Hatch Act With AFSA, December 3, 2019

 

Via afsa.org:

We are now one year away from the 2020 Presidential election – the perfect time to review the provisions of the Hatch Act. If you are uncertain about how the Hatch Act applies to Foreign Service members in Washington and overseas you are probably not alone.

On December 3, come to AFSA headquarters (across Virginia Avenue from the 21st Street entrance to the State Department) to have pizza and drinks and a frank discussion on the Hatch Act. Our presenters will be Ana Galindo-Marrone from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Kathleen Murphy from State’s Legal Advisor, and Deputy General Counsel Raeka Safai from AFSA’s Labor Management office. All AFSA members from all Foreign Service agencies are welcome.

For this event to be as useful as possible to our members, we are inviting questions in advance so the speakers can address them in their presentations. There will also be a live question and answer session after the presentations. The presentation will cover traditional area of political activity covered by the Hatch Act and will focus on the Hatch Act and social media as well.

Click here to register for the event. To send in a question you would like addressed in the presentations, please send the question to Sam Miglani at afsaintern@afsa.org with the email title “Hatch Act Topic.” We will try to incorporate as many of your questions into the presentation material as we can.

This event will be recorded and made available for online viewing at www.afsa.org/video. For those who prefer gluten-free refreshments, we will have gluten-free pizza available. See you there!

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Career SES Donald Wright – From HHS to US Embassy Tanzania

 

On Sept 30, 2019, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Donald Wright of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania.

Don J. Wright, M.D., MPH, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  His career at HHS includes service as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health and Acting Executive Director of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.  Dr. Wright developed and implemented the National Action Plan to Reduce Healthcare Associated Infections and Healthy People 2020, the Nation’s framework for disease prevention and health promotion initiatives.  Before joining the government as Director of the Office of Occupational Medicine at the Department of Labor, he was a clinician in Texas for 17 years.  Dr. Wright received his B.A. at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and his M.D. at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.  He received an MPH at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.  He was honored by the American College of Preventive Medicine in 2019.

If confirmed, Mr. Wright would succeed Mark Bradley Childress (1959–), a non-career appointee who served as Ambassador to Tanzania from May 22, 2014–October 25, 2016.   Senior FSO Inmi Patterson has been Chargé d’Affaires since June 2017.

Office of Special Counsel Announces Suspensions of Two Federal Employees Over Hatch Act Violations

 

On October 18, the Office of Special Counsel announced disciplinary actions imposed on two federal employees working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for Hatch Act violations.

​The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced significant discipline imposed on two federal employees working for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) who engaged in prohibited political activity in violation of the Hatch Act.

One DLA employee violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by sending partisan political emails and making political Facebook posts while at work.  The employee also used Facebook to solicit political contributions nearly two dozen times in violation of the Act.  During OSC’s investigation, the employee admitted he was aware of the Hatch Act and that his supervisor had counseled him about the Act prior to engaging in the prohibited activity.  In a settlement agreement, the employee agreed to a 90-day suspension without pay.

Another DLA employee violated the Hatch Act by displaying the words “Vote Republican” on a PowerPoint presentation that he gave while on duty and in the federal workplace.  The employee had received extensive Hatch Act training and was explicitly told prior to giving the presentation that certain images he planned to use, including the “Vote Republican” image, would be problematic.  In a settlement agreement, the employee agreed to a 30-day suspension without pay for his violation.

“With election season drawing near, it is critical that federal employees understand and abide by their Hatch Act obligations,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “As demonstrated in these two cases, there are significant repercussions for federal employees who violate the Hatch Act.”

Note that last June, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent a report to President Donald J. Trump finding that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media. “Given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, OSC recommends that she be removed from federal service.”
On June 13, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said it “respects the Office of White House Counsel but respectfully disagrees with its position, and will not withdraw its Report​ sent to the President today finding numerous Hatch Act violations made by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway (OSC File Nos. HA-19-0631 and HA-19-3395).”

SFRC Ranking Member Menendez Calls For OSC Hatch Act Review Into Pompeo’s Kansas Travel

 

 

On October 29, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), requesting a review to determine whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has violated the Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, which limits certain political activities of federal employees. According to OSC, the law’s purposes are “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.”​​​​ ​​

I write to request an immediate review and assessment of the Secretary of State’s compliance with the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326.
[..]
Since March 2019, the Secretary has taken three official trips to Kansas, apparently at the expense of the Department of State. During the latest trip, from October 24 to 25, 2019, the Secretary visited the Wichita State University Tech National Center for Aviation Training, participated in a workforce development roundtable, visited Textron Aviation Longitude and Latitude Production, and met with students from Wichita State University.  

In an interview, he refused to discuss matters related to Ukraine, insisting he was “here today to talk about workforce development. I came here today to talk about the great things that are going on here in Kansas.” The events in Kansas were aimed largely at promoting the President’s “Pledge to American Workers,” which has no discernible relation to the Department of State. According to The Wall Street Journal, he also “discussed the U.S. Senate race in Kansas” with Charles Koch, the head of Koch Industries, and former top contributor to his political campaigns, as well as backer of Pompeo’s prior business.  Textron Inc., the parent company of Textron Aviation, was also a major contributor to then-Congressman Pompeo’s political campaigns. 

For months, public reports have persisted that the Secretary was considering running for U.S. Senate in Kansas.  Many in Kansas perceive his appearances in the state to be a de facto campaign effort.  Indeed, an October 25, 2019 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job,” seems to indicate his actions are already being construed as evidence of a possible candidacy by members of the press and the public in Kansas.  And following his trip, the Department of State’s official twitter handle posted a workforce and Kansas-centric video montage of the Secretary’s visit, which appears to have no nexus to the Department’s official work.    

Secretary Pompeo is not any federal employee. Rather, he is one of the most prominent members of the President’s cabinet. He appears frequently on TV and for interviews, and, as is true for many Secretaries of State, is known and recognized by the American public. Thus, it is even more crucial that he and the Department maintain a clear line between his actions as a federal employee and steward of the U.S. government, and any efforts that could be perceived as political in nature or laying the groundwork for potential campaign activity. I therefore ask that you review his travel and his interactions in Kansas closely, and determine whether any violations have occurred or additional guidance to the Department or the Secretary may be warranted.

The full letter is available to read here.

The Giant Halkbank Octopus: New Episodes Coming Soon!

 

From our old post in 2017: Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

On March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, 2017 DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

In November 2017, NBC News also reported that Zarrab began cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case.
According to avhal, the Turkish banker, Hakan Atilla served 32 months in prison in the United States for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, and was released on July 19 this year. On October 21, 2019, Turkey’s Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak (and Erdogan’s son-in-law) announced that the former Halkbank director has been appointed as the director general of Borsa Istanbul, Turkey’s main stock exchange.
On October 15, USDOJ announced that TÜRKİYE HALK BANKASI A.S., a/k/a “Halkbank,” was charged in a six-count Indictment with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
On October 24, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon announced that he is launching an investigation into the Halkbank scandal.
Courthouse News Service Adam Klasfeld who has covered this case extensively notes in his October 22 report that “Turkey continued to hold three U.S. consulate workers in captivity with relative silence from the White House, and Halkbank kept an indictment at bay for more than two years, even after its ex-general manager Suleyman Aslan and executive Atilla had been charged with the multibillion-dollar conspiracy.”
Back in 2017, we thought this thriller which started out actually in 2013  (see the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece, A Mysterious Case Involving Turkey, Iran, and Rudy Giuliani) — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars — was going to unravel under the glare of sunlight, but here we are in 2019.  So now we wait for the next episodes.

Related posts:

USDOJ: Armenian Citizen Pleads Guilty for His Role in For-Profit U.S. Visa Fraud Scheme

 

Via USDOJ:

Armenian Citizen Pleads Guilty for His Role in For-Profit U.S. Visa Fraud Scheme

A man residing in Glendale, California, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to unlawfully bring in aliens and visa fraud for his role in a multi-year visa fraud scheme that brought Armenian citizens into the United States for profit.

Hrachya Atoyan, 32, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara in the Eastern District of New York.  Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie.  According to the indictment, Atoyan allegedly participated in a transnational network of co-conspirators who engaged in a widespread visa fraud scheme to bring Armenian citizens into the United States by fraudulently claiming to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the Armenians were members of performance groups, and thus qualified for P-3 “Culturally Unique Artist” visas.

“Exploiting the P-3 non-immigrant visa classification system for culturally unique artist and entertainers makes a mockery out of the legitimate performers for whom that visa was intended,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “We will work hand in hand with our law enforcement partners to rid the system of fraudsters, like Mr. Atoyan and his co-conspirators, who seek to take advantage of and profit from our immigration system.”

“Atoyan’s guilty plea brings down the curtain on an elaborate visa fraud scheme to falsely portray applicants as artists and entertainers in order to circumvent our country’s P-3 visa program,” said U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York.

“The Diplomatic Security Service builds strong teams overseas and in the United States to protect the integrity of all U.S. visas and travel documents – especially those, like the P-3 visa, which allow for entertainers to visit the United States to perform in culturally unique events and deepen our understanding of different cultures,” said Todd J. Brown, Director of the Diplomatic Security Service.  “DSS values our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies around the world to prevent and jointly combat U.S. passport and visa fraud. Deterring, detecting, and investigating U.S. passport and visa fraud is essential to safeguarding our national security.”

[…]

The P-3 nonimmigrant visa classification allows foreign nationals to temporarily travel to the United States to perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers, under a program that is culturally unique.  A U.S. employer or sponsoring organization is required to submit a USCIS Form I-129 Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker, along with supporting documentation, attesting that the performances in the United States are culturally unique.

In February 2018, Stella Boyadjian of Rego Park, New York; Atoyan; and Diana Grigoryan, aka “Dina Akopovna,” 42, of the Republic of Armenia were charged in a 15-count indictment with visa fraud and with conspiracy to: defraud the United States, commit visa fraud, and illegally bring aliens into the United States.  Boyadjian and Grigoryan were also charged with related money laundering charges, and Boyadjian was charged with aggravated identity theft.  Boyadjian previously pleaded guilty on March 4, 2019 in the Eastern District of New York.

As alleged in the indictment, Boyadjian ran a non-profit organization called Big Apple Music Awards Foundation (BAMA) based in Rego Park, New York.  Boyadjian used the Big Apple Music Awards Foundation as well as formal and informal music industry contacts in the United States and Armenia to perpetuate the scheme.  Atoyan, Boyadjian, and others solicited Armenian citizens who wanted to come to the United States and charged them between $3,000 and $10,000 to be included on the Form I-129 Petitions.  Boyadjian and other associates in Armenia then acquired fraudulent performer certificates and organized staged photo sessions where the aliens wore traditional Armenian folk outfits to make it appear as though they were traditional Armenian performers.  After being trained how to defeat U.S. visa interviews, the individual aliens presented these certificates and photos to U.S. consular officers during their visa interviews.  Once the Armenians entered the United States, some would pay Boyadjian and her associates additional money to be included in another fraudulent petition asking for P-3 visa extensions.  As alleged in the indictment, Atoyan himself came to the United States on a P-3 visa obtained in connection with a Form I-129 submitted by BAMA.

@StateDept Contracting Officer Zaldy N. Sabino Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud

 

This is a follow-up to our post on April 16, 2019 @StateDept Contracting Officer Faces 17-Count Indictment For Bribery and Procurement Fraud.  On October 4, 2019, the Justice Department announced the conviction of State Department Contracting officer Zaldy N. Zabino of  13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

State Department Contracting Officer Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud

A contracting officer with the U.S. Department of State was convicted today of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

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, Special Agent in Charge Marc Meyer of the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General and Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Zaldy N. Sabino, 60, of Fort Washington, Maryland, was convicted of 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.  Sentencing has been set for Feb. 14, 2020.

Sabino was indicted in April 2019.  According to the indictment, between November 2012 and early 2017, Sabino and the owner of a Turkish construction firm allegedly engaged in a bribery and procurement fraud scheme in which Sabino received at least $239,300 in cash payments from the Turkish owner while Sabino supervised multi-million dollar construction contracts awarded to the Turkish owner’s business partners and while Sabino made over a half million dollars in structured cash deposits into his personal bank accounts.  Sabino allegedly concealed his unlawful relationship by, among other things, making false statements on financial disclosure forms and during his background reinvestigation.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General, led by Steve A. Linick, 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 Jack Hanly of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

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

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@StateDept Re-Issues Level 2 Travel Advisory For Saudi Arabia Over Threat of Missile and Drone Attacks on Civilian Targets

 

On September 17, the State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory (Exercised Increased Caution) for Saudi Arabia due to “terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.” It previously issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory on June 26, 2019 but the advisory was reissued “with updates to security information.”
Via travel.state.gov:

Exercise increased caution in Saudi Arabia due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.

Do not travel to:

Within 50 miles of the border with Yemen due to terrorism and armed conflict.

Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Terrorists have targeted both Saudi and Western government interests, mosques and other religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places frequented by U.S. citizens and other Westerners.

Regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted destructive and sometimes lethal attacks against a variety of targets including critical infrastructure, military facilities, airports, and energy facilities throughout the country, as well as vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes. Riyadh, Yanbu, areas in proximity to Jeddah, the civilian airport in Abha, military installations in the south, and specific oil and gas facilities are examples of recent targets. The Islamic Republic of Iran has supplied Yemen-based Houthis and other regional proxy groups with weapons, including drones, missiles, and rockets. Houthi militants continue to plan and conduct attacks against locations in Saudi Arabia. Violence associated with Iran-supported groups represents a significant threat. U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Eastern Province and areas near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attack.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the following locations, as U.S. Mission personnel and their families are restricted from travel to:

    • Within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border, including the cities of Jizan and Najran, and
    • Qatif in the Eastern province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah.

U.S. Mission personnel and their families are not permitted to use the airport in Abha without Chief of Mission approval.

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman region, including Saudi Arabia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an advisory Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). For more information U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.

If you decide to travel to Saudi Arabia:

    • Stay alert in locations frequented by Westerners.
    • Obtain comprehensive medical insurance that includes medical evacuation.
    • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
    • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
    • Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Saudi Arabia.
    • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Yemen Border

Violence in Yemen has spilled over into Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions. Rebel forces in Yemen fire artillery at Saudi border towns and launch cross-border attacks against Saudi military personnel. Civilians who are near the border with Yemen are at risk.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border as U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel to this area.

Visit our website for information on travel to high-risk areas.

 

ALSO THIS:  Who’s going to do it, and what kind of props will he/she bring to the United Nations? The last time one of our guys did it, he brought a vial he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council in 2003.

Related items:

 

John Lansing Resigns From USAGM to be CEO For National Public Radio (NPR)

 

The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM, @USAGMgov) will soon be without a chief executive officer. USAGM released a statement on the departure of its CEO John Lansing. He joined USAGM (then known as BBG) as CEO and Director in September 2015. Excerpt below:

After four years serving as the first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), John F. Lansing will be leaving USAGM—an independent federal agency providing accurate, objective, and professional news and information worldwide—at the end of this month to start the next chapter of his career as the President and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR).

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs also released a statement. Excerpt below:

“It’s important that when John steps down, there is continuity of leadership at USAGM. Changes in the law adopted in 2016 provided for a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed CEO to lead the agency. But the Senate has not confirmed such a nominee and until it does so, the existing Board of Governors retains the power to name a replacement. I urge the Board to do so immediately, as we can’t predict when the Senate may act on the President’s nominee. This is too important a job to be left vacant for even a day.”

 

US Embassy Nassau: #HurricaneDorian 🌀 Aftermath, @USAID/OFDA, @USCGSoutheast

 

This is a follow-up to our post on August 31, US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian.  The NOAA Hurricane Update of 1100 PM EDT Mon Sep 02 2019 notes that devastating hurricane conditions continue on Grand Bahama Island and that a life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 12 to 18 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds on Grand Bahama Island.

USAID/OFDA announced on Twitter that a team of Caribbean-based disaster experts is in the Bahamas to work w/ national authorities & humanitarian partners to help assess impacts & humanitarian needs.

The US Coast Guard Southeast said that its Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, forward deployed to Andros Island, medevaced 19 people from the Marsh Harbour Clinic to Nassau International Airport on Monday, September 2.