidnapping is a case study in the unreliability of newsgathering in Baghdad, where fear and sectarian agendas shape how incidents are reported, especially given the difficulties of Western journalists to move freely around the city.

Every news organization that covered the case reported inaccurate information, typically focusing on the brothel angle based on the accounts of unnamed “Iraqi security officials.” Virtually everything else in the reports was wrong, too: the men’s names, nationalities, genders, employer and time of capture.

Read more below:

 

#

 

 

 

United States v. DynCorp: Suit Alleges Submission of False Claims in Iraqi Police Force Contract

Posted: 2:42 am ET

Via USDOJ:

United States Files Suit against DynCorp International Alleging Submission of False Claims under State Department Contract

The United States filed a False Claims Act complaint against DynCorp International Inc. (DynCorp) alleging that it knowingly submitted inflated claims in connection with a State Department contract to train Iraqi police forces (CIVPOL contract), the Department of Justice announced today.  The United States filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  DynCorp, which is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Tucker Holdings Inc.

In April 2004, the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs awarded the CIVPOL contract to DynCorp to provide training for civilian police forces in Iraq and other services needed to support that effort, such as trainers, guards, translators, vehicles and living quarters for contractor personnel.  In its complaint, the United States alleges that DynCorp knowingly allowed one of its main CIVPOL subcontractors to charge excessive and unsubstantiated rates for hotel lodging, translator, security guard and driving services and overhead expenses, and included these charges in the claims it submitted under the CIVPOL contract to the State Department.  The complaint also alleges that DynCorp added its own markup to its subcontractor’s excessive charges, thereby further inflating the claims it submitted to the government.

“Companies that contract with the United States have an obligation to deal fairly and openly with the government,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Attempting to take advantage of the American taxpayers in times of war is a shameful abuse of this responsibility.”

“The United States relies on its contractors to be forthcoming with accurate information and to act responsibly in return for receiving the taxpayers’ money,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia.  “Our office is committed to recovering funds from those who fail to adhere to those responsibilities and obligations.”

The civil complaint in this action is the result of an investigation by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The case is captioned United States v. DynCorp International, Inc., No. 1:16-cv-01473 (D.D.C.).  The claims asserted in the complaint are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

 

#

Contractors Settle False Claims Allegations Related to USAID Food Aid Storage/Redelivery For $1.075M

Posted: 3:55 am ET

Via USDOJ:

Jacintoport International LLC and Seaboard Marine Ltd Agree to Settle False Claims Allegations Related to Delivery of Humanitarian Food Aid

The Justice Department announced today that Jacintoport International LLC (Jacintoport) and Seaboard Marine Ltd. (Seaboard Marine) have agreed to pay $1.075 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the companies violated the False Claims Act in connection with a warehousing and logistics contract for the storage and redelivery of humanitarian food aid. Jacintoport is a cargo handling and stevedoring firm headquartered in Houston, Texas, and Seaboard Marine, an affiliate of Jacintoport, is an ocean transportation company headquartered in Miami, Florida.

In its lawsuit, the United States alleged that Jacintoport executed in 2007 a warehousing and logistics contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the storage and redelivery of emergency humanitarian food aid. This contract contained explicit caps on the rates Jacintoport could charge ocean carriers to load humanitarian food aid onto ships (referred to as “stevedoring” charges) bound for crisis areas around the world. The complaint alleges that beginning around January 2008 and continuing through at least October 2009, Jacintoport, under the supervision and control of Seaboard, charged ocean carriers more for stevedoring than permitted to load over 50,000 tons of humanitarian food aid. These inflated stevedoring charges were subsequently lumped into other costs for delivering humanitarian food aid and passed on to the United States.

“USAID’s humanitarian food aid program provides critical assistance to starving people all over the world,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department will hold accountable those who seek to abuse this important program.” ‪

“It is unacceptable for companies that do business with the federal government to inflate their costs,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “This settlement demonstrates our determination to protect the taxpayers’ dollars – and humanitarian programs – from abuse.”

The allegations resolved by this settlement were initially brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by John Raggio, a shipping contractor who allegedly received an invoice from Jacintoport that contained the excessive stevedoring charge. Under the Act’s qui tam provisions, a private citizen, known as a “relator,” can sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The United States is permitted to intervene in the lawsuit, as it did here. Raggio will receive $215,000. Earlier today, the government requested that the case be dismissed.

This matter was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, with assistance from the USAID Office of the Inspector General. The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability. The case is United States ex. rel. Raggio v. Jacintoport International, LLC, et al. Case No. 1:10-cv-01908 (D.D.C.).

 

#

State/OIG Audits Local Guard Force Contractors at Critical/High-Threat Posts

Posted: 12:50  am ET

Via State/OIG:

OIG conducted an audit of Local Guard Force Contractors at Critical- and High-Threat Posts  to determine whether (1) local guard force (LGF) contractors at selected critical- and high-threat overseas posts are complying with general and post orders included in the contract; (2) LGF contractors at selected critical- and high- threat overseas posts provide invoices that comply with contract requirements; and (3) regional security officers at selected critical- and high-threat overseas posts perform oversight of the LGF contract in accordance with their Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) delegation memoranda.

Screen Shot

Summary of Findings:

OIG found that the guards working for the four LGF contractors at eight overseas posts (in four missions) complied with, on average, greater than 90 percent of security-related guard post orders observed. However, OIG identified deficiencies that were common across two or more missions related to access control procedures, equipment, unofficial reassignment of post orders, delivery and mail screening procedures, and reporting and investigating procedures. OIG also found that some guards were not receiving a proper number of breaks. Deficiencies generally occurred due to human error, lack of refresher training, and unavailable equipment. These deficiencies, if not addressed, could negatively impact the performance of security procedures that are intended to maintain post security and are required by the LGF contract.

OIG also reviewed whether contractor invoices complied with contract terms and conditions and found that three of the four LGF contractors properly submitted invoices that included appropriate supporting documentation. However, the Mission REDACTED LGF contractor did not adhere to the contractually required invoice format or to the schedule for submitting invoices.

Finally, OIG found that assistant regional security officers (acting as CORs, alternate CORs, and Government Technical Monitors) generally conducted LGF oversight in accordance with requirements, which are to monitor, inspect, and document the contractor’s performance and, when necessary, apply negative incentives for not meeting performance standards. However, OIG found that not all assistant regional security officers (1) documented the contractors’ performance or (2) maintained complete COR files. As a result, oversight was not properly documented. Without a complete COR file, the Government may not have the necessary documentation to defend its position of contractor nonconformance with contract terms, potentially resulting in paying for services that do not meet contract requirements.

A few details:

Local guard force performance deficiencies, if not addressed, could negatively impact the performance of procedures that are intended to maintain post security and are required by the LGF contract. For example, the guards’ failure to conduct access control, delivery, and mail screening procedures in accordance with post orders may result in unauthorized personnel accessing the compound or visitors bringing prohibited items into the compound. Further, if guards do not carry equipment in accordance with post orders, REDACTED, leading to a delayed response to a possible threat. In addition, guards may not be able to react quickly to provide notice to the compound of imminent danger. Similarly, failure to investigate or report suspicious or unusual occurrences to all required parties could delay necessary officials from receiving proper warning, which in turn could delay post officials’ reaction time. Regarding the unofficial reassignment of post orders, guards who are assigned to perform the duties of others may be overwhelmed and unable to complete all reassigned duties. Finally, guards who do not receive regular breaks may be tired, which may lead to impaired judgment in the event a security situation occurs.
[…]
At the new consulate compound in REDACTED, guard post orders stated that guards should instruct contractors to have their irises scanned prior to receiving access badges. However, OIG observed that contractors were receiving badges before having their irises scanned. The LGF Commander stated that logistically, after employees pass through the WTMD [walk-through metal detector], the closest station is the badging station. Thus, it is understandable that guards may stop there first rather than at their scanning stations required.According to the Consulate General REDACTED Senior RSO, once a badge has been issued, contractors are granted official access to the new consulate compound. Thus, it is important that guards verify contractors via the iris scanner prior to issuing access badges.

Read the full report here (PDF).

#

Burn Bag: We aren’t even trying to hide this stuff anymore? Bwaaah!

Via Burn Bag:

Job Title:    Visa Analyst    
Job Category:     Non-Exempt
Location:    Washington, DC    
Travel:    N/A
Level/Salary Range:    NEGOTIABLE    
Position Type:    Full Time
Date posted:    April 29, 2016

Job Description: Summary: Immediate full time requirement – CA/VO Visa Analyst – in support of the U.S. Department of State (DOS), Counselor Affairs/Visa Office. Final Top Secret Security Clearance required and candidate must meet eligibility criteria to be granted access to Sensitive Compartmented Information when/if required. The Visa Analyst provides support to the Government staff and prepares letters, reports, and specialized correspondence. A Government manager will provide day-to-day oversight and direction.   

“We aren’t even trying to hide anymore that we plan to supervise the employees of third party contractors [TPCs].  This insidious practice ultimately denies opportunities to government employees who miss out on training and conference experiences when the employees of third party contractors attend instead.  Why do we offer training to these employees of TPCs when they were supposed to already be trained?”

plsmakeitstop

Via media.riffsy.com

#

Ex-Fox News Commentator Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Dents Benghazi Cottage Industry

Posted: 12:05  am ET

On April 29, 2016, DOJ announced that Wayne Shelby Simmons, 62, of Annapolis, Maryland, a former Fox News commentator who has falsely claimed he spent 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense.  This individual reportedly made an unsuccessful attempt in 2009 to obtain work with the State Department’s Worldwide Protective Service.

Via Department of Justice | USAO – Virginia, Eastern

Wayne Shelby Simmons, 62, of Annapolis, Maryland, a former Fox News commentator who has falsely claimed he spent 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense.

“Wayne Simmons is a convicted felon with no military or intelligence experience,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Simmons admitted he attempted to con his way into a position where he would have been called on to give real intelligence advice in a war zone.  His fraud cost the government money, could have put American lives at risk, and was an insult to the real men and women of the intelligence community who provide tireless service to this country.  This case is a prime example of this office’s ongoing commitment to vigorously prosecute government fraud and threats to national security.”

“Mr. Simmons lied about his criminal history and CIA employment in order to fraudulently obtain government contracts, and separately, defrauded a victim through a phony real estate investment deal,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  “With these criminal actions, Mr. Simmons abused the trust of others, both in and outside of government, for his own personal financial gain.  I commend the work of the talented FBI personnel and prosecutors who vigorously pursued this case and brought about today’s guilty plea.”

In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Simmons admitted he defrauded the government in 2008 when he obtained work as a team leader in the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Systems program, and again in 2010 when he was deployed to Afghanistan as a senior intelligence advisor on the International Security Assistance Force’s Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team.  Simmons admitted making false statements about his financial and criminal history, and admitted that there are no records or any other evidence that he was ever employed by or worked with the CIA, or ever applied for or was granted a security clearance by that agency.  Simmons also admitted that in order to obtain the senior intelligence advisor position, he lied about work he had done a year earlier as a team leader on the Human Terrain Systems program.  Simmons admitted to making similar false statements in 2009 as well, in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain work with the State Department’s Worldwide Protective Service.

As to the wire fraud charge, Simmons admitted to defrauding an individual victim, identified as E.L., out of $125,000 in connection with a bogus real estate investment.  Simmons admitted to sending E.L. promised monthly disbursements to make it appear as if her funds had been invested as promised, and to repeatedly lying to her about the whereabouts of her money in order to perpetuate the fraud.  As Simmons admitted, he simply spent the funds on personal purposes and there was never any actual real estate investment project.

As to the firearms charge, Simmons admitted that at the time he was arrested in this case, he was unlawfully in possession of two firearms, which he was prohibited from possessing on account of his prior felony convictions, including a prior Maryland felony conviction and two prior federal felony firearms convictions.

Simmons was indicted by a federal grand jury on Oct. 14, 2015, and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on the major fraud against the government count, a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the wire fraud count, and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on the felon-in-possession of a firearm count when sentenced on July 15.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This announcement is available on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1: 15-cr-293.

 

#

US Embassy Kabul’s Two New Buildings Have Hazardous Electrical Currents That Can Cause Severe Injury and Death

Posted: 1:39 am ET

 

On July 24, 2009, DODIG released its report on Electrocution Deaths in Iraq (see Appendix A for the list of 18 U.S. military and contractors who died from electrocution from March 2003- March 2009 (PDF).

On September 1, 2009, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Hermanson who worked for State Department contractor, Triple Canopy also reportedly died from electrocution. According to one media report, his body was discovered on the floor of a shower near his quarters at Camp Olympia. (See State Dept Contractor Electrocuted in Iraq).

On April 12, State/OIG posted its Management Alert: Hazardous Electrical Current in Office and Residential Buildings Presents Life, Health, and Safety Risks at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan (PDF) affecting potentially 1200 individuals.  The two buildings (a 917-desk New Office Annex (NOX) and the 298-bed Staff Diplomatic Apartment (SDA-1) are part of a major office and residential expansion at Embassy Kabul at a cost of nearly $800 million. Embassy personnel reportedly began occupying the NOX in July 2015, and residents began moving into the SDA-1 apartments in February 2016.

This is a “management alert” as such, its  intention is indeed “to alert” the State Department leadership about this significant issue that requires immediate corrective action. The only think missing from this management alert is its distribution list; we don’t want to hear later on that this went only as far as the assistant secretaries desks.

Excerpt below:

During the course of an ongoing audit of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) construction and commissioning of a new office and residential apartment building at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) identified life, health, and safety risks to building occupants due to a type of hazardous electrical current—known as objectionable current—in both the office and apartment building. Specifically, OIG and the USACE team, which included master electricians from Task Force Protect Our Warfighters and Electrical Resources (POWER), discovered objectionable currents measuring up to 16.7 amps in the New Office Annex (NOX) building and up to 27 amps in the residential apartment building—Staff Diplomatic Apartment (SDA-1).1 Objectionable current is electrical current occurring on the grounding wiring of a building. Although the National Electrical Code does not establish a life safety threshold for objectionable current, Task Force POWER considers any objectionable current a risk to life and safety.

Industry safety standards regarding electrical shock indicate that loss of life is probable with current as low as 10 amps.2 In the case of the NOX, the objectionable current measured 6 amps more than the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined is likely to result in cardiac arrest, severe burns, and probable death. With respect to the residential apartment, or SDA-1, the objectionable current measured 17 amps more than the level of amperage that the CDC has determined is likely to result in death. The most common causes of objectionable current are improperly installed electrical wiring, equipment, and faulty electrical appliances.

The NOX is designed to accommodate more than 900 Department personnel, and when fully occupied, SDA-1 will house nearly 300 residents. When objectionable current flows on metal parts, it can cause electric shock and even death from ventricular fibrillation because of the elevated voltage. It can also cause a fire to ignite if combustible material is placed near the current. As a result, the life, health, and safety of Department personnel occupying these buildings are at risk. Accordingly, OIG is recommending that Embassy Kabul in coordination with OBO take immediate action to: (1) examine the installation of electrical wiring, equipment, and appliances in the NOX and SDA-1 to ascertain the cause for the objectionable current; (2) determine what mitigation measures can be immediately taken to eliminate or reduce risk to personnel occupying the buildings; (3) and, to the extent necessary, inform residents of the existence of objectionable current and the risks associated with it, and provide instructions on how to eliminate or avoid accompanying hazards.

State/OIG says that Task Force POWER in Afghanistan was created by Congress in response to the deaths of 14 U.S. personnel in Iraq in 2008 due to electrocution as well as injuries to a number of others from electrical shock. Its mission is to identify and correct electrical issues at all military facilities in Afghanistan.

Screen Shot

Senior embassy officials briefed:

OIG and Task Force POWER representatives briefed senior embassy officials of their findings on February 27, 2016. Subsequent to that briefing, the Department sent a cable (see Appendix C) on February 29, 2016, stating, among other things, that little or no objectionable current was measured prior to occupancy but that it is taking actions to address the high levels of objectionable current that have now been detected. The Department also issued a Management Notice on March 2, 2016, further outlining the actions it is planning to take to address the issue (see Appendix D). OIG is equally concerned with the safety and security of personnel living and working at the embassy and believes that it is paramount that the embassy takes actions to address the concerns.

Embassy Kabul’s response:

Embassy Kabul reported that Facilities Management, OBO, and maintenance and construction contractors have examined the electrical wiring in the NOX and SDA-1 and have documented the objectionable current readings at the buildings’ electrical panels. The group also examined the main power distribution loop servicing both the East and West sides of the embassy compound and subsequently shared this information with OBO’s Electrical Safety Working Group.

Embassy Kabul further stated that although the group consisting of Facilities Management, OBO, and contractors performed detailed inspections of the buildings and the power distribution loop, it has not been able to determine a single root cause of the objectionable current. Due to the highly technical nature of objectionable current, the embassy indicated that it must defer to the OBO subject matter experts as well as OBO’s Electrical Safety Working Group for guidance and a determination of the causes of objectionable current at the SDA-1 and NOX buildings

State/OBO’s response:

OBO told OIG in its formal response that it “conducted comprehensive reviews of SDA-1 and the New Office Annex (NOX) buildings prior to occupancy. At that time, little or no objectionable current was measured. However, it is not unusual for objectionable current to present itself after the installation of equipment and appliances post- occupancy and when the building is running at full capacity.”

OIG recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Facilities Management Office, in coordination with Embassy Kabul, determine what mitigation measures can be immediately taken to eliminate or reduce risk to personnel occupying the buildings.

OBO Director Lydia Muniz told OIG Steve Linick in its memorandum response that “OBO does not agree that the observed objectionable current poses a general problem for the occupants of the building, but agrees that workers in the restricted electrical and mechanical rooms face a potential hazard.”

“OBO Response: OBO did not concur that observed objectionable current poses a general problem for the occupants of the building. OBO stated that the first priority of both OBO and Embassy Kabul was to inspect residential spaces and those used by the public. According to OBO, the readings in residential and public spaces were consistent with readings taken prior to building occupancy, and OBO verified that the objectionable current was limited to locked and restricted mechanical and electrical rooms.”

As a result of OBO’s non-concurence, OIG considered its recommendation unresolved:

… because OBO did not concur that the observed objectionable current poses a risk for occupants in the NOX and SDA- 1. According to Task Force POWER, until OBO is able to isolate the source(s) of objectionable current, it may be present anywhere throughout the electrical system. Higher readings of amperage detected in mechanical and electrical rooms may be the cumulative result of multiple sources of objectionable current located throughout the building. Additionally, according to Task Force POWER, higher levels of objectionable current will be observed at the electrical panels, as this is where all electricity returns to complete the circuit. While authorized personnel performing maintenance on the electrical system are at a higher risk of coming in contact with objectionable current, there is no evidence that the risk is limited only to workers in restricted electrical and mechanical rooms.

The Thing (From Another World) - James Arness plays the hostile plant-based extraterrestrial in the 1951 RKO Pictures sci-fi horror. (gif via Dangerous Universe)

The Thing (From Another World) – James Arness plays the hostile plant-based extraterrestrial in the 1951 RKO Pictures sci-fi horror. (gif via Dangerous Universe)

A need for increased awareness and mitigation measures for all embassy personnel:

State/OIG says it “will consider the recommendation resolved when OBO and Embassy Kabul identify mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the immediate risk to those personnel occupying the NOX and SDA-1. The March 2, 2016 Management Notice issued to all Embassy personnel increased awareness, but did not identify mitigation measures for all Embassy personnel. Instead, the notice limits its guidance to advising employees not to enter or tamper with locked mechanical rooms or electrical boxes. This recommendation will be considered closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation demonstrating that OBO, in conjunction with U.S. Embassy Kabul, has implemented mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the immediate risk to office workers and building residents in addition to those mitigation steps already taken to reduce the risk to workers accessing mechanical and electrical rooms.”

Click here for the American Heart Association’s Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care in the case of electric shock — particularly on modifications for basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support.

 

#

@StateDept Contractor to Pay $1.65 Million to Resolve Criminal and Civil Fraud Allegations

Posted: 3:09 am EDT

 

In May 2015, Tony Chandler, 68, of Severn, Maryland, and Marvin Hulsey, 52, of Stafford, Virginia, were indicted by a federal grand jury  on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

According to the indictment, Chandler was employed by the U.S. Department of State with duties as a contracting officer’s representative in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.  In that capacity, Chandler was responsible for oversight of the contractor that employed Hulsey as a program manager. Apart from his government employment, Chandler was an authorized distributor of nutritional supplements for a multi-level marketing company.  From 2008 and continuing into 2010, Chandler earned a commission of sales for nutritional supplements that were sold to employees under Hulsey’s supervision.  The employees were reimbursed by Hulsey’s employer for the cost of the nutritional supplements, after which Hulsey, through agreement with Chandler, caused fake invoices to be created and submitted to the U.S. Department of State.  Knowing that the cost of nutritional supplements was not an allowable cost, Chandler approved many of the fake invoices in his official capacity, causing the U.S. Department of State to make fraudulent payments back to Hulsey’s employer. Chandler earned a commission from the multi-level marketing company for each sale of nutritional supplements.

On March 21, 2016, USDOJ announced the following:

Coastal International Security, Inc., based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, agreed to pay a total of $1.65 million to resolve criminal and civil allegations that the company defrauded the State Department during performance of a security contract and later concealed the fraud from contracting officials, and civil allegations that the company improperly obtained and used competitors’ pricing information to underbid competitors on government task orders.

The government’s investigation focused on the relationship between Marvin Hulsey, a former program manager for Coastal International Security, and Tony Chandler, a former contracting official of the State Department. According to court documents, Hulsey and Chandler conspired together to submit false invoices to the State Department for unallowable costs of nutritional supplements. Chandler, as an authorized distributor of the nutritional supplements, received commissions from the approximate $170,000 in fraudulent nutritional supplement billings. Independent of this scheme, Hulsey admitted to causing approximately $140,000 in additional fraudulent billings through a company owned by his wife.

The government discovered during its investigation that Curtis Wrenn, in his capacity as president of Coastal International Security, learned of Hulsey’s and Chandler’s nutritional supplement scheme.  Wrenn knew that he had a responsibility under the Federal Acquisition Regulation to timely disclose to the government credible evidence of fraud, but instead intentionally omitted facts related to the fraud from a letter delivered to the State Department.

Chandler and Wrenn both pleaded guilty on June 12, 2015, and were both sentenced on Sept. 18, 2015. Chandler was sentenced to six months in prison, while Wrenn was sentenced to one year of probation for the false statement to the State Department.  Hulsey pleaded guilty on July 24, 2015, and was sentenced on Oct. 30, 2015, to one year and one day in prison and two years of supervised release.

Under the terms of the agreement entered into between Coastal International Security and the United States to resolve the criminal allegations, the United States agreed not to bring criminal charges against the company related to the conduct that is the subject of the agreement in part because of the significant changes to the company’s ethics and compliance program.  Coastal International Security has agreed to accept responsibility for the conduct of its former employees, continue its cooperation with federal investigators, pay a monetary penalty of $150,000 and maintain an effective ethics and compliance program, with particular attention to employee training, federal reporting requirements for suspected fraud, and whistleblower protection.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office may seek to prosecute Coastal International Security for the admitted conduct of its employees, or to assess a further penalty of up to $500,000 if during the two year term of the criminal agreement, an executive management official commits federal crimes as outlined in the agreement, and the company fails to report the misconduct to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Coastal International Security simultaneously agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve civil claims under the False Claims Act for the above conduct, as well as claims under the Procurement Integrity Act arising out of Coastal International Security’s knowledge and use of a competitor’s publicly unavailable bid proposal information.  The competitor’s information allegedly enabled Coastal International Security to underbid the competition on bids that Coastal International Security made between Nov. 4, 2008, and Oct. 7, 2011, in connection with various Department of State task orders.

The civil claims settled by Coastal International Security and the United States are allegations only. There has been no determination of civil liability.  The resolutions obtained were the result of parallel investigations by the criminal and civil divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the agreements were released.  Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian D. Harrison and Assistant U.S. Attorney Grace L. Hill prosecuted the criminal case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerard Mene handled the civil case.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General (DOS-OIG) and the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Substantial assistance was provided by the Criminal Analysis Branch of the DOS-OIG.

The case is Case No. 1:15-cr-137 and 1:15-cr-150.

 

Related items: