What did we miss?

 

Ambassador Steve Mull Back in Foggy Bottom

In June, former Ambassador Steve Mull was appointed Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) at the State Department. Until this appointment, he was a Resident Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.  Props to Secretary Pompeo for bringing him back to Foggy Bottom. Unless.  a new crop of career ambassadors were nominated and confirmed while we were gone, Ambassador Mull is the last remaining career ambassador in active service as of this writing.

EAP’s Susan Thornton to Retire After 27 Years in the Foreign Service

EAP’s Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton is set to retire at the end of July after a 27-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service. The retirement was reported by Reuters on June 30.  (see Career Diplomat Susan A. Thornton to be Asst Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)Tillerson Signals No Career Nominees For Regional Bureaus? #FoggyBottomBlues). Senator Rubio was reportedly prepared to place a hold on the Thornton nomination.

Still No Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service?

So hey, it’s now July, and the U.S. Foreign Service still does not have a nominee for Director General. U.S. law dictates the nominee must be a member of the career Foreign Service.

US Ambassador to Estonia James Melville Pens Resignation on FB Over Trump Policies

On June 29, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, Jim Melville, announced on Facebook his intent to retire from the Foreign Service after 33 years of public service. Ambassador James Desmond Melville, Jr., of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor was nominated by President Obama as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Estonia in the spring of 2015. He was  confirmed by voice vote on August 5, 2015. Prior to his appointment in Estonia, Ambassador Melville was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany.  Previous to that, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the Bureau of International Organization Affairs from 2010 to 2012. Ambassador Melville also served at the U.S. Embassies in London, Moscow, Paris, and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels.  His earlier positions with the Department of State include service as a Foreign Service Examiner, Senior Watch Officer in the Executive Secretariat Operations Center, and Legislative Management Officer in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs.  Ambassador Melville received a B.A. from Boston University and a J.D. from Rutgers University. He joined the Foreign Service in 1985 during the Reagan Administration. Below via Eesti Ekspress:

 

Confirmations

On June 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Robin S. Bernstein, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Dominican Republic.
  • Joseph N. Mondello, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Gordon D. Sondland, of Washington, to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
  • Harry B. Harris, Jr., of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea
  • Ronald Gidwitz, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Brian A. Nichols, of Rhode Island, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Tibor Peter Nagy, Jr., of Texas, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs)
  • Francis R. Fannon, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources)

On May 24, U.S. Senate confirmed the following :

  • James Randolph Evans, of Georgia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Luxembourg
  • Jonathan R. Cohen, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
  • David B. Cornstein, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary

On April 26, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

  • Andrea L. Thompson, of South Dakota, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
  • Yleem D. S. Poblete, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)
  • Kirsten Dawn Madison, of Florida, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs).
  • Thomas J. Hushek, of Wisconsin, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan
  • Richard Grenell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

US Embassy Germany: New Ambassador’s Rocky Start

On June 25, Politico Magazine did a lengthy piece on the new U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and his rocky start. “It is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town.” Read Letter From Berlin: “‘He Does Not Understand What the Role of an Ambassador Should Be’

 

State/FSI’s Digital Media Administrator Pleads Guilty of Child Pornography Production

On July 2, Skydance MacMahon, 44, of Alexandria, Virginia, pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.  According to court documents, over at least a two year period, MacMahon, 44, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users.  In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography. See more State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Producing Child Pornography.

US Embassy London’s Inside the American Embassy Airs on Channel 4

The American Embassy, the previous TV series set at the U.S. Embassy in London in 2002 had six episodes but the show was canceled by Fox after only 4 episodes being broadcast.

It looks like the new show is only up for three episodes. Radio Times reports that Channel 4 has roughly 300 hours of behind-the-scenes footage and says in part: “Perhaps the most surreal part of the documentary comes when the cameras follow various British MPs attempting to garner Johnson’s attention, apparently unaware of the small mic attached to the ambassador’s lapel.” Whatthewhat?!

One TV review says: “Woody’s big problem, like everybody else’s, is the mad badger in the White House”. HIDE EVERYTHING!

US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of $2Million Visa Fees

On June 14, a Department of State contractor pleads guilty to theft of government funds after evidence established that he stole more than $2 million of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston. Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $2,000,000 of government funds.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control. See more Department of State Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds.

 

USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

State/ECA Official Pleads Guilty to Theft of Government Funds in Sports Visitors Program

On May 25,  Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges.  She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries.  The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.  See State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds

Forced Repayment of Previously Approved Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA)?

There were lots of talk some weeks back about people being forced to pay back special needs funding for their children that was already previously authorized and paid.  Folks were wondering if MED’s Office of Child and Family Programs (MED/CFP) previously highlighted by media reporting is responsible in getting this rolling. Anybody got some special insights on the whys and hows of this?

 

Who owns your medical and mental health records?

It has come to our attention that the State Department’s Medical Bureau can deny/restrict employees and family members overseas assignments over erroneous entries in their medical/mental health records. Of particular note is access to mental health records.  Employees can ask for an amendment to their records but how does one go about doing that without access to those records?

Apparently, State’s internal guidance doesn’t say that employees have the right to have inaccurate information removed – just that they can make the request to have it removed: “If you believe that the information we have about you is incorrect or incomplete, you may request an amendment to your protected health information as long as we maintain this information. While we will accept requests for amendment, we are not required to agree to the amendment.”

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Ex-FSO Michael Sestak Released From Prison on January 4, 2018

Posted: 2:33  am ET

 

In August 2015, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 44, was sentenced to 64 months in prison on federal charges in a scheme where he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States. The Federal Bureau of Prisons locator indicates that he was scheduled to be released from prison on January 4, 2018. The 2015 USDOJ announcement notes that following his prison term, Sestak will be placed on three years of supervised release.

See this piece on the Sestak case. See below our posts on this case with some unanswered questions.

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State Dept Advises POTUS to Plastic Wrap His Luggage During Philippine Visit! #bulletscam

Posted: 4:18 pm EDT
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President Obama is traveling to Turkey, the Philippines, and Malaysia from November 14-22, 2015. He arrived in the Philippines last night where he will participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.  It looks like the last several weeks, the Philippines has also been roiled with allegations of a bullet planting scheme at its international airport to extort money from  travelers.  It has even spawned a highly-popular mobile app game, in which users play as a “victim” at the Manila airport who has to navigate carefully to avoid bullets from being dropped onto the traveler’s luggage. Oy!

The BBC reports that the scam called locally as “tanim bala” (planting bullets) meant that passengers have been faced with fines, charged with the illegal possession of ammunition or had to cancel their flights. Just last week, Philippine media reported that airport cops allegedly asked P30K (about $600) from an American missionary who entered the Philippines and was alleged to have a bullet in his luggage.

8List Philippines notes that anyone can fall victim to this scam including Japanese touristsforeign missionaries65 year old grandmothers and Philippine overseas workers returning/departing the Philippines.

Over 30 cases of unlawful possession of ammunition have been reported from January to early November of this year, a spike from last year’s low of only 12 cases. The scandal took off when the media picked up the story of a 56 year old OFW travelling back to Hong Kong being detained for two days after being apprehended by the Office for Transport Security (OTS), which is directly under the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

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Today, we found this report from The AdoboChronicles:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Adobo Chronicles) –  U.S. President Barack Obama is just one of the many dignitaries confirmed to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to be held this month in Manila, Philippines.

Recent  developments at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have sent chills to the international community and has prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory to Americans traveling to the Philippines, including Obama.

NAIA has been in the headlines recently because of a scheme called laglag bala  or tanim bala in which incoming and outgoing passengers at NAIA are being detained for bullets found in their luggage as they pass through airport security.  It is alleged that the bullets are being planted by airport personnel with the intent of extorting money from the unsuspecting passengers.

Obama is known to want to carry his own overnight bag and briefcase whenever he travels to other countries.

image7

President Obama carrying his own luggage that still needs plastic-wrapping service.

The State Department has therefore advised Obama to wrap his briefcase with plastic when he arrives in and departs from Manila so that he is not victimized by the laglag bala schemers.

Many passengers flying in and out of NAIA have resorted to wrapping their luggage and carry-on bags with plastic to prevent the schemers from planting bullets without their knowledge.

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Although based in the Bay area, The Adobo Chronicles appears to be the Philippine version of The Onion, America’s finest news source.

Now that you’re done laughing, Embassy Manila apparently did warn about carrying bullets through the Manila airport but that warning is not posted anywhere on its website or its social media arms. We’ve asked about it but have not heard anything back.

 

 

Meanwhile, the Filipinos are busy online:

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The Purposeful and Targeted Cultivation of a Relationship with a Consular Officer

Posted: 1:04 am EDT
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Former FSO Michael T. Sestak was arrested in Thailand on May 7, 2013. He was initially arraigned on September 13, 2013 and pled guilty on November 6, 2013.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14 before Judge John D. Bates at the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. The USG is recommending (#303) that Mr. Sestak be sentenced to a term of 84 months of incarceration followed by 3 years of supervised release.

The USG in its memorandum in aid of sentencing writes:

The U.S. State Department is dedicated to administering its visa programs fairly and without graft or corruption. SESTAK and his co-conspirators damaged the reputation of the U.S. State Department by tainting the process and likely preventing deserving applicants from obtaining visas.

This was not a momentary lapse in judgment for any of the conspirators, including SESTAK. This was a sophisticated scheme that exploited a system and made millions of dollars after months of careful planning and substantial efforts to cover their tracks.
[….]
SESTAK has provided substantial assistance to the government from the time of his initial detention on May 9, 2013. On that date, the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to be interviewed. During this initial interview, the defendant acknowledged his guilt and provided investigators with information regarding the conspiracy, including details about how the scheme actually operated and how the proceeds were laundered and moved out of Vietnam. While SESTAK was somewhat naïve and uninformed about the full extent of the conspiracy and the deep involvement of Binh Vo’s family members, he never minimized his own critical role in the scheme.

Mr. Sestak’s lawyer, Gray B. Broughton in his court filing argues that as of August 14, 2015, Mr. Sestak will have already forfeited over twenty-seven (27) months of his liberty in facilities designed for short-term detention and that a thirty-three (33) month sentence will serve as adequate punishment. “As a result of his indictment and conviction, Michael lost his job with the State Department and will never again be able to work in a similar capacity in public service. Even worse than the incarceration and job loss is Michael Sestak’s loss of reputation. The amount of shame and contrition that Michael Sestak continues to carry with him cannot be overstated. The loss of one’s profession and reputation is a severe punishment that serves the retributive goals of sentencing.” 

We will keep tabs on the sentencing set for Friday morning. Meanwhile, below is an excerpt from the court filing which is instructive, particularly, the emails exchanged by some of the conspirators.  If you’re a consular officer and somebody wants to make you an “honorary” brother, or sister, some other pretend relative, or fairy godparent, you gotta run as fast and as far away as possible!

This is what a purposeful and targeted cultivation of a relationship with a consular officer overseas looks like.  Note that this is an excerpt from the defense filing:

When Michael arrived in Vietnam, he had hit a personal low. Michael had become dissatisfied working for the State Department and had contemplated resigning at the end of his assignment to Poland. Michael had witnessed others being promoted who he believed were less deserving than he was. To make matters worse, Michael’s involvement in the fruitless search for WMD throughout Iraq shook his previously unwavering trust in the United States Government.
[…]
Most significantly, when Michael arrived in Vietnam, his personal life was totally unfulfilling. Within his first year assigned to Vietnam, Michael turned 40. Michael was unmarried, had no children, and no serious prospects for finding someone to share life together.  One aspect of being a Foreign Service Officer was that Michael changed countries every two years, usually coming back to Washington D.C. for several months in between for training. In both Spain and Poland, Michael had a girlfriend that he met towards the end of his tour. Unable to further develop these relationships in such a short amount of time, Michael arrived at his next assignment unaccompanied. It was during these transitions that Michael began to question the meaning of life and finding true happiness.
[…]
It was during this time and with this personal baggage that Michael first met Binh Vo. They met at Michael’s very first Consulate event in Vietnam in August 2010. Binh Vo and a Vietnamese businessman approached Michael and started talking. Binh Vo and Michael were approximately the same age; similarly, Binh Vo was American and well-educated.
[…]
Binh Vo slowly became Michael’s closest confident. Their friendship developed to the point where they met almost daily for meals or coffee. Binh Vo introduced Michael to his siblings, who went out of their way to include Michael in “family-only” functions. Binh Vo’s siblings referred to Michael as an honorary “Vo” brother. This circle of new-found friends constituted roughly 80% of Michael’s social activity in Vietnam. As described above, Michael was unable to develop any real friendships with American employees at the Consulate and he didn’t really have any Vietnamese friends; the few Vietnamese men that Michael met who ran in the same circles would ultimately harass Michael for visa “favors.” For the first year and four months of Michael’s time in Vietnam, Binh Vo was the only single male with whom he could communicate and socialize without reporting requirements because Binh Vo was American. Additionally, Binh Vo was always available, had a comparable level of education, and didn’t ask any favors.

Michael felt very fortunate to have stumbled upon a great relationship with Binh Vo and his family. Michael was unaware that Binh Vo and his family had targeted Michael from the onset and that every coffee, meal, family dinner, and drink was an orchestrated, results-driven event with the end goal of executing Binh Vo’s scheme to fraudulently sell non-immigrant visas to Vietnamese citizens.

As the Government stated in its sentencing memorandum for Binh Vo, Binh Vo “purposefully cultivated a relationship with Sestak in order to recruit him to approve visas for the conspiracy.” Government Mem., Doc. 289 at 8. Binh Vo exploited the weakness that Michael tried to hide, but some easily saw.
[…]

The Government’s sentencing memorandum illustrates how Binh Vo and his family preyed on Michael’s weakness and transformed him from a law-abiding officer and government official into a willing participant of the Vo’s scheme to enrich themselves:

The defendant [Binh Vo] orchestrated the visa fraud conspiracy from beginning to end. During the summer of 2011, according to electronic communications between the defendant [Binh Vo]’s sister and another co-conspirator, [Binh Vo] cultivated a relationship with [Michael] Sestak in order to get Sestak to approve visas for their family and acquaintances.

In a Google chat dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to an acquaintance:

[L]ast night we went out with this guy who works at the consulate — he’s the one that approves peoples visas… and he’s this single guy who wants to find someone to be wth [sic]… and my brother knows that – so he’s been trying to get this guy out and introduce him to people… so then later he can do him favors like … have him approve visas for people.

In an email dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to her boyfriend:

This guy who works for the US consulate here came out and joined us for dinner. He’s the guy that approves Visas for Vietnamese people to go to the United States so he’s a really good connection to have. My brother plans on using him to get [a sister-in-law’s] Visa to go to the States so [the sister-in-law] will most likely travel back with me in August . . . he just likes to people watch — he does this with the consulate guy (Mike) and they check out girls.

In a Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo again discussed the sister-in-law referenced in the above paragraph.

I applied for her Visa … so her interview is July 13th … and i told the consulate guy … so he said he’ll pull her file … but now he knows our family … so he’s more trusting … but she’ll most likely get accepted this time … because Mike will pull up her file … and he considers Binh like his best friend.

In another Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo discussed Sestak:

I have to go out now… it’s freaking 11P and Binh forgot it was Mike’s birthday… this loser guy who works for the consulate but we have to go out because he’s going to help us get [the sister-in-law’s] visa ugh

The USG in its court filing says that “the conduct that led to the present charges appears to be significantly out of character for the defendant.” It has also credited Mr. Sestak for accepting responsibility for his actions and for expression of remorse:

As far as the government is aware, prior to these offenses SESTAK had an unblemished record first as a as a police officer, then a Deputy United States Marshal, a U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer, and finally as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The fact that he immediately accepted responsibility for his actions at the time of his initial detention and agreed to cooperate with the government from that day forward supports the government’s belief that the defendant is not a career criminal. The defendant’s cooperation has included numerous meetings and debriefings and significant assistance with the sale of the condominiums in Thailand that he purchased with the illegal proceeds from the scheme. Since the time of his initial detention in May 2013, the defendant has repeatedly expressed shame and genuine remorse for his actions.

Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The USG is asking for 84 months or 7 years and three years of supervised release. Defense is asking for 33 months. We’ll have to wait until August 14 to hear Judge Bates’ decision.

We’ve posted a couple of the publicly available Sestak documents in the forum’s Document Dump for friends of the blog. Click here to login. It looks like all of Mr. Sestak’s cooperation with the government is related to the cases against the other conspirators and the disposal of properties purchased through illegal proceeds.  We want to know how can the next Sestak be prevented from happening; he maybe in the best position to answer that question. We’ve requested to do an interview with him after the sentencing.  Will keep you posted.

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Menendez Indictment: Visas for Girlfriends, Consular Affairs, INL, and Whatabout “H”?

Posted: 5:29 pm PDT
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Today, a federal grand jury indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on corruption charges. According to the WSJ, Mr. Menendez, 61 years old, has said “he didn’t do anything wrong and plans to fight the charges.” The indictment is the culmination of a lengthy inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the relationship between the New Jersey senator and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.” Wait, can you use constituent services as defense if the constituent lives in another state?

New Jersey editorials have now called on the senator to resign. Media reports says that he will step down as ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) because of the indictment. The good senator from New Jersey is reportedly “outraged” by the indictment. He condemned the corruption case against him saying, “I am not going anywhere… I’m angry and ready to fight.” And he is, by god!

 

 

We’ve read through the indictment. We have excerpted the parts below that include the visas for girlfriends initiative (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ukraine), the back and forth with Consular Affairs,  the visa refusals that were overturned, and the back and forth with the INL bureau on a port contract.

The names of the State Department officials are not included, but the indictment includes the offices at the State Department that were the receiving end of the senator’s attention and advocacy:  DAS for Visas Services, Embassy Santo Domingo  and the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

There’s also this nugget:

State 2 to Staffer 8 writes:

If H is in the room — best if the good senator from New Jersey doesn’t mention the prior private meeting they had.

Hey, that’s H, the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs whose job is to “facilitates effective communication between State Department officials and the Members of Congress and their staffs.” Whatsthatabout?

 

The full indictment document is available online here (pdf)

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Jilted Lover Reportedly Helped Exposed Sestak Visa Scandal – There’s a Hole In Your Wall?

— By Domani Spero

Thanh Nien Daily continues to cover the Michael Sestak case in Vietnam.  A recent update details how a jilted lover, referred to as “Lan” reportedly the anonymous source in the criminal complaint, exposed the $10 million visa fraud allegedly perpetuated by FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other conspirators.

A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.

Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.

[…]

“First I called the consulate, but it wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then I sent them a letter.”

Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.

“I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook,” he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.

[…]

Before Sestak’s arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department—including a longtime fraud investigator.

Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an “anonymous source” for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.

It seems without Lan, there wouldn’t have been any case. But, he says, he’s received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.

He wasn’t exactly easy to handle.

[…]

Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham—whose business card was scanned onto Lan’s website—dismissed the claims.

“We tried to keep him anonymous,” Pham said. “Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything […] If someone is truly being threatened it’s hard for me to believe he’d put everything he told law enforcement out there online.”

Continue reading: Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud. The story is sort of weird but also sad.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10

Photo via state.gov/ds

The thing that is worrisome about this, if  true, is that ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, an RSO dedicated to visa investigations.  If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

Visa issuing posts issue Certifications of Consular Management Controls where the responsible officer certifies not only that the review has been conducted and completed but also identifies areas of non-compliance.

One of the areas routinely reviewed is nonimmigrant visa refusals and issuances. These are reviewed electronically daily by the appropriate supervisors in the chain of command. In cases where the supervisory officer determines that an error was made during initial adjudication, the supervisory officer re-interviews the applicant and speaks with the adjudicating officer prior to adjudicating the case under his/her own login. When this happens, the supervisory officer reportedly is trained to enter a thorough explanation in the system.  Most of the alleged Sestak cases have been refused multiple times prior to issuance. Who reviewed his visa issuances?  Doesn’t the CCD broadcast a red alert when issuances go beyond the average norm particularly in high fraud posts?  Nah?

Another area is the Visa Lookout Accountability (VLA).  Consular supervisors reportedly review (although we don’t know how often), a random sampling of issuances to verify that adjudicating officers comply with VLA procedures. The Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) apparently twice a month also pulls a database generated report that deals with visa issuances over “hits” to ensure that officers are compliant with published guidelines.  If the VLA review and the FPM review also failed to detect these alleged visa shenanigans, then that’s a wall with a big hole.

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Ex-State Dept Contract Employee And Husband Plead Guilty To $53 Million Fraud

— By Domani Spero

We have previously posted about this case in May 2013 (See State Dept Contract Employee/Husband Indicted For Alleged Secret Scheme to Steer More Than $60 Million Contracts to Their Company).

On August 2, the USDOJ announced that the former contract employee Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and her husband, Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., pleaded guilty to major fraud against the government. Sentencing is scheduled for November 2013. Each faces a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment. The Daily Caller who broke this story in 2011 says that McGrade was a contractor working for the State Department’s office of Overseas Building Operation.

Via USDOJ:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the government, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Harold W. Geisel, Acting Inspector General for the Department of State; and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Section, Washington, D.C. Field Office, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by United States District Judge Liam O’Grady.

“Defendants McGrade and Collinsworth- now convicted felons-defrauded and stole from the American people, plain and simple,” said U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride.  “We, along with our law enforcement partners, are committed to ferreting out and prosecuting those that destroy the integrity of the government contracting process.”

“I commend our investigators on their excellent work in this case, and diligence in protecting taxpayer dollars,” said Harold W. Geisel, Acting Inspector General, U.S. Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors.

“The scope and breadth of this fraud is reprehensible, not just because of the dollars involved, but because of the position of trust that Ms. McGrady held,” said Special Agent In Charge Kelly.  “Her actions denied small businesses the opportunity to compete for these government contracts and that is unacceptable.  Today’s pleas put corrupt business owners like Ms. McGrade and Mr. Collinsworth on notice, that the government will get to the truth no matter how they try to disguise their business transactions.  IRS-CI will continue to work with the United States Attorney and our other law enforcement partners to root out these corrupt business owners.”

McGrade and Collinsworth were indicted on April 25, 2013, by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, major fraud against the government, wire fraud, false statements, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.  Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment when they are sentenced on November 8, 2013.

In a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, the defendants admitted that McGrade was a contract employee for the Department of State and performed the role of a contract specialist for an office that awarded construction contracts for work done at U.S. embassies worldwide.  Collinsworth worked at one of the companies that received contracts.  In 2006, the defendants married, but did not tell others at the Department of State.  The defendants started a company, the Sterling Royale Group, or SRG, with McGrade serving as the president and Collinsworth the vice-president and project manager.

In late 2007, McGrade caused a State Department contracting officer to sign a contract between the Department of State and SRG, and McGrade failed to disclose her role in SRG, her marriage, or that proper contracting competitive procedures had not been followed.  The contract made SRG eligible to receive task orders for work to be done at embassies and McGrade  began steering work to the company. She acted as the contract negotiator between the Department of State engineers responsible for getting the jobs done, on the one hand, and Collinsworth, who was acting on behalf of SRG and the subcontractors, on the other.  Between 2008 and 2011, McGrade caused  Department of State contracting officers to sign 17 task orders awarding work worth almost $53 million.  In 2010, the defendants also lied about their marriage to investigators conducting McGrade’s background investigation regarding renewal of her security clearance.

In the summer of 2011, a news article disclosed the defendants’ marriage and the Department of State terminated her employment.  The Department of State, however, had paid SRG about $39 million, and after the defendants had paid their subcontractors, they still had millions of dollars.  Among other things, they bought houses, a condominium, a yacht, a Lexus automobile, jewelry, and a Steinway piano with the fraudulently obtained money.  The defendants have agreed to forfeit all of those items.

This case was investigated by the Department of State, Office of Inspector General, and the Global Illicit Financial Team, a task force led by the Criminal Investigation Section of the Internal Revenue Service.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jack Hanly and Mark Lytle are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.

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Michael Sestak Visa Scandal: USG to seek forfeiture money judgment of at least $9.7 Million

— By Domani Spero

This is an update of the Sestak Visa Scandal that’s winding its way through the court system.  The publicly available Superseding Indictment posted on July 9, 2013 now includes the names of all five defendants — three U.S. citizens and two residents and nationals of Vietnam.  For previous posts, see below:

The August court hearing for Sestak, Hong Vo and Truc Thanh Huynh was rescheduled for 9/13/2013 at 02:00 PM in Courtroom 30A before Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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Excerpt from the Superseding Indictment:

From at least in or around February 2012, continuing through at least in or around December 2012, in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the United States and within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, and pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Sections 3237 and 3238, within the venue of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the defendants SESTAK, BINH VO, ALICE NGUYEN, HONG VO, and TRUC HUYNH, a joint offender who was arrested in the District of Columbia, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree, together and with persons whose identities are known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to commit offenses against the United States, that is, bribery of a public official, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 201(b)(2), and visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1546(a), and to defraud the United States Government by interfering with and obstructing a lawful government function, that is, the unbiased and disinterested issuance of visas by the Department of State to non-United States citizens, by deceit, craft, trickery, and dishonest means, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Forfeiture Allegations:

Upon conviction of the offense alleged in Count One of this Indictment, defendants MICHAEL T. SESTAK, BINH TANG VO, ANHDAO T. NGUYEN, also known as Alice Nguyen, also known as Anhdao Thuy Vo, also known as Thuy Anh Dao Nguyen, also known as Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, also known as Dao Thuy Anh Nguyen, HONG CHAU VO, and TRUC THANH HUYNH, shall forfeit to the United States any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from or is traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense, and any property, real or personal, which was used to facilitate the commission of the offense, or was intended to be used to facilitate the offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 982(a)(6), and any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 981(a)(1)(C) and 28 U.S.C. Section 2461(c). The property subject to forfeiture includes: Any and all funds and securities seized from Scottrade account #58490015, held in the name of ANHDAO THUY NGUYEN.

The indictment includes descriptions of “transactions” where  individuals, some with multiple visa denials were allegedly issued visas by Mr. Sestak.  The government alleges that defendant Binh Vo informed defendant Sestak of the identity of each foreign national who had agreed to pay money in exchange for obtaining a visa, before the foreign national appeared at the Consulate for a visa interview.

Below is a video posted by Thanh Nien Daily of the December 2012 wedding of alleged conspirators, Vietnamese national Anhdao Thuy Nguyen and U.S.citizen Binh Tang Vo with Sestak as one of the groomsmen.  The Thanh Nien Daily reported that the wedding cost $300,000.  More wedding photos on FB here.

The indictment says that the “United States will seek a forfeiture money judgment against the defendants in the amount of at least $9,780,000.”

The indictment also seeks  forfeiture of “any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from or is traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense, and any property, real or personal, which was used to facilitate the commission of the offense, or was intended to be used to facilitate the offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 982(a)(6). The United States will seek a forfeiture money judgment against the defendants equal to the value of any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to this offense.”

If any of the property cannot be located, or has been transferred or sold, or deposited with, a third party; or has been placed beyond the jurisdiction of the court, the indictment seeks, upon conviction of defendants, forfeiture “to the United States any other property of the defendants, up to the value of the property described above, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Section 853(p).”

Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre reported that Binh Tang Vo and his wife Anhdao Thuy Nguyen last entered Vietnam on April 7, 2012.  Thanh Nien Daily also reported that the publication of their names has sparked widespread speculation as to their whereabouts but that the couple has disappeared from public sight.

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US Embassy Caracas: Former FSN Pleads Guilty for Receiving Illegal Gratuity

In May 2012, we blogged about a US Embassy employee in Caracas, Venezuela who was was arrested in Washington, D.C., on one charge of conspiracy and two charges of bribery in connection with visa applications scheme (see US Embassy Caracas FSN Arrested on Conspiracy/Bribery Charges in Visa Applications Scheme)

On Wednesday, USDOJ announced that the former employee, Christian Adolfo Paredes Uzcategui, 44, of Caracas, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Below is the statement released:

WASHINGTON – A former visa assistant for the United States Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, pled guilty today to a federal charge of receiving an illegal gratuity by a public official, stemming from a scheme in which he allegedly accepted payments to aid people in facilitating visa applications, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and Scott Bultrowicz, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, announced.

Christian Adolfo Paredes Uzcategui, 44, of Caracas, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Honorable James E. Boasberg scheduled sentencing for Dec. 7, 2012. The charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Paredes was arrested in May 2012 following an investigation by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.

According to a statement of facts, signed by the defendant as well as the government, Paredes worked for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas as a visa assistant for non-immigrant visa applications. His duties included screening incoming documentation and information from a variety of sources to organize and track non-immigrant visa requests and ensuring that the legal requirements of non-immigrant visa applications were met.

As a visa assistant, he had access to Embassy databases, but only for official business and on a need-to-know basis. He was not to share this information without official permission.

In the middle of 2011, Paredes began receiving money from a private individual who acted as a “facilitator” for Venezuelan applicants seeking non-immigrant U.S. visas. In exchange, Paredes provided information about the facilitator’s clients. Between March 2011 and February 2012, the facilitator wire-transferred more than $5,000 to bank accounts controlled by Paredes in exchange for information about clients.

In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Machen and Director Bultrowicz commended the efforts of those who investigated the case for the Diplomatic Security Service. They also praised those who worked on the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, including Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Mudd.

The original statement is posted here.

 

 

 

 

 

Expatriated US Dollars Out of Kabul? Why Don’t We Just Wire the Money to Their Dubai Secret Account?

On May 14, 2012, NPR Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne had a sit down interview with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker. Below is the part where they talked about American taxpayers money flying out of Kabul International Airport to Dubai or other parts unknown. WARNING: You might need a barf bag

MONTAGNE: Suitcases filled with billions…

CROCKER: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

MONTAGNE: …of American dollars out of Kabul into parts unknown – Dubai, other parts unknown.

CROCKER: Ironically, you know, the fact that vast sums of money have been expatriated may lessen the impact on the overall economy of the true drawdown, because the money, in many cases, never made it into the Afghan economy. You know, I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it may significantly lessen the blow when we get to the end of 2014.

MONTAGNE: Meaning, of all the billions that poured into this country, enough of it went to make some people rich and didn’t find its way into the economy, so that the economy will not be as hurt as it might have been had the money been more honorably distributed.

CROCKER: Absolutely. You know, in many cases, arguably, there was nothing illegitimate about a lot of it. I mean, these were contractors. They made their profits. Capital will go anywhere, where it’s the best investment opportunity. That’s where the capital will go, and that’s what happened in many of these cases.

If you need more, read here.


Just to be clear – this is President Obama’s official representative in Kabul, and does he believed this is just good money — profits and capital “fleeing” to other places like Dubai – in search of better investment opportunity?

Whoops! I think I just fell off my chair and gashed my poor brain!

Are we really this stupid?

In 2010, the WSJ reported that more than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the previous three years. It was a sum so large that “U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.”

“It’s not like they grow money on trees here,” said a U.S. official investigating corruption and Taliban financing. “A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course.”

In February this year, after Afghanistan’s central-bank governor said he will issue new currency restrictions to stem an exodus of billions of dollars in cash, the Wall Street Journal did a follow up report:

“Some $4.6 billion in cash, more than the entire government budget, was taken abroad through Kabul airport alone last year, according to Afghan central-bank data, double the $2.3 billion recorded in 2010. But even those figures “grossly” underestimate the real extent of overall money flight, central-bank governor Noorullah Delawari said in an interview.”

While Afghan officials promised to clean up the country’s financial system in 2010 in the aftermath of the WSJ report and after Congress temporarily froze U.S. assistance to Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported that the money flow to Dubai and other financial havens has not abated.  Instead it has only gathered speed as U.S. forces begin to pull out ahead of the 2014 deadline for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan government.

These are mostly contractors’ money, of course. Nothing that taxpayers need to worry their already severely taxed brains.

But just in case, these are not “honest” money, should we not just ask these “contractors” for their Dubai offshore bank account? If we wire them the money directly, the money would not make it to the local economy either and would lessen the impact.  And it would save our government paperwork and our investigators can dig out real corruption elsewhere.

And actually Dubai offshore bank accounts really rock.  They offer a safe, legal and tax-free account structure providing complete anonymity and full legal tax exemption. Not only that, while “opening a foreign account under a private name would not cease one’s obligation to list it in one’s tax declaration,” that’s a small issue. “You could simply “forget” to declare it and hope nobody finds out.”

And just the place to “invest” one’s well-gotten wealth from the war zone…

Domani Spero