Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and Retaliation

Posted: 2:41 am ET

 

According to court filings, Josephine Chien is currently assigned as an Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO) overseas. In early August, she filed a lawsuit against the U.S Department of State alleging race and sex discrimination under Title VII, hostile work environment & harassment, and retaliation.  The court filing says that Ms. Chien has been an employee of the U.S. Department of State since 1999. Since the case talks about her being denied tenure in 2012  and eventually obtaining tenure in 2013, we suspect that 1999 is an incorrect year.

Excerpts below from the court filing:

Josephine Chien by and through her undersigned counsel bring this action for race discrimination under Section 1981 and Title VII; a hostile work environment under Title VII and retaliation under Section 1981 and Title VII against the Defendant John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, for the U.S Department of State. Chien has been an employee of the State Department since 1999. She is an Asian female of Taiwanese-American descent. In 2011, during her assignment in Libya, her supervisors assigned tasks to her in a discriminatory manner, whereby certain tasks were given to males as opposed to females. This again occurred in 2012 during her tour in Pakistan. In late 2012 and mid 2013, when after again complaining about discriminatory behavior, she was again retaliated against when she was not selected for foreign assignments.

March 2010-January 2011 deployment in Los Angeles

In March 2010, she was employed at the Los Angeles (L.A) satellite office in West L.A. Her supervisor was Michael Lodi. Lodi would frequently communicate with her disparagingly shouting and screaming at her. Chien found this demoralizing as Lodi would not communicate in this manner with other non-Asian members of the staff or male members of the staff. Her colleague and special agent Bret Newton (Caucasian male) told her that he was aware of the prejudice from Lodi and encouraged her to file a complaint against Lodi. Her colleague and special agent John Ming Chen, also observed Lodi’s demeaning treatment of Chien and that Lodi was unprofessional towards Chien.

Lodi also refused all training requests and overseas assignments to Chien. Chien had asked Lodi for hardship assignments to Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be told that because she was the duty agent, she could not be assigned overseas.

Consequently sometime in November 2010, Chien approached assistant special agent in charge Whitney Savageau seeking a transfer to the L.A Field Office1. Around December 1, 2010, Chien also had a meeting with Savageau whereby she stated her concerns about Lodi, in that he was treating her differently and discriminating against her. Chien also informed Savageau that Lodi had denied her training and assignments. Chien told Savageau to keep the matter private and also told her specifically to not inform Lodi of her discussions with her (Savageau). Savageau told Chien to discuss her concerns with Chief Jeff Lefter. Chien did so on the same day or on December 1, 2010. She again reiterated her conversations with Savageau with Lefter

Barely 24 hours later or on December 2, 2010, Lodi had a meeting with Chien. Lodi informed Chien that Savageau had a conversation with him about her complaint. Lodi told Chien that “it was not a smart move as I am still writing your evaluation.” He then proceeded to engage in a monologue whereby Lodi informed Chien that she “should know how the system works” and that her transfer sought to the L.A. Field office would “poison the office.”

Upon the conclusion of the conversation, Chien immediately contacted Lefter by email. She again asked for a transfer, and told Lefter that she felt that Lodi had threatened her by saying that “I am still writing your evaluation.” Lefter contacted Chien by telephone and told her that he will speak with Savageau about Lodi.

Chien then contacted the “Human Resources Career Development and Assignments” and sought advise and transfer. She was finally transferred in January 2011.

In the interim, and true to form, post December 2, 2010, or sometime on June 3, 20112, Lodi gave Chien a negative performance evaluation, accusing her of lacking in communication and interpersonal skills. There were no facts to corroborate these allegations. This negative evaluation prevented Chien from being granted tenure within the Agency.

The tenure board in turn, denied her tenure in 2012, citing to Lodi’s comments regarding her lack of interpersonal and communication skills.

In March 2013, Chien challenged/appealed this evaluation by Lodi. Her challenge was successful and in July 2013, Lodi’s 2011 evaluation of Chien was overturned. She was granted tenure soon after. (Note: we’re trying to locate the FSGB case).

Libya Assignment March – May 2011

Around May 2011, Chien was now assigned to the U.S Embassy in Libya. She was part of the protective detail to the Special Envoy to Libya, Chris Stevens. She was employed at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) answering telephones, monitoring traffic and issuing equipment to other TOC agents on the ground.

Upon her arrival, Chien was told that all agents initially served at TOC, and after a few weeks, they would be sent to the field. All the other TOC agents in Libya were male.

After two (2) weeks of her arrival in March 2011, she asked her shift leader if she could be sent to the field, as part of the security detail for a motorcade. She was told by her supervisor, that she would remain as a TOC agent, and that there were no plans to rotate her.

Consequently sometime in March/April 2011, Chien asks the Agent in Charge, Scott Moretti that she be assigned to a field position. Moretti says, “We don’t do rotations.” Barely an hour later, Agent Joel Ortez asked Moretti, if he can be rotated from a limousine driver to another position, because Ortez had been a limousine driver for weeks and needed a new rotation/assignment. Moretti’s immediate reply to Ortez was, “Sure Buddy!”

Soonafter, Chein also learned from Mr. Khamprasong Bounkong, that when management had learned a female agent was being assigned to Libya, one of the bosses said, “Why would they send a female from headquarters to a Muslim country?”

Chien was deeply displeased by the Agency’s discriminatory assignments of tasks to male agents, as she had undergone similar firearms training, emergency and critical thinking training. She felt that the only reason she was being denied rotation to the field, was because she was a female. This was made all the more concerning to her, when as part of her single “protective detail” she was awarded a “Group Meritorious Award” for a bombing occurring on June 1, 2011.
[…]
Finally on or about August 12, 2013, after bidding on 18 overseas NOW positions and being denied for all of them, her supervisor Mr. Ollie Ellison informed Chien that he was informed by Mr. Kearns, Chien was being denied for foreign assignments because “it has to do with something out of L.A.”

February 2012-March 2013: Pakistan Assignment

As the ARSO and under the direction of Krajicek she oversaw the Surveillance Detection Program3, the Local Guard Force (LGF) Residential Program, the Residential Security Program (RSP), the Logistics / Procurement Program, and the Information / Cyber Security Program.

Chien alleges that the removal of her programs was motivated by racial or sexual animus, as the programs of other Caucasian males were not removed by either Krajicke or Thiede.

Upon her return from Pakistan to the United States, or sometime in March/April 2013, Chien learned from her colleagues George Terterian & Alexa Landreville, that the security investigators had asked them if Chien had ever complained about work place harassment, a hostile work environment, discrimination or retaliation. Chien believes that this extra scrutiny during her January 2013 clearance interview was a result of her prior EEO activities and therefore in retaliation to her protected activities.

Under Count II, the complaint says that “Defendant created a hostile work environment and/or harassed Plaintiff because of her race and sex; the offending conduct was unwelcome, was based on race and/or sex and was sufficiently severe or pervasive when it altered the conditions of her employment and created an abusive work environment and was imputable to her employer the U.S. Department of State.”

Under Count III, the complaint alleged that “As a result of her protected activity and opposition to practices made unlawful under Title VII, Plaintiff was subjected to multiple adverse employment actions, up to and including a negative performance evaluation, denial of tenure, over-scrutinization of her security clearance and/or denial of foreign assignments.”

Ms. Chien demands a jury trial and requests that the Court award economic damages.

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Related posts:

 

FBI Employee Pleads Guilty to Acting in the United States as an Agent of the Chinese Government

Posted: 12:15 am ET

 

Via DOJ | Defendant Collected and Caused Sensitive FBI Information to be Provided to the Chinese Government

Kun Shan Chun, a native of the People’s Republic of China and a naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty today to a criminal information charging him with acting in the United States as an agent of China without providing prior notice to the Attorney General.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York and Assistant Director in Charge Diego P. Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement.

Chun, aka Joey Chun, 46, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV of the Southern District of New York.  He was an employee of the FBI until his arrest on March 16, 2016.

“Kun Shan Chun violated our nation’s trust by exploiting his official U.S. Government position to provide restricted and sensitive FBI information to the Chinese Government,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “Holding accountable those who work as illegal foreign agents to the detriment of the United States is among the highest priorities of the National Security Division.”

“Americans who act as unauthorized foreign agents commit a federal offense that betrays our nation and threatens our security,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “And when the perpetrator is an FBI employee, like Kun Shan Chun, the threat is all the more serious and the betrayal all the more duplicitous.  Thanks to the excellent investigative work of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, the FBI succeeded in identifying and rooting out this criminal misconduct from within its own ranks.”

“No one is above the law, to include employees of the FBI,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez.  “We understand as an agency we are trusted by the public to protect our nation’s most sensitive information, and we have to do everything in our power to uphold that trust.”

According to the complaint, the information and statements made during today’s court proceeding:

In approximately 1997, Chun began working at the FBI’s New York Field Office as an electronics technician assigned to the Computerized Central Monitoring Facility of the FBI’s Technical Branch.  In approximately 1998, and in connection with his employment, the FBI granted Chun a Top Secret security clearance and his duties included accessing sensitive, and in some instances classified, information.  In connection with a progressive recruitment process, Chun received and responded to taskings from Chinese nationals and at least one Chinese government official (Chinese Official-1), some, if not all, of whom were aware that Chun worked at the FBI.  On multiple occasions prior to his arrest in March 2016, at the direction of Chinese government officials, Chun collected sensitive FBI information and caused it to be transmitted to Chinese Official-1 and others, while at the same time engaging in a prolonged and concerted effort to conceal from the FBI his illicit relationships with these individuals.

Beginning in 2006, Chun and some of his relatives maintained relationships with Chinese nationals purporting to be affiliated with a company in China named Zhuhai Kolion Technology Company Ltd. (Kolion).  Chun maintained an indirect financial interest in Kolion, including through a previous investment by one of his parents.  In connection with these relationships, Chinese nationals asked Chun to perform research and consulting tasks in the United States, purportedly for the benefit of Kolion, in exchange for financial benefits, including partial compensation for international trips.

Between 2006 and 2010, Chun’s communications and other evidence reflect inquiries from purported employees of Kolion to Chun while he was in the United States, as well as efforts by the defendant to collect, among other things, information regarding solid-state hard drives.

In approximately 2011, during a trip to Italy and France partially paid for by the Chinese nationals, Chun was introduced to Chinese Official-1, who indicated that he worked for the Chinese government and that he knew Chun worked for the FBI.  During subsequent private meetings conducted abroad between the two, Chinese Official-1 asked questions regarding sensitive, non-public FBI information.  During those meetings, Chun disclosed, among other things, the identity and potential travel patterns of an FBI Special Agent.

In approximately 2012, the FBI conducted a routine investigation relating to Chun’s Top Secret security clearance.  In an effort to conceal his relationships with Chinese Official-1 and the other Chinese nationals purporting to be affiliated with Kolion, Chun made a series of false statements on a standardized FBI form related to the investigation.  Between 2000 and March 16, 2016, Chun was required by FBI policy to disclose anticipated and actual contact with foreign nationals during his international travel, but he lied on numerous pre- and post-trip FBI debriefing forms by omitting his contacts with Chinese Official-1, other Chinese nationals and Kolion.

On multiple occasions, Chinese Official-1 asked Chun for information regarding the FBI’s internal structure.  In approximately March 2013, Chun downloaded an FBI organizational chart from his FBI computer in Manhattan.  Chun later admitted to the FBI that, after editing the chart to remove the names of FBI personnel, he saved the document on a piece of digital media and caused it to be transported to Chinese Official-1 in China.

Chinese Official-1 also asked Chun for information regarding technology used by the FBI.  In approximately January 2015, Chun took photos of documents displayed in a restricted area of the FBI’s New York Field Office, which summarized sensitive details regarding multiple surveillance technologies used by the FBI.  Chun sent the photographs to his personal cell phone and later admitted to the FBI that he caused the photographs to be transported to Chinese Official-1 in China.

In approximately February 2015, the FBI caused an undercover employee (UCE) to be introduced to Chun.  The UCE purported to be a U.S. citizen who was born in China and working as a consultant to several firms, including an independent contractor for the Department of Defense, among other entities.

During a recorded meeting in March 2015, Chun told the UCE about his relationship with Kolion and Chinese nationals and later explained to the UCE that Kolion had “government backing,” and that approximately five years prior a relative met a “section chief” whom Chun believed was associated with the Chinese government.

In another recorded meeting in June 2015, Chun told the UCE that he had informed his Chinese associates that the UCE was a consultant who might be in a position to assist them.  Chun said that he wished to act as a “sub-consultant” to the UCE and wanted the UCE to “pay” him “a little bit.”   In July 2015, after coordinating travel to meet Chun’s Chinese associates, Chun met with the UCE in Hungary twice.  During one of the meetings, Chun stated that he knew “firsthand” that the Chinese government was actively recruiting individuals who could provide assistance and that the Chinese government was willing to provide immigration benefits and other compensation in exchange for such assistance.  The UCE told Chun that he had access to sensitive information from the U.S. government.  Chun responded that his Chinese associates would be interested in that type of information and that Chun expected a “cut” of any payment that the UCE received for providing information to the Chinese government.

The count of acting in the United States as an agent of China without providing notice to the Attorney General carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division investigated the case.  The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III and Andrea L. Surratt of the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, with assistance provided by Trial Attorneys Thea D. R. Kendler and David C. Recker of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Related files:

Bosnian Army Guard Convicted of War Crimes Pleads Guilty to Fraudulent 2002 U.S. Citizenship

Posted: 12:03 am ET

Via USDOJ:  Former Bosnian Army Prison Guard Pleads Guilty to Fraudulently Procuring U.S. Citizenship

A Jacksonville, Florida, man pleaded guilty today for unlawfully procuring U.S. citizenship by failing to disclose during his naturalization process his membership in the Bosnian Army and crimes that he committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian Conflict in the 1990s, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida.

Slobo Maric, 56, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Klindt of the Middle District of Florida.  Sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

According to the plea agreement, in 1993, Maric served as a shift leader, the second in command to the warden, of a detention facility in Bosnia that housed captured Bosnian-Croat soldiers.  Many of the guards in the facility routinely subjected detainees to serious physical abuse and humiliation, including by referring to them with ethnic slurs and spitting on them.  According to the plea agreement, Maric selected detainees for other guards to abuse; directly participated in abusing several prisoners; and sent prisoners on dangerous and deadly work details on the front line of the conflict.  The Bosnian government charged Maric for his criminal conduct and, after Maric immigrated to the United States, Bosnia indicted and convicted Maric in absentia for war crimes against prisoners.  According to the plea agreement, Maric knew about the Bosnian court proceedings, yet he failed to disclose the proceedings and lied about his conduct on his application for U.S. citizenship.  Maric became a naturalized U.S. citizen on Oct. 31, 2002.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Jacksonville Field Office investigated the case under the supervision of the HSI Tampa Field Office with support from ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center.

Trial Attorneys Clayton O’Connor, Sasha Rutizer and Christina Giffin and Historian David Rich of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Campion of the Middle District of Florida are prosecuting the case.

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Fraudsters in Costa Rica VOIP Scheme Plead Guilty to $9 million “Sweepstakes Fraud”

Posted: 1:29 am ET

 

Via USDOJ: Owner of Costa Rican Call Center and Two Others Plead Guilty to Defrauding Elderly through Offshore Sweepstakes Scheme

Two U.S. citizens and a Canadian citizen have pleaded guilty for their roles in a $9 million “sweepstakes fraud” scheme to defraud hundreds of U.S. residents, many of them elderly, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina.

Jeffrey Robert Bonner, 37, of Sacramento, California; Cody Trevor Burgsteiner, 33, of Houston; and Darra Lee Shephard, 57, of Calgary, Alberta, pleaded guilty this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler of the Western District of North Carolina to various counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and international money laundering, all in connection with a Costa Rican telemarketing fraud scheme.  Sentencing dates have not been set.

As part of their guilty pleas, Bonner, Burgsteiner and Shephard each admitted that from approximately 2007 through November 2012, they worked in a call center located in Costa Rica, which Bonner owned, where they placed telephone calls to U.S. residents, falsely informing them that they had won a substantial cash prize in a “sweepstakes.”  The victims, many of whom were elderly, were told that in order to receive the prize, they had to pay for a purported “refundable insurance fee,” the defendants admitted.  Bonner, Burgsteiner and Shephard admitted that once they received the money, they contacted the victims again to tell them that their prize amount had increased, due to either a clerical error or because other winners had been disqualified.  The victims were then told to send additional money to pay for new purported fees, duties and insurance to receive the now larger sweepstakes prize, the defendants admitted.  The defendants further admitted that they and their co-conspirators continued their attempts to collect additional money from the victims until an individual either ran out of money or discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme.  To mask that they were calling from Costa Rica, the conspirators utilized voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones that displayed a 202 area code, giving the false impression that they were calling from Washington, D.C., they admitted.  According to admissions made in connections with their pleas, the defendants and their co-conspirators often falsely claimed that they were calling on behalf of a U.S. federal agency to lure victims into a false sense of security.

Bonner, Burgsteiner, Shephard and their co-conspirators were responsible for causing approximately $9 million in losses to hundreds of U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Homeland Security investigated the case, and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section supervised the investigation.  Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Donley and Trial Attorneys William Bowne and Gustav Eyler of the Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

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

Posted: 2:42 am ET

Via USDOJ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted: 3:55 am ET

Via USDOJ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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McDonnell v. United States: OGE Issues Advisory on Supreme Court Decision to Ethics Officials

Posted: 12:09 am ET

Last month, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued a legal advisory related to the SCOTUS ruling on bribery charges against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell.  To recap, the former governor, and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, were indicted by the Federal Government on “honest services fraud and Hobbs Act extortion charges related to their acceptance of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, while Governor McDonnell was in office. Williams was the chief executive officer of Star Scientific, a Virginia-based company that had developed Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement made from anatabine, a compound found in tobacco. Star Scientific hoped that Virginia’s public universities would perform research studies on anatabine, and Williams wanted Governor McDonnell’s assistance in obtaining those studies.”  According to court filings, to convict the McDonnells, the Government was required to show that Governor McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts.  The case was argued in the Supreme Court in April 2016, and SCOTUS decided on the case in June 2016 (see SCOTUS case here in PDF).

Excerpt from the OGE memo:

On June 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in McDonnell v. United States, 579 U.S. ___, 195 L. Ed. 2d 639 (2016), which vacated the lower courts’ conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell on bribery charges. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is issuing this legal advisory to emphasize that the Supreme Court’s holding in McDonnell does not affect other applicable prohibitions on Federal employees’ solicitation or acceptance of gifts, including 5 U.S.C. § 7353 and 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a).

The advisory notes the following:

5 U.S.C. § 7353 prohibits an executive branch employee from soliciting and accepting gifts from any prohibited source, unless an exception promulgated by regulation applies. Likewise, the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a), prohibit an employee from soliciting or accepting any gift, directly or indirectly, if the gift is given because of the employee’s official position or the person offering the gift is a prohibited source. There is no requirement for the gift to be made in connection with any “official act” for these prohibitions to apply. These prohibitions apply to anything having monetary value unless the item is excluded from the definition of “gift” under 5 C.F.R § 2635.203(b) or qualifies for one of the narrowly tailored exceptions set forth in 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204.

OGE also says that “The Court’s opinion did not address the application of 5 U.S.C. § 7353, 5 C.F.R.§ 2635.202, or any other ethics law; rather, the Court opined solely on the construction of 18 U.S.C. § 201(a)(3). Consequently, the McDonnell opinion also does not affect OGE’s legal interpretation of the criminal conflict of interest statutes at 18 U.S.C. §§ 202-209 or OGE’s interpretation of the gift prohibitions at 5 U.S.C. § 7353 or 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a).”

Read the full advisory below:

Related items:

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USAID Reconstruction Contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq Bites Former Louis Berger Executives

Posted: 4:05 am ET

 

In May 2015,  the former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of USAID contractor Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG) was  sentenced to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period.  See Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement! Last week, USDOJ announced that it has filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act against the former LBG CEO Derish M. Wolff  and former CFO Salvatore J. Pepe “for conspiring to overbill the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government agencies for costs incurred performing reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.”

Via USDOJ: United States Sues Former Executives of Government Contractor for Making False Claims in Connection with Reconstruction Contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq

The Justice Department announced today that the government has filed suit under the False Claims Act against Derish M. Wolff and Salvatore J. Pepe, respectively the former CEO and CFO of Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), for conspiring to overbill the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government agencies for costs incurred performing reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries, the Justice Department announced today.  LBG is based in East Orange, New Jersey.

“Those who do business with the U.S. government should expect appropriate consequences if they do not deal fairly,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “As this case demonstrates, the government will hold both corporate entities and individuals accountable if they misuse taxpayer funds.”

The government’s complaint alleges that Wolff and Pepe designed and directed various accounting schemes that resulted in LBG billing the government for indirect overhead costs at inflated rates.  According to the complaint, for example, Wolff and Pepe shifted portions of salaries of LBG executives and accounting personnel from contracts paid for by foreign and state governments and private entities to contracts paid for by the United States.  Wolff and Pepe allegedly certified the false rates and submitted them to the government in annual financial reports.

The United States resolved criminal and civil claims against LBG arising from this conduct on Nov. 5, 2010.  At that time, LBG entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and paid $50.6 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations.  Pepe pleaded guilty on that date to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the government and was later sentenced to one year probation.  Wolff pleaded guilty to the same charge on Dec. 12, 2014, and was later sentencedto 12 months of home confinement and required to pay a $4.5 million fine for his role in the scheme.  The complaint filed today asserts civil claims against Wolff and Pepe.

The United States filed its complaint in a lawsuit originally brought under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, by Harold Salomon, an LBG accountant from March 2002 to October 2005.  Under the Act, a private citizen can sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The United States is also entitled to intervene in the lawsuit, as it has done in this case.

This matter is being handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, with investigative support from the FBI, USAID’s Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

“I applaud the dedication of USAID-OIG special agents, along with special agents of the FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service,” said USAID Inspector General Ann Calvaresi Barr.  “Their joint investigative work has helped the Justice Department take action against those responsible and signals our continuing commitment to protecting public funds from fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The case is United States ex rel. Harold Salomon v. Derish M. Wolff & Salvatore J. Pepe, Civ. No. RWT-06-1970 (D. Md.).  The claims asserted against Wolff and Pepe are allegations only to the extent not admitted in their criminal pleas, and there has been no determination of civil liability.

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Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy Decisions

Posted: 4:38 am ET

The State Department’s Yemen Crisis page notes that due to deteriorating situation, it suspended embassy operations on February 11, 2015, and U.S. Embassy Sana’a American staff were relocated out of the country.  “All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice. The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.”

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa went on mandatory evacuation in May 2011 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure), and again in August 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure) and November 2014 (see US Embassy Yemen on Ordered Departure Once Again). In July 2014, the State Department issued a Travel Warning, see New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave).

See our other posts:

The case below was filed on April 9, 2015 by a Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen residing in Yemen.  She was joined by “25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections” in filing a cases against the Secretaries of State and Defense and seeking a court order to “compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives.”

Excerpt from the Memorandum of Opinion dated May 17, 2016 by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Plaintiff Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen, is currently residing in the war-torn and conflict-ridden Republic of Yemen. (See Compl., ECF No. 2, ¶¶ 4, 55– 59.) Mobarez has joined with 25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections, to file the instant official-capacity complaint against the Secretary of the Department of State (“State”) and the Secretary of the Department of Defense (“DOD” and, collectively, “Defendants”). These plaintiffs seek a court order to compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives. (See id. ¶¶ 3–24, 29–77.) Specifically, their complaint asserts that the United States has closed its embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, has evacuated embassy staff, and has removed Marines from the country, but that the U.S. government has yet to execute any plan to secure the safe removal of private American citizens. (See id. ¶¶ 34–36, 77.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants’ forbearance violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701–06, insofar as Defendants “have failed to provide through direct military assistance or contracting with commercial entities the necessary equipment, ships, airplanes, and other items that are available to Defendants to [e]nsure the security, safety, and well-being of United States citizens[,]” and have therefore “unlawfully withheld and/or unreasonably delayed agency action to which the Plaintiffs are entitled” and/or “have taken action that is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law[.]” (Id. ¶ 81.)

Before this Court at present is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the instant complaint. (See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 8.) Defendants contend that Plaintiffs are wrong about the existence of any duty to evacuate them. (See Defs.’ Reply in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Reply”), ECF No. 12, at 6–8.)1 Furthermore, as a threshold matter, Defendants insist that legal claims such as the ones Plaintiffs bring here require the judiciary to second-guess the discretionary foreign- policy decisions of the Executive Branch, and thus, are nonjusticiable under the political-question doctrine. (See Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Defs.’ Mem.”), ECF No. 8-1, at 12–14.)

On March 31, 2016, this Court issued an order GRANTING Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint. (See Order, ECF No. 13.) The instant Memorandum Opinion explains the Court’s reasons for that order. In short, the Court agrees with Defendants’ justiciability argument, and has therefore concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs’ complaint.
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Plaintiffs have asked this Court, in no uncertain terms, to issue an order that compels the Executive Branch to conduct an evacuation of American citizens in Yemen. Not surprisingly, Defendants insist that any such order would impermissibly encroach upon the discretion that the Constitution affords to the political branches to conduct foreign affairs; therefore, prior to considering Defendants’ contention that Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a claim under the APA, this Court must first determine whether or not it has the authority to traverse the thicket of thorny foreign-policy issues that encompasses Plaintiffs’ allegations. Precedent in this area makes it crystal clear that federal courts cannot answer “political questions” that are presented to them in the guise of legal issues, see infra Part III.A., but identifying which claims qualify as nonjusticiable political questions—and which do not—can sometimes be a substantially less lucid endeavor. Not so here: as explained below, after considering the parties’ arguments and the applicable law regarding the boundaries of the political-question doctrine, this Court is confident that Plaintiffs’ claims fit well within the scope of the nonjusticiability principles that the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit have long articulated. Accordingly, in its Order of March 31, 2016, the Court granted Defendants’ motion and dismissed Plaintiffs’ case.
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It cannot be seriously disputed that “decision-making in the fields of foreign policy and national security is textually committed to the political branches of government.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 194; see also id. at 194–95 (collecting the various explicit “[d]irect allocation[s]” in the Constitution of those responsibilities to the legislative and executive branches). And, indeed, Plaintiffs seek to have this Court question the Executive Branch’s discretionary decision to refrain from using military force to implement an evacuation under the circumstances described in the complaint, despite the fact that, per the Constitution, it is the President who, as head of the Executive Branch and “Commander in Chief[,]” U.S. Const. Art. II, § 2, decides whether and when to deploy military forces, not this Court. See El-Shifa, 607 F.3d at 842 (explaining that a claim “requiring [the court] to decide whether taking military action was wise” is a nonjusticiable “policy choice[] and value determination[]” (second and third alterations in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

Plaintiffs’ suggestion that the court-ordered remedy they seek could very well stop short of a direct mandate for military intervention (see Pls.’ Opp’n at 15 (asserting that “[t]his Court can order Defendants to [effectuate the evacuation] by simply directing the evacuation to happen and leaving it to Defendants to determine the means”)) makes no difference, as far as the political-question doctrine is concerned. Regardless, the clear basis for the complaint’s assertion that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief at all is the contention that the Executive Branch has abused its discretion— in APA terms—in refusing to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen thus far (see, e.g., Compl. ¶ 81), and the Court’s evaluation of that contention would necessarily involve second-guessing the “wisdom” of these agencies’ discretionary determinations.
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[T]he “strategic choices directing the nation’s foreign affairs are constitutionally committed to the political branches[,]” and once it becomes clear that a plaintiff wishes the courts to “reconsider the wisdom of discretionary foreign policy decisions[,]” the judicial inquiry must end.

Read the Memorandum of Opinion here (PDF) or read below:

 

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EEOC Case: FS Candidate Wins Disability Discrimination Case, Sinks For Selective Service Registration Fail

Posted: 4:32 am ET

Via eeoc.gov:

On March 9, 2004, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that he was subjected to disability discrimination when he was denied an appointment to a Junior Officer position with the Foreign Service.  After an investigation, the Agency issued a final decision finding no discrimination, and Complainant appealed.  In our prior decision, we found the Agency discriminated against him when it failed to grant him a medical clearance based on its “worldwide availability” requirement.  Bitsas v. U.S. Department of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120051657 (Sept. 30, 2009).  As relief, we ordered the Agency to retroactively offer Complainant a Junior Officer position, and to tender back pay and promotions from the date Complainant would have encumbered his position, absent discrimination, until the date he either enters on duty or is denied a medical or security clearance.  We further ordered the Agency to undertake a supplemental investigation into complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages, provide training, consider taking disciplinary action, and post a notice of the finding of discrimination.  Id.

Pursuant to our order, on November 10, 2009, the Agency sent Complainant a Conditional Offer of Appointment to a Junior Officer position, contingent on the satisfactory completion of the security, medical, and suitability clearance processes.  On January 1, 2010, Complainant received a Class 1 Medical Clearance.  However, on July 16, 2010, the Agency’s Final Review Panel (FRP) terminated Complainant’s candidacy based on suitability grounds.

The FRP concluded that, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 3328, Complainant was ineligible for federal Executive branch employment because he failed to register with the Selective Service System (SSS).  The Panel also concluded that there were several instances of misconduct in Complainant’s prior employment which rendered him ineligible for employment with the Foreign Service.  Complainant appealed this decision, but on December 8, 2010, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) determined that Complainant’s failure to register with the SSS was knowing and/or willful; thus, he was ineligible for appointment to an Executive Agency.  Complainant sought a request for reconsideration with the OPM, which was denied.

In the meantime, Complainant sent the Agency information regarding his entitlement to compensatory damages.  On April 11, 2012, the Agency issued a final decision denying compensatory damages, reasoning that the FRP’s suitability finding would have resulted in the withdrawal of his conditional offer of employment, even if he had been granted a medical clearance for worldwide availability.  Accordingly, the Agency determined complainant was not entitled to any compensatory damages.
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The Agency is ordered to take the following remedial action:

1. The Agency shall determine the appropriate amount of back pay, with interest, and other benefits due Complainant, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.501, no later than one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days after the date this decision becomes final.  The back pay period shall be from September 23, 2003 until the date the Agency discovered Complainant had not registered with the SSS, approximately July 16, 2010.  The Complainant shall cooperate in the Agency’s efforts to compute the amount of back pay and benefits due, and shall provide all relevant information requested by the Agency.  If there is a dispute regarding the exact amount of back pay and/or benefits, the Agency shall issue a check to the Complainant for the undisputed amount within sixty (60) calendar days of the date the Agency determines the amount it believes to be due.  The Complainant may petition for enforcement or clarification of the amount in dispute.  The petition for clarification or enforcement must be filed with the Compliance Officer, at the address referenced in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”

2. Within one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days, the Agency shall undertake a supplemental investigation to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages under Title VII. The Agency shall give Complainant notice of his right to submit objective evidence (pursuant to the guidance given in Carle v. Department of the Navy, EEOC Appeal No. 01922369 (January 5, 1993)) and request objective evidence from Complainant in support of his request for compensatory damages within forty-five (45) calendar days of the date Complainant receives the Agency’s notice.  No later than ninety (90) calendar days after the date that this decision becomes final, the Agency shall issue a final Agency decision addressing the issue of compensatory damages.  The final decision shall contain appeal rights to the Commission. The Agency shall submit a copy of the final decision to the Compliance Officer at the address set forth below.

3. The Agency shall pay Complainant’s reasonable attorney fees in accordance with the paragraph below.

4. The Agency is further directed to submit a report of compliance, as provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”  The report shall include supporting documentation of the Agency’s calculation of back pay and other benefits due Complainant, including evidence that the corrective action has been implemented.

See why. Read Harvey D. v. Department of State, EEOC Appeal No.0120122385 (Oct. 22, 2015) http://www.eeoc.gov/decisions/0120122385.txt

Under current law, all male U.S. citizens between 18–25 years are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Non-U.S.-citizen males between the ages of 18 and 25 (inclusive) living in the United States must also register. See the Who Must Register chart here.

 

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