Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Scheme

 

This is a follow-up to the June 2, 2021 post we did — SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO.

On September 20, 2021, the Justice Department announced that May Salehi, a former State Department employee, pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.  See U.S. v. May Salehi.
Below is the USDOJ announcement: Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Scheme

May Salehi Provided Confidential Bidding Information to a Bidder and Received Lucrative Kickback Payments in Return

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Speckhardt, the Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General (“State Department OIG”), and Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York Field Office (“IRS-CI”), announced that MAY SALEHI, a former State Department employee, pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.  SALEHI was a longtime State Department employee who was involved in evaluating bids for critical overseas government construction projects such as U.S. embassies and consulates.  SALEHI gave confidential inside bidding information to a bidder, and received $60,000 in kickback payments in return.  SALEHI surrendered today and pled guilty before United States Magistrate Judge James L. Cott.  SALEHI’s case is assigned to United States District Judge P. Kevin Castel.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As a State Department employee, May Salehi was entrusted to serve the public.  Instead, she abused her position of trust to line her own pockets, as she admitted today.  Salehi revealed, and traded on, confidential information – corrupting the bidding process and receiving lucrative kickbacks in return.  Together with our law enforcement partners, this Office is committed to rooting out corruption.”

State Department OIG Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said: “The State Department OIG is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the Department’s programs and processes.  As government employees, we are entrusted to carry out our responsibilities with integrity and support an equitable process.  May Salehi did just the opposite.  She used her position of public trust to selfishly obtain a personal financial advantage by selling proprietary contracting information for profit.  Today’s plea, the culmination of extensive investigative and prosecutorial efforts, demonstrates that those who violate the public’s trust will be held accountable for their actions.”

IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas Fattorusso said: “May Salehi violated the trust of the American taxpayer by putting her personal financial gain over her responsibilities to safeguard confidential information and government resources. Today’s guilty plea shows IRS-Criminal Investigation will continually work with our law enforcement partners to protect the American taxpayer from this type of abuse.”

According to the allegations in the Information, court filings, and statements made in court:

From 1991 until mid-2021, MAY SALEHI was a State Department employee.  For many years, SALEHI worked as an engineer in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations division (“OBO”), which directs the worldwide overseas building program for the State Department and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.

In 2016, the State Department solicited bids for a multimillion-dollar construction project known as a compound security upgrade to be performed at the U.S. Consulate in Bermuda (the “Bermuda Project”).  The bidding process involved the submission of blind, sealed bids from various bidders.  Six companies submitted sealed bids, one of which was named Montage, Inc. (“Montage”).

SALEHI was involved in the Bermuda Project in several respects.  Among other things, SALEHI served as the Chair of the Technical Evaluation Panel (“TEP”) – a panel of experts that evaluates the technical aspects of bids, including whether they meet the State Department’s structural and security needs.  In connection with the Bermuda Project, the TEP disqualified one bidder, but determined that the other five bids (including Montage’s bid) were technically acceptable.

In September 2016, the State Department’s employees who evaluate the cost of bids gave the remaining five bidders (including Montage) the opportunity to re-bid, if they wished to do so.  Montage had two days to decide whether to submit a re-bid.  During that two-day window, Montage’s principal, Sina Moayedi, spoke with SALEHI by phone and sought confidential inside bidding information about the relationship between Montage’s bid and those of its competitors, which SALEHI supplied.  SALEHI knew that this information was confidential, and that it was unlawful to provide it to a prospective bidder.  After Moayedi received this inside information from SALEHI, Montage immediately increased its bid by $917,820.  In its revised submission to the State Department, Moayedi and Montage lied as to the reason it had increased its bid by nearly $1 million, falsely claiming that it had discovered “an arithmetic error” in its estimates.  Montage was ultimately awarded the Bermuda Project with a revised bid of $6.3 million.

In the months that followed, Moayedi paid SALEHI a total of $60,000 in kickbacks, which he paid in three installments.  In making these kickback payments, Moayedi used intermediaries to obscure the link between him and SALEHI.  To conceal the true purpose of the kickback payments, SALEHI also gave one of the intermediaries a Persian rug.  SALEHI did not report the $60,000 kickback payments on her State Department financial disclosure form.

* * *

SALEHI, 66, of Washington, D.C., pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as SALEHI’s sentence will be determined by Judge Castel.

Sina Moayedi was arrested on May 28, 2021, on three charges contained in a criminal Complaint: wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and bribery of a public official.  The charges against Moayedi are pending.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the State Department OIG, Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and IRS‑CI.  She also thanked Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department.

The Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit is handling this criminal case.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Neff and Louis A. Pellegrino are in charge of the prosecution.

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DOJ: Jury Convicts Foreign Service Officer and Former Spouse for Obtaining U.S. Citizenship by Fraud

 

Via USDOJ/September 13, 2021
Jury Convicts Foreign Service Officer and Former Spouse for Obtaining U.S. Citizenship by Fraud
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal jury convicted a California woman and Russian-born man on Friday on charges of conspiracy and obtaining U.S. citizenship by fraud.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Laura Gallagher, 32, a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, and Andrey Kalugin, 36, originally of Russia, conspired together to obtain lawful permanent residence and U.S. citizenship for Kalugin through his marriage to Gallagher. 
“The jury’s verdict holds these two defendants accountable for orchestrating a scheme to defraud the United States and obtain unlawful citizenship and passports,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Gallagher disregarded her responsibilities to the public as a federal government employee and licensed attorney when she engaged in this fraudulent scheme with Kalugin. Thanks to the dedication of the trial team and our partners at the State Department, these defendants have been brought to justice.”
Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the defendants met in law school in 2013. Kalugin was in the United States on a student visa that was due to expire in July 2015. The defendants married in June 2015 and submitted applications for Kalugin to obtain his “green card.” The defendants moved from California to Virginia in March 2016, but split up soon thereafter. However, they continued with the immigration process.
“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate allegations of crime related to naturalization fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Jessica Moore, Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. “When a Department employee in a position of trust is alleged to have committed a federal felony involving naturalization fraud by exploiting their status, we vigorously investigate claims of corruption.” 
Gallagher, who is also a California-licensed attorney, then prepared for Kalugin an application for 319(b) expeditious naturalization, which is a benefit available to spouses of citizens who are regularly stationed abroad for their employment. The defendants provided materially false responses in the application, including that Kalugin was still in a good-faith marriage and intended to reside with Gallagher abroad and return with her to the United States. Kalugin appeared for an interview on Feb. 5, 2018 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Fairfax, where he repeated the false statements to the adjudicating officer. After USCIS approved the application and he received his citizenship, Kalugin fraudulently obtained U.S. Diplomatic and tourist passports. Shortly thereafter, Gallagher filed for divorce.
Gallagher and Kalugin each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on Feb. 4, 2022. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Kalugin additionally faces mandatory revocation of his U.S. citizenship. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Jessica Moore, Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis, III accepted the verdict.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Raizza K. Ty and Morris R. Parker, Jr. are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:21-cr-43.

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Court Orders @StateDept to “Undertake Good-Faith Efforts” on Diversity Visa Processing by 9/30/21

 

Via travel.state.gov
On September 9, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia preliminarily enjoined the Department of State from applying the November 2020 prioritization policy guidance to diversity visa (“DV”) 2021 applicants and ordered the Department to undertake good-faith efforts to expeditiously process DV applications (including derivative beneficiaries) by September 30, 2021.  The court stated that the Department may not rely on the November 2020 prioritization guidance to “foreclose or prohibit embassy personnel, consular officers, or any administrative processing center (such as the KCC) from processing, reviewing, or adjudicating a 2021 diversity visa or derivative beneficiary application” and clarified that the order “does not affect the prioritization scheme as to any other visa category or in any other respect.”  The court further explained the order “does not prevent any embassy personnel, consular officer, or administrative processing center from prioritizing the processing, adjudication, or issuance of visas based on resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or country conditions.”
In accordance with the order, the Department of State has instructed consular sections to make every effort within their discretion and subject to posts’ resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and country conditions to prioritize the scheduling and adjudication of additional DV-2021 cases by September 30, 2021.  It is important to note that the court did not order the Department to “prioritize DV-2021 applications over other visa applications.”  The court also did not order the Department to prioritize the adjudication of DV-2021 applications of plaintiffs who have sued the Department over the DV-2021 applications of non-plaintiffs.  The court further said that posts do not have to “drop everything and process DV-2021 applications.”
In accordance with the requirements in the Immigration and Nationality Act and applicable regulations, DV cases will continue to be processed in rank order as required by law, and applicants must be documentarily qualified, have paid all requisite application fees, be able to obtain the required medical exam by a panel physician, and demonstrate that they are eligible for a visa before visa issuance.  DV-2021 applicants may be issued a visa through the end of the fiscal year, on or before September 30, 2021.
If a consular section has the capacity to schedule your DV-2021 case, you will receive a notification by email to check the Entrant Status Check site.  Many diversity visa processing posts are getting emails directly from diversity visa applicants.  The Department has instructed posts to respond to those general inquiries about the September 9th Order and DV-2021 processing with the following message:  We are aware of the court order dated September 9, 2021 from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia regarding the 2021 diversity visa (“DV”) program.  In accordance with that order, post is making good-faith efforts to expeditiously process DV applications (including derivative beneficiaries) by September 30, 2021.  We will continue to process DV cases in rank order as required by law, subject to our resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and country conditions.  If post has the capacity to schedule your case, you will receive a notification by email to check the Entrant Status Check site.”
See GOH et al v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE et al

 

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McNeil v.USA: U.S. Passport Rejection For Delinquent Taxpayer Status

 

 

Via DC District Court/Civil Action No. 20-329 (JDB) :
This case has evolved out of a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request that the plaintiff, Robert McNeil, filed with the U.S. Department of State (“State”) seeking documentation substantiating State’s rejection of his passport application based on his apparent delinquent taxpayer status. After both parties moved for summary judgment on a FOIA claim that McNeil filed against State, McNeil requested and obtained several documents from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) responsive to the request at issue in his case against State. Based on those documents, McNeil then amended his complaint with leave of the Court to add the IRS as a defendant and to add claims challenging the IRS’s determination and certification to State that he had “seriously delinquent tax debt.” The Court recently resolved cross-motions for summary judgment on McNeil’s FOIA claim in State’s favor. This ruling left only his claims against the IRS. The Government has now moved to dismiss the remainder of the amended complaint. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant that motion.
Excerpt:

This case concerns State’s denial of McNeil’s passport application pursuant to § 7345 of the Internal Revenue Code. 26 U.S.C. § 7345. That provision governs the “[r]evocation or denial of [a] passport in case of certain tax delinquencies.” Id. Subsection (a) provides that “[i]f the Secretary [of the Treasury] receives certification by the Commissioner of [the IRS] that an individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State” to deny, revoke, or limit the debtor’s passport. Id. § 7345(a). Subsection (b) defines “seriously delinquent tax debt,” and subsection (c) explains how the reversal of a certification might come about. Id. § 7345(b)–(c). Subsection (d) requires the IRS Commissioner to “contemporaneously notify an individual of any certification under subsection (a), or any reversal of certification under subsection (c).” Id. § 7345(d). Subsection (e), which provides McNeil’s cause of action, concerns judicial review of certification and reads in full:

(1)In general. After the Commissioner notifies an individual under subsection (d), the taxpayer may bring a civil action against the United States in a district court of the United States, or against the Commissioner in the Tax Court, to determine whether the certification was erroneous or whether the Commissioner has failed to reverse the certification. For purposes of the preceding sentence, the court first acquiring jurisdiction over such an action shall have sole jurisdiction.

(2) Determination. If the court determines that such certification was erroneous, then the court may order the Secretary [of the Treasury] to notify the Secretary of State that such certification was erroneous.

[…]
Even if McNeil is able to prove that he never received these Notices, though, it would not  mean that the IRS’s certification was erroneous. As the Government observes, § 7345 does not say that a flawed or failed notice renders a certification erroneous. Reply at 3–4. Subsections (a) and (b) describe when the the Secretary of the Treasury must transmit certification to the Secretary of State and identify which debts qualify as “seriously delinquent tax debt.” 26 U.S.C. § 7345(a)–(b). Neither subsection says that proper notice is an element of or a prerequisite to a proper certification by the IRS of a seriously delinquent tax debt. In fact, subsection (d) says that notice to the taxpayer should be “contemporaneous[]” with certification to State, so it logically cannot be a prerequisite to that certification. 26 U.S.C. § 7345(d). Further, because subsection (e) includes no statute of limitations, there is no reason why improper notice under subsection (d) would prejudice a taxpayer who, like McNeil, does not learn about the certification of his debt in a sufficiently timely manner. See id. § 7345(e). The text of the statute suggests that the purpose of the notice requirement is to inform the debtor “in simple and nontechnical terms of the right to bring a civil action under subsection (e).”5 Id. Therefore, McNeil’s argument concerning the notice requirement fails because even if notice was not effected here, it would not mean that the  IRS’s certification of his debt to the State Department was erroneous.
[…]
The Court finds no support in § 7345 or anywhere else in the tax code for the notion that Congress wanted § 7345(e) to become a vehicle for challenging IRS procedures and tax assessments that cannot otherwise be challenged. Because the Court finds that Congress did not
intend for McNeil’s argument about the Forms 1040 and 1040A to be the basis for a claim under § 7345(e), and because he cannot argue that the IRS’s certification was erroneous based on a flawed notice, he has failed to state a claim upon which the Court could grant him relief under § 7345(e)(2).

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Biliovschi Smith v. Blinken: EFM Alleges Discrimination Under Title VII #superiorqualificationsrate

 

Via Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-03065 (CJN)
For over two years, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith worked for the State Department as a Media Outreach Assistant out of the American embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. A series of disputes among Ms. Smith, a coworker, and embassy management resulted in Ms. Smith filing this lawsuit, which alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment. See generally Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss & for Summ. J. (“Mot.”), ECF No. 28. The Court denies the motion for reasons that follow.1
1 In addition to denying the State Department’s motion for summary judgment, this Court also denies the State Department’s alternative motion to dismiss. Tyson v. Brennan, 306 F. Supp. 3d 365, 369 (D.D.C. 2017); Brooks v. Kerry, 37 F. Supp. 3d 187, 199 (D.D.C. 2014). For clarity’s sake, this memorandum opinion will refer to the State Department’s motion as a motion for summary judgment.
4 If a job candidate qualifies for higher pay based on a “superior qualifications determination,” Joint Statement ¶ 16, then the person could receive a superior qualification rate of pay, which compensates the individual because the employer based on the individual’s experience “may reasonably expect a higher level of performance beyond the requirements of the job,” id. ¶ 35.
5 This Court concludes that embassy management’s comments about Ms. Smith’s Romanian ethnicity do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination, but rather may “be probative of discrimination” under the burden-shifting framework in place for claims reliant on indirect evidence of discrimination. Isse v. Am. Univ., 540 F. Supp. 2d 9, 30 (D.D.C. 2008); Brady v. Livingood, 456 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2006) (noting that “direct evidence does not include stray remarks in the workplace”). In addition, Ms. Smith’s contention that she received lower pay based in part on her national origin satisfies the requirement that a Title VII discrimination plaintiff show that she suffered an adverse employment action. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (making it unlawful to discriminate with respect to “compensation”); Russell v. Principi, 257 F.3d 815, 819 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

I. Background
An American citizen of Romanian national origin, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith accompanied her husband Derrin Ray Smith to Yaoundé, Cameroon in August 2014.2 See Joint Chronological.

Statement of Material Facts (“Joint Statement”), ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 1–3. Mr. Smith ventured to Africa to work as a foreign service officer with the U.S. embassy. Id. ¶ 3. During their first year in Cameroon together, Mr. and Ms. Smith attended an embassy-hosted dinner where the deputy chief of the embassy, Greg Thome, allegedly told Ms. Smith at the dinner table that her “country right now is the United States of America” and that “at the State Department, we don’t work for the interests of the Romanians.” Id. ¶ 5. Thome, Ms. Smith also claims, later inquired into whether she “spoke Russian.” Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Smith perceived Thome’s comments related to her Romanian ethnicity as odd, discomforting, and concerning. Derrin Ray Smith Decl. (“Smith Decl.”), ECF No. 31-8 at 2. Yet neither Ms. Smith nor her husband apparently took action in response.

Early in 2015, Ms. Smith applied for a position with the embassy as a “Media Outreach Assistant.” See Joint Statement ¶¶ 6, 10.3 She got the job. Id. ¶ 14. The job offer stated that Ms. Smith would begin her employment with the embassy at an entry-level pay rate. Id. ¶ 15. Upon receipt of the offer, Ms. Smith requested that the State Department conduct a superior qualifications rate review to determine whether she qualified for higher pay. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. 4 The assistant in the human resources department in charge of preparing Ms. Smith’s hiring documents thought that Ms. Smith might qualify for a higher rate based on her “expansive knowledge” and experiential background. Id. ¶ 38.

Yet a higher-level manager in the human resources department, Charles Morrill, made the decision not to submit Ms. Smith’s paperwork for a superior qualifications review, id. ¶ 44, and when he informed her of that decision, he referenced her Romanian perspective and Balkanized mindset. Id. ¶ 51. When asked in his deposition to clarify these comments, Morrill stated that he knew the “mindset” of Romanians based on his experience working with “Eastern Europeans.” Charles Morrill Dep. (“Morrill’s Dep.”), ECF No. 28-9 at 4–5. He added that people from that part of the world hold a world view that “people are out to get you.” Id. at 5. The decision not to submit the paperwork generated conflict between Ms. Smith and embassy management. Ms. Smith nonetheless accepted the offer of employment.
[…]
In December 2018, Ms. Smith filed this lawsuit against her employer for discrimination and for creating a retaliatory and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to for summary judgment on all of Ms. Smith’s claims.
[…]
Because a reasonable juror could find, based on the present record, that Ms. Smith suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex and her engagement in protected activity, it would be inappropriate to grant the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. The State Department’s Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore Denied. An Order will be entered contemporaneously with this Memorandum Opinion.

The Memorandum of Opinion signed by Judge Carl J. Nichols of the District Court of the District of Columbia is available via public records here.

 

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Grand Jury Indicts FS Employee For”Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct” in the Philippines

 

 

Via USDOJ:
U.S. Foreign Service Member Indicted for Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in the Philippines and Possession of Child Pornography

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment today charging a member of the U.S. Foreign Service with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and possession of child pornography.

According to the indictment and court documents, Dean Cheves, 61, was a member of the U.S. Foreign Service serving at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines between September 2020 and February 2021. While in the Philippines, Cheves allegedly met a 16-year-old online. Court documents further detail that Cheves allegedly engaged in sexual activity with the minor on two occasions, knowing the minor’s age, and produced cell phone videos of himself engaging in the sex acts each time. The videos were found on Cheves’s devices seized from his embassy residence while in the Philippines. Between February 2021 and March 2021, he also allegedly possessed child pornography.

Cheves is charged with one count of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and one count of possessing child pornography in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or on lands owned or leased by the United States. Cheves previously made his initial court appearance on July 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in prison on count one, and up to 10 years in prison on count two. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh for the Eastern District of Virginia made the announcement and Assistant Director for Domestic Operations Mark Sullo of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service made the announcement.

The State Department, Diplomatic Security Service, is investigating the case.

Trial Attorney Gwendelynn Bills of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Pomerantz Halper of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

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

We have not been able to locate Cheves’s congress.gov records. The DOJ statement describes him as a”U.S. Foreign Service Member.”  An archived 2007-2017 version of DipNote noted that he was a Foreign Service Officer and new media strategist with the IIP Office of Innovative Engagement (OIE). A June 2019 issue of State Magazine (PDF) includes a notation that he was the Director of Global Publishing Solutions (GPS) in Manila. GPS, an office under the Bureau of Administration provides design, print, and copier management services to the State Department domestically and overseas. In addition to WashDC, GPS has offices in Manila and Vienna.
The government’s motion filed on July 2 originally requested that records be sealed, noting that “Premature disclosure of the charges against the defendant would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation threatening our ability to locate and arrest the defendant. The defendant has ties to the Philippines, where his wife and daughter reside, and to California.”
Cheves was arrested on July 6, 2021 in Alexandria, VA. His offense was  listed as “18 U.S.C § 2423(c): Illicit Sexual Conduct in a Foreign Place.”

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Ex-USG Employee Pleads Guilty: 24 Women, Six Countries, 487 Videos/Images in a 14 Year Crime Spree

 

In October 2020, we blogged about the notorious case involving ex-USG employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond (see Ex-USG Employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond, Called an “Experienced Sexual Predator,” Ordered Removed to D.C. Oct 28. 2020).  We did a follow-up post in March 2021 (USA v. Raymond: Court Issues Protective Order Pertaining to Classified Information). Court records do not identify Raymond’s agency employer, and no agency has claimed him! Public records only say that he was an employee of the U.S. government.
On July 23, USDOJ announced that “a California man pleaded guilty today to sexual abuse and admitted to the abusive sexual contact of numerous women, as well as photographing and recording dozens of nude and partially nude women without their consent during his career as a U.S. government employee.”
According to court records, Raymond accepted a plea deal on May 27, 2021, one day before the plea offer was set to expire.  The plea agreement was entered into court on July 23, 2021. Also on July 23, Raymond waived his right to trial by jury. The USG and Raymond also agreed to a Statement of Offense:

“These facts do not constitute all of the facts known to the parties concerning the charged offense; they are being submitted to demonstrate that sufficient facts exist that the defendant committed the offenses to which he is pleading guilty: Sexual Abuse of AV-7 and AV-9, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2), and transportation of obscene material, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462.

Some notable items in the Statement of Offense:

#1. Between on or about August 21, 2018 and June 1, 2020, Raymond, now 45 years old, was a U.S. government employee working at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico. During that time, Raymond lived in an apartment assigned to him by the U.S. government. Raymond’s residence in Mexico City has been leased by the U.S. government since April 2013 for use by U.S. personnel assigned to diplomatic, consular, military, and other U.S. government missions in Mexico City. The U.S. government currently maintains a nine-year lease of the property. This residence falls within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction (““SMTJ”) of the United States, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 7(9).

2. On May 31, 2020, there was an incident at Raymond’s embassy-leased residence in Mexico City.During an interview with law enforcement on June 2, 2020, Raymond stated that he had sexual intercourse with an adult woman, hereinafter referred to as AV-1, on May 31 and that it was consensual. AV-1 was interviewed and reported that she has no memory of the incident and did not consent to sexual intercourse with Raymond. After the May 31, 2020 incident, law enforcement executed several premises and device search warrants, including but not limited to search warrants for Raymond’s phones, laptops, tablets, thumb drives, and memory cards, Raymond’s Mexico City residence, his parents’ residence in La Mesa, California, Tinder and other social media accounts, email accounts, and his iCloud account.

4, Agents found approximately 487 videos and images of unconscious women in various states of undress on multiple devices belonging to Raymond and in his iCloud account.

6. Through its investigation, law enforcement learned that from 2006 to 2020, while working as a U.S. government employee, Raymond recorded and/or photographed at least 24 unconscious nude or partially nude women (AV-2 through AV-25).

7.  Raymond discussed having sex with AV-7 with a friend via text message the following day.

9. In March 2020, approximately two months before his interaction with AV-7, Raymond also texted the same friend mentioned above about having sexual intercourse with AV-9. AV-9 is a resident of Mexico and primarily a Spanish speaker. He texted the same friend that he had to pay for an Uber for AV-9 and expressed that it was annoying but ultimately worthwhile because he was able to have sex with her. 

Item #11 in the Statement of Offense includes a chart that depicts the victims, the number of photos/videos, locations, dates, and example of the obscene depiction of victims.  In addition to victims AV-7 and AV-9, the list of victims include 18 other individuals. Locations include California, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., as well as Mexico and “Countries 3, 4, 5, and 6 [are] known to the government and to the defendant.”
Item #14 in the Statement of Offense notes:

“Raymond stipulates and agrees that from 2006 until 2020, including on the dates listed on the chart above, he recorded and/or photographed at least 24 unconscious and nude or partially nude women, some of whom are not mentioned in this plea agreement or statement of facts, and that during the same time frame, he touched the breasts, buttocks, groin area, and/or genitalia of numerous women, some of whom he recorded and/or photographed and some of whom are mentioned in this agreement. Raymond engaged in this conduct while the women were incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. The women who have been interviewed reported commonalities in their contact with Raymond, including Raymond’s provision and/or preparation of alcoholic beverages and their subsequent memory loss. None of the women consented to being touched while unconscious and/or asleep, and none of them consented to Raymond’s photographing and recording of them in that state.”

The Plea Agreement says:

” …a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2) carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; a fine of $250,000; a term of supervised release of at least 5 years but not more than life, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k); mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. § 3663A; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.

Your client understands that a violation of of 18 U.S.C. § 1462 carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment; a fine of $250,000; a term of supervised release of at least one year but not more than three years, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3559; restitution under 18 U.S.C.§ 3663; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.

Your client also understands that the court shall impose mandatory restitution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2248, which restitution amount shall reflect the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victims’ losses.”

Under Additional Charges:

“In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense(s), your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office or the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section for the conduct relating to victims AV-1 through AV-26 that is described in the Statement of Offense. This office has consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and understands that it will also not bring charges for that conduct. Additionally, if your client’s guilty plea to Counts One, Two, and Three of the Information is accepted by the Court, and provided the plea is not later withdrawn, no charges related to the inducement and/or transportation of AV-15 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought against the defendant by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

Moreover, provided the plea is accepted and not later withdrawn to Counts One, Two, and Three, no charges relating to the inducement of AV-2 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and no charges relating to the inducement of AV-17 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought by the Northern District of Illinois. This agreement does not preclude any U.S. Attorney’s Office for bringing charges against your client for criminal conduct that is distinct from that set forth in the Statement of Facts. For example, if the investigation later revealed that your client had been engaged in sexual activity with a minor and/or involved in commercial sex acts or money laundering, this agreement would not preclude a prosecution for those crimes.”

Under Restitution:

“Your client understands that the Court has an obligation to determine whether, and in what amount, mandatory restitution applies in this case under 18 U.S.C. § 3663A and 18 U.S.C. § 2248 at the time of sentencing.

The Court shall order restitution to every identifiable victim of your client’s offenses. Your client agrees to pay restitution in the amount of $10,000 per victim to AV-1 through AV- 26, provided they are identified at or before the time of sentencing. Furthermore, your client
agrees that, for purposes of this plea, AV-1 through AV-26 are all victims of the offense and are entitled to the same rights as victims so designated under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (“CVRA”), to include the right to be reasonably heard at the sentencing hearing and the right to full and timely restitution. See 18 U.S.C. § 3771. By agreeing to this, your client is not acknowledging that each of these victims would be a victim of a federal offense, nor is your client agreeing that these victims would be so designated should this case go to trial. Similarly,
by agreeing to the terms of this plea, the Government does not concede that federal offenses do not exist for these victims, nor does it concede that the victims would not be victims under the CVRA should this case go to trial. In addition, your client agrees to pay restitution to any other victim that he recorded/photographed nude while that victim was unconscious, provided that victim is identified at or before the time of sentencing, and further agrees that they are crime victims in this case and entitled to the rights as victims so designated under the CVRA. Your client understands that these victims still maintain a right to request a larger amount of restitution from the Court, and that the agreed upon payment to each victim is the minimum amount due.”

The Plea Agreement includes a sex offender registration requirement for the remainder of Raymond’s life “…. client is required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life, and to keep the registration current in jurisdictions where your client resides, where your client is employed and where your client is a student.”
The Plea Agreement notes that the Government’s proposed estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is 262-327 months (the “Estimated Guidelines Range’). The Defendant’s proposed estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is 135-168 months.  So potentially anywhere between 11 years and 27 years.
A similar case to this in 2011 involved Andrew Warren, 43, a former official with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  That case involved charges of abusive sexual contact and unlawful use of cocaine while possessing a firearm. The sexual assault occurred at a US Embassy property in Algeria, and involved one victim. Warren was sentenced to 65 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release following his prison term (see Former CIA Station Chief to Algeria Gets 65 Months for Sexual Assault on Embassy Property).
Via USDOJ: If you believe you have been a victim, have information about Raymond or know of someone who may have information about Raymond, the FBI requests that you fill out this secure, online questionnaire, email FBI at ReportingBJR@fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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Washingtonian: The Maddening, Twisted Story of the Diplomat Who Became a Troll

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

 

Via: Washingtonian |The Maddening, Twisted Story of the Diplomat Who Became a Troll

How could so many experts have concluded that Syring wouldn’t hurt them when his victims felt with such a visceral certainty that he would?

Part of it, at least for some people involved in the case, was that Syring just didn’t seem the type—white, older, someone who’d spent decades in a cautious bureaucracy. It didn’t make sense that a man with so much to lose would operate at such a high personal cost. Bristol had initially hedged his investigation for this reason, believing that a midlevel State Department employee probably wouldn’t also be a racist troll. (He says he would never make that assumption now.)
[..]
Zogby will be 78 when Syring gets out of prison, if he serves his full sentence, and 81 when his probation ends. If Syring reappears in Zogby’s life at that point, it will mark 20 years and counting that his obsession has persisted—20 years in which Zogby has never fully understood what Syring might be capable of doing to him. “I didn’t know, I never knew,” he told me recently. “And I still don’t know.”

Related posts:

 

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Charges Unsealed Against Former Chadian Ambassador and DCM to U.S. For Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme

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On May 24, the Justice Department unsealed charges against two diplomats from Chad who were previously assigned to WashDC and Canada for international bribery and money laundering scheme.
Excerpt from DOJ’s announcement:

An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. was unsealed on May 20, 2021, charging the Republic of Chad’s former Ambassador to the United States and Canada and Chad’s former Deputy Chief of Mission for the United States and Canada with soliciting and accepting a $2 million bribe from a Canadian start-up energy company, and conspiring to launder the bribe payment in order to conceal its true nature.

According to court documents, Mahamoud Adam Bechir and Youssouf Hamid Takane engaged in this scheme between August 2009 and July 2014, while serving as diplomats based out of the Embassy of Chad located in Washington, D.C. According to the indictment, Bechir and Takane demanded the bribe from the Canadian start-up energy company in exchange for a promise to misuse their official positions and their influence with the government of Chad to assist the start-up energy company in obtaining oil rights in Chad. Naeem Tyab, a citizen of Canada and founding shareholder of the start-up energy company, who served as a director of the company from 2009 through 2011, is also charged in the indictment for allegedly arranging for the bribe to be paid to Bechir’s wife, co-defendant Nouracham Bechir Niam, via a sham contract for consulting services that she never actually provided. In addition to the $2 million bribe payment, the start-up energy company also issued shares in the company to Niam, to Takane’s wife, and to a third Chadian individual, as part of the bribe, according to the indictment.
[…]
All four defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, and Bechir, Takane, and Niam are also charged with money laundering, each of which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison. Niam and Tyab are also charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA, which carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison. The indictment in this case was returned by the grand jury in February 2019. Tyab was arrested in the Southern District of New York on Feb. 9, 2019, and subsequently, on April 30, 2019, he entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. As part of his guilty plea, Tyab agreed to forfeit criminal proceeds of approximately $27 million. The Honorable Richard J. Leon will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. The remaining three defendants remain at large.
[…]
The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.

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

Read here in full.

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SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO

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On May 28, 2021, USDOJ/Southern District of New York announced the arrest of SINA MOAYEDI, the owner of a construction company on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of bribery of a public official. According to the announcement, “Sina Moayedi allegedly paid lucrative bribes to a State Department insider in exchange for confidential bidding information, and fraudulently induced the State Department to pay his company approximately $100 million.” Excerpt from the announcement:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Sina Moayedi made misrepresentations about his employees’ qualifications and his company’s ownership in order to induce the State Department into awarding approximately $100 million in lucrative construction contracts to Moayedi’s company, Montage, Inc.  Moayedi also allegedly cultivated a State Department insider, and paid the insider lucrative bribes in exchange for confidential State Department bidding information.  Moayedi must now be held accountable for his alleged brazen fraud on the government.”

Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said:  “As alleged, the defendant’s scheme to undermine the Department’s procurement process for personal gain caught up with him today and he will now be held accountable.  His alleged actions not only hurt other legitimate businesses competing for awards, but also damage the public’s trust in the effective and efficient utilization of taxpayer money.”

According to allegations in the Complaint[1]:

Montage, Inc. (“Montage”) is a U.S.-based business that is primarily involved in worldwide Government construction projects, including embassies, military posts, consulates, and similar overseas properties owned and operated by the United States Government.  Montage has performed over $220 million in contracting work for the U.S. Government, including for the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Since 2014, Montage appears to have focused primarily on competing for and obtaining contracts with the State Department.  During that period, the State Department has awarded Montage approximately six overseas U.S. Embassy/Consulate construction project contracts totaling $100 million, in locales such as Ecuador, Spain, Sudan, the Czech Republic, and Bermuda.  The founder of Montage is SINA MOAYEDI.

Montage engaged in at least two fraud schemes.  The first scheme alleges that, from approximately 2014 to September 2020, MOAYEDI and Montage lied that it was a female-owned business in order to secure unmerited advantages in the bidding process.  By way of context, it is advantageous to a company, when bidding for federal government contracts, to be majority-owned by an individual from a socially or economically disadvantaged community.  In fact, certain contracts (or portions of contracts) are “set aside” for – i.e., only available to – such companies.  MOAYEDI and Montage repeatedly represented falsely in submissions to the State Department that Montage was female-owned, or female-owned and minority-owned, in order falsely to induce the State Department to award Montage lucrative construction contracts.  In actuality, MOAYEDI repeatedly lied about Montage being a female-owned business, and indeed, MOAYEDI controls Montage and makes all material decisions on Montage’s behalf.  As MOAYEDI revealed to a bank that inquired about Montage’s ownership status, “I am the sole owner and president of Montage and have always been.”  Montage and MOAYEDI also repeatedly misrepresented, and significantly overstated, the qualifications of Montage employees.  MOAYEDI made these misrepresentations in order to, among other things, meet State Department and contractual requirements for minimum experience in certain key positions.

The second scheme charged in the Complaint is a bribery scheme during at least 2016 and 2017.  Insider-1 is employed in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (“OBO”), which, according to OBO’s website, “directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.”  Specifically, Insider-1 works for the State Department’s OBO Project Development and Coordination Division, European division.  
[…]
MOAYEDI, 66, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is charged with one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 20 years, and one count of bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 15 years.  
[…]
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Download U.S. v Sina Moayedi complaint (21 mag 5598).pdf
Excerpt from complaint:

15. Based on my review of State Department records, I am aware that between approximately 2014 and 2017, Montage was awarded six U.S. embassy/consulate construction projects with the State Department, worth a total of approximately $100 million.
[…]
26. Based on information derived from witness interviews, I reviewed resumes submitted by Montage for various State Department projects. Department requirements referenced in the contract specify certain levels of experience in order to serve as “key personnel” (i.e., personnel whom the State Department has deemed critical to the safe, successful, and timely completion of a project).
[…]
In the course of my review, I identified numerous deficiencies regarding the resumes of key personnel submitted to the State Department for the Guayaquil, Ecuador project.

a. For example, Montage submitted an individual for the key role of Project Controls Engineer and Site Health Project Manager. In the claimed experience for this individual, it stated that he was employed at Montage since 2008 and had “inspected emergency egress and life/safety issues” and conducted “inspections of asbestos containment.” In fact, this individual had only been employed at Montage for approximately one year, and served in an office staff capacity, performing none of those duties.
[…]
[O]ne Montage employee’s resume claimed that he had earned a bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and also claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field in various capacities over several years. Neither representation was true. In fact, this individual testified at a deposition that they did not graduate; and this individual’s SF-86 security clearance application noted that this individual had actually sold meat as a door-to-door salesman, was a landscaper, and built swimming pools for several years during the period that they had claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field.
[…]
39. I am aware, from my personal participation, that a judicially authorized search warrant was executed at the residence of Insider-1, on or about May 20, 2021. On that date, Insider-1 was informed, in substance, that she was not in custody, she was free to go, and she was not required to speak with law enforcement agents. She then participated in a voluntary interview with myself and an SDNY Special Agent on her back porch, and she made the following statements, in substance and part:

a. At first, Insider-1 claimed to have sold a large green rug to SINA MOAYEDI, the defendant, for about $60,000, but she said that the payment for the rug came from MOAYEDI’s friend.

Read more here.
The Daily Beast has identified the OBO insider in their May 27 report as well as provided the link to the Salehi Search Warrant; she has not been charged.
The document is 145 pages, the allegations spans many years and the government appears to be looking at multiple embassy projects.  The project in Guayaquil, Ecuador gets top mention. The search warrant executed includes “Records and information relating to forged submittals for the Guayaquil Consulate Project in Ecuador, and other State Department or other Government construction projects” and “Records and information that constitute evidence concerning persons who either (i) collaborated, conspired, or assisted (knowingly or unknowingly) the commission of the criminal activity under investigation; or (ii) communicated with MOAYEDI or other MONTAGE employees about matters relating to the criminal activity under investigation, including records that help reveal their whereabouts.”

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