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.

* * *

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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@StateDept’s Deferred Maintenance Backlog For Overseas Properties Estimated at $3Billion

 

The GAO recently released its review of the State Department’s overseas real property assets:
State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations operates and maintains over 8,500 owned and leased real property assets, including both buildings and structures. According to State, at least 60 percent of a building’s total lifecycle cost stems from operations and maintenance costs. GAO has reported that deferring maintenance and repairs can lead to higher costs in the long term and pose risks to agencies’ missions.
GAO was asked to review State’s efforts to manage its operations and maintenance needs. This report examines (1) how operations and maintenance funding for overseas assets changed from fiscal years 2016 through 2020, (2) the condition and maintenance needs of State’s overseas assets, and (3) the extent to which State has followed leading practices to address its deferred maintenance backlog.
Officials said they had not found it necessary to specifically request such funding because they only determined that the backlog had substantially increased from $96 million in fiscal year 2019 to $3 billion in fiscal year 2020 after using a new methodology for estimating deferred maintenance and repair. In addition, State does not have a plan to address the backlog, but officials estimated it could take 30 to 40 years to eliminate the backlog with current funding levels.
Dear, lord! What is this going to be like by 2050?

Excerpts from the report:

Assets/Operations Up, Maintenance Funding Nearly Unchanged

–The Department of State’s portfolio of overseas assets and expenditures to operate them have grown, but State-allocated funding for maintenance has stayed nearly the same. For fiscal years 2015 through 2019, both the number and square footage of State’s assets increased 11 percent and operations expenditures grew 24 percent. However, maintenance and repair funding has remained nearly unchanged.

— State’s allocation for Maintenance Cost Sharing—for projects collectively funded by State and tenant agencies overseas—was $399 million in fiscal year 2016 and $400 million in 2020.

From fiscal years 2016 through 2020, building operating expenditures for State and other agencies that work at overseas assets increased by 24
percent, from $530 million to $656 million annually. State’s allocated funding for maintenance and repairs for overseas assets has remained about the same in recent years, averaging $505 million from fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

That $3 Billion Could be Higher

— State set a single acceptable condition standard of “fair” for all assets and did not consider whether some assets, like chancery office buildings, were more critical to State’s mission when estimating its $3 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Had State set a higher condition standard for critical assets, its backlog would be higher.

It All Adds Up Over Time

Older chancery office buildings tend to be in poor condition and are a challenge to maintain. As shown earlier in table 4, we found that 72 of
216 (or 33 percent) chancery buildings—that OBO identifies as mission
condition due to a large amount of deferred maintenance that has built up
over time.

Ambassadorial Residences Take Note

In discussing the condition of ambassadorial residences with State, OBO officials said they have taken steps to evaluate and rank State’s
ambassadorial residences that are in need of major rehabs. OBO officials told us that State has preliminarily identified the need to rehabilitate or
replace ambassadors’ residences in Beijing, China; Kathmandu, Nepal; Nairobi, Kenya; Ottawa, Canada; Paris, France; Sarajevo, Bosnia and
Herzegovina; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. However, OBO officials said there is no formal schedule for rehabilitating ambassadorial residences
because there is no predictable annual funding for rehabilitating State-only occupied assets.

More than a Quarter of Properties in “Poor Condition”

— More than a quarter of the State Department’s overseas buildings and other real properties are in poor condition by State’s condition standards, including almost 400 buildings and other assets that State considers critical to its mission.

FY21 $100 Million Request: Specific But Not Really

According to OBO officials, they outlined specific funding requested for maintenance and repair, including minor construction and improvement, in an appendix to State’s congressional budget requests. State’s fiscal year 2021 budget requested $100 million to address DM&R for State’s non–cost shared facilities. However, OBO officials noted that this funding was for the minor construction and improvement program (or modernization
budget), which does not specifically address the DM&R backlog.

GAO made five recommendations to the State Department:

The Secretary of State should ensure that that the Director of OBO reassess State’s acceptable condition standard for all asset types and
mission dependencies, to include whether mission criticality justifies a different standard among assets. (Recommendation 1)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO incorporates the mission criticality of its assets when deciding how to target maintenance and repair investments. (Recommendation 2)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO monitors posts’ completion of annual condition assessments that use a standardized inspection methodology, so that State has complete and consistent data to address its deferred maintenance and repair backlog. (Recommendation 3)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO develops a plan to address State’s deferred maintenance and repair backlog, and specifically identifies the funding and time frames needed to reduce it in congressional budget requests, related reports to decision makers, or
both. (Recommendation 4)

The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of OBO employs models for predicting the outcome of investments, analyzing tradeoffs,
and optimizing among competing investments. (Recommendation 5)

 

Click to access gao-21-497.pdf

Ambassador Eric Paul Whitaker Dedicates New U.S. Embassy Niamey in Niger

Thank you to over 500 readers and supporters who made our continued operation possible this year. Raising funds for a small outlet that is already open and free for all to read has often been the most challenging part of running  this blog. We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. Thanks — DS

 

Last month, OBO announced the dedication of the new US Embassy in Niger:

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) celebrates today’s dedication of the new U.S. Embassy in Niamey, Niger by Ambassador Eric Paul Whitaker.

Situated on the existing 11-acre Embassy campus, this multi-building project embodies OBO’s goals for safe, secure, functional, and resilient facilities that provide a platform for U.S. diplomacy abroad.

Over the past 50 years, the campus has evolved to meet the needs of the diplomatic mission. The campus’s new buildings are integrated into the existing site and represent the best of American architecture, engineering, and construction execution. A concrete, lasting symbol of the United States’ commitment to Niger, the Embassy is on track to become the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum project in West Africa.

The Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle, Washington is the design architect and B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama is the construction contractor with Page as Architect of Record. Approximately 1,700 American, local, and third-country national employees have been involved in project construction, including 1,500 Nigeriens. The construction team contributed more than 6 million work hours to this innovative project, which has generated $53 million to the local economy.

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Related posts:

 

SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On May 28, 2021, USDOJ/Southern District of New York announced the arrest of SINA MOAYEDI, the owner of a construction company on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of bribery of a public official. According to the announcement, “Sina Moayedi allegedly paid lucrative bribes to a State Department insider in exchange for confidential bidding information, and fraudulently induced the State Department to pay his company approximately $100 million.” Excerpt from the announcement:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Sina Moayedi made misrepresentations about his employees’ qualifications and his company’s ownership in order to induce the State Department into awarding approximately $100 million in lucrative construction contracts to Moayedi’s company, Montage, Inc.  Moayedi also allegedly cultivated a State Department insider, and paid the insider lucrative bribes in exchange for confidential State Department bidding information.  Moayedi must now be held accountable for his alleged brazen fraud on the government.”

Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said:  “As alleged, the defendant’s scheme to undermine the Department’s procurement process for personal gain caught up with him today and he will now be held accountable.  His alleged actions not only hurt other legitimate businesses competing for awards, but also damage the public’s trust in the effective and efficient utilization of taxpayer money.”

According to allegations in the Complaint[1]:

Montage, Inc. (“Montage”) is a U.S.-based business that is primarily involved in worldwide Government construction projects, including embassies, military posts, consulates, and similar overseas properties owned and operated by the United States Government.  Montage has performed over $220 million in contracting work for the U.S. Government, including for the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Since 2014, Montage appears to have focused primarily on competing for and obtaining contracts with the State Department.  During that period, the State Department has awarded Montage approximately six overseas U.S. Embassy/Consulate construction project contracts totaling $100 million, in locales such as Ecuador, Spain, Sudan, the Czech Republic, and Bermuda.  The founder of Montage is SINA MOAYEDI.

Montage engaged in at least two fraud schemes.  The first scheme alleges that, from approximately 2014 to September 2020, MOAYEDI and Montage lied that it was a female-owned business in order to secure unmerited advantages in the bidding process.  By way of context, it is advantageous to a company, when bidding for federal government contracts, to be majority-owned by an individual from a socially or economically disadvantaged community.  In fact, certain contracts (or portions of contracts) are “set aside” for – i.e., only available to – such companies.  MOAYEDI and Montage repeatedly represented falsely in submissions to the State Department that Montage was female-owned, or female-owned and minority-owned, in order falsely to induce the State Department to award Montage lucrative construction contracts.  In actuality, MOAYEDI repeatedly lied about Montage being a female-owned business, and indeed, MOAYEDI controls Montage and makes all material decisions on Montage’s behalf.  As MOAYEDI revealed to a bank that inquired about Montage’s ownership status, “I am the sole owner and president of Montage and have always been.”  Montage and MOAYEDI also repeatedly misrepresented, and significantly overstated, the qualifications of Montage employees.  MOAYEDI made these misrepresentations in order to, among other things, meet State Department and contractual requirements for minimum experience in certain key positions.

The second scheme charged in the Complaint is a bribery scheme during at least 2016 and 2017.  Insider-1 is employed in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (“OBO”), which, according to OBO’s website, “directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.”  Specifically, Insider-1 works for the State Department’s OBO Project Development and Coordination Division, European division.  
[…]
MOAYEDI, 66, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is charged with one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 20 years, and one count of bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum potential prison sentence of 15 years.  
[…]
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Download U.S. v Sina Moayedi complaint (21 mag 5598).pdf
Excerpt from complaint:

15. Based on my review of State Department records, I am aware that between approximately 2014 and 2017, Montage was awarded six U.S. embassy/consulate construction projects with the State Department, worth a total of approximately $100 million.
[…]
26. Based on information derived from witness interviews, I reviewed resumes submitted by Montage for various State Department projects. Department requirements referenced in the contract specify certain levels of experience in order to serve as “key personnel” (i.e., personnel whom the State Department has deemed critical to the safe, successful, and timely completion of a project).
[…]
In the course of my review, I identified numerous deficiencies regarding the resumes of key personnel submitted to the State Department for the Guayaquil, Ecuador project.

a. For example, Montage submitted an individual for the key role of Project Controls Engineer and Site Health Project Manager. In the claimed experience for this individual, it stated that he was employed at Montage since 2008 and had “inspected emergency egress and life/safety issues” and conducted “inspections of asbestos containment.” In fact, this individual had only been employed at Montage for approximately one year, and served in an office staff capacity, performing none of those duties.
[…]
[O]ne Montage employee’s resume claimed that he had earned a bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and also claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field in various capacities over several years. Neither representation was true. In fact, this individual testified at a deposition that they did not graduate; and this individual’s SF-86 security clearance application noted that this individual had actually sold meat as a door-to-door salesman, was a landscaper, and built swimming pools for several years during the period that they had claimed years of full-time complex work in the construction field.
[…]
39. I am aware, from my personal participation, that a judicially authorized search warrant was executed at the residence of Insider-1, on or about May 20, 2021. On that date, Insider-1 was informed, in substance, that she was not in custody, she was free to go, and she was not required to speak with law enforcement agents. She then participated in a voluntary interview with myself and an SDNY Special Agent on her back porch, and she made the following statements, in substance and part:

a. At first, Insider-1 claimed to have sold a large green rug to SINA MOAYEDI, the defendant, for about $60,000, but she said that the payment for the rug came from MOAYEDI’s friend.

Read more here.
The Daily Beast has identified the OBO insider in their May 27 report as well as provided the link to the Salehi Search Warrant; she has not been charged.
The document is 145 pages, the allegations spans many years and the government appears to be looking at multiple embassy projects.  The project in Guayaquil, Ecuador gets top mention. The search warrant executed includes “Records and information relating to forged submittals for the Guayaquil Consulate Project in Ecuador, and other State Department or other Government construction projects” and “Records and information that constitute evidence concerning persons who either (i) collaborated, conspired, or assisted (knowingly or unknowingly) the commission of the criminal activity under investigation; or (ii) communicated with MOAYEDI or other MONTAGE employees about matters relating to the criminal activity under investigation, including records that help reveal their whereabouts.”

Related news:

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For Sale: U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Tel Aviv For $87 Million

 

1

USEU Gordon Sondland’s Home Renovation in Brussels: Much Higher Than First Reported

 

WaPo and Vanity Fair both reported about the renovation at the Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels, the official residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)

WaPo’s reporting estimates the renovations at nearly $1 million including a $209,000 professional kitchen, and a $223,000 family kitchen. The actual obligation may  actually be higher than first reported.
A sourced familiar with the matter told us that the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR) was built in 1990 so one’s guesstimate is that the residence is  due for renovation as one of those “representational spaces.” The first contracts were awarded in September 2018, just two months after Sondland got to Brussels. (Sondland was confirmed via voice vote on June 28, 2018). Folks who understand how funding in government works can see that this “wasn’t all his initiative.” But .. because there’s always a but,  we understand from our source that the great bulk of the project items were added “more recently.” The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations  (OBO) reportedly approved all of it and the Office of Acquisition Management (State/AQM) awarded the contracts.
So a fairly modest renovation project was amped up until the contract award to an 8A firm reached $2.5 million?  More? Our source also told us, “Whether that much renovation was needed, or exactly how lavish is too lavish for a representational residence, I can’t say.”
Definitive Contract 19AQMM19C0088 is a Fixed Price Federal Contract Award. It was awarded to Pono Aina Management LLC of Oklahoma on Jun 12, 2019. The definitive contract is funded by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (DOS). The potential value of the award is $2,504,000 with potential end date of June 11, 2020. The solicitation procedure is marked “simplified acquisition” and  the set-aside type is marked “8(A) Sole Source.”

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