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

 

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

Via USDOJ/SDNY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The announcement is available here.

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

 

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

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Ex-State/FSI Employee Gets 26 Years in Prison for Child Pornography Production

Last July, we blogged briefly about State/FSI’s digital media administrator who pleaded guilty of child pornography production. On Friday, USDOJ announced that  Skydance MacMahon, 45, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for production of child pornography. Excerpt below:

Former State Department Employee Sentenced for Producing Child Pornography

An Alexandria man was sentenced today to 26 years in prison for production of child pornography.

According to court documents, over at least a two year period, Skydance MacMahon, 45, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras as well as overt recording. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users.  In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography.

During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.

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 (CEOS), 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.

This is a case that originated in Ohio when local police interviewed of an individual who admitted to sexually assaulting a five year old minor victim and producing pornographic images. That individual’s phone led to Dropbox links, which then led to a State Department IP address. The Affidavit executed in support of this criminal case notes that MacMahon, a GS-14 employee also used his USG-issued Iphone7 in the conduct of this crime. Excerpt below from the FBI agent’s affidavit:

9. The reponse from Dropbox included, in part, information pertaining to the kvlesil007@protonmail.com User ID: 663651981. This paid account was created on April 15, 2017. A usemame of “Kyle Silvyr” was provided by the registrant. A recurring payment of 99.99 was established using a Mastercard Debit card (521992XXXXXX0894). Multiple IP addresses used for authentification were also provided (IP address 2601:140:8000:61af:2d75:7fef:f243:6dfd on 08/09/2017 at 13:18:19 GMT; IP address 12.28.184.116 on 09/14/2017 at 18:24:55 GMT).

10. An open source search identified IP address 12.28.184.116 as being associated with the US Department of State , 4020 Arlington Blvd, Arlington VA.

13. Database queries identified J.M. as an individual associated with the Menokin Drive, Alexandria, VA address. An open source search located a social networking profile associated with J.M. that contains publicly viewable images of the account holder who visually matches the likeness of J.M.’s Virginia driver’s license photograph. Additional publicly viewable photographs on J.M.’s Facebook profile include those of a Caucasian male identified as “SKYDANCE MACMAHON”. SKYDANCE MACMAHON visually matches the individual appearing in the two (2) non-pornographic images in the material in the kvlesil007@protonmail.com User ID 663651981 Dropbox.com account.

15. An open source search identified a Linkedln.com profile for SKYDANCE MACMAHON who self-identified as a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute (which is associated with the Department of State) in Arlington, VA, and a 1995 graduate of James Madison University. Database queries fully identified SKYDANCE MACMAHON. SKYDANCE MACMAHON’s Virginia driver’s license photograph visually matches the likeness of the male depicted in the images contained in the kvlesil007@Drotonmail.com User ID 663651981 Dropbox.com account and the SKYDANCE MACMAHON Facebook account.

16. On March 16,2018, an administrative subpoena to Kik for usemame kylesilOOT yielded a confirmed email address associated with the account as kvlesil007@protonmail.com. Review of the IP logs provided by Kik yielded a mixture of the IP address (12.28.184.116) resolving to the Department of State facility, Verizon Wireless IP addresses, and a Comcast Communications IP address (73.87.155.249) which resolves to the same address in the 2400 block of Menokin Drive, Alexandria VA 22302, as recently as of March 15, 2018. The Menokin address is the address of J.M., who investigation has revealed is an associate and girlfnend of SKYDANCE MACMAHON.

19. On March 15, 2018, Department of State, Office of Inspector General (OIG) was contacted regarding the employment of SKYDANCE MACMAHON. OIG confirmed SKYDANCE MACMAHON was currently employed as a Federal Grade 14 employee at the US State Department, as a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute in Arlington, VA.

22. SKYDANCE MACMAHON advised that minutes prior to the investigators arriving at his work, he received a telephone call from his wife telling him the FBI/police were at their daughter’s school and they asked that she come over the to the school to talk. Upon hanging up the phone with his wife, SKYDANCE MACMAHON deleted items off of his Iphone 7 cellular telephone, such as the applications “kik”, “Wire”, “Dropbox”, “Box” and inappropriate photographs that consisted of child pornography. SKYDANCE MACMAHON’s Iphone 7 was his Department of State issued cellular telephone that he used to communicate with K.C., and other individuals using apps such as Kik and Dropbox.

The case is USA v. Macmahon; Case Number: 1:18-mj-00218-IDD. Warning, abhorrent and horrifying details.

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Ex-@StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Student Loan Fraud

On October 19, USDOJ announced that Corey Cadet Dukes who worked for the State Department from 2013-2017 pleaded guilty to “fraudulently discharging over $200,000 in student loan debt.” Dukes reportedly worked as a GS-11 in Lorton, VA, and later as a GS-13 in the Springfield, VA location.

Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Student Loan Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Georgia man pleaded guilty today to fraudulently discharging over $200,000 in student loan debt.

According to court documents, Corey Cadet Dukes, 39, of Jonesboro, and formerly of Alexandria, was an employee of the U.S. Department of State from 2013-2017. Simultaneously, Dukes was also a full-time supervisor for a security company providing protection to a federal building in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, Dukes applied through the Department of Education for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge of over $200,000 in student loan debt, affirming that he was unable to work and was disabled.

The Department of Education conditionally discharged Dukes’ student loans subject to successful completion of a three-year income monitoring period, which required that TPD applicants not earn over the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a family of two, which was no higher than $16,020. Earned income over that amount triggered a repayment obligation and the loans would be reinstated. After failing to respond to multiple requests for proof of income, in October 2016, Dukes submitted a signed self-certification stating: “I, Corey Dukes, did not have any earned income from May 1, 2013 – October 13, 2016.” In reality, during this same period Dukes had earned over $331,000 from his two full-time jobs, had purchased a Bentley, a Porsche, and other luxury vehicles. The Department of Education permanently discharged $205,687.74 of Dukes’ student loan debt.

Dukes pleaded guilty to wire fraud and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when sentenced on Jan. 4, 2019. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General of the State Department, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Russell L. Carlberg and Kimberly R. Pedersen are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:18-cr-298.

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The Indictment includes the following details:

1. Defendant COREY CADET DUKES (hereafter “DUKES” or “the defendant”) resided in Leesburg, Virginia or Alexandria, Virginia, located within the Eastern District of Virginia. During approximately 2006-2012, DUKES had obtained multiple student loans from various lenders, totaling over $200,000 in principal.

2. From approximately October 11, 2012 though approximately August 11,2017, DUKES was employed full-time at Paragon Systems (“Paragon”) providing security services at a U.S. Government facility in Washington, D.C. as a supervisory security guard, and was paid an annual salary beginning at about $53,000 and increasing to approximately $70,000.

3. From approximately May 5, 2013 through approximately August 22, 2017, DUKES was also employed full-time by the U.S. Department of State (the “State Department”), as a GS-11 with a duty station first in Lorton, Virginia, then as a GS-13 in Springfield, Virginia, in the Eastern District of Virginia, and was paid an annual salary beginning at approximately $62,467 and increasing to approximately $97,956.

4. During portions of 2012 and 2015, DUKES also earned income working for Masters Security (“Masters”) as a security guard at various locations in and around the Eastern District of Virginia.

Folks, how does one have two full-time security jobs?

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Foreign Service Employee Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to @StateDept

 

On October 17, USDOJ announced that a “Foreign Service Officer” Tiffany Thomas  has pleaded guilty  for submitting false claims while employed at the Regional Security Office  in Lome, Togo.

Foreign Service Officer Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to the Department of State

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon stated today that Tiffany Thomas, age 34, of Bowie, Maryland, has entered a guilty plea in federal court in Charleston to Submission of False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287.  United States District Judge Margaret Seymour, of Charleston, accepted the guilty plea and will impose sentence after she has reviewed the presentence report, which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Thomas submitted false claims while she was employed in the Department of State’s Regional Security Office in Lome, Togo.  The funds were managed by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.   As part of the scheme, Thomas submitted forged receipts for expenses related to official travel in the United States and abroad. The Government alleges the claims exceeded $100,000.

Ms. Lydon stated the maximum penalty for Submission of False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims is imprisonment for 5 years, a fine of $250,000, and up to 3 years of supervised release.

The case was investigated by special agents of the Department of State,  Office of Inspector General, led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorney Matt Austin of the Charleston Office is prosecuting the case.

 The slim court documents make no mention of her employment status but she appears to self-described as an FS specialist online (Tiffany Thomas – Foreign Affairs Specialist – U.S. Department of State …).  The DOJ announcement says she worked at the Regional Security Office (RSO) located at the U.S. Embassy in Lome, Togo. Note that Foreign Service officers (sometimes called “generalists”as opposed to specialists) are commissioned officers, nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; they typically do not work at security offices.

A one-page court document labeled “Felony Information” contains the following:

Beginning in or about May 2015 and continuing up until in or about November 2017, in the District of South Carolina, and elsewhere, the Defendant, TIFFANY THOMAS, made and presented to the United States Department of State claims upon and against the United States Treasury worth more than $100,000, that is, the Defendant submitted vouchers claiming lodging reimbursement, knowing that the claims were false, fictitious, and fraudulent in that she fabricated lodging receipts for non-existent properties; she failed to lodge at the addresses listed on the vouchers during the relevant times; and she improperly claimed lodging reimbursement for residences owned by family members; All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 287.

The case is USA v. Thomas 2:2018cr00739.

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State/ECA Program Manager Gets 13 Months in Prison For KickBacks

Back in July in a catch-up post, we  blogged about  State/ECA employee Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  On September 7, she was sentenced to 13 months in prison for accepting kickbacks and stealing federal funds intended for a foreign exchange program maintained by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Below is the announcement from USDOJ:

State Department Official Sentenced to Prison for Engaging in Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds

Via USDOJ:

A program manager for the U.S. Department of State was sentenced to 13 months in prison today for accepting kickbacks and stealing federal funds intended for a foreign exchange program maintained by the U.S. Department of State.  Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Inspector General Steve A. Linick of the U.S. Department of State and Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division made the announcement.

Kelli R. Davis, 49, of Bowie, Maryland, was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III of the Eastern District of Virginia.  On May 24, Davis pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging her with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and theft of public money.

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

Davis admitted that between February 2011 and March 2016, she conspired with others to steal portions of the federal money allocated to the Sports Visitor Program by, among other things, falsifying vendor-related invoices and making fraudulent checks payable to a government contractor, Denon Hopkins, who supplied transportation services for the program.  In total, Davis and Hopkins stole approximately $17,335 from the State Department.  They have both admitted that Hopkins used portions of the funds to pay kickbacks to Davis to retain his transportation contract.  In addition, Davis stole an additional $17,777 from the program over a multi-year period.

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

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US Embassy Santo Domingo: Man Pleads Guilty to One Count of Bribery of a Public Official

On September 14, USDOJ announced that Luis Santos of New Jersey pleaded guilty to bribing a State Department employee.  Santos admitted to paying $2,381 to a U.S. Consular Adjudicator at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.

Bergen County, New Jersey, Man Admits Bribing State Department Employee

TRENTON, N.J. – A Bergen County, New Jersey, man today admitted giving a bribe to an employee of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Luis Santos, 37, of Teaneck, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of bribery of a public official.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

Santos paid $2,381 to a U.S. Consular Adjudicator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to favorably handle and review non-immigrant visas, which allowed individuals from the Dominican Republic to apply for entry into the United States.

The bribery charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the U.S Department of State Diplomatic Security Service with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen D. Stringer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

Defense counsel: Thomas Ambrosio Esq., Lyndhurst, New Jersey

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Based on court filings (PDF), a cooperating witness (“CW”) was employed by the State Department as a U.S Consular Adjudicator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

2. From on or about September 22, 2017 to on or about March 9, 2018, SANTOS contacted the CW via WhatsApp and solicited the CW to participate in a bribery and fraud scheme, whereby SANTOS would pay money to the CW in exchange for the CW favorably handling and adjudicating fraudulent NIVs.

3. Throughout in or about February 2018, SANTOS sent the CW, via WhatsApp messaging, the names and appointment confirmations for five NIV Applicants, all of whom had interviews scheduled with the U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo in or about March 2018 ( collectively, the “March Applicants”). SANTOS offered to pay the CW $500 for each fraudulent NIV issued to one of the March Applicants.

4. On or about February 25, 2018, SANTOS and the CW met in Hoboken, New Jersey (the “Hoboken Meeting”). During that meeting, which was consensually recorded by law enforcement, SANTOS confirmed that the March Applicants would pay $1,000 each for their fraudulent NIVs, and that the money would be split three ways, with a portion going to the CW in exchange for the CW favorably reviewing and adjudicating the five NIVs.

5. Law enforcement arranged for the issuance of what appeared to be genuine visas for the March Applicants. Accordingly, when each of the March Applicants appeared for their respective interviews, they were informed that their applications had been approved.

6. On or about March 9, 2018, SANTOS caused a relative in the Dominican Republic to wire $2,380.95 ($2,500 less the transfer service processing fee) to the CW via a money transferring service in exchange for the approval of NIVs for the five March Applicants.

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US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Gets 30 Months For Stealing USG Funds #VisaFees

This past July, we blogged about US Embassy Costa Rica’s sub-contractor who leaded guilty to the theft of visa fees (see What did we miss?).  On September 7, USDOJ announced that the contractor, Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft of government funds.

Via USDOJ:

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica, was sentenced to a term of 30 months in prison by the United States District Court in Charleston for stealing from the United States Government.

Hidalgo previously pled guilty to Theft of Government Funds, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641.  United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, of Charleston, imposed the sentence, which also includes three years of supervised release and mandatory restitution.

Evidence presented at a change of plea hearing established that Hidalgo used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $293,832 of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control.

The case was investigated by special agent Katherine Kovacek of the Department of State/Office of Inspector General, which is led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorneys Marshall “Matt” Austin and Nathan Williams both of the Charleston Office prosecuted the case.

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U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

 

In January 2017, we covered the shooting of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence:

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Director Christian J. Schurman of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar entered his guilty plea before U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Judge Trenga scheduled Zafar’s sentencing hearing for November, 7, 2018.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar armed himself with a firearm, donned a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance, and waited in a parking garage for a Vice Consul, who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara.  Although Zafar initially was following the Vice Consul as he walked towards his vehicle, Zafar noticed a security guard nearby, and instead moved to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the Vice Consul to exit.  As the Vice Consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the Vice Consul in his chest and leaving him in serious condition.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the Vice Consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

“Zia Zafar surveilled and targeted a U.S. official serving in Mexico, lying in wait before shooting him in the chest in a heinous act of premeditated violence,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute those who seek to harm U.S. officials serving overseas.  The Department of Justice will continue work with our domestic and international partners to ensure that anyone who targets U.S. officials abroad will be brought to justice.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

[…] FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the government of Mexico, to include the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Procuraduria General de la Republica, Fiscalia del Estado de Jalisco and Instituto Nacional de Migracion for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

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Th court filings confirmed much of the details previously reported about this case, though the case remains perplexing.  On January 10, 2017, an Affidavit in Support of a Criminal Complaint was filed by David J. DiMarco, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) assigned to the Extraterritorial Squad, Washington Field Office. Includes the following:

On January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft, the victim, was employed with the U.S.Department of State as a Vice Consul in the Consular office in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Vice Consul, Ashcraft is recognized by the Government of Mexico as a diplomat. As such, Ashcraftwas granted diplomatic immunity in the course of his official duties.

On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Agenda Vallarta #3300 in Guadalajara, Mexico. At approximately 6:19 p.m., an individual later identified as the Defendant, ZIA ZAFAR, shot Ashcraft with a pistol as Ashcraft was leaving the gym parking lot in his personal vehicle. The round struck Ashcraft in the chest. Ashcraft was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, where he currently remains.

Special Agents with the FBI interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital. During the interview, Ashcraft stated that when he exited the gym, he noticed the individual later identified as ZAFAR, who was wearing blue scrubs, white shoes, and what appeared to be a wig. Based upon ZAFAR’s behavior, Ashcraft felt as though ZAFAR was waiting for him. Ashcraft walked to apayment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, hesaw that ZAFAR was following him. Ashcraft felt threatened and walked to a populated area of the parking garage. Once ZAFAR was no longer following him, Ashcraft got into his vehicle and drove towards the garage exit. Ashcraft was shot once in the chest while exiting the garage.

Surveillance video from the shopping center and parking garage was obtained by Mexican law enforcement. The video shows a male (later identified as ZAFAR) wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs, and white shoes. ZAFAR appears to be following Ashcraft as Ashcraft exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The videothen shows ZAFAR followmg Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to adifferentarea ofthe garage,the video shows ZAFAR walking up an incoming vehicle ramp at 6:17 p.m. Approximately one minute later, ZAFAR is seen at the top of the exit vehicle ramp, pacing back and forth with his right hand in his pocket. At approximately 6:19 p.m., Ashcraft’s vehicle pulls up to the garage exit. The video shows ZAFAR taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield. The video then shows ZAFAR fleeing the scene.

The criminal complaint filed on January 9, 2017 was originally filed under seal and the offense description is listed as “Attempted Murder of an Internationally Protected Person”.

The AFFIDAVIT by USA as to Zia Zafar was also sealed. The criminal case cover sheet is redacted but includes Zia Zafar’s name, Juvenile FBI file number #316130AC9, and year of birth as 1985. The subject’s race, place of birth, language/dialects are left blank (or redacted, hard to tell).

In April 28, 2017, the Defense filed a motion to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) by Zia Zafar. The filing says that “Sealing of this document is necessary in order to safeguard the privacy and safety of the defendant.”

A Memorandum in Support by Zia Zafar re 28 MOTION to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) also includes the following:

B. Sealing is necessary in order to safeguard the safety and privacy of the defendant. Counsel for the defendant has considered procedures other than sealing and none will suffice to protect this information from disclosure and to prevent public dissemination of information concerning Mr. Webster’s mental health.

Mr. Webster?

On May 5, 2017, there was a Status Conference to determine the competency of the defendant.

On August 11, 2017 there was an Arraignment/Competency Hearing.

On January 12, 2018 the Court granted the Motion for Psychiatric Exam and ordered that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination at the Alexandria Detention Center.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to shooting the U.S. diplomat in Mexico.

The Statement of Facts filed on July 13, 2018 as part of Zafar’s plea agreement is only three page long and notes that Zafar and the diplomat that he attacked did not know each other. According to the Statement, the diplomat was targeted because “the defendant knew from earlier surveillance that he worked at the United States Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.” News citing Mexican officials previously reported that Zafar targeted Ashcraft over a visa denial.

The Affidavit submitted in support of the warrant says Zafar entered Mexico on a student visa, had a California driver’s license and drove a Honda Civic with California license plate. It doesn’t say when he entered Mexico or how long was he residing in the country prior to the attack.

The Affidavit did cite the use of a Starbucks receipt and Mexican immigration database to identify Zafar, and help in his apprehension by Mexican authorities.  It also says that “Mexican law enforcement searched the residence and recovered a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name ZIA ZAFAR. A pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video were also recovered from the residence.”

The court filings do not indicate what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this incident; there is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.

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