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Three Fraudsters Sentenced For @StateDept Exchange Visitor Program Scheme

Posted: 1:46 am ET

 

Via USDOJ: Three Sentenced for Orchestrating a Nationwide Exchange Visitor Program Fraud Scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted: 2:35 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 2:25 am ET

 

And no one noticed for about five months?

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

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

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

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

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

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:17-cr-44 and 1:17-cr-052.

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

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Posted: 1:50 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

Quick summary of the case:

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

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

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

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

Lip service to evidence

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

Fails to connect rationally …

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

Read in full below:

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

Posted: 2:05 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Click here to view the indictment | An Indictment, Information or Criminal Complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

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

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

This is a precedential case worth noting via the U.S. Merit Service Protection Board:

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

Case Report – April 14, 2017

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

Holdings:

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

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

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@StateDept Contractor Pleads Guilty to Stealing USG Money by Falsifying Travel Expense Claims

Posted: 2:43 am ET

 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, a State Department contractor who worked at USCG Jerusalem has pled guilty to stealing money from the U.S. Government by falsifying his travel expenses. When Timothy James Nelson, the defendant first began working in Jerusalem, the U.S. Department of State Regional Security Office made his hotel arrangements at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem. The nightly rate at that hotel was $360.00 per night, which was the U.S. Government lodging per diem in Jerusalem.  The Government’s statement of facts alleged that beginning on or about July 3, 2015, the defendant elected to stay at a third location for a cheaper hotel rate but asked for travel reimbursements at the maximum lodging per diem. The defendant was reimbursed a total of $59,300 for five stays of different durations at Jerusalem Apartments. Since he was only charged half of that amount by Jerusalem Apartments, the defendant stole or converted for his own use $29,650 from the U.S. Department of State. See the attached documents below:

Navarre Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing Money from the Government by Falsifying Travel Expense Claims

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA – Timothy James Nelson, 36, of Navarre, Florida, has pled guilty to theft of government funds. The guilty plea was announced by Christopher P. Canova, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Documents introduced at the time of the guilty plea reflect that, between July 1, 2015, and April 1, 2016, Nelson submitted false travel expense claims for hotel stays to steal $29,650 from the U.S. Department of State. Nelson did so while working as a contractor in Jerusalem for a security company installing and repairing communication equipment in vehicles operated by employees of the U.S. Department of State.

Nelson faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 16 at 1:00 p.m. at the United States Courthouse in Pensacola.

The case was investigated by special agents from the United States Department of State’s Office of Inspector General (DOS-OIG), Steve A. Linick inspector general. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney J. Ryan Love.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website. For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.

Financial Fraud
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@StateDept OMS Arrested/Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents

Posted: 5:17 pm ET
Updated: March 30, 4:18 am ET  

 

On March 29, the Justice Department announced the arrest of State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C. for obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, and for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.  The State Department phone directory dated March 27, 2017 lists Candace Claiborne as an Office Management Specialist (OMS) at the Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts (EUR/CARC). This office has desk officers for Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Minsk Group Co-Chair.  The Minsk Group  provide a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The DOJ announcement notes that Claiborne has been an Office Management Specialist (OMS) for the Department of State in since 1999 and has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  Given the lengths of the tours of duty, we suspect that she was in more than four posts in 18 years, but we have yet to see a copy of the FBI complaint. OMSs provide office management and administrative support including managing the calendar(s) and schedule(s) for senior staff, proofing, editing, tracking and filing documents, preparing agenda and materials for meetings, providing computer and mobile device support, knowledge management, and planning and assisting with official events and visitors. Read more about OMSs here.

According to the FBI agent’s affidavit supporting the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, “there is probable cause to believe that Claiborne made materially false statements to federal law enforcement officers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001, and conspired with Co-Conspirators A B, and C to obstruct an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1512. These criminal violations werc either begun or committed in Washington D.C., where Claiborne resides and works, and where the Department of State is headquartered or were begun or committed overseas, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state.”  But who’s Co-Conspirator A, and why wasn’t he charged?

Read the criminal complaint here via Politico. It looks pretty bad. 

Below is the DOJ announcement:

State Department Employee Arrested and Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Foreign Agents

A federal complaint was unsealed today charging Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C., and an employee of the U.S. Department of State, with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.

The charges were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord for National Security, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

“Candace Marie Claiborne is a U.S. State Department employee who possesses a Top Secret security clearance and allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit. Pursuing those who imperil our national security for personal gain will remain a key priority of the National Security Division.”

“Candace Claiborne is charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements in connection with her alleged concealment and failure to report her improper connections to foreign contacts along with the tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits they provided,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “As a State Department employee with a Top Secret clearance, she received training and briefing about the need for caution and transparency. This case demonstrates that U.S. government employees will be held accountable for failing to honor the trust placed in them when they take on such sensitive assignments”

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

The FBI arrested Claiborne on March 28. She made her first appearance this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint and arrest warrant, which was unsealed today, Claiborne began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999. She has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintains a Top Secret security clearance. Claiborne also is required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency.

Despite such a requirement, the affidavit alleges, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. According to the affidavit, the gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, an Apple iPhone and laptop computer, Chinese New Year’s gifts, meals, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, the affidavit alleges, while others were provided through a co-conspirator.

According to the affidavit, Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents, who, shortly after wiring $2,480 to Claiborne, tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who allegedly confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the affidavit states. After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents, the affidavit alleges.

Charges contained in a criminal complaint are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The maximum penalty for a person convicted of obstructing an official proceeding is 20 years in prison. The maximum penalty for making false statements to the FBI is five years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

At her court appearance today, Claiborne pleaded not guilty before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather. A preliminary hearing was set for April 18.

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

It looks like the arrest warrant was issued yesterday, and the complaint was unsealed today, but we have yet to locate the charging document.  As with the DOJ statement, we should note that charges contained in a criminal complaint are allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Sex Trafficker Used @StateDept’s Summer Work Travel Program in Scheme Targeting Foreign Students

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

On March 24, USDOJ announced the sentencing of Jeffrey Jason Cooper to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking. Cooper recruited foreign university students from Kazakhstan through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program (SWTP), falsely promising them clerical jobs at his fictitious yoga studio.   According to DOJ, he fraudulently induced an educational exchange agency to sponsor the victims’ visas, and caused government officials to issue the victims temporary, non-immigrant “J-1” visas based on Cooper’s false and fraudulent offer of legitimate summer jobs.

Below via USDOJ/FL:

Miami Beach Sex Trafficker Sentenced To 30 Years in Prison For International Trafficking Scheme Targeting Foreign University Students

Defendant Lured Foreign Students on False Promises in Furtherance of Interstate Prostitution and Erotic Massage Enterprise

Chief United States District Court Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida sentenced Jeffrey Jason Cooper, 47, of Miami Beach, Florida, to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking and related violations arising from the defendant’s scheme to recruit foreign students on false promises of legitimate summer jobs, and then to advertise them to customers of his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. Chief Judge Moore also ordered Cooper to pay $8,640.00 in restitution to the victims.

A jury convicted Cooper on Nov. 17, 2016, of five counts of sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking by fraud, three counts of wire fraud, two counts of importing and attempting to import aliens for prostitution or immoral purposes, and one count of using a facility of interstate commerce to operate a prostitution enterprise. According to evidence presented during the four-day trial, Cooper recruited foreign university students from Kazakhstan through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program, falsely promising them clerical jobs at his fictitious yoga studio. In addition to defrauding the students, Cooper fraudulently induced an educational exchange agency to sponsor the victims’ visas, and caused government officials to issue the victims temporary, non-immigrant “J-1” visas based on Cooper’s false and fraudulent offer of legitimate summer jobs.

After the victims arrived in Miami, Cooper revealed to them for the first time that the yoga studio did not exist and that he expected them to perform erotic massages for customers of his erotic massage and prostitution enterprise. Witnesses testified that the victims, shocked and upset, tried to find work elsewhere but eventually gave up and began working for the defendant.

As established at trial, police began investigating Cooper after neighbors complained he was prostituting women from his apartment complex, and conducted an undercover operation that led to the recovery of the victims, one day before Cooper had scheduled them to travel to Los Angeles, California, where Cooper also operated his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. When questioned by law enforcement, Cooper claimed that the victims cleaned apartments for him, and characterized his relationship with them as that of an “older brother.” Evidence at trial included records from Backpage.com advertising the victims’ services, and Facebook communications confirming that Cooper recruited the victims on false and fraudulent pretenses, revealing the true nature of his erotic massage and prostitution enterprise only after the victims arrived in the United States.

“The successful prosecution and decades-long sentence imposed on Jeffrey Cooper illustrate the international impact of law enforcement’s united efforts to combat human trafficking – whether by fraud, force or otherwise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to bring to justice those individuals who knowingly exploit others for their own personal profit.”
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“We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this,” said Christian Schurman, acting director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “Because of our global presence, DSS is positioned to work with U.S. and foreign law enforcement to stop those that would manipulate instruments of international travel to profit from selling human beings in this way.”

The case was investigated by HSI and DSS, with assistance from the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kazakhstan; the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Astana, Kazakhstan; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Miami Dade Police Department and the North Bay Village, Florida, Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth M. Schlessinger, who was previously with the Southern District of Florida and is now with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and Trial Attorney Matthew T. Grady of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.  Some of the documents including the complaint are also available online here through plainsite.org.

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Former DCM’s Spouse Labib Chammas Gets 30 Months in Prison For Sexual Abuse of Household Staff Member

Posted: 12:41 pm ET

 

Last October, we posted about the Justice Department’s case against Labib Chammasthe husband of the former DCM at the US Embassy in Rabat, Morocco who pleaded guilty to abusing a member of the household staff who had worked at the embassy residence for 16 years (see Anonymous Letter Outs Sexual Abuse of Household Staff, Former DCM’s Husband Pleads Guilty).

Today, the Justice Department announced that Labib Chammas was sentenced to 30 months in prison for sexually abusing a household staff member

The husband of the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Rabat, Morocco, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for sexually abusing a former household staff member from 2010 to 2013.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Labib Chammas, 65, of McLean, Virginia, pleaded guilty on Oct. 12, 2016, to one count of abusive sexual conduct before U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the District of Columbia.  Judge Cooper also sentenced Chammas to a five-year term of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $15,000 fine.  Chammas is required to register as a sex offender for a period of 15 years.

In pleading guilty, Chammas admitted that between August 2010 and February 2013, while living in State Department-owned housing in Rabat, he sexually abused a woman who had worked at the residence for 16 years.  According to the plea agreement, Chammas supervised the staff at the residence and repeatedly threatened to fire staff members.  Out of fear that she would lose her job, the victim complied with Chammas’s requests that she massage his legs, hip and back, and then with his subsequent demands that she “massage” his genitalia.  On at least five occasions, Chammas took the victim by her head or hair and attempted to force her to perform oral sex.

DSS’s Office of Special Investigations investigated the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Hertzfeld of the District of Columbia and Special Counsel Stacey Luck of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case.

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This case was investigated on February 13. 2013 by DS/OSI agents in Morocco but the individual was not charged and no arrest warrant was issued until May 13, 2016. We’ve previously asked USDOJ about the 3-year gap between the investigation and the filing of charges. At that time, DOJ declined to comment because the case was ongoing. So, we’ll try one more time to request information about the gap in the investigation/filing of charges and will update this when info is available.

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