State/OIG Reports to Congress: Investigations Into Mrs P’s Travels, Ambassadors, Senior Advisors, FSOs and More

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On June 1, 2021, State/OIG published online its Semiannual Report to the Congress (October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021).
On  accountability and independence, the OIG reports:
“OIG did not encounter any attempts to interfere with Inspector General independence—whether through budgetary constraints designed to limit its capabilities, resistance or objection to oversight activities, or restrictions on or significant delays in access to information—for the reporting period from October 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021.
OIG encountered a three-month delay in scheduling an interview with Secretary Michael Pompeo as part of its review of allegations of misuse of Department resources. OIG initially requested an interview on September 11, 2020, but then-Secretary Pompeo did not agree to the interview (which was scheduled for December 23, 2020) until December 16, 2020.
During a mandated review of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ (INL) reporting related to National Drug Control Program activities, INL was not sufficiently responsive to OIG’s requests for information. At the conclusion of fieldwork, OIG determined that it could not complete its review because it did not have sufficient, appropriate evidence to be able to draw a conclusion about whether the Department’s management assertions in its Accounting and Authentication of FY 2020 Drug Control Funds and Related Performance Report were fairly stated.”
The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP):
“From October 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, ESP issued one unclassified report on Department programs and operations. Management Assistance Report: Representational Travel by the Spouse of the Secretary of State (ESP-21-01, 12/2020) In 2019, OIG received a whistleblower complaint related to travel by the spouse of the Secretary of State that the Department considered official travel. To investigate this complaint, OIG requested and reviewed documentation related to official representational family travel by Susan Pompeo from April 2018 to April 2020. Generally, Department policy permits such travel by relatives of Department officials for appropriate representational purposes. However, both Department guidance and principles of internal control require documentation of both the official purpose and the approval of the travel. The Secretary’s spouse took eight trips that were declared official from April 2018 to April 2020. Of the eight trips, OIG found documentation of an authorized purpose for all eight trips, but only found written approval for two of the trips.
OIG recommended that the Office of the Secretary seek and gain written approval for all representational travel, and that the Under Secretary for Management or other authorizing official document in writing the approval for all representational trips by any family members. The Department concurred with these recommendations.”
ESP Substantiation of Allegations of Non-Criminal Misconduct Involving Senior Government Employees, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— A case closed in January 2021 involved a U.S. Ambassador. “OIG found that the official committed several violations of Department policy, including involving a household member in official duties, using personal social media accounts for official activities, and failing to comply with 3 FAM 1214.1 “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees” and “The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,” issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. OIG referred its findings to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the Bureau of African Affairs. Shortly after OIG issued its findings, the Ambassador left office as part of the presidential transition.”
— A case closed in March 2021 involved a USAGM Senior Advisor.  “OIG found that the official violated Federal recordkeeping regulations by instructing employees to communicate with her on official matters using a mobile messaging application and then deleting the messages without properly preserving them in agency recordkeeping systems. OIG referred its findings to USAGM, which reviewed the matter and notified the National Archives and Records Administration of the improper disposal of Federal records.”
The Office of Investigations conducts worldwide investigations of criminal, civil, and administrative misconduct related to programs and operations of the Department. During the reporting period, OIG conducted a number of investigations involving senior Government employees.
Investigations Involving Senior Government Employees Where Allegations Were Substantiated, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— On June 12, 2015, OIG opened an investigation based on information that a senior Administrative Officer and two of her subordinates violated procurement rules and regulations related to the use of U.S. Government purchase cards. The investigation substantiated the allegation and revealed the officer instructed her employees to engage in the practice of split purchasing. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in January 2021.
— On October 28, 2019, OIG opened an investigation based on information that the senior advisor to a U.S. Ambassador serving overseas may have received supplemental compensation from a private company while serving as a U.S. Government employee. The investigation revealed the advisor transmitted Sensitive But Unclassified information to non-U.S. Government personnel and received gifts of airfare and a gift card valued over $8,000 from a private business entity. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
— On May 29, 2019, OIG opened an investigation regarding multiple allegations of misconduct by a U.S. Ambassador. The investigation revealed the Ambassador inappropriately used his position to try to influence the move of a professional sporting event to a different venue. He also knowingly allowed his special assistant to conduct personal matters that fell outside of her scope of official duties, and while using non-Department email accounts, he did not courtesy copy or forward to his official Department email account at least 62 official emails in the span of approximately 6 months.As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the Ambassador resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
Under notable resolutions, State/OIG/INV’s list includes the following:
— In March 2021,  two Foreign Service Officers agreed to pay more than $13,033 to the U.S. Government to resolve issues related to fraud allegations regarding Department travel vouchers. OIG special agents determined that the married couple engaged in a scheme to defraud the Department by filing four travel vouchers that claimed lodging expenses they were not entitled to under Federal Travel Regulations. The fraud was committed from approximately September 2014 through April 2019. OIG’s Office of General Counsel coordinated the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act action that resulted in the settlement.
–In October 2020, three individuals were indicted for using a business email compromise scheme, or BEC, to defraud the Department. OIG and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents determined the individuals tricked the Department and a nonprofit agency into wiring at least $575,000 into bank accounts they controlled for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.
Under employee misconduct:
— In November 2020, former Seabee Martin Huizar was sentenced to 109 months’ incarceration and ordered to pay $40,100 in fines and $10,000 in restitution, along with serving a 10-year term of supervised release, for transportation of images of child sexual abuse on his phones and tablet computer. The OIG Special Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.
 

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SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO

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On May 28, 2021, USDOJ/Southern District of New York announced the arrest of SINA MOAYEDI, the owner of a construction company on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of bribery of a public official. According to the announcement, “Sina Moayedi allegedly paid lucrative bribes to a State Department insider in exchange for confidential bidding information, and fraudulently induced the State Department to pay his company approximately $100 million.” Excerpt from the announcement:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Sina Moayedi made misrepresentations about his employees’ qualifications and his company’s ownership in order to induce the State Department into awarding approximately $100 million in lucrative construction contracts to Moayedi’s company, Montage, Inc.  Moayedi also allegedly cultivated a State Department insider, and paid the insider lucrative bribes in exchange for confidential State Department bidding information.  Moayedi must now be held accountable for his alleged brazen fraud on the government.”

Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said:  “As alleged, the defendant’s scheme to undermine the Department’s procurement process for personal gain caught up with him today and he will now be held accountable.  His alleged actions not only hurt other legitimate businesses competing for awards, but also damage the public’s trust in the effective and efficient utilization of taxpayer money.”

According to allegations in the Complaint[1]:

Montage, Inc. (“Montage”) is a U.S.-based business that is primarily involved in worldwide Government construction projects, including embassies, military posts, consulates, and similar overseas properties owned and operated by the United States Government.  Montage has performed over $220 million in contracting work for the U.S. Government, including for the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Since 2014, Montage appears to have focused primarily on competing for and obtaining contracts with the State Department.  During that period, the State Department has awarded Montage approximately six overseas U.S. Embassy/Consulate construction project contracts totaling $100 million, in locales such as Ecuador, Spain, Sudan, the Czech Republic, and Bermuda.  The founder of Montage is SINA MOAYEDI.

Montage engaged in at least two fraud schemes.  The first scheme alleges that, from approximately 2014 to September 2020, MOAYEDI and Montage lied that it was a female-owned business in order to secure unmerited advantages in the bidding process.  By way of context, it is advantageous to a company, when bidding for federal government contracts, to be majority-owned by an individual from a socially or economically disadvantaged community.  In fact, certain contracts (or portions of contracts) are “set aside” for – i.e., only available to – such companies.  MOAYEDI and Montage repeatedly represented falsely in submissions to the State Department that Montage was female-owned, or female-owned and minority-owned, in order falsely to induce the State Department to award Montage lucrative construction contracts.  In actuality, MOAYEDI repeatedly lied about Montage being a female-owned business, and indeed, MOAYEDI controls Montage and makes all material decisions on Montage’s behalf.  As MOAYEDI revealed to a bank that inquired about Montage’s ownership status, “I am the sole owner and president of Montage and have always been.”  Montage and MOAYEDI also repeatedly misrepresented, and significantly overstated, the qualifications of Montage employees.  MOAYEDI made these misrepresentations in order to, among other things, meet State Department and contractual requirements for minimum experience in certain key positions.

The second scheme charged in the Complaint is a bribery scheme during at least 2016 and 2017.  Insider-1 is employed in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (“OBO”), which, according to OBO’s website, “directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.”  Specifically, Insider-1 works for the State Department’s OBO Project Development and Coordination Division, European division.  
[…]
MOAYEDI, 66, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is charged with one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 20 years, and one count of bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 15 years.  
[…]
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Download U.S. v Sina Moayedi complaint (21 mag 5598).pdf
Excerpt from complaint:

15. Based on my review of State Department records, I am aware that between approximately 2014 and 2017, Montage was awarded six U.S. embassy/consulate construction projects with the State Department, worth a total of approximately $100 million.
[…]
26. Based on information derived from witness interviews, I reviewed resumes submitted by Montage for various State Department projects. Department requirements referenced in the contract specify certain levels of experience in order to serve as “key personnel” (i.e., personnel whom the State Department has deemed critical to the safe, successful, and timely completion of a project).
[…]
In the course of my review, I identified numerous deficiencies regarding the resumes of key personnel submitted to the State Department for the Guayaquil, Ecuador project.

a. For example, Montage submitted an individual for the key role of Project Controls Engineer and Site Health Project Manager. In the claimed experience for this individual, it stated that he was employed at Montage since 2008 and had “inspected emergency egress and life/safety issues” and conducted “inspections of asbestos containment.” In fact, this individual had only been employed at Montage for approximately one year, and served in an office staff capacity, performing none of those duties.
[…]
[O]ne Montage employee’s resume claimed that he had earned a bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and also claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field in various capacities over several years. Neither representation was true. In fact, this individual testified at a deposition that they did not graduate; and this individual’s SF-86 security clearance application noted that this individual had actually sold meat as a door-to-door salesman, was a landscaper, and built swimming pools for several years during the period that they had claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field.
[…]
39. I am aware, from my personal participation, that a judicially authorized search warrant was executed at the residence of Insider-1, on or about May 20, 2021. On that date, Insider-1 was informed, in substance, that she was not in custody, she was free to go, and she was not required to speak with law enforcement agents. She then participated in a voluntary interview with myself and an SDNY Special Agent on her back porch, and she made the following statements, in substance and part:

a. At first, Insider-1 claimed to have sold a large green rug to SINA MOAYEDI, the defendant, for about $60,000, but she said that the payment for the rug came from MOAYEDI’s friend.

Read more here.
The Daily Beast has identified the OBO insider in their May 27 report as well as provided the link to the Salehi Search Warrant; she has not been charged.
The document is 145 pages, the allegations spans many years and the government appears to be looking at multiple embassy projects.  The project in Guayaquil, Ecuador gets top mention. The search warrant executed includes “Records and information relating to forged submittals for the Guayaquil Consulate Project in Ecuador, and other State Department or other Government construction projects” and “Records and information that constitute evidence concerning persons who either (i) collaborated, conspired, or assisted (knowingly or unknowingly) the commission of the criminal activity under investigation; or (ii) communicated with MOAYEDI or other MONTAGE employees about matters relating to the criminal activity under investigation, including records that help reveal their whereabouts.”

Related news:

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Ex-FSO Indicted For Concealing Information in Background Investigation

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On April 2, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of a former State Department employee, a Foreign Service officer for “intentionally concealing information on his SF-86 background investigation questionnaires and in interviews with State Department background investigators.”
Congressional record indicates that a Paul M. Guertin of RI was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by voice vote on October 21, 2011  for his appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Four, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.
 Via USDOJ: Former State Department Employee Indicted for Concealing Information in Background Investigation

Paul Michael Guertin (“Guertin”), 40, of Arizona and former resident of Washington, DC, was indicted on March 29, 2021 by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for wire fraud and obstructing an official proceeding. The indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Special Agent in Charge Elisabeth Heller, of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General.

Guertin was a Foreign Service Officer who served on multiple State Department assignments, including overseas postings to U.S. diplomatic missions in Shanghai, China and Islamabad, Pakistan, and a posting to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at State Department headquarters in Washington, DC. As a condition of his employment, Guertin was required to apply for and maintain a Top Secret security clearance.  According to the indictment, Guertin intentionally concealed information on his SF-86 background investigation questionnaires and in interviews with State Department background investigators. He withheld information about several categories of conduct, including an undisclosed sexual relationship with a Chinese national, whose U.S. visa application was adjudicated by Guertin while he was serving as a consular officer in Shanghai, China; undisclosed gambling debts; and an undisclosed $225,000 loan from two Chinese nationals, who were directed by Guertin to provide $45,000 of the initial disbursement in the form of cash in $100 bills.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

This matter was investigated by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Brown and Thomas Gillice, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Chad Byron.

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SF-86 form clearly states under Penalties for Inaccurate or False Statements that “the U.S. Criminal Code (title 18, section 1001) provides that knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five (5) years imprisonment.”
According to the indictment, the Grand Jury was sworn in on January 28, 2021. The indictment includes two offenses: Count One: 18 U.S.C. § 1343: (Wire fraud); Count Two: 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) (Obstructing an official proceeding) plus Forfeiture: 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C); 28 U.S.C. § 2461(c); 21 U.S.C. § 853(p) according to the court filing. Grand juries are composed of 16 to 23 citizens, who hear a wide range of criminal cases and decide whether there is evidence to justify indictments sought by federal prosecutors. To return an indictment, a minimum of 12 members of a grand jury must find probable cause.
Excerpts below from the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

3. During his tenure as a Foreign Service Officer, GUERTIN served on multiple State Department assignments abroad, including postings to diplomatic missions in Shanghai, China and Islamabad, Pakistan. GUERTIN also served at State Department headquarters in the District of
Columbia in the Bureau of Intelligence & Research (“INR”), the State Department’s intelligence office. GUERTIN was later assigned to language training in Taipei, Taiwan.

9. In connection with his initial employment with the State Department and periodic re-investigations, GUERTIN signed and submitted SF-86 forms on or about September 27, 2005; November 19, 2010; and April 3, 2016.

The indictment cites Guertin’s “undisclosed conduct” that includes Undisclosed Romantic Relationship with Chinese National Whose U.S. Visa Application GUERTIN Adjudicated; Undisclosed Financial Problems Due to Gambling; and Undisclosed $225,000 Loan Agreement with Two Chinese Nationals, Collateralized by GUERTIN’s House. The indictment also cites some electronic communication.

15. In or about June 2008, GUERTIN conducted a visa application interview with CHINESE NATIONAL 1 in his capacity as a consular officer at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, China. On or about June 11, 2008, GUERTIN favorably adjudicated CHINESE NATIONAL 1’s application for a U.S. visa.

16. Two days later, on or about June 13, 2008, GUERTIN sent CHINESE NATIONAL1 an e-mail stating: “I gave you an interview a few days ago here in Shanghai, and thought you were very cute and interesting! 🙂 Was wondering if you’d be interested in going out for dinner or a bite to eat sometime.” GUERTIN initiated a personal and sexual relationship with CHINESE NATIONAL 1 that lasted through at least in or about July 2009.

26. On or about July 13, 2015, GUERTIN sent an e-mail to an associate requesting an emergency loan of $10,000 in order to pay down his gambling debts in advance of his security clearance re-investigation. GUERTIN stated: “I desperately need 10 dimes to get my [stuff] in order and pass a security clearance review to hold onto my job.” GUERTIN further explained: “Every 5 years the State Dept. does a security clearance re-investigation, and mine is coming up in 3 months, and they’re for sure going to see that my credit score dropped hard from the last time they checked. That will cause them to get suspicious, and then they’ll search my bank account transactions and find all the gambling related [stuff]. . . . [t]hey’1l send me home from Taiwan and if they revoke my security clearance I’Il lose my job within 6 months.”

30. On or about April 15, 2015, GUERTIN directed CHINESE NATIONAL 2 and CHINESE NATIONAL 3 to meet him at a location in the District of Columbia for the purpose of withdrawing $45,000 in cash from their bank account for a further disbursement of the $225,000 loan. GUERTIN instructed them: “Also please ask the bank manager to give you as much as possible of the money in $100 bills so it’s not so ridiculously bulky to carry around and deposit, thx!”

The indictment does not indicate what happened in August 2017 when his employment apparently ended. It is also not clear when and for how long was he posted at INR.
The indictment does not explain Guertin’s relationship with the two Chinese nationals only referred to as Chinese National 2 and Chinese National 3.  Guertin was posted in Shanghai in 2008 which would have been a two-year tour. The loan agreement with the two Chinese nationals allegedly occurred in April 2015. We should learn more if  this case progresses in court.
USA v. Guertin was assigned to Judge Trevor N. McFadden in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. As this article notes, an indictment is not a statement of guilt — it is only a determination that enough evidence exists to move forward with charges. The defendant will have an opportunity to enter a plea. As of this writing, no initial appearance has been noted in court, and no plea has been entered.

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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.