Former Senior USAGM Official Haroon K. Ullah Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Money

 

We’re late on this, but on June 27, 2019, USDOJ announced that Haroon K. Ullah, a former senior official of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the agency formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) entered a plea of guilty for stealing over $40,000 in government money in 2018.
Former Senior Official Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Money
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An Alexandria man pleaded guilty today to stealing over $40,000 in government money during 2018, while he was employed as a senior government official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) in Washington, D.C.
According to court documents, Haroon K. Ullah, 41, admitted that he fraudulently obtained thousands of dollars in government funds by submitting falsified hotel invoices, falsified and inflated taxi and Uber receipts, and by billing the government for personal travel and for travel that had already been paid by third parties.
Additionally, Ullah admitted that he created a falsified letter from a real medical doctor purportedly claiming that Ullah needed to fly in business class at government expense because of a sore knee. By submitting the forged letter from the doctor, Ullah fraudulently obtained costly business class upgrades at government expense, including on lengthy international flights. Ullah admitted to creating many of the false documents on his government-issued laptop computer. As part of the plea, Ullah also admitted that he submitted falsified invoices and repair estimates to an insurance company regarding a claim for repairs to his home in Alexandria.
A former employee of the U.S. Department of State, Ullah became a member of the Senior Executive Service when he joined USAGM as its Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). Ullah committed his crime from February through October 2018, while serving as CSO. Ullah is no longer employed with USAGM.
Ullah pleaded guilty to theft of government money and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on October 11. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg is prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-183.
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Mr. Ullah’s website still says that he “serves as Chief Strategy Officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an $800 million global media agency. He is a scholar, diplomat and policy practioner with a special focus on digital strategy, countering violent extremism and transmedia engagement.”
USAGM’s website has removed Mr. Ullah’s bio from its website and  info related to him appears not to display prominently on its website; a search still returns events where he was featured as the agency’s CSO, and the Wayback Machine has archived this CSO for eternity.
A Statement of Facts submitted with Mr. Ullah’s Plea Agreement notes that before joining USAGM, he had been employed with the U.S. Department of State since 2010.  It also notes the following:

5. During the approximate ninth—month period of February 2018-October 2018, ULLAH submitted for reimbursement multiple falsified hotel invoices; falsified taxi receipts; double-billed third party sponsors and USAGM for the same trips; and billed USAGM for personal
trips, either to promote his book, or for week-end trips during which little to no USAGM business was conducted. ULLAH used his government computer, a Microsoft Surface Pro, to create the false documents. He would obtain logos and other graphics on-line and use either an invoice generator or Microsofi Excel in order to create fraudulent hotel invoices. Sometimes ULLAH had stayed with a family member or friend or at a budget hotel, but he created the false invoice for the purpose of financial gain in order to maximize his reimbursement from USAGM. With other hotel invoices, ULLAH took a legitimate hotel invoice and changed his address or other data in order to conceal that the hotel room had been paid by a third party, which fact ULLAH intentionally failed to disclose to E2 and USAGM.

8. As part of a scheme to obtain business class travel to which he was not entitled, ULLAH also submitted to USAGM a falsified and forged letter from a real medical doctor, identified here by the initials N.A., claiming that ULLAH required an upgrade to business class because of a medical condition that required him to “lie flat” on long flights. The doctor confirmed to law enforcement that the letter was a forgery; that he did not authorize ULLAH to use his identity or to sign his name for him; and that a business class upgrade for ULLAH’s sore knee
was not medically necessary.

Part of the  Plea Agreement says:

Further, in accordance with Rule 11(c)(l)(B) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States and the defendant will recommend to the Court that the following provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines apply: Under Section 2B1 .1(b), the intended loss is greater than $40,000 but less than $95,000, thus six levels are added to the base offense level. Under Section 3Bl.2, the United States and the defendant agree to a two level enhancement for abuse of a position of public trust as an employee of the United States.

The Plea also notes:

“The United States will not further criminally prosecute the defendant in the Eastern District of Virginia for the specific conduct descfibed in the information or statement of facts. This plea agreement and statement of facts does not confer on the defendant any immunity from prosecution by any state government in the United States.”

 

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Update: Justice Department career lawyer defends herself after viral video on child migrant treatment

FCS Foreign Service Officer Lola Gulomova Killed By FSO Spouse in Apparent Murder-Suicide

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Last Friday, DC Metro Police reported the death of a Foreign Service couple in the District of Columbia (see below). Police said that preliminary investigation suggests that Lola Gulomova was killed in a homicide and that her spouse, Jason Rieff died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They left behind two young children (also see GFM: A Fund for the Rieff Girls).

Here is Lola Gulomova’s brief bio via DOC’s export.gov:

Lola Gulomova joined the U.S. Department of Commerce as a Commercial Officer for FCS in July 2008. She became part of the FCS Guangzhou team in summer 2013. Lola covers major sectors such as civil aviation, energy, SelectUSA and others. Prior to Guangzhou assignment, Lola Gulomova served as a Commercial Officer for AIT Commerical Section in Taipei. Prior to Taiwan, Lola worked in the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy New Delhi Office, India. During her tenure in India, Lola took part in the U.S. Government team supporting numerous high level visits, including POTUS visit in November 2010, two visits of the Secretary of U.S. Department of Commerce, and countless other VIP visits.

Prior to becoming a Foreign Service Officer for the Department of Commerce in June 2008, Lola worked in the U.S. Embassy/Moscow as NASA Deputy Russia Representative dealing with bilateral space relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. As part of her work with NASA, Lola ensured that the U.S. Astronauts who are present on the International Space Station receive appropriate support on the ground and in the space.

Before joining NASA, Lola Gulomova worked with United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) on Katrina Aid Today programs and initiatives to ensure long term recovery for people affected by Katrina hurricane. She set up operations of Katrina Aid Today and opened the office in Washington D.C. under tight schedule and deadline and limited budget. As a result of Lola’s efforts 70% of the initial set up operations budget was saved to be rerouted for Katrina aid efforts. Originally from Tajikistan, Lola graduated from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) – Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC in 2001.

The WaPo report cited a friend who said that the two met at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the District and that the couple married in 2000.

Congressional Records indicate that Jason Bradley Rieff, of DC, was appointed to the Diplomatic Service during the 108th Congress (2003-2004).  His name appears a second time during the 110th Congress (2007-2008) when he was appointed as State Department FSO-04 Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America in December 2007.

In the fall of 2008, during the 110th Congress, Lola Z. Gulomova, of DC was appointed to the Department of Commerce Foreign Service. In August 2012, the U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment as Commerce Foreign Service Officer Class Three, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America. We have not been able to find other entries in the congressional record as of this writing.

OPM-sourced data online indicates that she served from 2008-2011 in New Delhi, India; 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan; and 2013-2015 in Guangzhou, China.

We understand that the couple’s first tour was in Chennai, India around 2003-2005 where Rieff served as a consular officer, and Gulomova was one of diplomatic spouses who worked in the consular section. They were posted next to the US Embassy Moscow. We don’t know the exact time they were there but as a junior officer, it would have been a two-year assignment after Chennai but before she joined FCS as a career officer in June 2008.  In Moscow, she worked for NASA, according to her online bio, as Deputy Russia Representative dealing with bilateral space relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. 

While she was listed as having worked in Guanzhou from 2013-2015, Rieff was listed as school board member of the American International School of Guangzhou in its annual report from 2016-2017.  They were a tandem couple working for two agencies, it is possible she did a two year tour for FCS while he did the typical three-year tour for State. 

In Washington, D.C., Gulomova worked as a desk officer in Commerce’s Office of Russia, Ukraine & Eurasia (ORUE). ORUE provides assistance to U.S. companies including guidance on doing business in Russia, resolving market access issues, removing barriers to trade, market strategy considerations, and connections to other U.S. Government resources. She was also AFSA’s Foreign Commercial Service representative.  

She was on Twitter but did not tweet very much; the last thing she tweeted was an FCS recruitment announcement on June 4th.  The Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States tweeted that Gulomova was supposed to leave on June 8th to lead her first trade mission overseas.

Rieff worked in one of the annexes of the State Department; we have not yet been able to confirm his work assignment; we understand that he worked at Consular Affair’s Visa Office. Below is the police statement of this incident:

Via DC Metro Police, June 7, 2019:

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch are investigating a homicide and a suicide that occurred on Friday, June 7, 2019, inside of a residence, in the 4300 block of Windom Place, Northwest.

At approximately 9:25 am, members of the Second District responded to the listed location for a check on the welfare. Upon arrival, members gained entry to a residence at the listed location and observed an adult male with a handgun. Officers heard a gunshot then found the adult male suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. An unconscious and unresponsive adult female was also found inside the residence suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and found that the female victim displayed no signs consistent with life and remained on the scene until transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The male was transported to an area hospital. After all life-saving efforts failed, he was pronounced dead.

The male decedent has been identified as 51 year-old Jason Rieff, of Northwest, DC.

The female decedent has been identified as 45 year-old Lola Gulomova, of Northwest, DC.

Preliminary investigation by detectives from the Homicide Branch suggest that Ms. Gulomova’s death is a homicide and Mr. Rieff’s death is a suicide. The investigation also revealed that this incident is domestic in nature.

The exact cause and manner of death will be determined pending an autopsy to be conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

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This tragic incident is starting an informal conversation within one part of the Foreign Service’s online community about domestic violence which is not talked about very much. We hope to write a follow-up post. If you have something to share, email us.

Note that the State Department previously told this blog when we inquired about sexual assault data that “The Office of Special Investigations [within Diplomatic Security] receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.” If they’re not tracking alleged offenses like sexual assaults, or for that matter, domestic violence, how will the State Department know if it has a problem? We want to talk about that some more at some future post.

//Updated/June 10, 2019,  8:59 pm PST

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Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

 

 

 

This is a follow-up post to a 2017 case concerning a State Department employee arrested for concealing extensive contacts with intelligence agents from China (see @StateDept OMS Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents). Last month, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. Sentencing is scheduled for for July 9, 2019.

Download Claiborne Plea Agreement

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Defendant Admitted Receiving Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Benefits From Two Chinese Agents in Exchange for Internal State Department Documents
Candace Marie Claiborne, a former employee of the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The plea took place before the Honorable Randolph D. Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts.  Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths.  With this guilty plea we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

“Candace Claiborne was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully misled federal investigators about her repeated interactions with foreign contacts which violated her oath of office as a State Department employee,” said Assistant Director McNamara.  “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

“Our close working relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice resulted in the conviction of Candace Claiborne who violated the public trust and damaged our national security,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.  “Diplomatic Security will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously defend the interests and security of the United States of America.”

According to the plea documents, Claiborne, 63, began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999.  She served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance.  Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years.  The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments.  Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided to a close family member of Claiborne’s.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, as stated in the plea documents, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.  That same agent at one point tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.  She was arrested on March 28, 2017, following a law enforcement investigation.

Judge Moss scheduled sentencing for July 9, 2019.  Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., was ordered detained pending sentencing, but will self-surrender for said detention on June 5, 2019.  The statutory maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter.  The case was prosecuted by Thomas A. Gillice and investigated by John L. Hill, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Deputy Chief Julie A. Edelstein and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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Former U.S. Diplomat William Patrick Syring Convicted of Threatening Employees of the Arab American Institute

This is a follow-up to an item we posted in March 2018 (Ex-FSO William Syring Charged With Hate Crime and Threats to Arab American Institute Employees).  On February 21, 2018 USDOJ indicted former foreign service officer William Patrick Syring for hate crime and threatening employees of the Arab American Institute. Syring was previously charged in 2006 for similar threats in four emails and three voicemails. He retired from the State Department in July 2007 and he pleaded guilty in that previous case in June 2008.

The 2018 indictment alleged he sent 350 e-mails from March 2012 to January 2018.

On May 9, 2019, USDOJ announced Syring’s conviction:

William Patrick Syring, 61, of Arlington, Virginia, was convicted today of threatening employees of the Arab American Institute (AAI), because of their race and national origin, threatening AAI employees because of their efforts to encourage Arab Americans to participate in political and civic life in the United States, and transmitting threats to AAI employees in interstate commerce. Syring was convicted on all 14 counts in the indictment.

“Threats aimed at individuals because of their race and national origin have no place in our society and violate federal civil rights laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Department of Justice will continue to hold criminals accountable who commit such acts of hate so that all individuals in this country can engage in civic life and political discourse.”

Evidence presented at trial established that from 2012 to 2017, Syring sent over 700 emails to AAI employees, culminating in five death threats in 2017. According to court documents, Syring previously pleaded guilty in 2008 to sending threatening emails to AAI employees. Evidence presented at trial showed that Syring used nearly identical language that he admitted were threats in 2008 as he did in 2017.

According to testimony in court, AAI employees were frightened of Syring, because he had sent them death threats in the past and continued to do so over a decade later. Additionally, according to witness testimony, many AAI employees lived in fear that Syring would follow through his threats and physically harm them. They further testified to the toll it took on them personally and their families and loved ones.

Sentencing is set for Aug. 9. The maximum penalties for the convictions is 42 years of imprisonment.

The case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office and is being prosecuted by Civil Rights Division Senior Legal Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Nick Reddick.

 

FSGB Annual Report 2018: Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

 

The following is excerpted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2018. This is a good time to remind folks that while names/posts and identifying details are typically redacted from the Record of Proceedings (ROPs) routinely posted in the publicly available website fsgb.gov, once the case is filed in federal court, the records are usually publicly accessible and are unredacted (unless the case is sealed).

As described in last year’s report, USAID OIG had recommended that the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2012-057 be separated for cause. After two hearings, the Board approved the agency’s decision. The grievant appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In a decision issued October 12, 2018, the court upheld the Board’s decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. The grievant has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the District Court’s and Board’s construction of section 7(b) of the IG Act, which protects the confidentiality of employee informants.

In FSGB Case No. 2014-018, the grievant had requested a waiver of collection of a substantial overpayment of her deceased mother’s survivor’s annuity. The Department contended that she was not entitled to consideration of a waiver because the overpayment was made to her mother’s estate; under Department regulations, estates are not entitled to waivers. The Board concurred and grievant appealed. In a decision issued January 19, 2018, the D.C. district court found that the regulation denying waivers to estates was valid, but that the FSGB had erred in determining that the overpayments were made to the mother’s estate rather than to grievant as an individual. The court remanded the case for the Department and the Board to decide the request for the waiver on its merits. The waiver request is currently pending with the Department.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2015-016 filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017 against the Department and his former rater and reviewer requesting monetary damages related to the Board’s denial of his grievance. He had contested two EERs and a low ranking. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely in a decision issued March 30, 2018. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed that decision on December 28, 2018.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-005 contended that he was deprived of certain benefits, such as promotion consideration, during a five-year assignment to an international organization. The Department found him ineligible for the benefits because his assignment to the organization was effected through a “separation and transfer” agreement, rather than a “detail.” The Board affirmed the Department’s decision and the United States District Court for the District of Colombia upheld that decision on appeal in a decision issued in 2016. The grievant had also appealed the Board’s decision in a second, related, case, FSGB Case No 2014-024, in which he had claimed certain benefits based upon his separation and transfer and subsequent reemployment with the Department. The Board dismissed his second grievance on the grounds of claims preclusion. In a decision issued March 14, 2018, the district court concluded that the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary and capricious nor contrary to law and dismissed his claims. The grievant appealed both decisions to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and that matter remains pending.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2017-014 was denied tenure and scheduled for separation from the Foreign Service. Consequently, the Department ordered her to leave her overseas post and assigned her to a position in Washington, D.C. The grievant filed a grievance with the Department challenging her transfer on several bases. The Department denied the grievance, and the grievant appealed to the Board. The Board denied all of grievant’s claims. It further found that, since no statute or regulation had been violated, it lacked jurisdiction to overturn an assignment decision. The grievant appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division. In a decision issued September 24, 2018, the court affirmed the Board’s decision.

Decisions were issued this year in two other cases filed by the same grievant, stemming from the same sets of circumstances but not involving appeals of Department or Board grievances. The grievant filed a case under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims alleging gender-based discrimination in pay and benefits. She claimed that the Department discriminated against her by paying her less and providing her with fewer benefits than a similarly-situated male employee. The court initially dismissed the case, finding that it lacked jurisdiction because the same appeal was pending in another court at the time she filed. However, that decision was overturned by the circuit court and the case was remanded to the Court of Claims. The grievant also filed two identical complaints in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Department under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In both cases, the court dismissed all but one of the claims. The grievant also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging nearly identical discrimination and retaliation by the Department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has stayed its proceedings pending a decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands case.

An appeal of the Board’s 2017 decision by the State Department and USAID/OIG in another long-running case remains pending in the D.C. District Court following briefing of crossmotions for summary judgment in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ). As described in previous annual reports, the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-031 contested the decision to calculate his retirement annuity based on the application of a pay cap on his special differential pay that had not been applied when his salary was paid. In 2014, the Board initially upheld the agency’s decision. On grievant’s appeal, the district court in Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further review. On remand, the Board in FSGB Case No. 2013-031R and No. 2016-030 issued a decision granting the grievant calculation and payment of his annuity that he sought. The Board denied the Department’s request for reconsideration of that decision. The Department and USAID/OIG jointly appealed the Board’s decision on remand to the district court in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ).

The 2015 Annual Report reported that the grievant filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003 in Federal District Court, District of Colombia, claiming that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act when it separated her. That appeal is still pending.

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@StateDept Contracting Officer Faces 17-Count Indictment For Bribery and Procurement Fraud

On April 4, the Justice Department announced a 17-count indictment charging State Department contracting officer, Zaldy N. Sabino with conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, and making false statements. The indictment notes that the defendant was employed by the State Department beginning in or about November 2004 at AQM, the Office of Acquisitions Management:

“SABINO served as a contract specialist with AQM, and he was also a contracting officer who was authorized to execute certain contracts on behalf of the DOS. SABINO worked in AQM’s Facilities Design Construction Division (“FDCD”) in Arlington, Virginia. FDCD supported and administered contracts involving the DOS’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (“OBO”). OBO frequently awarded contracts to international construction companies seeking to do business and perform design-build contracts at U.S. embassies and consular buildings.”

The Office of Acquisitions Management under the Bureau of Administration (A/OPE/AQM) manages, plans, and directs the Department’s acquisition programs and conducts contract operations in support of activities worldwide. A/OPE/AQM provides the full range of professional contract management services including acquisition planning, contract negotiations, cost and price analysis, and contract administration.

Via USDOJ:

A 17-count indictment was unsealed today charging Zaldy N. Sabino, a contracting officer with the U.S. Department of State, with conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, and making false statements. 

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Inspector General Steve A. Linick of the U.S. Department of State and Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

According to the indictment, between November 2012 and early 2017, Sabino and the owner of a Turkish construction firm allegedly engaged in a bribery and procurement fraud scheme in which Sabino received at least $239,300 in cash payments from the Turkish owner while Sabino supervised multi-million dollar construction contracts awarded to the Turkish owner’s business partners and while Sabino made over a half million in structured cash deposits into his personal bank accounts.  Sabino allegedly concealed his unlawful relationship by, among other things, making false statements on financial disclosure forms and during his background reinvestigation.

The case is being investigated by the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Hanly of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case. 

An indictment is merely an allegation.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Read the original announcement here.

Under “Means and Manner of Conspiracy”, the Indictment enumerates multiple cash payments and withdrawals. Allegation includes “deposited cash into bank accounts maintained by SABINO and his wife, and SABINO paid cash towards his credit card and line of credit accounts (hereafter collectively referred to as “cash deposits”). The cash deposits totaled approximately $507,543.93.” Another allegation includes withdrawal of approximately $239,300″ involving “approximately 396 ATM transactions. ” The indictment alleges that “the majority of these transactions occurred in the lobby of a DOS building” in Arlington, Virginia and BOA branches located near the defendant’s residence in Fort Washington, Maryland.

The unsealed indictment is available to read here: Download Sabino Indictment

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USG Charges Two Individuals For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving the Moroccan Diplomatic Mission and Seven Domestic Workers

 

On March 13, SDNY announced that two individuals were charged for visa fraud conspiracy involving the Moroccan Consulate and Mission in New York. The complaint includes an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”), a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador. Footnote #5 in the complaint says that the USG anticipates that it will enter into a non-prosecutorial agreement with each of the seven domestic workers, all nationals of the Philippines). Footnote #6 notes that the DSS Special Agent is aware that as an ambassador accredited to the Moroccan Mission of the United Nations, CC-1 possesses full diplomatic immunity under Article V of the United Nations Agreement and Article (39)1)of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Via USDOJ/SDNY:

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Christian J. Schurman, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”) at the United States Department of State, announced today the arrest of MARIA LUISA ESTRELLA JAIDI (“JAIDI”), who was charged by complaint along with her brother, RAMON SINGSON ESTRELLA (“ESTRELLA”), for their involvement in a conspiracy to commit visa fraud, make materially false statements, and induce aliens to illegally come to, enter, and reside in the United States.  JAIDI was arrested today in Ancramdale, New York, and will be presented this afternoon in White Plains federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison.  ESTRELLA remains at large.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman stated:  “As alleged, the defendants abused our nation’s process for admitting consular officials in order to bring domestic workers into this country for their own monetary gain and lifestyle.  On top of that, Maria Luisa Estrella Jaidi exploited these workers by not providing them the critical protections and benefits they would have been entitled to had they been properly brought to this country with the appropriate visas.  Today’s charges demonstrate that fraud and abuse of this type will not be tolerated.”

DSS Director Christian J. Schurman said:  “DSS demonstrated its commitment to protecting the integrity of U.S. travel documents and the rights of foreign nationals visiting the United States.  We will continue to pursue those who abuse domestic worker visas to manipulate and exploit their employees for personal gain.  DSS’s strong relationship with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, continues to be essential in the pursuit of justice.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed in White Plains federal court[1]:

From approximately 2006 up to 2016, JAIDI and ESTRELLA conspired with an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”) to fraudulently procure visas for at least seven Filipino domestic workers (the “Domestic Workers”).  CC-1 is a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador.  From approximately 1980 through approximately 2016, CC-1 and JAIDI were married.

In order to fraudulently obtain visas for the Domestic Workers, JAIDI and CC-1 caused the Domestic Workers to submit visa applications containing materially false statements and to submit fraudulent employment contracts in support of those visa applications.  ESTRELLA – who is JAIDI’s brother and who resides in the Philippines – helped recruit several of the Domestic Workers in the Philippines to work for JAIDI and CC-1 in the United States and instructed the Domestic Workers to make false statements in their visa applications and to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

In particular, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused five of the Domestic Workers to falsely state in their visa applications that they would be employed as secretaries, administrative assistants, or technicians at the Moroccan Mission or at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Morocco in Manhattan.  In addition, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused each of the Domestic Workers to submit fraudulent employment contracts to the State Department in support of their visa applications.  The fraudulent employment contracts also overstated the Domestic Workers’ salaries, understated their hours, and falsely guaranteed benefits, including, among others, sick leave, dental insurance, and medical insurance.

Once the Domestic Workers arrived in the United States, JAIDI and CC-1 employed the workers as their personal drivers, domestic helpers, farmhands, and assistants at their residence in Bronxville, New York, as well as at their farm in Ancramdale, New York.  JAIDI and CC-1 paid the Domestic Workers significantly less than the minimum salary required by law and regularly compelled them to work far in excess of 40 hours per week.  In addition, JAIDI and CC-1 generally denied the Domestic Workers the benefits set forth in their employment contracts, compelled the Domestic Workers to work seven days a week, and required the Domestic Workers to surrender their passports.

Read in full: Two Charged In White Plains Federal Court For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving Moroccan Consulate And Mission In New York

Attachment(s):

Former State/OIG IT Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft and Embezzlement of USG Computers

 

On March 7, 2019, USDOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that a former IT contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General pled guilty to theft and embezzlement.

A former federal contractor pleaded guilty today to theft and embezzlement of up to 16 government computers from the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Andrew W. Cheveers, 31, of Bowie, Maryland, was an Information Technology contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. In this role, Cheveers held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain sensitive information, and he was responsible for configuring the computers prior to the devices being distributed to U.S. government personnel.

Through the course of his criminal conduct, Cheevers admitted to stealing up to 16 Microsoft Surface Pro laptop computers. Cheveers then sold the stolen computers on Internet websites such as Craigslist and eBay from approximately July 2016 through February 2017 in order to profit from his fraudulent scheme.

Cheveers faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on June 21. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Celeste are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-64.

The announcement is available here.

US Embassy Bamako: Two Navy SEALs, Two Marines Face Multiple Charges in Melgar’s Murder

 

This is a follow-up to our post in October 2017 about the  death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar who was found dead in his room at post housing in Bamako, Mali on June 4, 2017.  Two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six were reportedly under investigation in his death. (see U.S.Embassy Bamako: Army Green Beret Logan J. Melgar’s Death in Mali Under Investigation as Homicide).  Now two Navy SEALs and two Marine Raiders are facing murder charges in the 2017 death (see USNI News for charge sheet).  A medical examiner ruled that Sgt. Melgar’s death was a homicide by asphyxiation.  USNI News reports that the SEALs and Melgar lived in the same house and were members of the same joint special operations team attached to the U.S. Embassy in Bamako. These individuals will face a preliminary Article 32 hearing on the charges at Naval Station Norfolk on Dec. 10 according to USNI.

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