EEOC Case: Investigators Find False Accusations, Agency Refuses to Help Clear His Name

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

This is an EEOC case about a complainant who was the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy.  The name used here is a pseudonym as in eeoc practice but the details are similar to the ugly, nasty case a few years back that made the news.  Most notable lesson here about the Privacy Act, and the limits of  Diplomatic Security’s willingness to clear somebody’s name when needed.

Via eeoc.gov

Believing that the Agency subjected him to unlawful discrimination, Complainant filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) claim with the Agency. On November 26, 2013, Complainant and the Agency entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the matter. This decision on the breached settlement was issued in November 2016. Excerpt below:

Background:

The record reflects that a subordinate of Complainant (Subordinate 1), who resigned in May 2012, and to a lesser extent her spouse made highly charged allegations against Complainant, i.e., entertaining prostitutes, escorts, and married women in his residence during work hours, engaging in fraud or mismanagement of funds, permitting his driver to be fired so his job could go to someone else and as a form of retaliation, throwing metal umbrella pots from his sixth floor residence down to the parking lot below and then jumping on and crushing them, and this was captured on CCTV and in front of the security guards, and so forth. By April 2013, the U.S. Embassy Rome, in consultation with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Special Investigation Division initiated an investigation. The investigation was conducted by two Special Agents with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and involved 20 individual interviews with Consulate Staff. It concluded that the accusation that Complainant threw metal pots was “false,” and the three other allegations specified above were completely false. The investigation found that the remaining allegations were variously false, completely false, unsubstantiated, not supported by evidence, and one, in essence, grossly exaggerated.

On June 16, 2013, the New York Post and Fox News published highly negative stories about Complainant, writing for example that Subordinate 1, a whistleblower, said Complainant had trysts with hookers, and this was the latest black eye for the scandal-ridden State Department. On June 17, 2013, Complainant was copied on an Agency email chain regarding the New York Post reporting Subordinate 1’s allegation that Complainant insisted a staffer have an abortion and the staffer said she got her “tubes tied” at his instruction. It was indicated in the email chain that the staffer said the article was “all lies” and felt strongly that she should respond to the article by saying something. The above DCM advised that it would be much better for the staffer not to say anything for now – that this could all blow over quickly.

In his EEO claim, according to Complainant, he alleged discrimination when he was denied assignments in line with his experience, ability, and professional background, the DCM knew that allegations against him by Subordinate 1, her spouse and two others were false and failed to take appropriate action, and management held him accountable for the false accusations and denied him support.

By letters to the Agency dated February 1, 2016 and May 10, 2016, Complainant alleged that the Agency misled him into entering into the settlement agreement and breached it. Specifically, he alleged that when he signed the settlement agreement, the Agency knew Subordinate 1’s EEO complaint had been investigated with a finding of no wrongdoing on his part, that she would likely continue to litigate in federal court, and he could have used the EEO decision to exonerate himself. Complainant wrote that after the settlement agreement, Subordinate 1 continued to attack him in the press, with articles appearing in prominent news outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Post. He pointed to a proposed June 2013 Agency press release recounting that the Diplomatic Security Service investigated the allegations and found no violations of U.S. or Italian law, and contended that had the press release been issued this would have rebutted the articles or they would not have been published. He argues that the Agency allowed employees and family members to utilize the EEO process to raise false allegations against him despite the Agency’s conclusion that they were baseless, and in failing to clear his name breached the settlement agreement and made it ineffective and unenforceable.

The Agency found that it complied with the settlement agreement. Regarding term 9.d, the Agency found that Complainant’s submittal of proposed changes to his 2012 EER was a condition precedent to the former DCM reviewing them and considering making changes, and Complainant admitted he did not submit proposed changes because he was too disheartened and depressed. On appeal, Complainant, who is represented by counsel, confirms this, but adds another reason was that he lacked the necessary facts, particularly the EEO decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint.

Regarding term 9.g, the Agency recounted that Complainant stated it was breached because (1) the Agency simply wrote a one page memorandum simply listing the allegations against him and stating they were found to be unsubstantiated rather than discussing things in context to show how his accusers seized on scandal to defame him and hinder his career, (2) the memorandum was only based on facts until October 2013, failing to fulfill its purpose of summarizing the Diplomatic Security investigation,3 and (3) the Agency, in response to his inquiries, could not give him a clear answer on whether he could share the memorandum with family, colleagues, friends, and his Italian attorney, preventing him from doing so. On appeal, Complainant confirms that he raised reasons (1) and (3). He argues that not being able to share the memorandum makes it useless and his reason for entering into settlement negotiations was to restore his reputation.

In determining that it complied with term 9.g, the Agency found that it met its obligation to provide a summary of the investigation, and that there is no evidence the parties agreed to any specific format in or upon the use of the memorandum.

In determining that it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith, the Agency found that Complainant cited no authority for the proposition that it was obligated to divulge the outcome of Subordinate 1’s EEO case, and there was no evidence it negotiated in bad faith.

On appeal, Complainant adds that he would not have bargained for a memorandum summarizing the results of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s investigation had he known he could not use it, this is common sense, and the Agency’s failure to authorize its use is a breach of the settlement agreement. Complainant argues that the Agency breached the settlement agreement by failing to live up to the spirit of the document. He argues that the Agency’s failure, upon his request, to allow the issuance of the proposed press release in the Agency’s name violates the settlement agreement.

In opposition to the appeal, the Agency argues that disclosing Subordinate 1’s employment discrimination investigation would violate privacy right protected information, and it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith.

Decision

In June 2013, after the New York Post reported highly charged accusations by Subordinate 1 about the way Complainant treated a staffer, an Agency email string on which Complainant was copied showed the staffer wanted to say something rebutting what was reported, but the former DCM opined it would be much better if the staffer did not say anything now – this could blow over quickly. Further, Complainant strongly suggests that he was aware the Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigation was favorable and he certainly knew the Agency had done nothing to publically clear his name. While Complainant wanted the Agency to publically clear his name, he agreed to a settlement agreement that did not have a term explicitly doing this. Instead, the Agency agreed to issue to a summary of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to Complainant – not the public.

Complainant’s contention that the Agency bargained for the settlement agreement in bad faith is not persuasive. First, as argued by the Agency, it had reason to believe the administrative decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint was protected by the Privacy Act, since administrative EEO records are generally within the scope of the Act. Further, Complainant has not shown he did not already have sufficient information to make a fair bargain when negotiating the settlement agreement.

The FAD is AFFIRMED.

Read the full case here via eeoc.gov.

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Dear Secretary Tillerson: What Are You Going to Do About This? #16Days

Posted: 3:40 am ET
 

 

A new mail in our inbox:

“In reference to a blog posting dated August 8th, you reported on a woman who was raped and stalked by a supervisory special agent.  This employee is still employed and he has struck again.  Why is he still employed yet still committing offenses?”

The new case includes a petition for temporary restraining order/injunction filed on November 13, 2017. It appears that the petitioner in this case did testify but the injunction hearing is scheduled for April 2018.

Back in August, we blogged about an individual who asserted that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory Diplomatic Security agent assigned to one of Diplomatic Security’s eight field locations in the United States:

She said that was interviewed by Diplomatic Security’s  Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) in November 2014. She also said that she provided a Victim Impact Statement to DS/OSI in December 2015. The investigation reportedly concluded in February 2016 with no disciplinary action. She informed us that during one telephonic conversations with a Supervisory Special Agent, she felt pressured to say that “I was pleased with the DoS handling of this case.” She presumed that the call was recorded and refused to say it.  She cited another case that was reported around the same time her case was investigated in 2014.  She believed that there were multiple police reports for the employee involving different women for similar complaints.

We’ve asked the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for comments about this case, and whether this was reported to the Office of Inspector General. To-date, we have not received an acknowledgment to our inquiry nor a response to our questions despite ample time to do so.

Read more: A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?

We are aware of at least three different incidents allegedly perpetrated by the same individual who has law enforcement authority. One of these three identifies herself as “Victim #4”.

Per Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017:

1 FAM 053.2-6  Required Reporting of Allegations to the OIG (CT:ORG-411;   04-13-2017)

a. Effective December 16, 2016, section 209(c)(6) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as added by section 203 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017 (22 U.S.C. 3929(c)(6)), provides:

REQUIRED REPORTING OF ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS AND INSPECTOR GENERAL AUTHORITY.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The head of a bureau, post, or other office of the Department of State (in this paragraph referred to as a ‘Department entity’) shall submit to the Inspector General a report of any allegation of—

(i) waste, fraud, or abuse in a Department program or operation;

(ii) criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS–1, GS–15, or GM–15 level or higher;

(iii) criminal misconduct on the part of a Department employee; and

(iv) serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee who is authorized to carry a weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches, such as conduct that, if proved, would constitute perjury or material dishonesty, warrant suspension as discipline for a first offense, or result in loss of law enforcement authority.

(B) DEADLINE.—The head of a Department entity shall submit to the Inspector General a report of an allegation described in subparagraph (A) not later than 5 business days after the date on which the head of such Department entity is made aware of such allegation.

b. Any allegation meeting the criteria reflected in the statute should immediately be brought to the attention of the relevant head of a bureau, post, or bureau-level office. (Bureau-level offices are entities on the Department’s organizational chart as revised from time to time, see Department Organizational Chart.)

c.  The first report by any Department entity should cover the period beginning December 16, 2016 (the day the law went into effect), and ending not later than five business days before the date of that report. Thereafter, any additional reportable information is due not later than the five-business day deadline stated in the statute. 

See more: @StateDept Now Required to Report Allegations and Investigations to OIG Within 5 Days

The case of the individual in the August blogpost occurred before the Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017 became law. But this latest case was filed on November 13, 2017.

We’ve asked Diplomatic Security for comment but despite ample time to do so, we only hear radio silence.

NADA

We’ve inquired from State/OIG if DS officially reported this case to them, and we got the following response:

“In response to your inquiry, it is best addressed by the Department.”

What the what?! So we end up asking our dear friends at the State Department’s Public Affairs shop:

We recently received information that the same individual is now alleged to have committed similar offenses in another state. This is not the first nor the second allegation. Since DS never acknowledged nor responded to our request for comment, and State/OIG told us we should direct this question to you, we’re asking if you would care to make a comment. What is the State Department’s response to this case involving an individual, a supervisory DS agent with multiple allegations who remains a member of the agency’s law enforcement arm?

Apparently, our dear friends are still not talking to us.  As of this writing we have not received any acknowledgment or any response to our inquiry.  Should we presume from this silence that the State Department hope that we just get tired of asking about this case and go away?

Anyone care that there is potentially a serial offender here?

In 2014, a woman (identified herself as Victim #4) reported that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory agent of Diplomatic Security.

In April 2015, a case was filed for Domestic Abuse-Temp Rest Order against the same person.  The case was closed. Court record says “The court did not issue an injunction against the respondent in this case. The reasons were stated on the record and may be explained in the final order. No adverse inference should be drawn against the respondent when an injunction is denied or a case dismissed. The fact that a petition was originally filed means nothing.” 

On November 6, 2017, another case for “Harassment Restraining Order” was registered against the same individual and closed. The court sealed the name of the complainant. The court record says  “The court did not issue an injunction against the respondent in this case. The reasons were stated on the record and may be explained in the final order. No adverse inference should be drawn against the respondent when an injunction is denied or a case dismissed. The fact that a petition was originally filed means nothing.”

On November 13, 2017, a “Domestic Abuse-Temp Rest Order” was filed against the same individual, and this case is scheduled for an injunction hearing on April 30, 2018.

2014. 2015. 2017.

A source speaking on background explained to us that once Diplomatic Security completes the investigation, its Office of Special Investigations (OSI) sends the case report to the Bureau of Human Resources Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division, Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER/CSD).  This office is under the responsibility of the Director General of the Foreign Service, or in the absence of a Senate-confirmed appointee, under the authority of Acting DGHR William E. Todd, who reports to the Under Secretary for Management (currently vacant), who in turn reports to the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

“The most concerning cases can take years and remember, the employee is waiting from CSD to hear proposed discipline. Almost everybody appeals that initial decision. Then they appeal the next decision to the FSGB which, not infrequently, dismisses cases or reduces disciplinary action for timeliness. Each step in the process can take multiple years and DS can’t do anything other than remove law enforcement authority when appropriate.”

This one via State/OIG (ISP-I-15-04):

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OIG, and/or the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) may initially investigate misconduct involving both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, depending on the nature of the allegation. If an investigation suggests a possible disciplinary issue, the case is forwarded to the Bureau of Human Resources Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division, Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER/CSD). Similarly, when a bureau without delegated disciplinary authority or post management determines that misconduct by an employee warrants more than admonishment, they forward documentation to HR/ER/CSD for consideration of disciplinary action. HR/ER/CSD, which has eight staff members, receives about 240 referrals per year.

“Preponderant Evidence” vs “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” Standard via State/OIG:

HR/ER/CSD and bureaus with delegated disciplinary authority are responsible for determining whether disciplinary action is warranted and for developing disciplinary proposals.

The “preponderant evidence” standard is used rather than the higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal cases.4 The Department is additionally required to establish a nexus between the disciplinary action and the promotion of the efficiency of the service.5 For both Civil Service and Foreign Service disciplinary cases, a proposed penalty is based on the review of similar past discipline cases and the application of the Douglas Factors…”

The Office of the Legal Adviser, Employment Law (L/EMP), and DGHR’s Grievance Staff, along with the Office of Medical Services, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OIG, DGHR’s Office of Career Development and Assignments, and domestic bureaus or overseas posts, as necessary, cooperate in developing a factual basis for a disciplinary case. HR/ER/CSD and L/EMP clear proposed disciplinary actions from the bureaus with delegated disciplinary authority that involve suspension, termination, or reduction in pay grade for Civil Service employees.

In the 2014 State/OIG report, HR/ER/CSD staff members acknowledge that timeliness is one of their primary challenges and that the case specialists are consistently unable to meet their performance target of 30 days from receipt of a complete referral package to proposal finalization. “The OIG team’s analysis of 891 discipline cases between 2010 and May 2014, for which timeliness data could be extracted from the GADTRK database, revealed that the average time from case receipt to decision letter was 114 days.”

Our source speaking on background elaborated that the reason State/DS has an adverse action list is because it takes so long for the Department to discipline employees, Diplomatic Security “needed a tracking mechanism.” (see Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s “Naughty List” — What’s That All About?).

But. 2014. 2015. 2017.

How many is too many?

How long is too long?

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U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee

Posted: 4:15 am ET
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We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.”  The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.

Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.”  On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.

Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?

In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.

Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.

But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?

Dual Turk-American Citizens

There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.

Okay — So Why the Why?

Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt,  or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of  the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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Whistleblower in @StateDept “CIVPOL” Contract Gets $875K in False Claims Act Settlement

Posted: 12:30 am ET
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On September 13, USDOJ announced that Pacific Architects and Engineers, LLC has agreed to pay $5 million in False Claims Act allegations related to “PAE’s Civilian Police “CIVPOL” contract in support of State Department missions in Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, South Sudan, and elsewhere. The announcement includes a note that “The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.” It also adds that the $5 million settlement also resolves a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by former PAE manager Robert J. Palombo under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act and that Mr. Palombo will receive $875,000 as his share of the government’s recovery.

Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

WASHINGTON – Pacific Architects and Engineers, LLC (“PAE”) has agreed to pay the United States $5 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly failed to follow vetting requirements for personnel working in Afghanistan under a State Department contract for labor services. PAE is a Virginia-based contractor that provides personnel and other support to various federal government agencies.

The settlement was announced today by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State.

The agreement resolves claims relating to PAE’s Civilian Police “CIVPOL” contract in support of State Department missions in Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, South Sudan, and elsewhere.  In 2007, the State Department awarded PAE a task order under the CIVPOL contract to provide training and mentoring personnel to counter-narcotics and drug interdiction police and investigators in Afghanistan. The task order required PAE to conduct extensive background checks on U.S. personnel that were in high risk or armed positions, including independently developed reference checks. For local, national, and third party national employees working on the task order, PAE was obligated to submit their names to the State Department’s Regional Security Office in Afghanistan for additional security clearance. According to the government’s evidence, PAE was aware of these contractual requirements but did not comply with them for extended periods. The United States asserts that invoices PAE submitted to the State Department for the labor services of improperly vetted personnel were false.

“This settlement affirms our commitment to hold government contractors accountable for properly screening employees, particularly those who work alongside our government’s personnel in fragile areas of the world,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “In this particular matter, it is alleged that PAE failed to conduct the appropriate vetting for personnel working in Afghanistan under a State Department contract for labor services for which invoices were later submitted. Our Office will continue to investigate and seek appropriate recoveries from contractors who do not meet their obligations.”

“The OIG special agents and staff assigned to this case should be commended for their excellent investigative work,” said Inspector General Linick. “Rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse is at the heart of any OIG mission, as is ensuring that contractors are accountable for every taxpayer dollar they receive.”

The settlement also resolves a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by former PAE manager Robert J. Palombo under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens may bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery obtained by the government. Mr. Palombo will receive $875,000 as his share of the government’s recovery. The case is captioned United States ex rel. Robert J. Palombo v. PAE, Inc., et al. 

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

This settlement was the result of an investigation into Mr. Palombo’s allegations by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of State, Office of Inspector General.

The full statement is available here.

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Three Fraudsters Sentenced For @StateDept Exchange Visitor Program Scheme

Posted: 1:46 am ET
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Via USDOJ: Three Sentenced for Orchestrating a Nationwide Exchange Visitor Program Fraud Scheme

Acting United States Attorney Steve Butler of the Southern District of Alabama, U.S. Department of State Inspector General Steve A. Linick, and Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer, Jr. of the New Orleans Field Office announce that lead defendant David Marzano of Zephyr Cove, Nevada, has been sentenced to 26 months in federal prison.  His prison sentence will be followed by 3 years of supervised release.  Marzano was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $815,570.00.  Marzano’s co-defendants, Laura Blair also of Zephyr Cove and Janece Burke of Deerfield, Illinois, were each sentenced to 5 years of probation.   The court order Blair to pay $815,570.00, and Burke to pay $271,856.67 in restitution.

In 2002, David Marzano pled guilty in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia to a conspiracy involving the unlawful smuggling of aliens.  The conviction stemmed from a staffing agency Marzano operated in the Atlanta area that utilized an illegal alien workforce.   For that offense, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

After getting out of prison, Marzano began using the aliases “Paul Cohen” and “David Cole,” and started a series of new staffing agencies and shell companies based in Chicago, Illinois.  At the time of his arrest Marzano was the CEO of Bullseye Jobs and the former Director of the predecessor company, Hospitality & Catering Management Services.  Marzano’s adult daughter Janece Burke, a.k.a., “Paula Delaney,” “Paula Lawton,” “Jane Moore,” and “Danielle Young,” was the President of Bullseye, and Marzano’s wife Laura Blair, a.k.a., “Jean Cox,” was the company’s Marketing Director.  Together, and with the assistance of others, these defendants engaged in a massive, nationwide fraud scheme designed to unlawfully profit from U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Programs.

As was set out in the Indictment, in 1961, Congress passed the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961.  The purpose of the Act was to increase mutual understanding between people in the United States and people from other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges that assist the U.S. Department of State in furthering the foreign policy objectives of the United States.

These educational and cultural exchanges are administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program and governed by specific regulations set out in 22 C.F.R. Part 62.  Annually, more than 275,000 foreign nationals from all over the world enter the United States through one of the Exchange Visitor Programs.  These programs include the Summer Work & Travel Program (“SWT Program”) and the Intern & Training Program (“I/T Program”).

Unlike the SWT Program, the I/T Program is limited to training, and is not an employment program.  As such, regulations specifically prohibit employers from using I/T Program participants as substitutes for ordinary employment or work purposes.  Furthermore, staffing agencies are expressly prohibited from being involved in the I/T Program.

Since the defendants were operating several staffing agencies, the only way to get organizations to sponsor I/T Program participants of the defendants’ companies was to fraudulently misrepresent the true nature of their businesses.   This was primarily done via e-mail between the defendants — who operated under numerous aliases— and sponsor organizations.  In addition, the defendants created various shell companies with names that closely resembled well-known corporations.  One such shell company was Crowne Partnership Group, which, despite representations made by the defendants, had no association with Crowne Plaza Hotels.

As a result of their fraud scheme, more than 200 foreign nationals came to the United States believing that they would be part of the Department of State’s I/T Program.  As the Court heard from victims who testified at the hearing or who submitted victim impact letters, the thousands of dollars necessary to enroll in the program and travel to the United States was a major hardship for many of the foreign victims.  They believed the investment was worth it as the training received through the I/T Program would allow them to return to their home country with much better prospects for being hired as an upper-level executive in foreign-based U.S. companies.  However, rather than receiving the high-level managerial training they expected, the victims were pawned off as cheap foreign labor to restaurants, hotels, and theme parks.  The victims were also required to live in housing arranged by the defendants’ companies.  The businesses where the victims worked paid Marzano directly, but the victims only received a small portion of the wages they earned.

On May 12, 2015, David Marzano and Laura Blair were arrested at Tampa International Airport.  Janece Burke was arrested that same morning in Deerfield, Illinois.  Contemporaneous with the arrests, multiple search warrants were executed in Florida and Nevada.

On June 22, 2015, Janece Burke pled guilty to conspiring with Marzano and Blair to commit wire and mail fraud.  Thereafter, Burke began cooperating with the United States.  Laura Blair pled guilty to the conspiracy charge on April 4, 2016.  That same day, David Marzano pled guilty to the conspiracy charge, as well as a charge for substantive wire fraud, and began cooperating with the United States as well.  The extensive cooperation by both Burke and Marzano has led to various administrative and criminal actions related to other fraud schemes within the I/T Program and other State Department initiatives.

Acting United States Attorney Steve Butler lauded the extensive partnership between the Department of State Office of Inspector General and the Mobile Office of Homeland Security Investigations in shutting down this major fraud scheme.  “The defendants falsely and fraudulently misrepresented the nature of their businesses, which caused real harm to over two hundred victims across the world,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Butler.  “These were vulnerable victims who believed they were coming to the United States to receive high-level training, but who were unfortunately subject to a cruel bait-and-switch.  My office will continue to aggressively prosecute those who seek to defraud vulnerable victims.”

Inspector General Steve A. Linick commended the work of those involved in investigating the case from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State. “We are proud to have played a key role in investigating and bringing to justice those who exploit U.S. Department of State programs, such as these, for personal gain.”

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Ray Parmer stated, “Mail and wire fraud can have a devastating impact on victims.  In this case, people expected to come to this country legally and get training and experience.  However, the greed of these three individuals turned trusting people into cheap foreign labor.  HSI will continue to work with our partner law enforcement agencies to ensure we bring those guilty of committing these crimes to justice.”  The New Orleans Field Office, run by Special Agent in Charge Parmer, is responsible for criminal investigations in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

This matter was jointly investigated by the U.S. Department of State – Office of Inspector General and HSI-Mobile.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Bodnar of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.

 

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Former U.S. Naval Attaché to US Embassy Manila Michael Brooks Sentenced in Navy Scandal

Posted: 2:35 am ET
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On June 16, 2017, USDOJ announced that a former U.S. Naval Attaché and Military Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador in the Philippines was sentenced for taking bribes in a massive U.S. Navy corruption scandal.

A Retired U.S. Navy Captain was sentenced in federal court today to 41 months in prison for his role in a massive bribery and fraud scheme involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his firm, Singapore-based, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson Southern District of California, Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Director Andrew Traver of the NCIS made the announcement.

In addition to the 41-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Michael Brooks, 59, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, to pay a $41,000 fine and $31,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Brooks pleaded guilty in November 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Brooks, who served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, from 2006 to 2008, has admitted accepting bribes of travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes. In return, Brooks admitted that he used his power and influence to benefit GDMA and Francis, including by securing quarterly clearances for GDMA vessels, which allowed GDMA vessels to transit into and out of the Philippines under the diplomatic imprimatur of the U.S. Embassy. Neither GDMA nor any other defense contractor has ever been granted such unfettered clearances.

Brooks admitted that he also allowed Francis to ghostwrite official U.S. Navy documents and correspondence, which Brooks submitted as his own. For example, Brooks admitted allowing GDMA to complete its own contractor performance evaluations. A November 2007 evaluation, drafted by GDMA and submitted by Brooks, described the company’s performance as “phenomenal,” “unsurpassed,” “exceptional” and “world class.” Brooks also admitted providing Francis with sensitive, internal U.S. Navy information, including U.S. Navy ship schedules and billing information belonging to a GDMA competitor, at times using a private Yahoo! e-mail account to mask his illicit acts.

Twenty-one current and former Navy officials have been charged so far in the fraud and bribery investigation; 10 have pleaded guilty and 10 cases are pending. In addition, five GDMA executives and GDMA the corporation have pleaded guilty.

NCIS, DCIS and DCAA are conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California and Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tip line at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DOD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline, or call (800) 424-9098.

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That time when a real property lease in Iraq jumped from $124,000/mo to $665,000/mo

Posted: 2:25 am ET
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And no one noticed for about five months?

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A former government contractor was sentenced today to four years in prison for his role in a government contract kickback scheme that caused a loss of more than $3.4 million to the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Wesley Aaron Struble, 49, a U.S. citizen of Batangas, Philippines, engaged in a conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act in 2011 and 2012 while employed in Iraq as a government contractor. Initially employed by a business identified in court documents as Company B, Struble learned that another business, identified in court documents as Company A, was seeking a lease of real property for use related to a U.S. Department of State contract. Struble knew that Company B was paying approximately $124,000 per month to a third business, identified in court documents as Company C, for a lease of real property. According to court documents, Struble became a manager for Company A, and together with another manager for Company A, engaged in a conspiracy with associates of Company C to make the lease of property available to Company A at an inflated rate of $665,000 per month.

Court documents explained that Struble and the other manager of Company A influenced Company A to lease the property at the inflated rate and in return received at least $390,000 in cash kickback payments from associates of Company C. Struble then concealed cash in packages sent back to family members in the United States, including hiding cash inside stereo speakers. Struble also directed that cash be deposited in bank accounts in a manner designed to avoid detection. The U.S. Department of State, which ultimately paid the lease of real property between Company A and Company C, suffered a loss of approximately $3.4 million. In addition to Struble’s prison sentence, he was also ordered to pay approximately $3.4 million in restitution.

Two of Struble’s co-conspirators—Jose Rivera and Emil Popescu—were charged by indictment on March 30, for their roles in the conspiracy. According to court documents, Jose Rivera pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a jury trial on August 7. The United States is seeking Emil Popescu’s extradition from Romania.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State; and Andrew W. Vale, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian D. Harrison and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly R. Pedersen prosecuted 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. 1:17-cr-44 and 1:17-cr-052.

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Court on FSGB tenure denial case: “ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally”

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Posted: 1:50 am ET
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The 2016 Annual report of the Foreign Service Grievance Board only mentions the Aragon v. Tillerson case in passing as follows:

Daniel P. Aragon, a former Foreign Service career candidate at the Department of State, filed an appeal on January 29, 2016, with the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Board’s denial of his appeal in FSGB Case No. 2014-034. Mr. Aragon had contested two EERs and the withholding of tenure and involuntary separation that flowed from those EERs.

This case was filed in 2016. Per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court substituted as defendant the current Secretary of State,Rex Tillerson, for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has harsh words for the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on this specific case:

The plaintiff, the Foreign Service, and American taxpayers have invested heavily in the plaintiff’s career as a Foreign Service officer, and the FSGB does a disservice when it renders a decision that ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally the underlying facts to its ultimate conclusion. This is what the FSGB did in finding that the May and November 2013 EERs were not falsely prejudicial. For these reasons, the FSGB’s decision is vacated with respect to its conclusion that these EERs were not falsely prejudicial, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.21

Quick summary of the case:

The plaintiff, Daniel Aragon, served as an entry-level Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State for five years, until he was denied tenure and involuntarily separated in 2014. The reason for the tenure denial arose during the plaintiff’s second overseas assignment, when the plaintiff was responsible for supervising an employee, whose undisputed pattern of insubordination, tardiness, abuse of leave policies and performance issues would, in many work environments, warrant termination of employment. Instead, the plaintiff’s management efforts, which were ultimately successful, to bring this employee into compliance with basic workplace rules, has led to the plaintiff’s own termination from a job he “love[s].” AR at 354.1

The plaintiff filed the instant action against the Secretary of State, in the Secretary’s official capacity, after the State Department denied his grievance contesting the performance evaluations on which the tenure denial was predicated, and the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the State Department’s decision.2 Alleging that the FSGB’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the plaintiff seeks, inter alia, an order directing the State Department to remove from his personnel file the two performance evaluations on which the denial of tenure was predicated, Compl., Relief ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; an order rescinding the tenure decisions predicated on those evaluations, id.; an order directing the State Department to reinstate the plaintiff retroactively, with back pay and benefits, id. ¶ 4; and an order directing the State Department to place the plaintiff in the same promotional class he would be in had he received tenure in the winter of 2013, id. ¶ 5. Pending before the Court are the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, see generally Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s MSJ”), ECF No. 12, and the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment, see generally Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.’ MSJ”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set out below, the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings.

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

[T]he record shows that the CPS [cultural program specialist FSN] had an “apparent pattern” of abusing sick leave and would disappear from work for extended periods of time. Id. at 42; see also id. at 335 (describing the manner in which the CPS “took sick leave immediately before or after a block of annual leave[, which] suggest[ed] that she was abusing sick leave in order to augment her annual leave”). This apparently lax office culture was extant before the plaintiff’s arrival, leaving him with the task of changing that culture to ensure that employees, such as the CPS, on the U.S. Government payroll complied with the most basic work performance rules of coming to work on time and providing notice of absences.”

Lip service to evidence

The FSGB paid this evidence lip service in the section of its decision summarizing the plaintiff’s claims, see id. at 405, but the Board did not refer to it, let alone grapple with it, in deciding that the AFI concerning the counseling session was not falsely prejudicial for completely omitting any reference to the events giving rise to the counseling session or the context, in which even before the plaintiff’s arrival, the Dubai office had such deficient management that the CPS was able to develop and engage in a pattern of poor work behavior.

Fails to connect rationally …

That prior agency management in Dubai allowed such poor work habits to persist likely made the plaintiff’s effort to enforce the most basic workplace rules more difficult and makes it all the more impressive that the plaintiff was, apparently, ultimately successful in reining in the CPS’s behavior. See, e.g., AR at 42 (noting that after the plaintiff spoke with the CPS about her “apparent pattern of abusing sick leave, . . . there were no further incidents of suspected leave abuse during the rating period”). As the FSGB itself has noted, a supervisor will “almost inevitabl[y]” have “a difficult relationship” with an employee when the supervisor “is trying to effect changes” in the employee’s behavior. FSGB Op. 2006-052 at 13.

Read in full below:

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Diplomatic Security Help Return Fugitive Involved in Stealing Identities of Disabled Children

Posted: 2:05 am ET
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In June 2014, USDOJ indicted six people in an identity theft and tax fraud scheme in which the identities of disabled children and foster care children were stolen.  The indictment charges Ahmed Kamara, 38, and Ibrahim Kamara, 48, both of Yeadon, PA, Musa Turay, 41, and Foday Mansaray, 38, both of Darby, PA, Gebah Kamara, 46, of Sharon Hill, PA, and Dauda Koroma, 43, of Philadelphia, PA, with conspiracy, aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and filing false individual income tax returns.

Defendants Ahmed Kamara, Musa Turay, Ibrahim Kamara, Dauda Koroma, and Foday Mansaray worked as tax preparers at Medmans Financial Services, a tax preparation business located in South West Philadelphia. According to the indictment, Ahmed Kamara, Musa Turay, Ibrahim Kamara, Dauda Koroma, and Foday Mansaray defrauded the Internal Revenue Service by repeatedly falsifying information on tax returns. The indictment alleges that Gebah Kamara, then a social worker at Catholic Social Services, sold the defendant tax preparers the names and Social Security numbers of foster children for the purpose of creating fraudulent dependents on client tax returns. By including the false dependents, the tax preparers falsely claimed a number of credits and exemptions for their clients, which generated large fraudulent refunds, some in excess of $9,000. The tax preparer defendants charged clients up to $800 to fraudulently add a dependent on their income tax return.

If convicted, each of the defendants faces a mandatory two year prison term for aggravated identity theft consecutive to the following maximum possible sentences: Ahmed Kamara – 55 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.75 million fine, and a $1,300 special assessment; Musa Turay – 61 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.95 million fine, and a $1,500 special assessment; Gebah Kamara – 43 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.35 million fine, and a $900 special assessment; Ibrahim Kamara – 52 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.65 million fine, and a $1,200 special assessment; Dauda Koroma – 52 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.65 million fine, and a $1,200 special assessment; Foday Mansaray – 43 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.35 million fine, and a $900 special assessment.

Musa Turay, a U.S. citizen who was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone was one of those charged in 2014.  Diplomatic Security’s Criminal Investigative Liaison tracked Turay to Sierra Leone and alerted Sean Nedd, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown. Below via State/DS:

Freetown, Sierra Leone, did not turn out to be a refuge for Musa Benson Turay. Turay, a U.S. citizen, fled to his place of birth, Freetown, after the United States indicted him in June 2014 for participating in a $43 million tax fraud scheme that involved stealing identities of disabled children and youth in foster care.

But Turay could not escape DSS’ global reach. The DSS Criminal Investigative Liaison branch tracked Turay to Sierra Leone and alerted Sean Nedd, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, that Turay was using a local cell phone number. Nedd notified the local police, who put a trace on the phone, allowing Sierra Leonean investigators to identify Turay’s general vicinity. Using an online ruse, the officials pinpointed his exact location.

On November 3, 2016, local law enforcement officials arrested Turay, and detained him while the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a formal extradition request. Turay fought hard against the request, but lost his appeal on March 9, 2017. The U.S. Marshals, who typically escort fugitives back to the United States, were unable to send deputies to Sierra Leone due to logistical obstacles.

Nedd stepped in to complete the mission. He coordinated with local police, DOJ, U.S. Marshals, Brussels Airlines, and DSS colleagues posted at U.S. embassies in Accra, Ghana, and Brussels, Belgium, to complete the fugitive transfer. Nedd, U.S. Embassy Freetown Assistant RSO Noran Tealakh, and Assistant RSO from Embassy Accra Justin Garofalo boarded the plane and escorted Turay to Brussels. They met the U.S. Marshals in Brussels and transferred Turay to their custody March 21, 2017.

Turay currently awaits trial in the United States for his original tax fraud charge.

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MSPB Precedential Case: The Statutory Definition of a “Widow”

Posted: 2:14 am ET
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This is a precedential case worth noting via the U.S. Merit Service Protection Board:

Petitioner: Amanda E. Becker
Respondent: Office of Personnel Management Tribunal: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Case Number: 2016-1365
MSPB Docket No. CH-0831-15-0280-I-1
Issuance Date: April 7, 2017

Case Report – April 14, 2017

The appellant filed an application with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) seeking survivor benefits under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) based on the Federal service of her late husband. OPM denied her application on the basis of its finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of a “widow” who may receive such benefits, which is defined at 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) as the surviving wife of an employee who was married to the employee for at least 9 months immediately before his death, or who is the mother of children by that marriage. The appellant appealed OPM’s decision, and the administrative judge affirmed. During the proceedings, the administrative judge denied the appellant’s request for discovery regarding instances in which OPM may have waived the 9-month requirement and regarding whether OPM provided her late husband notice regarding the 9-month requirement. The appellant appealed the decision to the court, arguing that 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) was unconstitutional and that the administrative judge improperly denied her discovery requests.

Holdings:

(1) The court found that 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) does not violate the Constitution because there is a rational basis for Congress to use an imprecise set of criteria as a proxy to ensure that the marriage was entered into for reasons other than the desire to shortly acquire benefits.

(2) The court found that the administrative judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the appellant’s discovery requests because: (a) she had no reasonable belief that OPM has previously waived the 9-month requirement and, even if OPM had previously done so, it would still be required to follow the statutory requirements when reviewing the appellant’s application; and (b) there was no dispute that the appellant’s late husband submitted all of the election forms to ensure that she received survivor benefits and, even if he was unfamiliar with the statutory requirements contained in the election forms he signed, such fact would not provide a basis for waiving the requirements.

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