ICE Says Student Visa Holders May Be Deported, @StateDept Whips Outs a Lipstick, Er … a Welcome Statement

 

 

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@USAGMgov: Heads of MBN, Radio Free Asia, RFE/RL, and the Open Technology Fund Ousted

On June 16, the top two officials at the Voice of America resigned with the arrival of new Trump appointee Michael  Pack as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (see Top VOA Officials Resign as Michael Pack Assumes Charge as CEO of @USAGMgov).
On Wednesday evening, the news media reports the dismissal of the remaining heads of the four organizations under USAGM. OCB already has an interim director since 2018, and VOA was just vacated. For those unfamiliar with the agency, this used to be BBG prior to its “larger modernization effort”  in August 2018.

Via CNN:
The heads of four organizations overseen by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) were all dismissed Wednesday night — a move likely to heighten concerns that new Trump-appointed CEO Michael Pack means to turn the agency into a political arm of the administration.
In what a former official described as a “Wednesday night massacre,” the heads of Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund were all ousted, multiple sources told CNN.
“They let go all of the heads of the networks. It’s unprecedented,” an agency source told CNN.
A source familiar with the situation said at least two of the removals — that of RFE/RL’s Jamie Fly and MBN’s Alberto Fernandez — were unexpected. The head of the Open Technology Fund, Libby Liu, had resigned effective July, but was still fired Wednesday evening, one of the sources said.
[…]
In addition, Jeffrey Shapiro, an ally the ultra-conservative former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, is expected to be named to lead the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

 

Top VOA Officials Resign as Michael Pack Assumes Charge as CEO of @USAGMgov

 

The newly confirm CEO Michael Pack “oversees all aspects of U.S. international media.”  He reportedly also “provides day-to-day management of USAGM’s operations, including oversight of the technical, professional, and administrative support as well as strategic guidance and management of other programs. USAGM’s management team is listed here.

Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick Expelled From Vanuatu After US Embassy Papua New Guinea’s Request

 

Via USDOJ:
Inigo Philbrick Defrauded Investors and Lenders Out Of More Than $20 Million In Connection With Works by Notable Contemporary Artists

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of a Complaint in Manhattan federal court charging INIGO PHILBRICK, an art dealer specializing in post-war and contemporary fine art, with galleries in London, United Kingdom, and Miami, Florida, with engaging in a multi-year scheme to defraud various individuals and entities in order to finance his art business.  In total, PHILBRICK allegedly fraudulently obtained more than $20 million as a result of the scheme.

Federal law enforcement agents took PHILBRICK into custody yesterday in Vanuatu, after Vanuatu authorities expelled PHILBRICK from Vanuatu at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea in light of the charges in the Complaint.  PHILBRICK was then transported to Guam, where he is expected to be presented in federal court on June 15, 2020.     

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million.  You can’t sell more than 100 percent ownership in a single piece of art, which Philbrick allegedly did, among other scams.  When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country.  Now he is in U.S. custody and facing justice.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Mr. Philbrick allegedly sought out high-dollar art investors, sold pieces he didn’t own, and played games with millions of dollars in other people’s money.  The game ended when investors began wondering where their money went.  Hats off to the FBI NY Joint Major Theft Task Force/Art Crime Team who worked diligently to track down Mr. Philbrick and bring him back to the U.S., where, if convicted, he might have to trade in his jet-set life for a drab federal prison cell.”
[…]
PHILBRICK, 33, a U.S. citizen previously residing in London, United Kingdom, and a fugitive since October 2019, was charged in the Complaint with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.  The wire fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.  The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
[…]
To report information related to this case, please contact the FBI’s Art Crime Team at NYArtCrime@fbi.gov.

The allegations in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Read the full statement here.
The Complaint was unsealed on June 12 in Manhattan federal court.

 

Contractor Resolves Charges Relating to Fraud on GSA Contract to Modernize the Harry S. Truman Building

 

Via USDOJ:
Government Contractor Resolves Charges Relating to Fraud on General Services Administration Contract to Modernize State Department Building

Alutiiq International Solutions LLC (AIS), a subsidiary of Afognak Native Corporation (Afognak) and an Alaskan Native Corporation, within the meaning of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, that performs construction work on government contracts, has entered into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) and has agreed to pay over $1.25 million to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into a kickback and fraud scheme perpetrated by a former AIS manager on a U.S. Government contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

As part of the NPA, AIS has agreed to pay $1,259,444 in victim compensation payments to the GSA.  Under the terms of the NPA, AIS and its parent company, Afognak, have agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation and prosecution of individuals, and to report to the department evidence of allegations of violations of U.S. fraud, anti-corruption, procurement integrity, and anti-kickback laws.  Afognak and AIS also agreed to enhance their compliance program and internal controls, where necessary and appropriate, to ensure they are designed to detect and deter, among other things, fraud and kickbacks in connection with U.S. federal government contracts.

According to AIS’s admissions contained in the NPA, beginning in or around June 2010, the AIS project manager assigned to a multi-million dollar GSA contract to modernize the Harry S. Truman Federal Building in Washington, D.C., began receiving kickbacks from a subcontractor on the project in exchange for steering work to the subcontractor.  These kickbacks initially were paid in the form of meals, vacations, and other things of value but, by 2015, the AIS project manager began demanding cash kickbacks equivalent to 10 percent of the value of contract modifications that were being awarded to the subcontractor.  At the same time, the AIS project manager billed the GSA for services purportedly provided by an on-site superintendent when there was no superintendent on site.  The AIS project manager’s false and fraudulent billings caused the GSA to pay $568,800 to AIS that it should not have paid.  Additionally, when making contract modification requests to the GSA, the AIS project manager illegally inflated the estimated costs that AIS received from its subcontractor, resulting in $690,644 in monies paid by GSA to AIS.
[….]

A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment charging the AIS project manager, Elmer Baker, with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act, and four counts of wire fraud, in May 2019.  Trial is currently scheduled for Dec. 7, 2020, before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

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

Read the full statement here. Download AIS Non-Prosecution Agreement

Dear @StateDept, What Are You Going to Do About Metin Topuz’s Imprisonment Besides Being “Deeply Troubled?”

 

The United States can do a lot more than simply express being “deeply troubled” or its “deep disappointment.” The question is will it do more? How much is it willing to do when it comes to Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen employee who worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul prior to his arrest?
The State Department has 50,059 locally employed staff at 275 posts in 195 countries.
In August 2018, the Treasury Department targeted Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu with financial sanctions over the country’s refusal to release Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned by the Turkish government on charges of terrorism and espionage. In October 2018, Brunson was convicted, by Turkish authorities, on the charge of aiding terrorism, but was released from Turkish custody and returned to the United States.

 

Related posts:

@StateDept’s Pompeo Muscle Desperately Throws Kitchen Sink at Ousted IG Steve Linick

Since the U.S. Senate majority doesn’t take anything seriously these days, State/OIG Steve Linick will officially be terminated on June 15, 30 days after Trump sent his congressional notification. And yet, on June 8th, the Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao fired two letters – one to Linick’s lawyers, and another to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency ( CIGIE) asking for an investigation into the conduct of the soon to be former inspector general. As a CNN reporter pointed out, the State Department could have requested the CIGIE investigation at any point before Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick. It did not. The State Department is asking for it now, the week that Linick officially leaves his job.
Why?
It looks like the State Department is throwing the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes at IG Linick, hoping one of those dirty dishes would hit him on his way out. We’re just waiting for one of these champions of diplomacy to turn around and say from the podium, “see, that dirt on his shirt? That’s the reason no one should pay attention to whatever he was investigating before he was fired.”
Apparently, faulting Linick for not promoting Pompeo’s professional ethos statement did not quite do the trick. So the 7th floor folks, they’re hoping this one would work, ey? Has somebody there already created a PowerPoint presentation on “How to be an Agile  Champion of Diplomacy Watchdog and Just Cover Your Eyes?”
We’d like to see that, please.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate yawns and scratches its bum. During his tenure as State Department watchdog, Linick has probably alienated enough Democrats in Congress during the email mess, and alienated enough Republicans in Congress during the Ukraine mess. So, that’s that.
Unfortunately, in the constant breaking news cycle we are currently living, the world will move on in short order. Media folks will report on other outrages, big and small that occurs on a daily basis.  Our country’s march towards a full blown banana republic continue. Still. We won’t forget that Mr. Linick was fired for doing his job. We’d take his word over any character from this 7th Floor of the Foggiest Bottom.

The Bulatao- CIGIE letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465038049/CIGIELetter-June82020

The Bulatao-Linick’s lawyer letter is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/465025243/Bulatao-Linick

Inbox: Respect For Our Colleagues

We received the following from “Outrage Colleague”:
The recent outrage on an online forum about the harassment of our fellow diplomats at the border is too little too late.
|> Front offices and OFM of course are aware of the treatment by CBP and foreign governments of our non American born and non-white heritage colleagues. Little has been done, when actions been taken, teams move on and old habits return.
|> Expeditors used in multiple embassies and missions are a poor excuse for unwillingness to stand up to foreign governments to this treatment.
|> There is no EEO Channel for our colleagues to report these issues to. When they report them to Management the solution is often assignment of an expeditor or a security staff member or a call to a low level official. The treatment continues and the colleague is made to feel even more different. We continue to fund programs related to aviation, security, and justice in the host nation.
|> There has been démarches for LGBTI accreditation issues yet, I don’t recall seeing an instruction on this issue, not even once.
|> This is rampant in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and WHA and it impacts people of color, people of Hispanic heritage, people of Arab descent, and women.  
Enough.

Matt Armstrong on Understanding the White House’s Attack on VOA

Matt Armstrong served as the Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in 2011.  From August 2013 through January 2017, Matt served as a Governor on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, since renamed the U.S. Agency for Global Media. He is an MPhil/PhD candidate at King’s College London in the Defence Studies Department (since January 2020), an Associate Fellow at King’s Centre for Strategic Communication at King’s College London, and an Adjunct Lecturer for the Joint Special Operations University.

Peace Corps Suspends Global Operations, Evacuates All Volunteers #COVID19