USG Charges Two Individuals For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving the Moroccan Diplomatic Mission and Seven Domestic Workers

 

On March 13, SDNY announced that two individuals were charged for visa fraud conspiracy involving the Moroccan Consulate and Mission in New York. The complaint includes an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”), a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador. Footnote #5 in the complaint says that the USG anticipates that it will enter into a non-prosecutorial agreement with each of the seven domestic workers, all nationals of the Philippines). Footnote #6 notes that the DSS Special Agent is aware that as an ambassador accredited to the Moroccan Mission of the United Nations, CC-1 possesses full diplomatic immunity under Article V of the United Nations Agreement and Article (39)1)of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Via USDOJ/SDNY:

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Christian J. Schurman, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”) at the United States Department of State, announced today the arrest of MARIA LUISA ESTRELLA JAIDI (“JAIDI”), who was charged by complaint along with her brother, RAMON SINGSON ESTRELLA (“ESTRELLA”), for their involvement in a conspiracy to commit visa fraud, make materially false statements, and induce aliens to illegally come to, enter, and reside in the United States.  JAIDI was arrested today in Ancramdale, New York, and will be presented this afternoon in White Plains federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison.  ESTRELLA remains at large.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman stated:  “As alleged, the defendants abused our nation’s process for admitting consular officials in order to bring domestic workers into this country for their own monetary gain and lifestyle.  On top of that, Maria Luisa Estrella Jaidi exploited these workers by not providing them the critical protections and benefits they would have been entitled to had they been properly brought to this country with the appropriate visas.  Today’s charges demonstrate that fraud and abuse of this type will not be tolerated.”

DSS Director Christian J. Schurman said:  “DSS demonstrated its commitment to protecting the integrity of U.S. travel documents and the rights of foreign nationals visiting the United States.  We will continue to pursue those who abuse domestic worker visas to manipulate and exploit their employees for personal gain.  DSS’s strong relationship with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, continues to be essential in the pursuit of justice.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed in White Plains federal court[1]:

From approximately 2006 up to 2016, JAIDI and ESTRELLA conspired with an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”) to fraudulently procure visas for at least seven Filipino domestic workers (the “Domestic Workers”).  CC-1 is a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador.  From approximately 1980 through approximately 2016, CC-1 and JAIDI were married.

In order to fraudulently obtain visas for the Domestic Workers, JAIDI and CC-1 caused the Domestic Workers to submit visa applications containing materially false statements and to submit fraudulent employment contracts in support of those visa applications.  ESTRELLA – who is JAIDI’s brother and who resides in the Philippines – helped recruit several of the Domestic Workers in the Philippines to work for JAIDI and CC-1 in the United States and instructed the Domestic Workers to make false statements in their visa applications and to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

In particular, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused five of the Domestic Workers to falsely state in their visa applications that they would be employed as secretaries, administrative assistants, or technicians at the Moroccan Mission or at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Morocco in Manhattan.  In addition, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused each of the Domestic Workers to submit fraudulent employment contracts to the State Department in support of their visa applications.  The fraudulent employment contracts also overstated the Domestic Workers’ salaries, understated their hours, and falsely guaranteed benefits, including, among others, sick leave, dental insurance, and medical insurance.

Once the Domestic Workers arrived in the United States, JAIDI and CC-1 employed the workers as their personal drivers, domestic helpers, farmhands, and assistants at their residence in Bronxville, New York, as well as at their farm in Ancramdale, New York.  JAIDI and CC-1 paid the Domestic Workers significantly less than the minimum salary required by law and regularly compelled them to work far in excess of 40 hours per week.  In addition, JAIDI and CC-1 generally denied the Domestic Workers the benefits set forth in their employment contracts, compelled the Domestic Workers to work seven days a week, and required the Domestic Workers to surrender their passports.

Read in full: Two Charged In White Plains Federal Court For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving Moroccan Consulate And Mission In New York

Attachment(s):

Pompeo Announces Departure of All Remaining U.S. Embassy Caracas Diplomats From Venezuela

 

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo announced the “temporary” departure of all remaining US Embassy Caracas diplomats from Venezuela. He also said that “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins. ”

Two days ago, the State Department reissued its Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory after the March 11, 2019 announcement of temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawal of diplomatic personnel in Venezuela. The advisory cautions American travelers to  “not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Keep the local staffers in your thoughts, personnel withdrawal does not include the local employees. See CDA James Story video here with a message to the people of Venezuela.

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Former State/OIG IT Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft and Embezzlement of USG Computers

 

On March 7, 2019, USDOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that a former IT contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General pled guilty to theft and embezzlement.

A former federal contractor pleaded guilty today to theft and embezzlement of up to 16 government computers from the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Andrew W. Cheveers, 31, of Bowie, Maryland, was an Information Technology contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. In this role, Cheveers held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain sensitive information, and he was responsible for configuring the computers prior to the devices being distributed to U.S. government personnel.

Through the course of his criminal conduct, Cheevers admitted to stealing up to 16 Microsoft Surface Pro laptop computers. Cheveers then sold the stolen computers on Internet websites such as Craigslist and eBay from approximately July 2016 through February 2017 in order to profit from his fraudulent scheme.

Cheveers faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on June 21. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Celeste are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-64.

The announcement is available here.

Pompeo on @StateDept: What They Needed Wasn’t More Money, What They Needed Was a Leader Who … Who’s That?

The Trump budget proposal for the FY2020 State Department funding is now out. HFAC already called the proposal which includes a 23% cut ‘dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill. Even if this request doesn’t pass, it clearly reflects the administration’s views on diplomacy and development. If a Foggy Bottom joker starts calling prior State Department funding levels unsustainable, we may fall off our chair and scream out loud. The Administration’s budget request for DOD was $686.1 billion in FY2019 and $750 billion in FY2020. And $750 billion is sustainable? Anyway, brief run-down of the budget requests in the last few years:

FY2017:  The FY2017 budget request under the Obama Administration amounted in $52.78 billion in new budget authority for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Appropriations (SFOPS). When Congress passed the appropriations bill, the  total enacted SFOPS funding for FY2017 was $57.53 billion, an 8.8% increase over the FY2016 SFOPS funding level. According to the CRS, the increase is entirely due to a 40% total increase in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

FY2018: President Trump submitted his FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 23, 2017. The request sought $40.25 billion (-30% compared with FY2017 enacted) for SFOPS, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. The 115th Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, which provided FY2018 funding for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). Division K of the act―State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS)― provided a total of $54.18 billion, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds and rescissions. This represented a decrease of 6.1% from the FY2017 actual funding level according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

FY2019: The Trump Administration submitted to Congress its FY2019 budget request on February 12, 2018. The State Department budget proposal under Rex Tillerson included $41.86 billion for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). CRS notes: Comparing the request with the FY2018-enacted funding levels, the FY2019 request represents a 22.7% decrease in SFOPS funding. The proposed State and related agency funding would be 18.2% below FY2018 enacted and the foreign operations funding would be reduced by 24.7%. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have approved FY2019 SFOPS bills that include funding at higher levels than the Administration requested and equal to or greater than FY2018 enacted funding. Congress eventually appropriated $56.1 billion, ensuring that the agency has the resources it needs.

FY2020: Trump’s FY2020 budget request for the State Department, the first under Pompeo, proposes $40 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). State’s Bureau of Budget and Planning guy Doug Pitkin said, “the last two budgets, for example, included reductions to State and AID personnel. This budget does not propose that.” He also argued that despite the almost 25% cut, this  budget request apparently “does support diplomacy and development”.

All that to highlight what Secretary Pompeo said in an interview recently. Secretary Pompeo  (who we imagine is known …er fondly in Foggy Bottom as Swagger Mike) gave an interview to McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle on March 11. We must admit that since this was an interview, we certainly could not blame his speechwriters for the gems here. Neither the video nor the transcript of this interview appears on state.gov, as of this writing but the reporters have a short video clip which we embedded below, and you can read the report with the quotes here.

“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”

 

 

“The people at the State department understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.

 

“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”

“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of civilization,” he said.

“That’s what the people of the State Department want and need. We’re giving it to them in spades. They’re responding to it wonderfully. We’re doing wonderful work all around the world.”

Ethiopian Airlines #302 Crashes Near Addis, Boeing 737 MAX 8 Grounded Around the World

 

@SecPompeo Announces Withdrawal of All US Personnel From Venezuela, Also Who Needs the Next Curveball?

 

In a most worrisome development, Secretary Pompeo announced the withdrawal of all remaining  personnel from US Embassy Caracas in Venezuela. The announcement cites  the “deteriorating situation” and the staff’s presence becoming “a constraint on U.S. policy” as the reasons for the withdrawal.

When the secretary of state calls his own diplomats’ presence “a constraint” — as in a limitation, a hindrance, an impediment — on U.S. policy specific to a particular country, what does that tell you? That the talking is done? What comes after all talks are done, or in this case, after all tweets were sent?

And when the secretary of state announces the evacuation of all remaining personnel from the embassy, what signal is he sending Maduro? How will Maduro respond? We don’t know about you, but we’re worried; why announce this evacuation prior to it actually happening? What arrangements are being made for private Americans still in Venezuela?

Then there’s this, of course, which shows a willingness to assign blame because it was convenient and easy. This was also the week when #miltaryintervention was briefly trending on Twitter. It looks like that’s about to get loud again.

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At the @StateDept’s International Women of Courage Awards, a Regrettable Lack of Courage

Published 12:15 am EDT

 

Secretary Pompeo (Mar. 7  – Excerpt):

Women of courage exist everywhere. Most will never be honored. They face different challenges, but challenges that still matters. I’ve personally, of course, had this experience as well. I’ve witnessed women service in my time in the military and have been inspired by them in my personal life. My mother, too, was a woman of courage. She was born in rural Kansas. She helped make ends meet while raising three kids. She never managed to get to college, but made sure that each of us had enormous opportunity. You all know women like this. They’re strong. She was dedicated to providing opportunity for me and my siblings, and we didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that she had endured. And she also raised me to be really smart; I met another courageous woman, Susan, my wife, who’s here with me today. (Laughter and applause.)

We all know – I know – from a lifetime of experience that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere. That’s one reason I’ve appointed women to dozens of senior leadership roles here at the place I am privileged to work. From under secretaries to assistant secretaries to non-career ambassadorships, we know here we can’t succeed without empowering women worldwide, and that means we need to make sure that we have women empowered at our department worldwide.

And now it’s my honor to welcome our distinguished guest speaker today, a woman of incredible power and courage, a woman who has been a powerful advocate in her own right. Since becoming First Lady, she’s been increasingly outspoken against the enslavement of human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls all around the globe. I know she will continue to be an influential leader, an influential voice who inspires future women leaders like herself all around the world. Please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump. (Applause.)  Full Text»

Wow, okay, can somebody please tell the secretary of state that he needs better speechwriters, pronto?!

Also you’ve probably seen the news already about the rescinded award for Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro.  FP reported:

“…the State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.
[…]
To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president.
[…]
In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Our understanding is that posts who submit  nominations for this award are typically required to affirm that they had thoroughly vetted their candidates,  including social media.  The nominations do not happen in secret. Posts actually have to tell their candidates that they’re being nominated otherwise they may not be available when the award is handed out. Posts also have to tell their candidates when they are not selected.

It is likely that we won’t now exactly what happened here until we get to the oral history part many years down the road.

For now, we’re just watching out on who will throw those unnamed lower level officials under the bus, then run them over some more until you see the tire tracks on their souls?

AFSA Announces 2019-2021 Governing Board Candidates and Proposed Bylaw Amendments

Posted: 12:02 am EDT

 

Via AFSA:  The AFSA Committee on Elections has approved the following candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2019-2021 term. All regular voting members of AFSA who are in good standing as of March 28, 2019 will receive, by email or mail, a ballot, the candidates’ campaign statements, the text of the proposed AFSA Bylaw Amendments, their rationale, and any opposition to the proposals, on or about April 29, 2019. Members can also view the proposed bylaw amendments online here.

Completed ballots must be received by 8:00 a.m. EDT on June 12, 2019, in order to be counted. The new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2019.

All AFSA positions are uncontested except the State Department Representatives where there are eight candidates running for six slots, Retiree VP where there are two candidates, and Retired Member Representatives where there are three candidates for two slots. AFSA notes that no eligible candidates came forward for the positions of USAID Vice President, FAS Vice President, FCS Alternate Representative, FAS Alternate Representative and APHIS Representative.

Current State VP Kenneth Kero-Mentz is running as AFSA secretary, current Retiree VP John K. Naland is running for reelection, current State Representatives Don Jacobson and Lillian Wahl-Tuco are also running for reelections.

2019 Governing Board Candidates

Nominee Position
Eric Rubin * President
Kenneth Kero-Mentz Secretary
Virginia L. Bennett * Treasurer
Thomas Yazdgerdi * State VP
John K. Naland Retiree VP
John O’Keefe* Retiree VP
Jay Carreiro FCS VP
Joshua Archibald* State Rep
Matthew Dolbow State Rep
Don Jacobson * State Rep
Holly Kirking Loomis * State Rep
Kristin Roberts * State Rep
Katheryne ‘Kate’ Schilling State Rep
Lillian Wahl-Tuco * State Rep
Tamir Waser * State Rep
Abinet Belachew USAID Rep
Steven L. Herman USAGM Rep
Mary Daly * Retiree Rep
Hilary Olsin-Windecker Retiree Rep
Phillip A. Shull* Retiree Rep

* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate

A Town Hall meeting has been set for Tuesday, April 2, at 12:00 p.m. in the first floor conference room at the AFSA HQ building, 2101 E Street, NW Washington DC 20037. This event will be taped and available on the AFSA YouTube channel. The candidates’ statements will be posted on the AFSA website on April 1, 2019. Visit the elections webpage to view.

If you have not already done so, please ensure AFSA has your current email and mailing addresses on record. To update your address information, send an email to member@afsa.org.

 

Amb Philip Reeker to Return to @StateDept as EUR’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

Posted: 12:01 am EDT

 

Via @StateDept deputy spox:

“We are delighted to welcome back Ambassador Philip Reeker to Washington later this month. On March 18th, he will become the principal deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of the Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Now, Ambassador Reeker is a career Foreign Service officer who’s currently the civilian deputy commander at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart. He’s previously served as the consul general in Milan; as the deputy assistant secretary for the Balkans, Central Europe, as well as Holocaust issues; as the United States ambassador to what is now North Macedonia; and – the only blight on his entire professional career – he was previously the department’s deputy spokesperson.”

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It’s March 11, We’re Officially 11 Going on 12, Curious as Ever, But Sadly Funny No Mooo

We must admit, we are losing our sense of humor. Your blogger regrets this deeply. Inevitably as the years go by, we start losing familiar people and things — loved ones succumb to age or go off on their own adventures. We part with cherished objects and pets. Sometimes when we lose an old friend, we don’t even get to say goodbye. So goodbye, E, a lovely and exceptional human being who enjoyed the written words; may you rest in peace in a heaven filled with books.

Last year, your blogger also said goodbye to an old house. And to an old garden that kept one sane. We bid farewell to the familiar hundred-year-old red cedar tree that stood watch over our backyard. But we had moved many times before; one become accustomed to taking leave of familiar places and homes and to settling into new ones. One gets used ti taking leave of old friends and finding new ones. However, these recurring and often sad transitions are not what is make us lose our sense of humor.

Dr. Web told us that the loss of humor could be an indication of the road to dementia. Alrighty, so advised. But we are not taking that road.  No. No. No. Thank you very much, we are in full possession of our faculties.  We may be losing old friends and and at least temporarily, a sense of place, but we have not yet damaged  our brain cells, people.

We are simply having issues with laughing, especially laughing out loud. Life is freaking funny, but we want it “funny ha-ha” like the way it used to be, not “funny kill me now” the way it often seems to be these days.  We’re hoping that ours is only a temporary affliction brought on by our current national circumstances and by the wretchedness  in our daily discourse.

This year, we can’t promise you the funnies, or even that we may become wiser as the year goes by. We do promise you that we’ll keep trying to do both, even if we may not always be successful. This blog began during the last year of Secretary Rice’s tenure, spanned the entire tenures of Secretaries Clinton and Kerry, and through the long, dark and stormy 423 Tillerson days.  And now we are right smack in the Swagger Era. And who knows how long this will last.

This ride is making even mellow bloggers cranky.  So let’s chew on eleven but onward to year 12. We hope you’ll keep us company even if, like us, you just want to be bewitched at times, like Rip Van Winkle in the old-growth forests of the Catskills.

Note: For new dot-gov and related readers who are just getting acquainted with this blog, please read the plain print:  this blogger does not/does not work for the secretary of state or any government-funded entity. This blog is supported by a few ads and donations from generous readers. We conduct public discourse as a private citizen.  And as always, any take down notice will be published in full.

 

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