Diplomatic Security Help Return Fugitive Involved in Stealing Identities of Disabled Children

Posted: 2:05 am ET
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In June 2014, USDOJ indicted six people in an identity theft and tax fraud scheme in which the identities of disabled children and foster care children were stolen.  The indictment charges Ahmed Kamara, 38, and Ibrahim Kamara, 48, both of Yeadon, PA, Musa Turay, 41, and Foday Mansaray, 38, both of Darby, PA, Gebah Kamara, 46, of Sharon Hill, PA, and Dauda Koroma, 43, of Philadelphia, PA, with conspiracy, aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and filing false individual income tax returns.

Defendants Ahmed Kamara, Musa Turay, Ibrahim Kamara, Dauda Koroma, and Foday Mansaray worked as tax preparers at Medmans Financial Services, a tax preparation business located in South West Philadelphia. According to the indictment, Ahmed Kamara, Musa Turay, Ibrahim Kamara, Dauda Koroma, and Foday Mansaray defrauded the Internal Revenue Service by repeatedly falsifying information on tax returns. The indictment alleges that Gebah Kamara, then a social worker at Catholic Social Services, sold the defendant tax preparers the names and Social Security numbers of foster children for the purpose of creating fraudulent dependents on client tax returns. By including the false dependents, the tax preparers falsely claimed a number of credits and exemptions for their clients, which generated large fraudulent refunds, some in excess of $9,000. The tax preparer defendants charged clients up to $800 to fraudulently add a dependent on their income tax return.

If convicted, each of the defendants faces a mandatory two year prison term for aggravated identity theft consecutive to the following maximum possible sentences: Ahmed Kamara – 55 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.75 million fine, and a $1,300 special assessment; Musa Turay – 61 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.95 million fine, and a $1,500 special assessment; Gebah Kamara – 43 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.35 million fine, and a $900 special assessment; Ibrahim Kamara – 52 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.65 million fine, and a $1,200 special assessment; Dauda Koroma – 52 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.65 million fine, and a $1,200 special assessment; Foday Mansaray – 43 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.35 million fine, and a $900 special assessment.

Musa Turay, a U.S. citizen who was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone was one of those charged in 2014.  Diplomatic Security’s Criminal Investigative Liaison tracked Turay to Sierra Leone and alerted Sean Nedd, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown. Below via State/DS:

Freetown, Sierra Leone, did not turn out to be a refuge for Musa Benson Turay. Turay, a U.S. citizen, fled to his place of birth, Freetown, after the United States indicted him in June 2014 for participating in a $43 million tax fraud scheme that involved stealing identities of disabled children and youth in foster care.

But Turay could not escape DSS’ global reach. The DSS Criminal Investigative Liaison branch tracked Turay to Sierra Leone and alerted Sean Nedd, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, that Turay was using a local cell phone number. Nedd notified the local police, who put a trace on the phone, allowing Sierra Leonean investigators to identify Turay’s general vicinity. Using an online ruse, the officials pinpointed his exact location.

On November 3, 2016, local law enforcement officials arrested Turay, and detained him while the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a formal extradition request. Turay fought hard against the request, but lost his appeal on March 9, 2017. The U.S. Marshals, who typically escort fugitives back to the United States, were unable to send deputies to Sierra Leone due to logistical obstacles.

Nedd stepped in to complete the mission. He coordinated with local police, DOJ, U.S. Marshals, Brussels Airlines, and DSS colleagues posted at U.S. embassies in Accra, Ghana, and Brussels, Belgium, to complete the fugitive transfer. Nedd, U.S. Embassy Freetown Assistant RSO Noran Tealakh, and Assistant RSO from Embassy Accra Justin Garofalo boarded the plane and escorted Turay to Brussels. They met the U.S. Marshals in Brussels and transferred Turay to their custody March 21, 2017.

Turay currently awaits trial in the United States for his original tax fraud charge.

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Click here to view the indictment | An Indictment, Information or Criminal Complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

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

Posted: 12:23 am ET
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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.

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State Department’s Visa Systems Now Operational at 165 of 220 Posts Worldwide

Posted: 1:56 am  EDT
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The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database problems that affected travelers globally is is now back online at 165 of 220 visa issuance posts worldwide.  The latest update does not explain in details the cause of the glitch except to cite the hardware issue.  It also says that service was restored “using a redundant, secondary backup system and other sources.”  It does not explain what “other sources” mean but if it took at least 9 days to get that redundant, secondary back-up system to kick in, that’s not a very good system.

The Consular Affairs-issued FAQ asks how many people were affected by this outage? The answer it provides to this question is neither here nor there.  Folks, if you can’t answer your own question, please don’t include it.

According to travel.state.gov, the average visa applications processed every day worldwide is 50,000 x 9 days (June 9-19)=450,000 + 25,000 (half the average daily applications) x 4 days (June 22-25) = 100,000. Total number potentially affected 550,000.  Is that close enough?

The June 25 update says that if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started. Whoa! Help us out here. What kind of refusal/approval rates are we looking at here? That 540,000 figure is a little hinky because not all applicants who apply are issued visas. If it would have issued 540,000  visas, what would have been the total number of applicants?  Note that all of them must pay the visa fees. We estimate that the USG loss from this latest glitch is between $72 to $84 million (average daily applications globally x no. of days x $160 visa fee). Is that too low?

Meanwhile, StarrFMonline.com reported that the US Embassy in Accra, has “dismissed reports that it is ripping Ghanaians off by accepting visa fees in spite of the visa issuance imbroglio that has hit US embassies across the world.” The consular section chief  had to explain that “if anybody was refused a visa, that was because of the case and has nothing to do with our technical issues.”

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On June 24, the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 50 posts, representing nearly 73 percent of its  nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are back online and issuing visas.  It also says that “posts overseas have issued more than 150,000 non-immigrant visas since June 9.” And that for context, if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 450,000 visas during the June 9-23 timeframe.

On June 25, the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 165 posts, representing more than 85 percent of nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are now online and issuing visas.  The update says that if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started.

Via travel.state.gov, June 25 update:

Visa Systems Issues

  • The Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 165 posts, representing more than 85 percent of our nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are now online and issuing visas. 

  • Posts overseas issued more than 82,000 visas on June 24. 

  • Posts overseas have issued more than 238,000 non-immigrant visas this week. For context, if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started. 

  • We will continue to bring additional posts online until connectivity with all posts is restored. All posts worldwide are now scheduling interviews with applicants, including with those who applied after the systems problems began on June 9.

  • We deeply regret the inconvenience to travelers who are waiting for visas, as well as their families and U.S. businesses that have been affected.

  • We continue to post updates to our website, travel.state.gov.

 

Q: Reports indicate that your backlog is 700,000 visas. Is this accurate?

No. While there is a large backlog of cases to clear, it never approached that level, and we have already made good progress issuing those visas. Many posts are working overtime this week and during the upcoming weekend, and we expect to eliminate the backlog in a week or less.


Q: How old is this equipment? And does the age of the equipment and the need to have so many repairs to the hardware mean that this equipment should have been replaced? Is this a funding issue at the base of it?

The hardware that impacted the biometrics system is several years old. The Department was working to move the biometrics system off of this hardware.

The operational requirements to keep this database running for domestic and overseas passport and visa issuances caused delays in upgrading the database according to our planned maintenance schedule.

We have been working to upgrade our systems over the past year.

We will move ahead with planned migration and systems upgrades as soon as we fully restore service.

Q: How did you restore service?

We restored service using a redundant, secondary backup system and other sources. That data allowed us to begin to re-connect posts to the affected portion of the system and synchronize biometric data. This system is running on newer hardware, and has a synchronized standby system in a different Department data center.

In parallel, we are continuing to restore data from backups and overseas post databases. This process is ongoing.

Q: Do you know whether this is equipment that was acquired directly by the State Department, or was this acquired through a third-party contractor?

The equipment was acquired by the Department of State.

Q: How many people were affected by this outage?

During the past two weeks, consular sections have continued to interview travelers who applied June 8 or earlier. Those posts reconnected to our system are now issuing visas for those applicants.

Q: How are cases being prioritized?

We continue to facilitate urgent cases for those individuals who need to travel imminently, and will continue to do so until the systems are normal.

We apologize to travelers and recognize that this has caused hardship to some individuals waiting for visas as well as families and employers.

Q: What about the foreign agricultural workers (H2A visa holders?)

More than 2,500 temporary or seasonal workers have been issued new visas in Mexico since last week.

We will continue to prioritize H-2 applicants as our systems return to normal, and issue as many approved cases as possible. However, we will not be able to process these as quickly as we typically do until our systems are functioning normally. We continue to ask that any employers with urgent needs contact the post which is processing their applicants and we will do everything we can to facilitate the cases.

We are no longer asking CBP to provide Port of Entry waivers, as we have now begun issuing visas at border posts.

Visa applicants, including agricultural workers, who have not received a visa should not report to the border. Please contact the nearest embassy or consulate.

Read more here.

US Embassy Ghana’s Errant Tweet Sparks Social Media Rumpus, Demo on July 25

— Domani Spero
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Close to 300 Ghanians have now waded in on the US Embassy Accra’s FB page where there appears to be a competition between those who were offended (“It’s shameful to meddle in our domestic politics.”) and those who applauded the errant tweet.  One FB commenter writes, “I was very happy when I saw your reply to the president… Ghanaians support what you mistakenly posted on Twitter.” Another one added, “Why are [you] apologising? That question was legitimate and pls ask him again.”

SpyGhana.com reports that senior Ghanaian government officials including the National Youth Co-ordinator, Ras Mubarak and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah SerwaTetteh have reportedly demanded “an unqualified apology” from the Embassy. It also reports that on July 25, “hundreds of Ghanaians will stage a peaceful protest march on behalf of their government against the American Embassy in the country for launching an attack on a social media post by President John DramaniMahama.”

Apparently, some in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) are now even calling for sanctions against Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and the embassy staff over that spectacular, albeit errant tweet containing 73 explosive characters:

“@JDMahama and what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”

According to SpyGhana.com, the response was in reference to a much criticized decision by the Dramani administration of slashing the President and his ministers’ salaries by 10% to demonstrate their sacrifices as the country faces economic hardships while ignoring “other huge unconventional sources of funds.”

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State Dept Regional Psychiatrist William Callahan, 53, Dies in Cape Town

— Domani Spero

We previously posted about the December 12 death of a U.S. Embassy Accra employee while visiting Cape Town, South Africa. (See US Embassy Accra Employee Falls to Death on South Africa’s Table Mountain). We subsequently learned the identity of the employee but decided not to publish his name as we could not confirm independently that the family back in California has been notified.  His hometown newspaper had since identified him in a news article as William E. Callahan Jr., 53, a prominent psychiatrist in Aliso Viejo, California.  He was the State Department’s Regional Psychiatrist covering West Africa. Below is an excerpt from OCRegister:

Callahan had left his private psychiatry practice in California last year to join the U.S. State Department as a Regional Medical Officer and Psychiatrist based out of the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, said Kenneth Dekleva, Director of Mental Health Services at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Dekleva said the news came as a shock to him and his department last Friday when he found out Callahan’s body had been recovered by South African authorities near the Table Mountain Range.

“His death has touched many people: my phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Friday…we lost one of our own,” Dekleva said. “It’s a huge loss for our organization. He represented the best in psychiatry in my opinion. We’re very proud to have known him and to have had him as part of our team.”

Dekleva said that the investigation surrounding the circumstances of Callahan’s death is ongoing in South Africa.

Memorial services are planned in Accra on Wednesday. Services in Greenfield, Mass. and Laguna Beach will occur in early 2014, the State Department said.

 

Dr. Callahan joined the State Department in July 2012.  Our source told us that “he was an avid outdoorsman and in great shape.  He was well-liked in Accra and at the other embassies he covered in West Africa.”

According to his online bio, he was a Special Forces flight surgeon turned psychiatrist.  “With the constant deployments in my military unit on clandestine missions, I observed how stress in a family member can jump from person to person and lead to physical illness as well.  After 5 years of active duty and 9 of total service, I left the military to get the training to become a board certified psychiatrist.”

He was previously the president of the Orange County Psychiatric Society.  For 15 years prior to joining the State Department, he  provided a two hour a week, free, open-to-the-public group for families dealing with a mental illness called Interactive Solutions.

Dr. Callahan’s service in the military included a general surgery internship at David Grant Medical Center at Travis AFB, CA followed by assignment to the 8th Special Operations Squadron as a flight surgeon, at Hurlburt Field, FL.  He served in both the First Gulf War and Panama Wars,  and received two Meritorious Service Medals. He was the 1988 Flight Surgeon of the Year within the First Special Operations Wing.

He graduated from Deerfield Academy (1978), Tufts University (1982), Tufts Medical School (1986) and did General Surgery Internship at Travis AFB, CA (1987), and his Residency in Psychiatry at UC Irvine (1994).

R.I.P.

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US Embassy Accra Employee Falls to Death on South Africa’s Table Mountain

— Domani Spero

Updated on 12/20/13 – see State Dept Regional Psychiatrist William Callahan, 53, Dies in Cape Town

South Africa’s Independent Online reported on December 13 that an American diplomat fell to his death while hiking on the Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.  The Wilderness Search and Rescue spokesman told the reporter that “It appears that the man fell to his death on a rocky slope called Porcupine buttress. The area is known to be dangerous and another hiker nearly died during a fall there last year.” Excerpt:

Five volunteer teams from Wilderness Search and Rescue searched through the night. Then, shortly after 6am on Friday morning, the 53-year-old man’s body was spotted by an Emergency Medical Services helicopter. Two paramedics were lowered from the helicopter to the body. The man was declared dead at the scene.

[…]
Police have identified the victim. However, the American Embassy’s spokesman, Jack Hillmeyer, asked the Cape Argus not to publish the name because they had not received official confirmation and his next of kin had not yet been notified.

Read the report here.

Table Mountain from Capt. Cook's ship HMS Resolution by William Hodges (1772) Via Wikipedia

Table Mountain from Capt. Cook’s ship HMS Resolution by William Hodges (1772) Via Wikipedia

Will Stevens, the Spokesperson for the Bureau of African Affairs confirmed the death of a U.S. citizen visiting South Africa on December 12.  We cannot confirm if the individual was a diplomat, only that he/she was an employee of the U.S. Embassy Accra in Ghana  who died in South Africa.  Below is the full statement from Mr. Stevens:

“I can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen visiting South Africa on December 12.   We are saddened by the death of this Embassy Accra employee, and offer our condolences to the individual’s family and loved ones on their loss.  Out of respect for the privacy of those affected, I have no further comment.”

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Officially In: Gene A. Cretz – from Libya to the Republic of Ghana

On April 11, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Gene A. Cretz as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Gene A. Cretz, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-

Gene A. Cretz. As of 2008, the United States A...

Gene A. Cretz. As of 2008, the United States Ambassador to Libya. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Counselor, is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.   In 2008, Ambassador Cretz served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.  From 2004 to 2007, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.  From 2003 to 2004, he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires.  From 2001 to 2003, he was Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt.  Other overseas assignments include service in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad.  Assignments in Washington include State Department posts in the Bureau of International Organizations, the Operations Center, and in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.  From 1975 to 1977, Ambassador Cretz served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan.

He received a B.A. from the University of Rochester and a M.Sc. from the State University College at Buffalo.

If confirmed, Ambassador Cretz would succeed career diplomat, Donald Teitelbaum who was appointed to the US Embassy in Accra by President Bush on May 5, 2008. He was in the news recently when he spoke with Margaret Brennan on Bloomberg’s Television’s “InBusiness” discussing the northwest African nation’s government and U.S. business opportunities there. Click here to see the video.

Domani Spero

 

Related item:
April 11, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

 

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