US Embassy Accra’s “Operation Spartan Vanguard” Shuts Down Fake U.S. Embassy in Ghana

Posted: 12:23 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Via state.gov/DS

In Accra, Ghana, there was a building that flew an American flag outside every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama, and signs indicated that you were in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. However, you were not. This embassy was a sham.

It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law. The “consular officers” were Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch.

For about a decade it operated unhindered; the criminals running the operation were able to pay off corrupt officials to look the other way, as well as obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored.

This past summer the assistant regional security officer investigator (ARSO-I) at the real U.S. Embassy in Accra, in cooperation with the Ghana Police Force, Ghana Detectives Bureau, and other international partners, shut down this fake embassy.

This investigation is a small part of the broader “Operation Spartan Vanguard” initiative. “Operation Spartan Vanguard” was developed by Diplomatic Security agents in the Regional Security Office (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Ghana in order to address trafficking and fraud plaguing the U.S. Embassy and the region.

During the course of another fraud investigation in “Operation Spartan Vanguard” an informant tipped off the ARSO-I about the fake U.S. embassy, as well as a fake Netherlands embassy operating in Accra.

After receiving the tip, the ARSO-I, who is the point person in the RSO shop for “Operation Spartan Vanguard” investigations, verified the information with partners within the Ghanaian Police Force. The ARSO-I then created an international task force composed of the aforementioned Ghana Police Force, as well as the Ghana Detective Bureau, Ghana SWAT, and officials from the Canadian Embassy to investigate further.

The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations. The fake embassy did not accept walk-in visa appointments; instead, they drove to the most remote parts of West Africa to find customers. They would shuttle the customers to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby. The Ghanaian organized crime ring would shuttle the victims to and from the fake embassies. Locating the document vendor within the group led investigators to uncover the satellite locations and key players.

The sham embassy advertised their services through flyers and billboards to cultivate customers from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. Some of the services the embassy provided for these customers included issuance of fraudulently obtained, legitimate U.S. visas, counterfeit visas, false identification documents (including bank records, education records, birth certificates, and others) for a cost of $6,000.

The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana. (U.S. Department of State photo)

The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana. (U.S. Department of State photo)

Exterior of the legitimate U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (U.S. Department of State photo)

Exterior of the legitimate U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (U.S. Department of State photo)

Read in full here: http://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/263916.htm.

#

Advertisements

Interpol Colombia Awards Medal to US Embassy Bogotá’s RSO-I/Staff For 31 Fugitive Returns

Posted: 1:02  am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

US Embassy Bogotá’s Regional Security Officer – Investigator (RSO-I) and its Criminal Fraud Investigator (CFI) were awarded the Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal by Interpol Colombia for the return of 31 fugitives from Colombia to the United States since January 2014. Whoa! That’s like … almost two fugitives a month from January 2014 to June 2015!

Since January 2014, Antonio and his staff have investigated, located, and returned 31 fugitives who were wanted in the United States for a variety of crimes. One criminal was a former weapons officer on a nuclear submarine who had been charged with grand larceny for allegedly defrauding his acquaintances of more than $1 million. Another was a physician assistant who allegedly forged signatures and made up diagnoses to submit to Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars in reimbursements.

But Antonio’s most notorious case involved an accomplished academic who had been featured on his home state’s Most Wanted list for allegedly committing sex crimes against children. He had managed to evade authorities for 22 years by going to great lengths to alter his appearance, including undergoing oral and plastic surgery to change his facial features, and getting skin grafts done to obliterate his fingerprints.

Antonio says, “People under extreme circumstances are capable of committing all kinds of crimes. But the one thing I can’t comprehend is how a person can harm a child. Someone like that does not stop either. He will continue finding new victims. That’s why I made crimes against children a top priority for my team.”

“We’re just three people, and what we do is not glamorous like those TV police dramas. The secret of our success is having top-notch people and maintaining strong working relationships with multiple law-enforcement partners. Criminal Fraud Investigator (CFI) Eduardo, Investigative Assistant Olga, and I work daily with our colleagues in DSS and other U.S. federal law-enforcement agencies, as well as with our local partners.

Colonel Juliette Kure Parra, head of Interpol Colombia, presents U.S. Embassy Bogota ARSO-I Antonio and CFI Eduardo with the prestigious Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal, June 22, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)

Colonel Juliette Kure Parra, head of Interpol Colombia, presents U.S. Embassy Bogota ARSO-I Antonio and CFI Eduardo with the prestigious Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal, June 22, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)

“Our joint work with the Colombian National Police, specifically with the Directorate of Judicial Police and Investigation and Interpol Colombia, and also with the Colombian Immigration Service, has been vital to accomplishing our investigative mission here in Colombia. This joint work and the ‘One Team, One Fight’ concept have been key to our success.”

Colonel Juliette Kure Parra says in her six years as head of Interpol Colombia, she has never had a closer working relationship with any other foreign police unit, and her team has not captured as many fugitives as with Antonio and his team.

In recognition of their accomplishments, the Interpol National Central Bureau awarded Antonio and Eduardo the Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal, named in honor of fallen Colombian police officer credited with having conducted the investigation that led to the targeted killing of the FARC’s terrorist leader, “El Mono Jojoy.” This is a very prestigious award only ever awarded to three other Americans, and the first time to a DSS special agent.

Originally posted by State/DS,  Game Over for 31 Fugitives in Colombia.

#

Jilted Lover Reportedly Helped Exposed Sestak Visa Scandal – There’s a Hole In Your Wall?

— By Domani Spero

Thanh Nien Daily continues to cover the Michael Sestak case in Vietnam.  A recent update details how a jilted lover, referred to as “Lan” reportedly the anonymous source in the criminal complaint, exposed the $10 million visa fraud allegedly perpetuated by FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other conspirators.

A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.

Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.

[…]

“First I called the consulate, but it wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then I sent them a letter.”

Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.

“I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook,” he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.

[…]

Before Sestak’s arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department—including a longtime fraud investigator.

Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an “anonymous source” for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.

It seems without Lan, there wouldn’t have been any case. But, he says, he’s received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.

He wasn’t exactly easy to handle.

[…]

Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham—whose business card was scanned onto Lan’s website—dismissed the claims.

“We tried to keep him anonymous,” Pham said. “Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything […] If someone is truly being threatened it’s hard for me to believe he’d put everything he told law enforcement out there online.”

Continue reading: Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud. The story is sort of weird but also sad.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10

Photo via state.gov/ds

The thing that is worrisome about this, if  true, is that ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, an RSO dedicated to visa investigations.  If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

Visa issuing posts issue Certifications of Consular Management Controls where the responsible officer certifies not only that the review has been conducted and completed but also identifies areas of non-compliance.

One of the areas routinely reviewed is nonimmigrant visa refusals and issuances. These are reviewed electronically daily by the appropriate supervisors in the chain of command. In cases where the supervisory officer determines that an error was made during initial adjudication, the supervisory officer re-interviews the applicant and speaks with the adjudicating officer prior to adjudicating the case under his/her own login. When this happens, the supervisory officer reportedly is trained to enter a thorough explanation in the system.  Most of the alleged Sestak cases have been refused multiple times prior to issuance. Who reviewed his visa issuances?  Doesn’t the CCD broadcast a red alert when issuances go beyond the average norm particularly in high fraud posts?  Nah?

Another area is the Visa Lookout Accountability (VLA).  Consular supervisors reportedly review (although we don’t know how often), a random sampling of issuances to verify that adjudicating officers comply with VLA procedures. The Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) apparently twice a month also pulls a database generated report that deals with visa issuances over “hits” to ensure that officers are compliant with published guidelines.  If the VLA review and the FPM review also failed to detect these alleged visa shenanigans, then that’s a wall with a big hole.

👀