@VP Kamala Harris Swears-in New @USAID Administrator Samantha Power

The life of a blog has no certainty. In most cases, a blog has a lifespan better than that of a mayfly. A day. But most blogs do not make it longer than winter bees (six months). We have to-date survived through 26 winter bee seasons! So that’s amazing! Whatever is in the horizon, we are thankful to all of you who made these seasons possible. We are on the last few days of our eight-week annual fundraising. We are grateful to over 400 readers who pitched in since we launched a few weeks ago. If you care what we do here, and you are able to help, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your support.  ❤️❤️❤️ D!

 

 

A Cautionary Tale: Divorce, Death and Survivor Benefits

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Via Beckstead v. Office of Personnel Management, 2020-1884 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 7, 2021) (MSPB Docket No. DE-0831-20-0119-I-1):
The court affirmed the administrative judge’s affirmance of OPM’s final decision denying the petitioner former spouse survivor annuity benefits. The court found that the survivor annuity election made during the petitioner’s marriage with the decedent terminated upon their post-retirement divorce and, despite the decedent’s receiving notice as required by statute of the election rights and obligations, no valid election was made or valid court order was issued granting the petitioner a former spouse survivor annuity.
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Background: Mrs. Beckstead was married to Lynn Beckstead (“Mr. Beckstead”) on February 4, 1965.
In 1971, Mr. Beckstead became a federal employee covered under the Civil Service Retirement System.
In 2007, he applied for retirement and elected a survivor annuity for his spouse, Mrs. Beckstead. Each year after Mr. Beckstead’s retirement, the Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) sent him an Annual Notice of Survivor Annuity Election Rights (“Annual Notice”).
On December 3, 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Beckstead divorced. A state court in New Mexico issued a Default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (“Divorce Decree”), which stated in relevant part that Mrs. Beckstead was entitled to:
Exactly one half (1/2) of any and all retirement benefits, 401(k) or other retirement account of [Lynn]. Such account(s) to be divided by Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). 
SAppx. 10. The Divorce Decree did not specifically provide for a survivor annuity, and no QDRO was issued while Mr. Beckstead was alive. Following the divorce, Mr. Beckstead did not notify OPM of the divorce and he never made a new election of a survivor annuity for Mrs. Beckstead.
Mr. Beckstead died on July 9, 2018, and Mrs. Beckstead applied for survivor annuity benefits thereafter. OPM informed Mrs. Beckstead that her application could not be processed because her Divorce Decree did not include the referenced QDRO.
On January 18, 2019, more than seven months after Mr. Beckstead’s death, the New Mexico state court issued a QDRO. SAppx. 24–26.
On March 19, 2019, OPM informed Mrs. Beckstead that she was not entitled to survivor annuity benefits because the QDRO was issued after Mr. Beckstead’s death. OPM then reconsidered and reversed its decision on the basis that the agency had failed to properly notify Mr. Beckstead of his rights to preserve the survivor annuity benefit after a divorce. SAppx. 32. Upon further review, however, OPM concluded that Mr. Beckstead had received notices informing him of his rights, but he did not elect a survivor annuity for Mrs. Beckstead after their divorce. Thus, on December 6, 2019, OPM confirmed its initial finding that Mrs. Beckstead was not entitled to former spouse survivor annuity benefits. SAppx. 35–36.
Read in full here (pdf).

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Do you know the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes?

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Gibson v. Office of Personnel Management, No. 2020-1651 (Fed. Cir. September 9, 2020) (MSPB Docket No. PH-0831-20-0011-I-1): The appellant sought survivor annuity benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System, contending that she is a “widow” of a retired Federal employee. OPM denied the appellant’s application for benefits, finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes under 5 U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A), because the marriage to her husband lasted from May 21, 2018, until his death on February 15, 2019 (270 days). This was short of the “at least 9 months” requirement. On appeal, the Board affirmed OPM’s determination. Before the Federal Circuit, the appellant contested the application of the term “months” and argued that each month should be counted as having 30 days, meaning her 270-day marriage was 9 months in duration. The court rejected this argument and affirmed the Board’s final decision. Citing Supreme Court precedent as support, the court concluded that the phrase “9 months” has an “ordinary public meaning” that counts time as calendar months. The court further explained that Congress often uses, including in the statute at issue, “days” as a unit of measurement and could have done so in 5U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A) if that were its intention. The appellant presented no grounds for “erasing the clear distinction between familiar counting methods.”

http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/20-1651.OPINION.9-9-2020_1649543.pdf

 


 

 

Samantha Power Before SFRC on 3/23, USAID Announces 19 New Biden-Harris Appointees

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On Tuesday, March 23, former USUN Ambassador Samantha Power will have her confirmation hearing as President Biden’s nominee to be the next Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A live video of the hearing will be available to watch here.  
Meanwhile, on March 15, 2021, USAID announced almost two dozens new Biden-Harris appointees at the agency:
Today, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) welcomes Gideon Maltz as the Agency’s Chief of Staff. Gideon joins the growing body of Biden-Harris appointees that continue to build out the Agency with wide-ranging expertise. They look forward to contributing to the world’s premier development agency as part of a vibrant, dedicated workforce, representing the best of the American people.
Together, the team, celebrating 60 years of successes, will build the USAID of tomorrow, leading and always innovating international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty and strengthen democracy.
Senior Staff
      • Travis Adkins, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Africa
      • Jeremy Bernton, Executive Secretary, Office of the Executive Secretariat
      • Natasha Bilimoria, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Global Health
      • Nikole Burroughs, Deputy Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning
      • Sarah Charles Phillips, Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance
      • Gabi Chojkier, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs
      • Megan Doherty, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Middle East
      • Mileydi Guilarte, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean
      • Diala Jadallah-Redding, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Legislative Affairs, Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs
      • Anjali Kaur, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Asia
      • Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director for COVID-19, Office of the Administrator
      • Zeppa Kreager, White House Liaison
      • Mike Michener, Deputy Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security
      • Raj Panjabi, President’s Malaria Initiative Coordinator, Bureau for Global Health
      • Neilesh Shelat, Deputy Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance
      • Michele Sumilas, Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning
      • Margaret Taylor, General Counsel
      • Rebecca Wexler, Special Advisor, Office of the Administrator
Click on the hyperlinks to view their bios.
With the exception of Jeremy Konyndyk who previously served in the Obama Administration from 2013-2017 as the director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), all are new political appointees to USAID; some previously worked on the Hill, NGOs, consulting firms, or  think tanks.
Also Rebecca Wexler who is the new Special Advisor to the Office of the Administrator previously served as Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. when Samantha Power was at USUN.
We’re still looking for the career appointees but where are they hiding them? We haven’t found them yet!

 

 

 

Former FS Employee and Spouse Sentenced For Counterfeit Goods Trafficking

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On December 20, 2019, we blogged this: @StateDept Employee and Spouse Indicted for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy Seoul.  On March 18, 2021, USDOJ announced that the former employee and his spouse were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit goods through e-commerce accounts operated from State Department computers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Below via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Sentenced to Prison for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy

A former U.S. Department of State employee and his spouse were sentenced today for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit goods through e-commerce accounts operated from State Department computers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Gene Leroy Thompson Jr., 54, and Guojiao “Becky” Zhang, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods on Dec. 20. 2020. Thompson Jr. was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Zhang was sentenced to three years of supervised release, the first eight months of which will consist of home confinement. Thompson Jr. and Zhang were also ordered to forfeit a combined total of $229,302.
According to court documents, Thompson Jr. was an Information Programs Officer employed by the Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, a position that required him to maintain a security clearance. Zhang resided with him in Seoul. Between September 2017 and December 2019, Thompson Jr. and Zhang sold counterfeit goods on a variety of e-commerce platforms. Thompson Jr. used his State Department computer at the embassy to create numerous e-commerce accounts, including additional accounts under aliases to continue the conspiracy and avoid detection after several e-commerce platforms suspended the couple’s other accounts for fraudulent activity. Zhang took primary responsibility for operating the accounts, communicating with customers, and procuring merchandise to be stored in the District of Oregon. Thompson Jr. and Zhang also directed a co-conspirator in the District of Oregon to ship items to purchasers across the United States.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon; and Assistant Director Ricardo Colón of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.
The case was investigated by the DSS Office of Special Investigations with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Frank Lin of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter of the District of Oregon.

 


 

 

WhatTheWhat? State/OIG Reviewed But Did Not/Not Evaluate @StateDept’s COVID-19 Response

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“The scope of this review was the Department’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its plans and procedures for returning employees to offices. As part of this review, OIG did not evaluate whether the Department’s implementation of its plans and procedures effectively safeguarded Department personnel health and safety. In addition, OIG did not include the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution or new policies, such as President Biden’s executive order on required mask wearing, as these occurred subsequent to fieldwork completion. OIG completed this review in Washington, DC, and virtually with officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq; U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan; and Consulate General Frankfurt, Germany. These posts were selected due to OIG’s onsite presence at each post, as well as the varying local responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced how the Department’s reopening plans were executed by post management.”

 


 

 

GAP and VOA Whistleblowers Call For Investigation of Ex-USAGM Chief Michael Pack

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On March 18, Government Accountability Project on behalf of federal whistleblowers called for an investigation of the former head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Michael Pack who reportedly spent nearly $2 million in federal funds investigating Voice of America employees. Excerpt below:
…On behalf of anonymous whistleblowers, alerted Congress and federal whistleblower agencies to new details about sole source, no bid contracts awarded to two law firms by Michael Pack to investigate the employees at the agency he headed, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). USAGM is the parent agency of Voice of America (VOA). Until ordered to resign by President Biden on Inauguration Day, Mr. Pack—a Trump administration political appointee—was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAGM.
[…]
After alerting the Congress and the federal whistleblower agencies (the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) to Mr. Pack’s misconduct, Government Accountability Project used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain additional details about the sole source, no-bid law firm contracts.
GAP provided a link to USAGM materials released via the latter’s FOIA, available here. Government Accountability Project also sent a supplemental analysis to Congress, OSC, and State/OIG.
Cited among its findings:
  • The total value of all services rendered by McGuireWoods and Caplin & Drysdale (billed and unbilled) was approximately $1.776 million.
  • Over four months, McGuireWoods billed approximately $1.625 million in fees and disbursements based on 5,093 billable hours, an average of approximately $320 for each billable hour.
  • The three activities responsible for over 90 percent of McGuireWoods’ billable hours were: “Document Production” (2,998.10 hours); “Analysis/Strategy” (1,053.40 hours); and “Fact Investigation/Development” (655.80 hours).
  • Over four months, Caplin & Drysdale billed approximately $66,000 in fees and disbursements based on 84.4 billable hours, an average of over $780 for each billable hour.
GAP urge the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate, State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel “to specifically investigate the authority invoked and the representations made by Mr. Pack and others in order to pay these law firms, and any other contractors Mr. Pack hired during his brief and controversial tenure.”
The letter is available to read here.


 

 

 

@StateDept Convenes Accountability Review Board to Investigate the Murder of Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos in Tijuana, Mexico

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In October last year, we blogged about Edgar Flores Santos, a local employee who worked on animal and plant inspection for the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS office at the US Consulate General in Tijuana. He was reported missing on September 30 and found dead in a field southeast of the city on October 2, 2020 (also see Mexico: US Consulate Tijuana Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos Found Dead in a Field).

On March 9, 2021, the State Department published a notice via regulations.gov on the convening of an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to investigate the murder of Edgar Flores Santos. Former Ambassador and former DGHR George Staples has been appointed as Chair of the Board for ARB-Tijuana:
Convening of an Accountability Review Board To Investigate the Murder of an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Locally Employed (LE) Staff Member in Tijuana, Mexico Pursuant to Section 301 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4831), the Department of State convened an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review the October 2020 murder of an APHIS LE Staff member in Tijuana, Mexico. The ARB will examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident and submit its findings to the Secretary of State, together with any recommendations as appropriate. The Department has appointed George Staples, a retired U.S. ambassador, as Chair of the Board. The other Board members are retired U.S. Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Mr. Dirk Dijkerman, Mr. John Eustace, and Mr. Kimber Davidson. They bring to their deliberations distinguished backgrounds in government service.
The Board will submit its findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State. The Department will report to Congress on any recommendations made by the Board and actions taken with respect to those recommendations.
Anyone with information relevant to the Board’s examination of these incidents should contact the Board via email promptly at ARBTijuana2021@ state.gov.
Zachary A. Parker, Director, Office of Directives Management.

 


 

 

 

@StateDept Designates Amb. Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force

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On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of retired Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the task force handling the agency’s response to the Havana Syndrome.
The Department has designated Ambassador Pamela Spratlen to serve as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. Since its creation in 2018, the HIRTF has served as the coordinating body for the Department and interagency’s response to unexplained health incidents for personnel and dependents under Chief of Mission security responsibility, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members; investigation and risk mitigation; messaging; and diplomatic outreach.
A career member of the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years, Ambassador Spratlen was formerly Senior Advisor of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. State Department, Inspections Division. She was the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2015-2018 and Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) from 2011-2014. She has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan (2009-2011).
In addition to numerous Washington assignments and a tour as Diplomat in Residence at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Ambassador Spratlen also served in Russia (Moscow and Vladivostok), France (U.S. Mission to the OECD) and Latin America (Guatemala and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States).
As Secretary Blinken said, “The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families. She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community, and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.”
Members of the media who are interested in interviews with Ambassador Pamela Spratlen should contact Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg at GreenbergBL2@state.gov or 202-647-1679.GreenbergBL2@state.gov
During the DPB of March 12, a reporter pointed out that the announcement did not say anything about Cuba or any particular country where these issues may arise and asked, “Is that for a reason? Is it broader than that?” Below is the response of State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
“… To your first question, as we mentioned, we do have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens. Of course, these health incidents have been a priority for Secretary Blinken even before he was officially Secretary Blinken. He requested a comprehensive briefing on these incidents during the transition when he was secretary-designate. On his first day, full day here at the department, he received an update. He has since received comprehensive briefings.
He also wanted to ensure that the task force that has been established and working on these incidents since May of 2018 had connectivity directly to him, and directly to his senior leadership team. And so that is why we have decided, and he has decided to name Ambassador Spratlen as the senior advisor to the task force.
We didn’t specifically mention countries in that announcement because as you know, Matt, there have been now several countries where these incidents have been reported. We are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents. That will be a large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role, is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents.
There is also an individual on the task force who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. So we will continue to pay close attention to this. Secretary Blinken will continue to pay close attention to this, because he has no higher priority than the health and the safety and security than the department and dependents of department personnel.”
We’d like to know who is the unnamed “individual on the task force responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents.”  Has this person been there since 2018 or is this a new appointment?
We’ve also requested an opportunity to ask Ambassador Spratlen some questions about the Department’s response to the Havana Syndrome but we have yet to hear a response. We hope to have a separate update on this, that is,  if our email survive  Foggy Bottom’s email chewing doggo and get to Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg. 
Or if you know something and want to say something, reach out here.


 

 

 

USA v. Raymond: Court Issues Protective Order Pertaining to Classified Information

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Back in October, we blogged about ex-USG employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond who was called an “experienced sexual predator,” and ordered removed to D.C.  The Motion for Pre-Trial Detention in this case says that the government’s investigation has revealed 22 apparent victims thus far – the initial sexual assault victim plus 21 additional victims found on the defendant’s devices and in his iCloud. And this individual reportedly had taken over 10 polygraphs during his career. 
Court records of February 9 indicate that the Preliminary Hearing will  continue on 3/26/2021 at 11:30 AM in Telephonic/VTC before Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
On February 18, a “Protective Order setting forth procedures for handling confidential material; allowing designated material to be filed under seal as to Brian Jeffrey Raymond” was issued by the Court.
Uh-oh!
On March 1, 2021, the Court issued an order granting a consent motion for Protective Order Pursuant to Section 3 of the Classified Information Procedures Act by USA as to Brian Jeffrey Raymond. Excerpt:
The case will involve information that has been classified in the interest of national security

“The Court finds that this case will involve information that has been classified in the interest of national security. The storage, handling, and control of this information will require special security precautions mandated by statute, executive order, and regulation, and access to this information requires appropriate security clearances and need-to-know, as set forth in Executive Order 13526 (or successor order), that has been validated by the government.2 The purpose of this Order is to establish procedures that must be followed by counsel and the parties in this case. These procedures will apply to all pretrial, trial, post-trial, and appellate matters concerning classified information and may be modified from time to time by further Order of the Court acting under its inherent supervisory authority to ensure a fair and expeditious trial.”

Any classified information provided to the defense…

“Any classified information provided to the defense and the defendant by the government, or to the defense by the defendant, is to be used solely by the defense and solely for the purpose of preparing the defense. The defense and the defendant may not disclose or cause to be disclosed in connection with this case any information known or reasonably believed to be classified information except as otherwise provided herein.”

For Cleared Counsel Only

“The government may disclose some information to defense counsel only. This information shall be clearly marked “FOR CLEARED COUNSEL ONLY.” For any such information, defense counsel may not confirm or deny to the defendant any assertions made by the defendant based on knowledge the defense may have obtained from classified information, except where that classified information has been provided to the defendant pursuant to this Order. Any classified information the defense discloses to or discusses with the defendant in any way shall be handled in accordance with this Order and the attached Memorandum of Understanding, including such requirements as confining all discussions, documents, and materials to an accredited SCIF.”

Defendant’s Memorandum of Understanding

“As a former U.S. government employee who had access to classified information, the defendant has a continuing contractual obligation to the government not to disclose to any unauthorized person classified information known to him or in his possession. The government is entitled to enforce that agreement to maintain the confidentiality of classified information, and the defendant must sign the Memorandum of Understanding. The defendant is subject to this Court’s authority, contempt powers, and other authorities, and shall fully comply with the nondisclosure agreements he has signed, this Order, the Memorandum of Understanding, and applicable statutes.”

The order includes provisions for a secure area for the defense, filing of papers by the defense, filing of papers by the USG, record and maintenance of classified filings, the Classified Information Procedures Act, access to classified information, and special procedures for audio recordings.
The footnotes includes notation that “The Court understands that the government may move for a supplemental protective order depending on the nature of additional information that is determined to be discoverable” and that  “Any individual to whom classified information is disclosed pursuant to this Order shall not disclose such information to another individual unless the U.S. agency that originated that information has validated that the proposed recipient possesses an appropriate security clearance and need-to-know.”

Previously, on December 15, 2020, the FBI released the following announcement seeking potential victims in their Brian Jeffrey Raymond investigation.

Seeking Potential Victims in Brian Jeffrey Raymond Investigation

The FBI and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service are asking for the public’s help in seeking potential victims of and additional information about an alleged sexual offender, Brian Jeffrey Raymond.

Raymond, 44, was formerly a U.S. government employee, and he traveled extensively overseas, including in Mexico and Peru. He speaks both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Raymond had been living in Mexico from August 2018 to May 2020.

Raymond was charged in connection with an instance in which he allegedly met a victim on a dating application and had videos and photographs of the victim showing her unconscious and partially undressed.

Raymond was arrested in La Mesa, California, on October 9, 2020. The investigation is ongoing and has revealed photographs and videos of additional adult women on Raymond’s devices and electronic accounts.

If you believe you have been a victim of Brian Jeffrey Raymond, the FBI requests that you fill out this secure, online questionnaire. The questionnaire will assist law enforcement with the investigation.

If you believe you or someone you know may have information regarding Brian Jeffrey Raymond, please complete this same questionnaire, or you may email ReportingBJR@fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

The FBI is legally mandated to identify victims of federal crimes it investigates. Identified victims may be eligible for certain services and rights under federal and/or state law.

Questionnaire

Additional Resources

 

To-date, we have not/not been able  to find a press release or DSS articles from Diplomatic Security regarding this alleged sexual offender with apparently extensive overseas travel in Mexico and Peru.
Neither US Mission Mexico nor US Embassy Peru carries the FBI press release on its website in English or Spanish seeking potential victims in this case. The USG is seeking potential victims, is it not?