Advertisements

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

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

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

Below via USDOJ/FL:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

*

Advertisements

Political Violence Against Americans in 2015: Highest in Near East Asia, Lowest in the Western Hemisphere

Posted: 1:55 am ET

 

The Political Violence Against Americans publication is produced annually by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Directorate of Threat Investigations and Analysis (DS/TIA) to provide a comprehensive picture of the spectrum of politically motivated threats and violence that American citizens and interests encounter worldwide. This report includes incidents of violence involving U.S. citizens and facilities with the exception of incidents against American military personnel serving in combat positions.

Of the 61 incidents that involved U.S. citizens and interests, 19 are believed to have resulted from intentionally targeting Americans while 42 are incidents where Americans or American interests were not targeted due to nationality.

The highest targets occurred in Near East Asia (NEA), followed by Africa (AF), and South Central Asia (SCA). In NEA, the most number of attacks were directed at private U.S. entities; in AF, the most number of attacks were directed at U.S. Government (USG) entities while in SCA, they were directed at the U.S. military.  The top three most common types of attack are 1) “armed attacks” followed by 2) “stray round,” and 3) “bomb” tied with “attack with vehicle.”

The region with the lowest number of attacks is the Western Hemisphere (WHA) with one incident of vandalism directed at the USG. The second region with the lowest number of attacks is East Asia Pacific (EAP) with three incidents (attempted murder, bomb, violent demonstration) all directed at the USG.

Via state.gov/ds

#

 

New Faces at U.S. Mission Pakistan: Raymond McGrath, Grace Shelton, Yuriy Fedkiw

Posted: 1:29 am ET

 

This year’s rotation brought new faces to the three constituent posts in Pakistan.  Senior FSO Raymond McGrath is the latest to join the US Mission in Pakistan as he became Consul General in Peshawar last month.  In September, FSO Grace W. Shelton assumed charge of Consulate General Karachi while in August, FSO Yuriy Fedkiw took charge of Consulate Genera Lahore.

U.S. Consulate General Peshawar: Raymond McGrath

Raymond McGrath assumed his post as Consul General in Peshawar, Pakistan in November 2016.  Mr. McGrath joined the U.S. Department of State in June 1986.  He is a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the personal rank of Minister Counselor.  He most recently served in the Bureau of Human Resources in Washington, first as coordinator of a project to redesign the Foreign Service personnel evaluation and promotion systems, and then as a Career Development Officer with staff responsibilities for the high-level committee that identifies Chief of Mission candidates for consideration by the Secretary and President.  Mr. McGrath’s other Washington assignments include those of financial economist in the Office of Investment Affairs; Deputy Director in the Office of West African Affairs; and Coordinator for Cuban Affairs.  His overseas assignments include Hermosillo, Mexico; Quito, Ecuador; Manila, Philippines; Lima, Peru; Havana, Cuba; Bogota, Colombia; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (where like in Peshawar he served as Consul General and Principal Officer).  Mr. McGrath holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Arizona.  He is married and has two teenage children.

U.S. Consulate General Karachi: Grace W. Shelton

Grace W. Shelton assumed charge as the U.S. Consul General in Karachi on September 8, 2016. A career diplomat in the United States Foreign Service, she most recently served as the Director of the Office of Central Asian Affairs in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. She also served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Hamilton, Bermuda. Her other previous assignments include Slovenia, Nepal, Belarus, Malaysia and Washington DC. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ms. Shelton was an attorney with Bouhan, Williams & Levy in Savannah, Georgia and a law clerk to the Honorable Duross Fitzpatrick, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia.  She has a J.D. and a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bucknell University. Ms. Shelton was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina.

U.S. Consulate General Lahore: Yuriy Fedkiw

Consul General Yuriy Fedkiw is the 29th American diplomat to lead the U.S. post in Lahore, where the United States has maintained a diplomatic presence and built a strong relationship with the people of Punjab since 1947.

Yuriy Fedkiw was most recently the Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka, Japan and previously served in Iraq, Ukraine, Slovenia, China, Tokyo, and Washington, DC. Prior to entering the Foreign Service, Consul General Fedkiw coordinated international relations for the City of Oita. He received his B.A. in East Asian Studies from Wittenberg University, an M.A. in International Affairs from American University, and an M.A. in International Relations from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

#

FBI to Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel: “Do you know any foreigners?” #criminalizingdiplomacy

Posted: 1:29  pm ET

 

We’ve posted previously about Ambassador Robin Raphel in this blog. See Case Against Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel Ends Without Charges, Who’s Gonna Say Sorry?. Also below:

Today, the Wall Street Journal runs an extensive account of what happened and why this case is a concerning one for American diplomats:

The NSA regularly swept up Pakistani communications “to, from or about” senior U.S. officials working in the country. Some American officials would appear in Pakistani intercepts as often as once a week. What Raphel didn’t realize was that her desire to engage with foreign officials, the very skill set her supervisors encouraged, had put a target on her back.

The FBI didn’t have a clear picture of where Raphel fit on the State Department organizational chart. She was a political adviser with the rank of ambassador but she wasn’t a key policy maker anymore. She seemed to have informal contacts with everyone who mattered in Islamabad—more, even, than the sitting ambassador and the CIA station chief.

[…]
State Department officials said that when they spoke to the FBI agents, they had the feeling they were explaining the basics of how diplomats worked.

At times, Raphel’s colleagues pushed back—warning the FBI that their investigation risked “criminalizing diplomacy,” according to a former official who was briefed on the interviews.

In one interview, the agents asked James Dobbins, who served as SRAP from 2013 to 2014, whether it was OK for Raphel to talk to a Pakistani source about information that wasn’t restricted at the time, but would later be deemed classified.

“If somebody tells you something in one conversation, you might write that up and it becomes classified,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the next time you see them that you can’t talk about what you’d already talked about.”

[…]

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

[…]

Diplomatic Security had yet to restore her security clearance. Some of her friends at the State Department said they believed the FBI opposed the idea.

Kerry and Raphel stood close together for only a couple of minutes. On the sidelines of the noisy gathering, Kerry leaned over and whispered into Raphel’s ear: “I am sorry about what has happened to you.”

Read in full below:

#

Trump-Sharif TelCon Jolts World, India Issues Deadpan Response

Posted: 3:30 am ET

 

President-elect Trump had a chat with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, see the read out below.  After Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan, Mr. Trump reportedly said he would love to come to Pakistan, “a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.” According to The Times of India,  the Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup issued a deadpan response: “We look forward to the President-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues – terrorism.” 

The Trump Transition has released its own sober readout of the telephone conversation on November 30, but Pakistan’s version got all the eyeballs.

For comparison, click here for the WH readout of the phone call between President Obama and PM Sharif on November 21, 2014.  Click here for the readout of that same phone call from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.

#

Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Operations and Maintenance Costs, April 2011-Sept 2016

Posted: 1:01 am ET

 

Via State/OIG

Screen Shot

 

#

A Shared Love For Jazz: Kyrgyz Republic’s Jazz Band ‘Salt Peanuts’ Performs at the Kennedy Center

Posted: 12:06 am ET

 

The Republic of Kyrgyzstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991. The United States recognized Kyrgyzstan’s independence on December 25, 1991. Diplomatic relations were also established on December 25, 1991, when President George H.W. Bush announced the decision in an address to the nation regarding the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  The American Embassy in Bishkek was established on February 1, 1992, with Edmund McWilliams as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.

This year, the Kyrgyz Republic celebrates its 25th Independence Day and 25 year of diplomatic relations with the United States. Below is Kyrgyz’s Salt Peanuts performing at the Kennedy Center on September 10. A shared love for jazz, have a listen — they’re awesome!

 

 

#

 

 

US Embassy Bishkek: World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Posted: 4:10 am ET
Updated: 6:34 am: corrected the headline, Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan. Kazakh team played against the United States during the Games held in Kyrgzstan

 

The second World Nomad Games was held in Kyrgzstan from September 3-8, 2016. This year’s event was participated by 40 countries with 23 kinds of nomadic sport. The games include kok-boru, a sport similar to Buzkashi, where riders fight for a goat carcass, horse racing, folk wrestling, horseback wrestling, Salburun, a traditional kind of hunt in Central Asia, involving falconry and archery, and competitive yurt building, to name a few.  It looks like former action star Steven Segal was a featured guest.  A US team also played against Kazakhstan in kok-buro (scroll to the bottom for the photos, and video from US Embassy Bishkek).

 

 

USConGen Chennai: Diplomats Sample Hand-to-Mouth Dining at Kasivinayaga Mess

Posted: 2:41 am ET

 

Back in 2013, we blogged about the “boodle fight” at US Embassy Manila (see US Embassy Manila Hosts a “Boodle Fight” … or Fine Dining Combat Without the Flatware).  This week, the US Consulate General Chennai posted its first video in the Madras Week video series — which highlights everyday rhythm of Madras culture, food, and traditions. The clip below shows how you eat your meal with your hands. Communal dining similar to the “boodle fight” but not quite as up close and personal (you get to have your own banana leaf as plate).

Also read Simple formula keeps this mess afloat and  The Rules For Eating With Your Hands In India, Africa And The Middle East.

#

Community Liaison Officers: The Glue That Helps Keep Embassy Communities Together

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

The M. Juanita Guess Award is conferred by AFSA on a Community Liaison Officer who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative or imagination in assisting the families of Americans serving at an overseas post.  Since 1995, Clements Worldwide has sponsored the M. Juanita Guess Award (named after Clements’ co-founder).

In 2016,  the award went to Sara Locke of U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon with Berna Keen of U.S. Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh as runner-up. Below via afsa.org:

Sara Locke | U.S. Embassy Beirut – 2016 M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer

Sara E. Locke is the recipient of this year’s M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer for her outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative and imagination in assisting the employees and family members of U.S. Embassy Beirut.

Embassy Beirut enthusiastically nominated Ms. Locke, stating: “There is probably no other person in the mission who receives as much unanimous, universal praise as Sara for her efforts in turning around the rapidly deteriorating morale at Embassy Beirut.” Working with members throughout the community, her leadership has dramatically improved morale through innovative programs and activities, re-establishing U.S. Embassy Beirut as a post actively sought by Foreign Service bidders. Her tireless efforts on behalf of employees and family members are absolutely impressive.

When Ms. Locke arrived at post in 2014, morale among embassy staff was plummeting and curtailments were increasing at an alarming rate. She recommended to the ambassador that post conduct a morale survey, and then coordinated closely with him and the regional psychiatrist (RMO/P) to figure out how the downward spiral could be reversed. She not only designed and conducted the first survey, but after a very insightful analysis, which she presented to the ambassador and deputy chief of mission, Ms. Locke created an “Action Committee” to respond to the complaints and suggestions.

As a result, many policies and practices on the compound were changed, and new innovative ideas were brought forward and implemented. Thanks to Ms. Locke’s efforts, the situation has improved so much that employees are now requesting extensions to their assignments, and positive responses to a recent morale survey are at an all-time high. The fact that community members now feel they are being heard has had a profoundly beneficial impact on life on a small compound at a high-threat post with very restrictive security requirements.

Ms. Locke has continued doing surveys every six months to measure changes and to solicit ideas on how to continue improving morale, but her influence extends beyond Beirut. Former U.S. Ambassador to Beirut David Hale (who had been in Beirut when Ms. Locke created the survey) wrote to Ms. Locke from his new post: “I owe you such a debt of gratitude and would appreciate any advice on how to maximize this product here,” he said, requesting that she share her thoughts and recommendations with his deputy chief of mission and management section.

Beirut is a challenging place in the best of circumstances: terrorist threats are real, security restrictions limit off-compound movements and permanent employees live and work in cramped, dilapidated facilities. The role of the CLO as an advocate for community members is absolutely critical, and Sara truly embraces it. She lobbies hard on behalf of family members to find rewarding jobs in the mission. She includes spouses in all aspects of embassy life, from social events to emergency preparations. She recently hosted a series of seminars on evacuation planning and community resources for the mission. She is the person many individuals turn to for support and guidance.

Just one example: immediately after a suicide bombing in downtown Beirut in November 2015, just a few miles from the embassy compound, Ms. Locke reached out to the embassy community to ensure accountability and reassure colleagues. When things quieted down, she developed a variety of innovative programs, trips and activities to allow employees to experience Beirut, always working closely with the embassy’s regional security section to stay within the constraints of strict security parameters. She helped increase the number of trips off compound to grocery stores, and then helped put in place a very popular weekend shopping shuttle. This change alone significantly improved morale and gave embassy employees a whole new perspective on life here; previously, only one trip off the compound per week was permitted.

Ms. Locke is extremely creative, constantly seeking out new entertainment venues and cultural events (concerts, museums, restaurants, wine tastings, food festivals), always coordinating well in advance with the regional security officer. She put together a long list of embassy recreational events, including scuba diving, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. She also organizes a multitude of events for embassy families on the compound. She is an invaluable resource to everyone in the mission.

Berna Keen | U.S. Embassy Dhaka – 2016 M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer Runner-Up

Berna Keen, runner-up for this year’s M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer, is recognized as an exemplary CLO by her colleagues at U.S. Embassy Dhaka during what has been a turbulent period of terrorism and violence in Bangladesh. Her conscientious and compassionate approach to each and every member of the mission, the creativity she employs in bringing people together and her exceptional talent for organization has substantially increased morale at post.

A rash of “hartals,” violent political demonstrations, in 2015 crippled embassy operations in Dhaka. Ms. Keen experienced this violence firsthand when a vehicle she was riding in was hit with an explosive device. Incredibly, this only strengthened her commitment to her work. She communicated with everyone in the mission on shelter-in-place days, sending out ideas for activities to do with kids stuck indoors. She became a key voice on the Emergency Action Committee and created an EFM email list, subsequently added to the Global Address List, ensuring that security messages were received by everyone in the mission simultaneously.

With all of Dhaka on edge after a series of murders committed by Al-Qaida-allied fanatics and members of the so-called Islamic State group, embassy personnel were restricted to a two-square-mile area, could not walk outside and had a 10 o’clock curfew. School buses ridden by embassy children were accompanied by an armed police escort. Outside entertainment was off-limits to embassy personnel. In this tense environment, Ms. Keen brought the embassy community together, planning a staggering number of events—nearly 90 in 150 days—despite the fact that her office was understaffed.

Ranging from wine and cheese parties to pet playdates, she successfully provided people with an outlet for normal social activity. She brought the local market to the embassy, snagging pearl vendors, antique dealers and rug and clothing sellers to sell to the embassy community. Her continual reminders to the EAC on the importance of communication has kept the community well-informed and engaged during this trying time.

#