Former @StateDept Employee Candace Marie Claiborne Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison

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Correction: 40 months in prison, not 40 years.
In March 2017, the Justice Department announced the arrest of State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C. for obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, and for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents. (see @StateDept OMS Arrested/Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents).
In April 2019, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. (see Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents).
On July 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that Claiborne was sentenced to 40 months in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $40,000, for conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China, in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.
Below via the DOJ announcement. See the original statement here.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Acting Assistant Director in Charge John P. Selleck of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

“Chinese intelligence agents convinced Candace Marie Claiborne to trade her integrity and confidential information of the United States government for cash and other gifts for herself and her family,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Claiborne withheld information and lied repeatedly about these foreign intelligence contacts. Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths. With this sentencing, justice has been imposed for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne received gifts from foreign officials and lied to investigators repeatedly about her role in defrauding the U.S. government,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “Claiborne violated her oath as a State Department employee, and we will continue to hold accountable those abuse their positions of trust.”

“Claiborne was entrusted with privileged information as a U.S. government employee, and she abused that trust at the expense of our nation’s security,” said John P. Selleck, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “The targeting of U.S. security clearance holders by Chinese intelligence services is a constant threat we face, and today’s sentencing shows that those who betray the trust of the American people will be held accountable for their actions. I would like to thank the men and women of the FBI Washington Field Office and our partners at the Department of Justice for their work in investigating and prosecuting this case.”

“This sentence makes a strong statement to those who would attempt to commit crimes that violate the public trust and damage our national security. The Diplomatic Security Service is dedicated to working with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure that those who commit these crimes are brought to justice,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.”

Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in April 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States. She was sentenced by the Honorable Randolph D. Moss.

According to the plea documents, Claiborne began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999. She has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance. Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided through a co-conspirator.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the Department of State on topics ranging from economics to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents, who tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.

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Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

 

 

 

This is a follow-up post to a 2017 case concerning a State Department employee arrested for concealing extensive contacts with intelligence agents from China (see @StateDept OMS Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents). Last month, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. Sentencing is scheduled for for July 9, 2019.

Download Claiborne Plea Agreement

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Defendant Admitted Receiving Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Benefits From Two Chinese Agents in Exchange for Internal State Department Documents
Candace Marie Claiborne, a former employee of the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The plea took place before the Honorable Randolph D. Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts.  Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths.  With this guilty plea we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

“Candace Claiborne was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully misled federal investigators about her repeated interactions with foreign contacts which violated her oath of office as a State Department employee,” said Assistant Director McNamara.  “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

“Our close working relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice resulted in the conviction of Candace Claiborne who violated the public trust and damaged our national security,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.  “Diplomatic Security will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously defend the interests and security of the United States of America.”

According to the plea documents, Claiborne, 63, began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999.  She served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance.  Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years.  The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments.  Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided to a close family member of Claiborne’s.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, as stated in the plea documents, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.  That same agent at one point tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.  She was arrested on March 28, 2017, following a law enforcement investigation.

Judge Moss scheduled sentencing for July 9, 2019.  Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., was ordered detained pending sentencing, but will self-surrender for said detention on June 5, 2019.  The statutory maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter.  The case was prosecuted by Thomas A. Gillice and investigated by John L. Hill, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Deputy Chief Julie A. Edelstein and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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That time when a real property lease in Iraq jumped from $124,000/mo to $665,000/mo

Posted: 2:25 am ET
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And no one noticed for about five months?

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A former government contractor was sentenced today to four years in prison for his role in a government contract kickback scheme that caused a loss of more than $3.4 million to the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Wesley Aaron Struble, 49, a U.S. citizen of Batangas, Philippines, engaged in a conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act in 2011 and 2012 while employed in Iraq as a government contractor. Initially employed by a business identified in court documents as Company B, Struble learned that another business, identified in court documents as Company A, was seeking a lease of real property for use related to a U.S. Department of State contract. Struble knew that Company B was paying approximately $124,000 per month to a third business, identified in court documents as Company C, for a lease of real property. According to court documents, Struble became a manager for Company A, and together with another manager for Company A, engaged in a conspiracy with associates of Company C to make the lease of property available to Company A at an inflated rate of $665,000 per month.

Court documents explained that Struble and the other manager of Company A influenced Company A to lease the property at the inflated rate and in return received at least $390,000 in cash kickback payments from associates of Company C. Struble then concealed cash in packages sent back to family members in the United States, including hiding cash inside stereo speakers. Struble also directed that cash be deposited in bank accounts in a manner designed to avoid detection. The U.S. Department of State, which ultimately paid the lease of real property between Company A and Company C, suffered a loss of approximately $3.4 million. In addition to Struble’s prison sentence, he was also ordered to pay approximately $3.4 million in restitution.

Two of Struble’s co-conspirators—Jose Rivera and Emil Popescu—were charged by indictment on March 30, for their roles in the conspiracy. According to court documents, Jose Rivera pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a jury trial on August 7. The United States is seeking Emil Popescu’s extradition from Romania.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State; and Andrew W. Vale, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian D. Harrison and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly R. Pedersen prosecuted 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. 1:17-cr-44 and 1:17-cr-052.

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USDOJ: FSO Michael Todd Sestak Charged With Conspiracy to Defraud and Conspiracy to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud

We have blogged previously about this case:

On June 4, the Department of Justice released the following statement:

U.S. Foreign Service Officer Charged With Conspiracy To Defraud the United States and to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud – Scheme Allegedly Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes-

WASHINGTON – A U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael Todd Sestak, 41, has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Gregory B. Starr announced today.

Sestak appeared this afternoon before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was arrested on May 13, 2013, in California and had been ordered held without bond following a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He was removed to the District of Columbia, where the criminal complaint, dated May 6, 2013, was filed against him. Magistrate Judge Robinson ordered that he remain in custody pending further court proceedings.

According to the government’s evidence, Sestak was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.

The investigation revealed that, beginning sometime in or around March 2012, Sestak agreed to approve visas to the United States for a fee.  According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, he conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers – or to recruit other recruiters – to the visa scheme. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised a money-back guarantee for a visa to the United States.  They particularly advertised that they could obtain visas for people who would not be able to obtain a visa on their own, such as people who had been previously denied or refused entry into the U.S.  They encouraged customers with the idea that they could overstay their visas and disappear in the United States.

The affidavit alleges that co-conspirators assisted visa applicants with their applications and prepared them for their consular interviews.  Upon submitting an application, the applicants would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa.  Applicants or their families paid between $20,000 and $70,000 per visa.

Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States.  According to the affidavit, Sestak received several million dollars in bribes in exchange for approving the visas.  He ultimately moved the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States, the affidavit alleges.

To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from a co-conspirator’s investment account in the United States.

Two women have been charged in the scheme.They are Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, who are charged with conspiring with Sestak and others. Vo allegedly assisted with the recruitment of visa applicants and communicated with others about the payment for the fraudulent visas. According to charging documents, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by Vo. Huynh allegedly participated in the visa scheme by obtaining documents necessary for the visa applications, collecting money and providing model questions and answers for visa applicants.  Sestak also allegedly approved a visa for Huynh to the United States, the application for which was submitted by the IP address controlled by Vo.

Vo was recently arrested in Denver and is being held there while awaiting removal to the District of Columbia. Huynh was arrested June 3, 2013, and appeared today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She remains held without bond pending further proceedings.

Charges contained in criminal complaints are merely allegations that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

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Original statement is available online here.

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