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.

#

Advertisements

US Embassy Venezuela: Local Employee Miguel Cartaya Killed in Caracas

— Domani Spero

We posted recently about the US Embassy Caracas where three embassy officials were given 48 hours to leave the country (see Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests).

The anti-government rallies has been roiling Venezuela for days with people expressing their grievances against high inflation, crime, and the shortages of staple goods such as toilet paper, milk, rice and cooking oil.  According to CNN, four anti-government protesters and one government supporter have died in clashes around the country. 

Amidst these chaos, local news reported yesterday that a former official of the Bolivarian National Police (BNP) who worked for the security office of the US Embassy in Caracas was killed at 4:30 in the morning during an attempted  robbery.

Local reports identified the employee as Miguel Angel Borges Cartaya, 39. He reportedly was  found at the bottom of a ravine with multiple gun shots wounds.

One report says that the victim was working escort duties at the American Embassy in Caracas.  Relatives cited in the report also said that the victim was leaving his house when he was attacked by several armed men who were after his belongings.  He was reportedly shot when he resisted.

The Regional Security Office’s 2013 Crime and Safety Report notes that violent crime is the greatest threat in Caracas, affecting local Venezuelans and foreigners alike.

* * *

We are so sorry to hear this news.  This has been a tough couple of weeks for local embassy staff.  On February 12, we blogged about the death of an FSN working at USCG Peshawar (see USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan).  On February 13, we posted about the arrest and detention of an FSN working at US Embassy Cairo (see  US Embassy Cairo FSN Ahmed Alaiba Detained Since 1/25–State Dept Still Seeking “Clarity”).

We have sent an inquiry to the US Embassy Caracas but received no response.

Our unofficial source in the country confirmed to us that Miguel Cartaya was an FSN, working at the Embassy as a security guard.  At this point, there apparently is no reason to believe the shooting is related to his work at the Embassy, but rather a sad fact of daily life in Caracas, which has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America. We will have a blog update if we learn more.

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan

— Domani Spero

Pakistani news reports that two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on Faisal Saeed, 30, outside his residence in Peshawar.  Senior police official Najibur Rehman reportedly identified Saeed as a former employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, but the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he was a staff member.

“Local authorities are investigating a tragic incident that has affected a Pakistani national U.S. Consulate Peshawar employee,” a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this brutal and senseless death, and express our heartfelt condolences to the family,” she said.

WaPo also reported yesterday that Saeed, worked as a computer programmer at the consulate and was active in updating its Facebook page.  The report citing a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Saeed “was talking on his phone outside of his house when two armed men shot him and fled.”

“Pakistani officials refused to speculate whether Saeed was targeted because of his affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Peshawar has been called the most dangerous post in the Foreign Service and has been in de facto draw-down during the last five years.

In 2013, the Regional Security Office released its annual Crime and Security Report detailing various attacks against post:

Western targets, in particular U.S. diplomatic premises, personnel, and vehicles, have been attacked repeatedly in Peshawar over the past several years. In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assault. In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked with a car bomb in the University Town neighborhood. In September 2012, another Consulate motorcade was attacked in the same neighborhood utilizing a sophisticated surveillance network and a suicide car bomb, which resulted in numerous casualties and property damage. In November 2012, two separate indirect fire (IDF) incidents were directed at the Consulate’s University Town housing compound. A number of Consulate residences sustained minor damage, and one Consulate guard was injured.

The report also notes the anti-American sentiment in the country and the apparent rise of terrorist acts in Peshawar.

Northwest Pakistan–consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), the provincial capital of Peshawar, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)–is a dangerous place for all Westerners and especially American citizens. The Abbottabad raid in May 2011 that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the 2011 NATO action on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, and the 2011 Raymond Davis incident have inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In 2012, there were numerous anti-American protests, including large-scale demonstrations and protests against the anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and KP Province appear to be on the rise, particularly with attacks against local commercial and government facilities.

Active links added above.  The U.S. Consulate General Peshawar was headed by senior DS agent Robert Reed from 2012 to 2013.  In fall 2013, he was succeeded by Gabriel Escobar as consul general.  Mr. Escobar previously served as Team Leader of the State Department’s PRT in Kirkuk Province, Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

* * *

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

US Embassy Caracas: Two American Officials Wounded at “Some Sort of Social Spot”

The State Department has confirmed that 1) “two members of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were injured during an incident early this morning” (May 28); 2) their injuries do not appear to be life threatening; 3) Embassy security and health unit personnel are at the hospital and have been in touch with the two individuals and their families; 4) that the incident occurred at “at some sort of social spot or somewhere outside of the Embassy grounds;” and 5) these are “other agency personnel.”

QUESTION: Were they Foreign Service – or are they Foreign Service officers, or are they other —

MR. VENTRELL: No, my understanding is that they are other agency personnel, not from the State Department. But if we’re able to confirm later in the day more about their status, we’ll do that for you.

According to CNN,  the two who were shot at a nightclub in northeast Caracas are U.S. military officials who worked with the embassy’s Defense Liaison Office.  A police spokeswoman said the shooting occurred at the Antonella 2012 club. The attending physician at a hospital in Caracas said one was shot in the abdomen and the leg, and the other in the abdomen,

Rodrigo@RodrigoEBR via CNN en Español tweeted that the U.S. Embassy staffers wounded were Roberto Ezequiel Rosas and Paul Marwin and that both are in stable condition after the shooting in Caracas.
Although not named, the two made it to the New York Times page:  2 American Embassy Officials Are Shot in Venezuela Strip Club.

“Some sort of social spot” is really a strip club?  Apparently it is. Some days we just feel sorry for the guy on the podium.  Heavy.com has an interesting piece:  US Embassy Employees Shot After Brawl inside Caracas Strip Club — includes a statement from a club rep saying in part:

“Two men were shot. Who cares what they were doing here. It sure as hell isn’t our fault. Why does the media wants to ruin these guys lives – these guys who probably have a family and a wife – with this news that they were in our club? Its dumb. I have had to deal with police officers and with people from the embassy all day.” … Last week three people were killed in the mall. May 1st two people were killed and nobody came. Why do people only care when its not Venezuelan people who are dying and getting shot….I saw a man get killed in front of my house. He died and they took 20 bucks from him. Do you think the police came? No. Venezuela is worse than Afghanistan. Its worst than Iraq. This violence is our daily bread.”

The April 2013 report from the Regional Security Officer on Crime and Security in Caracas indicates that several neighborhoods of Caracas are off-limits to American employees of the Embassy. The Embassy has also mandated that all employees travel in an armored vehicle to and from Simón Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia as it judged the airport road especially dangerous after receiving numerous reports of robberies and murders in the areas around the terminal (street, parking lot, etc.). Here is a quick summary:

The U.S. Department of State rates the criminal threat level in Caracas as “Critical.” Much of Caracas’s crime and violence can be attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. A number of factors explain the pervasive criminality in Caracas, including criminals’ disdain for official reprisal; a poorly paid, under-armed, and sometimes corrupt police force; an inefficient and politicized judicial system; a system of violent and overcrowded prisons, frequently managed with impunity by prison gang leaders themselves; and (according to some sources) as many as six million illegal weapons spread out across the country.

Our embassy in Caracas has been problematic for years not just in relation with the host country but within the mission itself.  Almost as if its been forgotten by the bureaucratic gods.  Between July 2010 and October 2011, US Embassy Caracas had two interim chargés, and relied upon a series of acting DCMs. This contributed, according to the OIG, to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission.  In February 2012, we blogged this — US Embassy Caracas: Where do I begin, to tell the story of how bad a post can get?.  In May last year, there was something else — US Embassy Caracas: Former FSN Pleads Guilty for Receiving Illegal Gratuity. In January this year, remember that carjacking?

Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at approximately 7:50 p.m. an American employee of Embassy Caracas was carjacked in the Sebucan neighborhood of Caracas. The perpetrators were three or four men armed with handguns. The victim’s house keys, wallet, and cell phone were in the cup holders located between the vehicle’s two front seats at the time of the carjacking. They were taken with the car. The victim was unharmed, and with the aid of friends living in a nearby building, was able to contact the Regional Security Office which then dispatched an embassy roving patrol to pick up the victim.

As of this writing, Caracas is a 42% COLA, 20% hardship post and a 0% danger post.

— DS

Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?

Jon Lee Anderson has a piece on What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela? (see Letter From Caracas, Slumlord, New Yorker, Jan 28, 2013). Anderson reports:

“Caracas has deteriorated beyond all measure. It has one of the highest homicide rates in the world; last year, in a city of three million, an estimated thirty-six hundred people were murdered, or about one every two hours. The murder rate in Venezuela has tripled since Chávez took office.”

That New Yorker piece prompted a note to this blog about the carjacking of an American diplomat in Caracas last October.  Did I know about that? No, I did not. Fortunately, the criminals only took the vehicle and the FSO was not harmed. Here is what we’ve learned about that incident:

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at approximately 7:50 p.m. an American employee of Embassy Caracas was carjacked in the Sebucan neighborhood of Caracas. The perpetrators were three or four men armed with handguns. The victim’s house keys, wallet, and cell phone were in the cup holders located between the vehicle’s two front seats at the time of the carjacking. They were taken with the car. The victim was unharmed, and with the aid of friends living in a nearby building, was able to contact the Regional Security Office which then dispatched an embassy roving patrol to pick up the victim. The victim stayed the night in the home of another embassy employee.

Apparently, the neighborhood of Sebucan, where the carjacking took place, is notorious for its difficult to navigate narrow streets. The victim had stopped his/her vehicle in front of a friend’s apartment building on one of these narrow streets, waiting for his/her friends to come down, when he/she saw another vehicle coming down the street. The victim attempted to maneuver his/her vehicle closer to the curb, in order to allow the other vehicle to pass, in effect boxing his/her own vehicle in. Instead of passing, the other vehicle pulled right up to the victim’s bumper, and three or four men got out of the vehicle, brandishing handguns. The whole time the attackers had their weapons pointed at the victim. The victim was divested of his/her cell phone and later frisked as if searching for weapons.  The attackers then got into their own and the victim’s vehicles, and drove both vehicles away.

After the carjacking, the US Embassy in Caracas reportedly sent out a notice to all mission employees with several suggestions to “help future potential victims stay safe” and with the following interesting tidbit:

“Being forced from your vehicle at gunpoint by multiple armed men and left on the side of the road is a harrowing experience. It is the criminals who conduct these crimes, not their targets, who should be held responsible, and RSO has no interest in “blaming the victim.” 

Uh-oh! If that got into the notice, does that mean “blaming the victim” went around the block five times over and round and round within the mission that the RSO had to distance itself from it?

Our Caracas note writer had some rather strong words for the mothership, which we are reprinting in part below:

“The State Department has not done much to assist the community in Caracas in dealing with issues like this, and Caracas is still a ZERO percent danger post.[…] The 20% hardship pay is also low considering the difficulty of living here, the security no-go areas, the government’s open hatred of the US, the crazy artificial exchange rate and highest inflation in world, and the lack of infrastructure. The department has not done anything to boost the low morale.”

As of January 27, 2013, Caracas is a 42% COLA, 20% hardship post and indeed, a 0% danger post.

We’ll have a related post later on danger pay designation because it has been coming up with more frequency. In the meantime, maybe one of our readers from Foggy Bottom can flag this post for WHA A/S Roberta Jacobson  and please tell her there are stuff going on in her Caracas shop?

For sure, WHA is aware that between July 2010 and October 2011, US Embassy Caracas had two interim chargés, and relied upon a series of acting DCMs, which contributed to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission. This was in the 2012 IG inspection report.  But of related concern to that, the embassy has a good number of first tour officers.  This potentially can be a most memorable tour for those officers, but not in a good way meriting fondness and inspiration.

sig4

USCG Peshawar: Robert Reed Assumes Charge as Consul General

The new Consul General for the USCG Peshawar arrived last month and has assumed charge.  This is one officer who did not just do one week of crash and bang at some Virginia farm.

Robert Reed joined the U.S. Department of State in 1985. His first assignment was in the Diplomatic Security Boston Field Office. He was then transferred to Secretary George Shultz’s protective Detail in 1987, where he served as a Supervisory Agent.

In 1989 he was assigned as an Assistant Regional Security Officer at American Embassy Bonn, Germany followed by a tour in Bamako, Mali, where he served as Regional Security Officer (RSO).  In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he served for three years as RSO followed by an additional year as the Haitian Presidential Security Advisor to then President Rene Preval.  After Haiti, Mr. Reed was assigned to Kingston, Jamaica as RSO.

From 2002 to 2006, Mr. Reed was the RSO in London, UK.  In 2006 Mr. Reed served in Iraq, as Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader for Karbala and Wasit Provinces.  Following a tour as RSO Moscow from 2007 to 2009, he returned to Iraq as the Senior Regional Security Officer, overseeing the U.S. State Department’s largest security program.  Prior to his current assignment as the Consul General in Peshawar, Mr. Reed served as the Senior Olympic Security Coordinator, managing the protection of Team USA for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Team USA came out of London without a security hitch. And he gets a promotion to one of the most dangerous assignments in the Foreign Service. But given what happened to USCG Peshawar yesterday, we are pleased that an experienced officer like Mr. Reed is at the helm of this post that has been under siege for the last several years.

Click on photo to view video greeting.

The 2012 Crime and Safety Report has this to say about Peshawar, Pakistan:

The U.S. Department of State rates Peshawar and surrounding areas as “high” for crime, but  the overall security environment in Peshawar is inextricably linked to the “critical” terrorist threat that touches all aspects of life for expatriates and locals alike in Northwest Pakistan.  Local authorities do not keep reliable crime statistics, and tracking incremental changes in the crime and safety situation is difficult.  However, following the Abbottabad raid in May 2011 and the November 2011 Mohmand cross-border incident, anti-American sentiment and continued extremist activity continue to render Peshawar one of the world’s most challenging security environments for westerners.   The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has fallen compared to prior year figures, but attacks continue  to occur, particularly against commercial targets and local government facilities.
[…]
In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assult.  In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked via Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in the “University Town” neighborhood in Peshawar where the city’s relatively few western-affiliated offices and residences are located.

The September 3, 2012 car bomb attack on USCG Peshawar’s vehicle is just the latest in the persistent targeted attacks of the US presence in Peshawar. We were looking at the YouTube footage below of the mangled vehicle left from the bombing and we are still awestricken that the passengers got away with non-life threatening injuries.  See USCG Peshawar: Suicide Car Bomb Targets Consulate Car, Wounds Four Staff and More (Updated)

Via Al Jazeera:

The 2010 OIG inspection report called Peshawar the most dangerous Foreign Service post in the world, and the 2012 CFR did not dispute that characterization.  According to the May 2012 CFR, Peshawar is also seriously disadvantaged by the fact that it is viewed through the prism of Islamabad, rather than in its real context as “Afghanistan’s near abroad.”

“This optic understates the realities of both living and security conditions, which are more in line with those in Baghdad and Kabul. It also means that that compensation and benefits afforded to those in Peshawar are not in line with those living in comparable conditions in nearby Afghanistan.”

We wrote this piece last week before the latest attack occurred.  We have since learned that the two Americans and two Pakistanis wounded in the vehicle attack are all part of the Diplomatic Security (Regional Security Office) at USCG Peshawar.

Our thoughts are with them, and we hope for their speedy recovery.

Domani Spero