Adoption Agency Manager Pleads Guilty in Uganda and Poland Adoption Procurement Schemes

 

Via USDOJ:
Texas Woman Pleads Guilty to Schemes to Procure Adoptions from Uganda and Poland through Bribery and Fraud

A Texas woman who was a program manager at an Ohio-based international adoption agency pleaded guilty today in the Northern District of Ohio to schemes to procure adoptions of Ugandan and Polish children by bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. authorities.

According to court documents, Debra Parris, 69, of Lake Dallas, engaged in a scheme with others to bribe Ugandan officials to procure adoptions of Ugandan children by families in the United States. These bribes included payments to (a) probation officers intended to ensure favorable probation reports recommending that a particular child be placed into an orphanage; (b) court registrars to influence the assignment of particular cases to “adoption-friendly” judges; and (c) High Court judges to issue favorable guardianship orders for the adoption agency’s clients. In her plea agreement, Parris also admitted that she continued to direct the adoption agency’s clients to work with her alleged co-conspirator Dorah Mirembe, after knowing that Mirembe caused clients of the adoption agency to provide false information to the U.S. State Department for the purpose of misleading it in its adjudication of visa applications.

According to court documents, in a second scheme, after alleged co-conspirator Margaret Cole, the adoption agency’s Executive Director, learned that clients of the adoption agency determined they could not care for one of the two Polish children they were set to adopt, Parris and her co-conspirator took steps to transfer the Polish child to Parris’s relatives, who were not eligible for intercountry adoption. In her plea agreement, Parris also admitted that after the child was injured and hospitalized, Parris agreed with her co-conspirator to conceal their improper conduct from the U.S. State Department in an attempt to continue profiting from these adoptions.

Parris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and commit visa fraud in connection with the Uganda scheme, and conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with the Poland scheme. She is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2022. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Trial against Cole is scheduled to commence on Feb. 7, 2022. Mirembe remains at large.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan for the Northern District of Ohio; and Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.

If you believe you are a victim of this offense, please visit https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/victim-witness-program or call (888) 549-3945.

The FBI’s Cleveland Field Office is investigating the case.

Trial Attorneys Jason Manning and Alexander Kramer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice of the Northern District of Ohio are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs assisted in the investigation.

The Fraud Section has lead responsibility for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and Cole and Mirembe are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

USDOJ: FL Executives Plead Guilty to Large-Scale Visa Fraud Employment Scheme

 

Via USDOJ:

Two Florida business executives pleaded guilty today in the Southern District of Georgia to charges related to their roles in a scheme to recruit and hire foreign nationals who were not authorized to work in the United States to fill temporary housekeeping and food service positions and commit various other criminal immigration offenses for profit.

According to court documents, Educational World Inc. (Ed World), a visa processing company based in North Point; and Larisa Khariton, 73, and Jon Clark, 71, also of North Point, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Georgia on April 8. The 36-count indictment also contained allegations against Regal Hospitality Solutions LLC (RHS), a Louisiana-based staffing company, and seven current and former RHS employees. Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States, including encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, as well as alien harboring, alien transporting, and visa fraud. In addition, the RHS defendants were charged with wire-fraud related offenses.

Khariton and Clark pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States.

According to the indictment and other court documents, the individual defendants enriched themselves by participating in a scheme to recruit and hire noncitizen laborers without authorization to work for RHS. RHS provided hospitality-related businesses with laborers to work in housekeeping, retail, and food service positions, using noncitizens who were unauthorized to work in the United States to fill the positions. In some cases, the RHS defendants arranged for and provided housing and transportation to the workers.

The defendants and other co-conspirators also encouraged and induced noncitizen laborers on expiring and expired J-1 exchange visitor visas to obtain B-2 tourist visas and to work in the United States for RHS, knowing that employing such laborers on B-2 visas was illegal. According to admissions made in connection with their guilty pleas, Khariton and Clark prepared and submitted applications for B-2 visas on behalf of the workers after charging noncitizen laborers approximately $650 per application. The application contained false and misleading statements indicating the noncitizens intended to obtain the B-2 visa for the purpose of engaging in tourism. In fact, Khariton and Clark knew that those noncitizens were already present in and intended to stay in the United States for employment, not tourism.

The indictment also alleges that Khariton and Clark submitted petitions for H-2B temporary work visas on behalf of defendant RHS that contained false and misleading information about the location where noncitizen laborers allegedly were to be employed. In connection with their guilty pleas, Khariton and Clark admitted that they engaged in deceitful and dishonest conduct to impede and obstruct the functioning of, among other things, the H-2 non-immigrant visa program. Khariton and Clark also admitted that they were paid a commission by RHS for noncitizens Ed World recruited to work for RHS, including those who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States.

Khariton and Clark will be sentenced at a later date. Khariton and Clark face a statutory maximum penalty of five years in prison; A federal district court judge will determine the sentences after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Charges remain pending against defendant RHS and the individual RHS defendants who are considered innocent unless and until found guilty

The U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General is investigating the case with assistance provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Trial Attorneys Frank Rangoussis and John-Alex Romano of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Lee of the Southern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.

 

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Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Scheme

 

This is a follow-up to the June 2, 2021 post we did — SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO.

On September 20, 2021, the Justice Department announced that May Salehi, a former State Department employee, pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.  See U.S. v. May Salehi.
Below is the USDOJ announcement: Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Scheme

May Salehi Provided Confidential Bidding Information to a Bidder and Received Lucrative Kickback Payments in Return

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Speckhardt, the Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General (“State Department OIG”), and Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York Field Office (“IRS-CI”), announced that MAY SALEHI, a former State Department employee, pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.  SALEHI was a longtime State Department employee who was involved in evaluating bids for critical overseas government construction projects such as U.S. embassies and consulates.  SALEHI gave confidential inside bidding information to a bidder, and received $60,000 in kickback payments in return.  SALEHI surrendered today and pled guilty before United States Magistrate Judge James L. Cott.  SALEHI’s case is assigned to United States District Judge P. Kevin Castel.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As a State Department employee, May Salehi was entrusted to serve the public.  Instead, she abused her position of trust to line her own pockets, as she admitted today.  Salehi revealed, and traded on, confidential information – corrupting the bidding process and receiving lucrative kickbacks in return.  Together with our law enforcement partners, this Office is committed to rooting out corruption.”

State Department OIG Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said: “The State Department OIG is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the Department’s programs and processes.  As government employees, we are entrusted to carry out our responsibilities with integrity and support an equitable process.  May Salehi did just the opposite.  She used her position of public trust to selfishly obtain a personal financial advantage by selling proprietary contracting information for profit.  Today’s plea, the culmination of extensive investigative and prosecutorial efforts, demonstrates that those who violate the public’s trust will be held accountable for their actions.”

IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas Fattorusso said: “May Salehi violated the trust of the American taxpayer by putting her personal financial gain over her responsibilities to safeguard confidential information and government resources. Today’s guilty plea shows IRS-Criminal Investigation will continually work with our law enforcement partners to protect the American taxpayer from this type of abuse.”

According to the allegations in the Information, court filings, and statements made in court:

From 1991 until mid-2021, MAY SALEHI was a State Department employee.  For many years, SALEHI worked as an engineer in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations division (“OBO”), which directs the worldwide overseas building program for the State Department and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.

In 2016, the State Department solicited bids for a multimillion-dollar construction project known as a compound security upgrade to be performed at the U.S. Consulate in Bermuda (the “Bermuda Project”).  The bidding process involved the submission of blind, sealed bids from various bidders.  Six companies submitted sealed bids, one of which was named Montage, Inc. (“Montage”).

SALEHI was involved in the Bermuda Project in several respects.  Among other things, SALEHI served as the Chair of the Technical Evaluation Panel (“TEP”) – a panel of experts that evaluates the technical aspects of bids, including whether they meet the State Department’s structural and security needs.  In connection with the Bermuda Project, the TEP disqualified one bidder, but determined that the other five bids (including Montage’s bid) were technically acceptable.

In September 2016, the State Department’s employees who evaluate the cost of bids gave the remaining five bidders (including Montage) the opportunity to re-bid, if they wished to do so.  Montage had two days to decide whether to submit a re-bid.  During that two-day window, Montage’s principal, Sina Moayedi, spoke with SALEHI by phone and sought confidential inside bidding information about the relationship between Montage’s bid and those of its competitors, which SALEHI supplied.  SALEHI knew that this information was confidential, and that it was unlawful to provide it to a prospective bidder.  After Moayedi received this inside information from SALEHI, Montage immediately increased its bid by $917,820.  In its revised submission to the State Department, Moayedi and Montage lied as to the reason it had increased its bid by nearly $1 million, falsely claiming that it had discovered “an arithmetic error” in its estimates.  Montage was ultimately awarded the Bermuda Project with a revised bid of $6.3 million.

In the months that followed, Moayedi paid SALEHI a total of $60,000 in kickbacks, which he paid in three installments.  In making these kickback payments, Moayedi used intermediaries to obscure the link between him and SALEHI.  To conceal the true purpose of the kickback payments, SALEHI also gave one of the intermediaries a Persian rug.  SALEHI did not report the $60,000 kickback payments on her State Department financial disclosure form.

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SALEHI, 66, of Washington, D.C., pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as SALEHI’s sentence will be determined by Judge Castel.

Sina Moayedi was arrested on May 28, 2021, on three charges contained in a criminal Complaint: wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and bribery of a public official.  The charges against Moayedi are pending.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the State Department OIG, Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and IRS‑CI.  She also thanked Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department.

The Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit is handling this criminal case.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Neff and Louis A. Pellegrino are in charge of the prosecution.

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Ex-USG Employee Pleads Guilty: 24 Women, Six Countries, 487 Videos/Images in a 14 Year Crime Spree

 

In October 2020, we blogged about the notorious case involving ex-USG employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond (see Ex-USG Employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond, Called an “Experienced Sexual Predator,” Ordered Removed to D.C. Oct 28. 2020).  We did a follow-up post in March 2021 (USA v. Raymond: Court Issues Protective Order Pertaining to Classified Information). Court records do not identify Raymond’s agency employer, and no agency has claimed him! Public records only say that he was an employee of the U.S. government.
On July 23, USDOJ announced that “a California man pleaded guilty today to sexual abuse and admitted to the abusive sexual contact of numerous women, as well as photographing and recording dozens of nude and partially nude women without their consent during his career as a U.S. government employee.”
According to court records, Raymond accepted a plea deal on May 27, 2021, one day before the plea offer was set to expire.  The plea agreement was entered into court on July 23, 2021. Also on July 23, Raymond waived his right to trial by jury. The USG and Raymond also agreed to a Statement of Offense:

“These facts do not constitute all of the facts known to the parties concerning the charged offense; they are being submitted to demonstrate that sufficient facts exist that the defendant committed the offenses to which he is pleading guilty: Sexual Abuse of AV-7 and AV-9, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2), and transportation of obscene material, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462.

Some notable items in the Statement of Offense:

#1. Between on or about August 21, 2018 and June 1, 2020, Raymond, now 45 years old, was a U.S. government employee working at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico. During that time, Raymond lived in an apartment assigned to him by the U.S. government. Raymond’s residence in Mexico City has been leased by the U.S. government since April 2013 for use by U.S. personnel assigned to diplomatic, consular, military, and other U.S. government missions in Mexico City. The U.S. government currently maintains a nine-year lease of the property. This residence falls within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction (““SMTJ”) of the United States, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 7(9).

2. On May 31, 2020, there was an incident at Raymond’s embassy-leased residence in Mexico City.During an interview with law enforcement on June 2, 2020, Raymond stated that he had sexual intercourse with an adult woman, hereinafter referred to as AV-1, on May 31 and that it was consensual. AV-1 was interviewed and reported that she has no memory of the incident and did not consent to sexual intercourse with Raymond. After the May 31, 2020 incident, law enforcement executed several premises and device search warrants, including but not limited to search warrants for Raymond’s phones, laptops, tablets, thumb drives, and memory cards, Raymond’s Mexico City residence, his parents’ residence in La Mesa, California, Tinder and other social media accounts, email accounts, and his iCloud account.

4, Agents found approximately 487 videos and images of unconscious women in various states of undress on multiple devices belonging to Raymond and in his iCloud account.

6. Through its investigation, law enforcement learned that from 2006 to 2020, while working as a U.S. government employee, Raymond recorded and/or photographed at least 24 unconscious nude or partially nude women (AV-2 through AV-25).

7.  Raymond discussed having sex with AV-7 with a friend via text message the following day.

9. In March 2020, approximately two months before his interaction with AV-7, Raymond also texted the same friend mentioned above about having sexual intercourse with AV-9. AV-9 is a resident of Mexico and primarily a Spanish speaker. He texted the same friend that he had to pay for an Uber for AV-9 and expressed that it was annoying but ultimately worthwhile because he was able to have sex with her. 

Item #11 in the Statement of Offense includes a chart that depicts the victims, the number of photos/videos, locations, dates, and example of the obscene depiction of victims.  In addition to victims AV-7 and AV-9, the list of victims include 18 other individuals. Locations include California, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., as well as Mexico and “Countries 3, 4, 5, and 6 [are] known to the government and to the defendant.”
Item #14 in the Statement of Offense notes:

“Raymond stipulates and agrees that from 2006 until 2020, including on the dates listed on the chart above, he recorded and/or photographed at least 24 unconscious and nude or partially nude women, some of whom are not mentioned in this plea agreement or statement of facts, and that during the same time frame, he touched the breasts, buttocks, groin area, and/or genitalia of numerous women, some of whom he recorded and/or photographed and some of whom are mentioned in this agreement. Raymond engaged in this conduct while the women were incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. The women who have been interviewed reported commonalities in their contact with Raymond, including Raymond’s provision and/or preparation of alcoholic beverages and their subsequent memory loss. None of the women consented to being touched while unconscious and/or asleep, and none of them consented to Raymond’s photographing and recording of them in that state.”

The Plea Agreement says:

” …a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2242(2) carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; a fine of $250,000; a term of supervised release of at least 5 years but not more than life, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k); mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. § 3663A; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.

Your client understands that a violation of of 18 U.S.C. § 1462 carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment; a fine of $250,000; a term of supervised release of at least one year but not more than three years, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3559; restitution under 18 U.S.C.§ 3663; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.

Your client also understands that the court shall impose mandatory restitution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2248, which restitution amount shall reflect the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victims’ losses.”

Under Additional Charges:

“In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense(s), your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office or the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section for the conduct relating to victims AV-1 through AV-26 that is described in the Statement of Offense. This office has consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and understands that it will also not bring charges for that conduct. Additionally, if your client’s guilty plea to Counts One, Two, and Three of the Information is accepted by the Court, and provided the plea is not later withdrawn, no charges related to the inducement and/or transportation of AV-15 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought against the defendant by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

Moreover, provided the plea is accepted and not later withdrawn to Counts One, Two, and Three, no charges relating to the inducement of AV-2 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and no charges relating to the inducement of AV-17 or the transportation of obscene material will be brought by the Northern District of Illinois. This agreement does not preclude any U.S. Attorney’s Office for bringing charges against your client for criminal conduct that is distinct from that set forth in the Statement of Facts. For example, if the investigation later revealed that your client had been engaged in sexual activity with a minor and/or involved in commercial sex acts or money laundering, this agreement would not preclude a prosecution for those crimes.”

Under Restitution:

“Your client understands that the Court has an obligation to determine whether, and in what amount, mandatory restitution applies in this case under 18 U.S.C. § 3663A and 18 U.S.C. § 2248 at the time of sentencing.

The Court shall order restitution to every identifiable victim of your client’s offenses. Your client agrees to pay restitution in the amount of $10,000 per victim to AV-1 through AV- 26, provided they are identified at or before the time of sentencing. Furthermore, your client
agrees that, for purposes of this plea, AV-1 through AV-26 are all victims of the offense and are entitled to the same rights as victims so designated under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (“CVRA”), to include the right to be reasonably heard at the sentencing hearing and the right to full and timely restitution. See 18 U.S.C. § 3771. By agreeing to this, your client is not acknowledging that each of these victims would be a victim of a federal offense, nor is your client agreeing that these victims would be so designated should this case go to trial. Similarly,
by agreeing to the terms of this plea, the Government does not concede that federal offenses do not exist for these victims, nor does it concede that the victims would not be victims under the CVRA should this case go to trial. In addition, your client agrees to pay restitution to any other victim that he recorded/photographed nude while that victim was unconscious, provided that victim is identified at or before the time of sentencing, and further agrees that they are crime victims in this case and entitled to the rights as victims so designated under the CVRA. Your client understands that these victims still maintain a right to request a larger amount of restitution from the Court, and that the agreed upon payment to each victim is the minimum amount due.”

The Plea Agreement includes a sex offender registration requirement for the remainder of Raymond’s life “…. client is required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life, and to keep the registration current in jurisdictions where your client resides, where your client is employed and where your client is a student.”
The Plea Agreement notes that the Government’s proposed estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is 262-327 months (the “Estimated Guidelines Range’). The Defendant’s proposed estimated Sentencing Guidelines range is 135-168 months.  So potentially anywhere between 11 years and 27 years.
A similar case to this in 2011 involved Andrew Warren, 43, a former official with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  That case involved charges of abusive sexual contact and unlawful use of cocaine while possessing a firearm. The sexual assault occurred at a US Embassy property in Algeria, and involved one victim. Warren was sentenced to 65 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release following his prison term (see Former CIA Station Chief to Algeria Gets 65 Months for Sexual Assault on Embassy Property).
Via USDOJ: If you believe you have been a victim, have information about Raymond or know of someone who may have information about Raymond, the FBI requests that you fill out this secure, online questionnaire, email FBI at ReportingBJR@fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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Former FS Employee and Spouse Sentenced For Counterfeit Goods Trafficking

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On December 20, 2019, we blogged this: @StateDept Employee and Spouse Indicted for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy Seoul.  On March 18, 2021, USDOJ announced that the former employee and his spouse were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit goods through e-commerce accounts operated from State Department computers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Below via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Sentenced to Prison for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy

A former U.S. Department of State employee and his spouse were sentenced today for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit goods through e-commerce accounts operated from State Department computers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Gene Leroy Thompson Jr., 54, and Guojiao “Becky” Zhang, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods on Dec. 20. 2020. Thompson Jr. was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Zhang was sentenced to three years of supervised release, the first eight months of which will consist of home confinement. Thompson Jr. and Zhang were also ordered to forfeit a combined total of $229,302.
According to court documents, Thompson Jr. was an Information Programs Officer employed by the Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, a position that required him to maintain a security clearance. Zhang resided with him in Seoul. Between September 2017 and December 2019, Thompson Jr. and Zhang sold counterfeit goods on a variety of e-commerce platforms. Thompson Jr. used his State Department computer at the embassy to create numerous e-commerce accounts, including additional accounts under aliases to continue the conspiracy and avoid detection after several e-commerce platforms suspended the couple’s other accounts for fraudulent activity. Zhang took primary responsibility for operating the accounts, communicating with customers, and procuring merchandise to be stored in the District of Oregon. Thompson Jr. and Zhang also directed a co-conspirator in the District of Oregon to ship items to purchasers across the United States.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon; and Assistant Director Ricardo Colón of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.
The case was investigated by the DSS Office of Special Investigations with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Frank Lin of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter of the District of Oregon.

 


 

 

State Department Official Patricia DeLaughter Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

 

On August 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that State Department employee, Patricia DeLaughter pled guilty to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals n an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract. Sentencing is scheduled for November 8, 2019.

Photo via State Magazine, April 2009

Via USDOJ: State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C., woman pleaded guilty today to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals in an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract to provide furniture to a United States embassy abroad.

According to court documents, Patricia DeLaughter, 69, was a State Department official who was responsible for procuring furniture for United States embassies. In or around December 2016, the State Department was constructing a new embassy in a foreign nation. DeLaughter and another Department official participated in the process of soliciting bid proposals from contractors for the procurement of furniture for the new embassy’s offices.

From in or around December 2016 to in or around March 2017, DeLaughter and the other State Department official knowingly disclosed to Steven Anstine, the vice president of sales for an American furniture manufacturer, the confidential bid prices and design plans of at least three of Anstine’s competitors. DeLaughter knowingly disclosed this information in order to give Anstine—with whom DeLaughter had a social relationship—a competitive advantage in securing the procurement contract for the new embassy. The information that DeLaughter and her coworker gave Anstine enabled him and his company to win the contract with a bid of approximately $1.56 million.

According to DeLaughter’s admissions, DeLaughter made intentionally false statements to agents investigating her conduct. She falsely told State Department Office of Inspector General special agents that she had nothing to do with the embassy furniture project. She also falsely told the agents that she did not have a social relationship with Anstine. In fact, DeLaughter and Anstine had a social relationship and attended dinners, sporting events, and concerts together. Anstine paid at least a portion of DeLaughter’s expenses for these events.

In June 2019, Anstine pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining contractor bid or proposal information in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

DeLaughter pleaded guilty to one count of illegally disclosing contractor bid or proposal information and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on November 8. 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, Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg, Deputy Chief Robert J. Heberle and Trial Attorney John P. Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section 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 are 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-205.

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Former Senior USAGM Official Haroon K. Ullah Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Money

 

We’re late on this, but on June 27, 2019, USDOJ announced that Haroon K. Ullah, a former senior official of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the agency formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) entered a plea of guilty for stealing over $40,000 in government money in 2018.
Former Senior Official Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Money
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An Alexandria man pleaded guilty today to stealing over $40,000 in government money during 2018, while he was employed as a senior government official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) in Washington, D.C.
According to court documents, Haroon K. Ullah, 41, admitted that he fraudulently obtained thousands of dollars in government funds by submitting falsified hotel invoices, falsified and inflated taxi and Uber receipts, and by billing the government for personal travel and for travel that had already been paid by third parties.
Additionally, Ullah admitted that he created a falsified letter from a real medical doctor purportedly claiming that Ullah needed to fly in business class at government expense because of a sore knee. By submitting the forged letter from the doctor, Ullah fraudulently obtained costly business class upgrades at government expense, including on lengthy international flights. Ullah admitted to creating many of the false documents on his government-issued laptop computer. As part of the plea, Ullah also admitted that he submitted falsified invoices and repair estimates to an insurance company regarding a claim for repairs to his home in Alexandria.
A former employee of the U.S. Department of State, Ullah became a member of the Senior Executive Service when he joined USAGM as its Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). Ullah committed his crime from February through October 2018, while serving as CSO. Ullah is no longer employed with USAGM.
Ullah pleaded guilty to theft of government money and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on October 11. 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 U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg is 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 are 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-183.
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Mr. Ullah’s website still says that he “serves as Chief Strategy Officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an $800 million global media agency. He is a scholar, diplomat and policy practioner with a special focus on digital strategy, countering violent extremism and transmedia engagement.”
USAGM’s website has removed Mr. Ullah’s bio from its website and  info related to him appears not to display prominently on its website; a search still returns events where he was featured as the agency’s CSO, and the Wayback Machine has archived this CSO for eternity.
A Statement of Facts submitted with Mr. Ullah’s Plea Agreement notes that before joining USAGM, he had been employed with the U.S. Department of State since 2010.  It also notes the following:

5. During the approximate ninth—month period of February 2018-October 2018, ULLAH submitted for reimbursement multiple falsified hotel invoices; falsified taxi receipts; double-billed third party sponsors and USAGM for the same trips; and billed USAGM for personal
trips, either to promote his book, or for week-end trips during which little to no USAGM business was conducted. ULLAH used his government computer, a Microsoft Surface Pro, to create the false documents. He would obtain logos and other graphics on-line and use either an invoice generator or Microsofi Excel in order to create fraudulent hotel invoices. Sometimes ULLAH had stayed with a family member or friend or at a budget hotel, but he created the false invoice for the purpose of financial gain in order to maximize his reimbursement from USAGM. With other hotel invoices, ULLAH took a legitimate hotel invoice and changed his address or other data in order to conceal that the hotel room had been paid by a third party, which fact ULLAH intentionally failed to disclose to E2 and USAGM.

8. As part of a scheme to obtain business class travel to which he was not entitled, ULLAH also submitted to USAGM a falsified and forged letter from a real medical doctor, identified here by the initials N.A., claiming that ULLAH required an upgrade to business class because of a medical condition that required him to “lie flat” on long flights. The doctor confirmed to law enforcement that the letter was a forgery; that he did not authorize ULLAH to use his identity or to sign his name for him; and that a business class upgrade for ULLAH’s sore knee
was not medically necessary.

Part of the  Plea Agreement says:

Further, in accordance with Rule 11(c)(l)(B) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States and the defendant will recommend to the Court that the following provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines apply: Under Section 2B1 .1(b), the intended loss is greater than $40,000 but less than $95,000, thus six levels are added to the base offense level. Under Section 3Bl.2, the United States and the defendant agree to a two level enhancement for abuse of a position of public trust as an employee of the United States.

The Plea also notes:

“The United States will not further criminally prosecute the defendant in the Eastern District of Virginia for the specific conduct descfibed in the information or statement of facts. This plea agreement and statement of facts does not confer on the defendant any immunity from prosecution by any state government in the United States.”

 

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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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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.

Foreign Service Employee Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to @StateDept

 

On October 17, USDOJ announced that a “Foreign Service Officer” Tiffany Thomas  has pleaded guilty  for submitting false claims while employed at the Regional Security Office  in Lome, Togo.

Foreign Service Officer Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to the Department of State

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon stated today that Tiffany Thomas, age 34, of Bowie, Maryland, has entered a guilty plea in federal court in Charleston to Submission of False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287.  United States District Judge Margaret Seymour, of Charleston, accepted the guilty plea and will impose sentence after she has reviewed the presentence report, which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that Thomas submitted false claims while she was employed in the Department of State’s Regional Security Office in Lome, Togo.  The funds were managed by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.   As part of the scheme, Thomas submitted forged receipts for expenses related to official travel in the United States and abroad. The Government alleges the claims exceeded $100,000.

Ms. Lydon stated the maximum penalty for Submission of False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims is imprisonment for 5 years, a fine of $250,000, and up to 3 years of supervised release.

The case was investigated by special agents of the Department of State,  Office of Inspector General, led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorney Matt Austin of the Charleston Office is prosecuting the case.

 The slim court documents make no mention of her employment status but she appears to self-described as an FS specialist online (Tiffany Thomas – Foreign Affairs Specialist – U.S. Department of State …).  The DOJ announcement says she worked at the Regional Security Office (RSO) located at the U.S. Embassy in Lome, Togo. Note that Foreign Service officers (sometimes called “generalists”as opposed to specialists) are commissioned officers, nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; they typically do not work at security offices.

A one-page court document labeled “Felony Information” contains the following:

Beginning in or about May 2015 and continuing up until in or about November 2017, in the District of South Carolina, and elsewhere, the Defendant, TIFFANY THOMAS, made and presented to the United States Department of State claims upon and against the United States Treasury worth more than $100,000, that is, the Defendant submitted vouchers claiming lodging reimbursement, knowing that the claims were false, fictitious, and fraudulent in that she fabricated lodging receipts for non-existent properties; she failed to lodge at the addresses listed on the vouchers during the relevant times; and she improperly claimed lodging reimbursement for residences owned by family members; All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 287.

The case is USA v. Thomas 2:2018cr00739.

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