Presentation of Credentials: US Ambassador to Singapore Jonathan Kaplan

 

 

 

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US Embassy Belize: Resident Amcit Pleads Guilty in Crypto Laundering Service, Forfeits 4,400+ Bitcoins

 

This past summer, an Ohio resident who was apparently also a resident of Belize pleaded guilty to a money laundering conspiracy arising from his operation of Helix, a Darknet-based cryptocurrency laundering service. The plea deal includes the forfeiture of more than 4,400 bitcoin, valued at more than $200 million.
Via USDOJ: Ohio Resident Pleads Guilty to Operating Darknet-Based Bitcoin ‘Mixer’ That Laundered Over $300 Million

An Ohio man pleaded guilty today to a money laundering conspiracy arising from his operation of Helix, a Darknet-based cryptocurrency laundering service.

According to court documents, Larry Dean Harmon, 38, of Akron, admitted that he operated Helix from 2014 to 2017. Helix functioned as a bitcoin “mixer” or “tumbler,” allowing customers, for a fee, to send bitcoin to designated recipients in a manner that was designed to conceal the source or owner of the bitcoin. Helix was linked to and associated with “Grams,” a Darknet search engine also run by Harmon. Harmon advertised Helix to customers on the Darknet to conceal transactions from law enforcement.

“By holding Harmon accountable, the department has disrupted the unlawful money laundering practices of these dangerous criminal enterprises,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Justice Department, together with our law enforcement and regulatory partners, will continue to take enforcement actions to identify and impede those who use illicit means for financial gain, as well as those who use the Darknet to facilitate and obscure their criminal conduct.”

“Darknet markets and the dealers who sell opioids and other illegal drugs on them are a growing scourge,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “They may try to hide their identities and launder millions in sales behind technologies like Helix. But the department and its law enforcement partners will shine a light on their activities, dismantle the infrastructure such criminal marketplaces depend on, and prosecute and convict those responsible.”

“Criminals may think they can mask financial transactions by using services like Helix to conceal the source of illicit funds,” said Assistant Director Calvin A. Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our state, local, federal and international law enforcement partners are working together every day in a complex and ever-changing digital environment to protect the American people from sophisticated money launderers and financiers.”

“The Darknet is driven in part by the criminal marketplaces which peddle their nefarious goods and services,” said Chief James C. Lee of the IRS Criminal Investigation. “But these marketplaces thrive in large measure because of the infrastructure that supports them. Harmon profited by facilitating the back-channel support of these marketplaces and helped criminals launder money they received via illicit activities. He then hid those funds from the government. He admitted his role today in these activities and will now be held accountable.”

“Harmon admitted that he conspired with Darknet vendors to launder bitcoin generated through drug trafficking and other illegal activities,” said Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to infiltrate and shut down the cryptocurrency money-laundering networks that support cyber-criminal enterprises.”

Harmon admitted that Helix partnered with several Darknet markets, including AlphaBay, Evolution, Cloud 9 and others, to provide bitcoin money laundering services for market customers. In total, Helix moved over 350,000 bitcoin – valued at over $300 million at the time of the transactions – on behalf of customers, with the largest volume coming from Darknet markets. Harmon further admitted that he conspired with Darknet vendors and marketplace administrators to launder such bitcoins generated through illegal drug trafficking offenses on those Darknet marketplaces.

As part of his plea, Harmon also agreed to the forfeiture of more than 4,400 bitcoin, valued at more than $200 million at today’s prices, and other seized properties that were involved in the money laundering conspiracy. Harmon will be sentenced at a date to be determined and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, a term of supervised release of not more than three years, and mandatory restitution. Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accepted Harmon’s guilty plea and will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The IRS-CI Cyber Crimes Unit and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, the IRS’s Washington, Cincinnati and Oakland Field Offices, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Cleveland, Newark and San Francisco Field Offices, and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The Belize Ministry of the Attorney General and the Belize National Police Department provided essential support for the investigation, coordinated through U.S. Embassy Belmopan. The investigation was coordinated with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which assessed a $60 million civil monetary penalty against Harmon in a parallel action.

Trial Attorneys S. Riane Harper and C. Alden Pelker of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher B. Brown of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecuted the case. Additional assistance was provided by Trial Attorneys Emily Siedell and Brian Nicholson of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, former CCIPS Trial Attorney W. Joss Nichols and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Riedl of the Northern District of Ohio.

U.S. Senate Confirms C.B. Sullenberger III as Ambassador to ICAO

 

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Credentials Ceremony: Nides (Israel), Cohen (Canada), Udall (New Zealand), Carpenter (OSCE)

 

 

 

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@StateDept Fails in FSGB Defense Over Coersive (Unlawful) Curtailment

 

The FSGB found that the State Department committed in prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”) violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) against an FS employee stationed overseas when it coerced his curtailment from post. The Board also found that the curtailment in this case failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2. This case is horrifying in how carelessly embassy officials can chuck anyone out the airlock.
Also see FSGB: When Voluntary Curtailment Is NOT Truly Voluntary
According to the FSGB ROP, the Department questioned “whether 5 U.S.C § 2302 applies to Foreign Service Officers, because Title 5 of the U. S. Code applies only to Civil Service Employees.15 However, it concludes that, assuming the provision applies, there is no evidence to support the finding of a violation”.
The Board’s decision says “we address the Department’s question of whether Foreign Service Officers are protected against prohibited personnel practices. […] Under Section 105 (b)(2)(B)(4) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, all FS members are free from any personnel practice prohibited by 5 U.S.C. § 2302. […] we find that PPP protections apply to Foreign Service Officers under Section 105 of the FSA.
The oldest executive agency then argued before the Grievance Board that the Senior Regional Security Officer’s alleged statement that “all this would go away,” while putting his hand on the investigatory file, “could have merely meant the file itself would be gone or that the Ambassador’s determination to involuntarily curtail him would be obviated by his decision to voluntarily curtail.”
And get this, the Department concludes that the “vague statement” by the SRSO was not deceitful.”
The Department also argued that grievant has “failed to meet his burden to show that the SRSO knew that his statement was untrue or that he acted with an intent to mislead grievant.”
Oh, lordy!
Then covering all its bases — “even assuming that the statement was deceitful, the Department contends that Section 2302(b)(4) only applies to “competition for employment,” which is limited to hiring and promotions and does not apply to the retention of employment.14  Although curtailment is an assignment, it is not a process of hiring or promotion.”
The Department agreed that “it committed a harmless error of its curtailment procedures.”
It sure wasn’t “harmless” on the affected employee and his family, was it?
The FSGB did not buy it.

It is clear that the Board’s analysis found that the SRSO engaged in deceit. The statute prohibits “deceit or willful obstruction.” While obstruction is defined as willful, the drafters did not see a need to use the adjective with deceit. Deceit is willful; it is not negligent or inadvertent.

The Board includes “deceit” in the footnotes:

26 Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed, 2014) defines deceit: “1. The act of intentionally leading someone to believe something that is not true; an act designed to deceive or trick. 2. A false statement of fact made by a person knowingly or recklessly (i.e., not caring whether it is true or false) with the intent that someone else will act on it. 3. A tort arising from a false representation made knowingly or recklessly with the intent that another person should detrimentally rely on it.”

On curtailments, the Department notes that “under 3 FAM 2443.2(a), the Chief of Mission (COM) has discretion to determine curtailment when it would be in the best interest of the post. While the COM must follow procedures, there is no evidentiary standard, and the curtailment procedures do not require the same rigor as the disciplinary process.”
The Department then makes a shocking or maybe not really a shocking admission:

“..there were serious allegations against grievant, and the COM was not required to determine whether they were true, but only if the curtailment was in the best interests of the post.”

Wait, what? So anyone could make a claim, state an allegation, anyone could start a rumor, and COM is not required to determine whether they were true? How bonkers is that?
Via Record of Proceedings
FSGB Case No. 2019030 | September 29, 2021

The Department’s MFR seeks reconsideration of the Order on two grounds. The first ground for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by failing to find evidence of two essential elements of a prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”), in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4), despite finding that the Department committed a PPP. The missing elements, according to the Department, are – a willful or deliberate deception and a competition for a position. The second basis for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by conflating the curtailment and discipline procedures when it failed to remand to the Department the question of whether it would have curtailed grievant absent the procedural error by failing to follow the Department’s curtailment regulations.

Grievant, an FS-02 Security Engineering Officer (“SEO”), served as the Deputy Officer in Charge (“DOIC”) of the Department’s Engineering Services Office (“ESO”) at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED (“post”) from August 2016 to January 18, 2017. His rater was the Officer-in-Charge (“OIC”), and his reviewer was the Senior Regional Security Officer (“SRSO”).

The incident that led to a preliminary investigation of the grievant and, subsequently, an in-depth investigation of him by the Office of Civil Rights (“S/OCR”), is an alleged threat made by grievant at the end of December 2016. On January 10, 2017,1 a supervisee claimed that grievant had made an implied threat of physical violence to him, and the SRSO assigned the Assistant Regional Security Officer (“the ARSO”) to investigate and notified the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”), Office of Special Investigation (“DS/DO/OSI”). On January 12, post management briefed the Ambassador, who decided to exercise his authority under 16 STATE 27226 to curtail grievant from post. Later that day, January 12, the SRSO, grievant’s reviewing officer, held a meeting with grievant, two Human Resource Officers, and grievant’s rater and told grievant that the Ambassador had decided that he would be involuntarily curtailed if he did not voluntarily curtail, and if he voluntarily curtailed, “all of this,” gesturing to the investigative file, “would go away and it would be as if he had been curtailed for family reasons.”2

But the investigation did not, in fact, “go away.”

On January 14, the ARSO issued an RSO Report, which the Accountability and Suitability Board (“A&SB”), which included the SRSO, discussed that day with the Ambassador. The case was referred to the Department of State’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) that same day. On January 16, the Management Counselor prepared a Decision Memorandum (“Decision Memo”) in Support of No-Fault Curtailment, which was sent to the front office. A day later, on January 17, grievant met with the HRO at post and formally accepted a “voluntary curtailment,” and management approved his request that day. On January 18, Grievant curtailed without having been advised of the ARSO’s report or of the referrals to S/OCR and to
DS/DO/OSI.
[…]
GTM/ER proposed to suspend grievant on a single charge of Improper Comments, with three specifications. The Deciding Official (“DO”) sustained only two of these specifications, both dealing with alleged threats. With the dismissal of the third specification, all potential EEO violations were dismissed. The DO reduced the penalty from a two-day to a one-day suspension.”5

Grievant filed an agency-level grievance, alleging that the one-day suspension violated regulations; that his 2017 Employee Evaluation Report (“EER”) contained a falsely prejudicial statement based on the charge; that the RSO Report contained a falsely prejudicial statement that he had been counseled for anger management; that his curtailment was coerced and unlawful under 12 STATE 27212 (“Curtailment of Employee Based on Conduct or Disciplinary Issues”); and that his assignment to a non-supervisory, overcomplement6 position was based on a PPP. The grievance was denied by the Department.

Board found that the Department committed a PPP, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4). […]Moreover, even without the PPP finding, the Board found that the curtailment failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2, and the Department does not challenge that finding.

[…]
By inducing grievant’s “voluntary curtailment” on an unenforceable assurance, post avoided going through the procedural safeguards of 3 FAM 2443.2, which apply to voluntary curtailments that are initiated at the request of the COM. What the Department does not acknowledge is that the SRSO (importantly, grievant’s reviewing official, the official who had directed the ARSO’s investigation and notified DS/DO/OSI and a member of the A&SB advising the Ambassador) told grievant that if he voluntarily curtailed, it would be “as if he curtailed for family reasons.” That would mean a curtailment under 3 FAM 2443.1 with no prospect of discipline.

The Board denied in full the Department’s Second Motion for Reconsideration and issued six other orders related to back pay, reconstituted Selection Boards, promotion, and interest on back pay.
The Board ordered remedies for violations of 3 FAM 2443.2 and 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) , remedies for falsely prejudicial language in Grievant’s EER; attorney’s fees request is held in abeyance until final resolution of the remedies.
The remedies ordered include:

2. The Department shall pay grievant “an amount equal to all, or any part of the pay, allowances, or differentials [including overtime], as applicable, which [he] normally would have earned or received” during the period of 18 ½ months of the remainder of his posting at post, had he not been improperly curtailed, less any amounts he earned through other employment during that period, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 5596(b)(1)(A)(i), 5 C.F.R. 550, Subpart H..

4. The Department shall hold four reconstituted Selection Boards for the years when grievant’s OPF contained the uncorrected 2017 EER.

5. If grievant is promoted by any of the reconstituted SBs, the promotion should beretroactive to the date a promotion would have been implemented by the SB for which it was reconstituted. The Department shall pay the wage differential from the date of any retroactive promotion.

6. The Department shall pay interest on any back pay awards due under this order.

The conduct of these government representatives at this post should be labeled “notoriously disgraceful conduct”. And the State Department should be shamed for defending this type of unacceptable behavior.  Oh, please don’t tell us these people all got promoted!
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FSGB: When Voluntary Curtailment Is NOT Truly Voluntary

 

This is part 1 of two parts we want to post about this specific grievance case. We want to highlight this part of the curtailment process that’s called “voluntary” because it was not a voluntary one, but a “coerced voluntary curtailment”. We have no idea who are the individuals involved in this case, of course, but we are aware of how the so called “voluntary” curtailment has been misused and far from being voluntary in other cases in the past.
The chief of mission was supposed to “ensure that rigorous standards apply to curtailment requests.” Whatever standards were applied in this case could not be called rigorous by any stretch of the imagination. Good grief, the ARSO wrote a false report! As if that was not enough, a supervisor engaged in deceitful behavior. And State basically shrugged its admirable shoulders, and said who cares?
Record of Proceedings
FSGB Case No. 2019030 | September 30, 2020
INTERIM DECISION  (CORRECTED 10/05/2020)

We find here that the procedures for curtailing grievant violated 3 FAM 2443.2. The due process provisions of the regulation were not
followed. Grievant was given an ultimatum to voluntarily curtail, or he would be involuntarily curtailed, when the Ambassador had limited information and the grievant had not been given any of the due process rights outlined in 3 FAM 2443.2 and the guideline cables provided below.
The applicable FAM, 3 FAM 2443.2 Involuntary Curtailment at Request of Chief of Mission, reads:

a. If the chief of mission determines that curtailment of an employee’s tour of duty would be in the best interests of the post [or] the employee, the chief of mission may ask that the employee’s tour of duty be curtailed immediately.

b. If the employee is an employee of the Department of State, the chief of mission should submit a request through the DIRGEN [Director General] channel to the Director General of the Foreign Service requesting curtailment of the employee. The request must:


(1) Include background information on any incidents that support the request;

(2) Confirm that the employee has been informed of the request and the reasons therefore; and

(3) Confirm that the employee has been advised that he or she may submit comments separately.


c. If the employee requests curtailment, the chief of mission should use the DIRGEN channel to:


(1) Inform the Director General of the chief of mission’s support of the employee’s request; and

(2) Explain fully the circumstances that, in the chief of mission’s judgment, justify immediate curtailment.


d. Except in cases of serious misconduct, criminal activities, or actions that have serious security implications, a chief of mission may offer the employee the alternative of submitting a request for immediate voluntary curtailment. If the employee is an employee of another agency, the request should be submitted to [their appropriate officials]. … The same supporting information required in 3 FAM 2443.2 should be used in requesting curtailment.57

According to the Decision Memo, the Ambassador invoked 16 STATE 27226, issued on March 14, 2016, Chief of Mission Instructions Regarding Conduct and Discipline Abroad, to determine that curtailment was necessary in this case. The summary describes the cable as the
first of two issued that date to provide guidance on conduct and discipline issues. The cable notes that COMs have full legal authority for the supervision of all government executive branch employees in that country.

The other memo issued on the same date, 16 STATE 27212, Curtailment of Employees Based on Conduct and Disciplinary Issues (Checklist), provides detailed procedures for handling curtailments. Among the relevant paragraphs are:

Par. 1. Curtailment may include the employee’s immediate departure from post, and can be voluntary or involuntary. As COM, you must ensure that rigorous standards apply to curtailment requests. Curtailments disrupt lives of employees and entail high professional and monetary cost from the Service in terms of lost productivity, service, and frequently, investment in training. Therefore, this authority must be used with judicious care and restraint.

Par. 2. If you, as COM, determine that curtailment of an employee’s tour of duty would be in the best interests of the post [or] the Service … you may request that the employee’s tour of duty be curtailed immediately. Per 3 FAM 2443.2, you should submit a request through the DIRGEN [Director General] channel to the Director General of the Foreign Service. The curtailment cable request must:

o include background information on any incidents that support the request;

o confirm that the employee has been informed of the request and the reasons therefor; and

o confirm that the employee has been advised that he or she may submit comments separately.

..HR strongly encourages post to share the request cable with the employee so the employee has the full report on which he/she can send comments.

Par. 3. Except in cases of serious misconduct, … you may offer the employee the option to request immediate voluntary curtailment in lieu of involuntary curtailment. If the employee requests voluntary curtailment, he/she should request immediate curtailment through the HR channel in a message addressed to his/her Career Development Officer (CDO) in HR/CDA (see para. 19 [checklist]). As COM, please ensure that you use the DIRGEN channel to confirm your support, or opposition to, the employee’s request and explain fully the circumstances that justify immediate curtailment.


Par. 13. Curtailments should first be vetted by a management team at post. …. Proper vetting throughout the process then allows the COM to be better able to determine whether to move forward with the curtailment request.


Par. 14. In all cases, the DIRGEN cable must include background information on the incident (s) that supports post’s decision. Except for cases of directed curtailment, the cable must confirm that the COM has discussed the proposed action with the employee and also confirm that he/she may submit separately, either by cable via the DIRGEN channel or email to the DG Direct e-mail address, any comments about the curtailment. HR will not approve any curtailment request that comes without supporting information.

Par. 19. D. [H]as the employee had the opportunity to discuss the situation with the DCM?


Par. 20. As applicable, the above elements should be addressed in a DIRGEN cable. The Department is committed to making the curtailment system work for the good of the Service and our employees, protecting both the authority of management and the rights of employees.

Grievant’s decision to curtail was not truly voluntary. Grievant did not initiate the curtailment. The Ambassador, according to what the RSO and HR told grievant on January 12, had decided that grievant had a choice to either curtail voluntarily or involuntarily. In doing so, he was exercising his right under 3 FAM 2443.2d to give the employee the option of taking a voluntary curtailment in lieu of an involuntary one. Given that ultimatum, the only way to prevent the potential adverse career effect was to choose “voluntary” curtailment. According to grievant, he was also given the inducement that if he chose “voluntary” curtailment, “all this,” which he could reasonably understand to mean any type of charge against him, would be withdrawn. Given the lack of denials, we credit grievant that this statement was made. Yet we know that, on January 14, before the curtailment took effect, the ROI had been closed without action by DS and referred to S/OCR. The case was not going away.

Continue reading

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Around the World in Tweets: Consuls General

 

 

VPOTUS Swears-In New US Ambassador to Singapore Jonathan Kaplan

 

 

U.S. Embassy Moscow: A Scheme to Evade Taxes While Renouncing U.S. Citizenship Results in $500M+ Penalty

 

On October 29, USDOJ announced that Oleg Tinkov, aka Oleg Tinkoff, the founder of Russian Bank was sentenced for felony tax conviction arising from scheme to evade exit tax while renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Defendant Paid Over $500 Million in Taxes, Interest, and Penalties

The founder of a Russian bank was sentenced today for his felony conviction for filing a false tax return. As required under his plea agreement, prior to sentencing, Oleg Tinkov, aka Oleg Tinkoff, paid $508,936,184, more than double what he had sought to escape paying to the U.S. Treasury through a scheme to renounce his U.S. citizenship and conceal from the IRS large stock gains that he knew were reportable. This includes $248,525,339 in taxes, statutory interest on that tax and a nearly $100 million fraud penalty. Tinkov was additionally fined $250,000, which is the maximum allowed by statute, and sentenced to time served and one year of supervised release.

Tinkov was indicted in Sept. 2019 for willfully filing false tax returns, and was arrested on Feb. 26, 2020, in London, United Kingdom (UK). The United States sought extradition, and Tinkov contested on medical grounds. In public records, Tinkov has disclosed that he is undergoing a UK-based intensive treatment plan for acute myeloid leukemia and graft versus host disease, which has rendered him immunocompromised and unable to safely travel in the foreseeable future.

On Oct. 1, 2021, Tinkov entered a plea to one count of filing a false tax return. According to the plea agreement, Tinkov was born in Russia and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1996. From that time through 2013, he filed U.S. tax returns. In late 2005 or 2006, Tinkov founded Tinkoff Credit Services (TCS), a Russia-based branchless bank that provides its customers with online financial and banking services. Through a foreign entity, Tinkov indirectly held the majority of TCS shares.

In October 2013, TCS held an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange and became a multi-billion dollar, publicly traded company. As part of going public, Tinkov sold a small portion of his majority shareholder stake for more than $192 million, and his assets following the IPO had a fair market value of more than $1.1 billion. Three days after the successful IPO, Tinkov went to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia, to relinquish his U.S. citizenship.

As part of his expatriation, Tinkov was required to file a U.S. Initial and Annual Expatriation Statement. This form requires expatriates with a net worth of $2 million or more to report the constructive sale of their assets worldwide to the IRS as if those assets were sold on the day before expatriation. The taxpayer is then required to report and pay tax on the gain from any such constructive sale.

Tinkov was told of his filing and tax obligations by both the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and his U.S.-based accountant. When asked by his accountant if his net worth was more than $2 million for purposes of filling out the expatriation form, Tinkov lied and told him he did not have assets above $2 million. When his accountant later inquired whether his net worth was under $2 million, rather than answer the question, Tinkov filled out the expatriation form himself falsely reporting that his net worth was only $300,000. On Feb. 26, 2014, Tinkov filed a 2013 individual tax return that falsely reported his income as only $205,317. In addition, Tinkov did not report any of the gain from the constructive sale of his property worth more than $1.1 billion, nor did he pay the applicable taxes as required by law. In total, Tinkov caused a tax loss of $248,525,339, which he has paid in full with substantial penalties and interest as part of his plea, together with tax liabilities for other years.

Read in full here.