Former U.S. Diplomat William Patrick Syring Convicted of Threatening Employees of the Arab American Institute

This is a follow-up to an item we posted in March 2018 (Ex-FSO William Syring Charged With Hate Crime and Threats to Arab American Institute Employees).  On February 21, 2018 USDOJ indicted former foreign service officer William Patrick Syring for hate crime and threatening employees of the Arab American Institute. Syring was previously charged in 2006 for similar threats in four emails and three voicemails. He retired from the State Department in July 2007 and he pleaded guilty in that previous case in June 2008.

The 2018 indictment alleged he sent 350 e-mails from March 2012 to January 2018.

On May 9, 2019, USDOJ announced Syring’s conviction:

William Patrick Syring, 61, of Arlington, Virginia, was convicted today of threatening employees of the Arab American Institute (AAI), because of their race and national origin, threatening AAI employees because of their efforts to encourage Arab Americans to participate in political and civic life in the United States, and transmitting threats to AAI employees in interstate commerce. Syring was convicted on all 14 counts in the indictment.

“Threats aimed at individuals because of their race and national origin have no place in our society and violate federal civil rights laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Department of Justice will continue to hold criminals accountable who commit such acts of hate so that all individuals in this country can engage in civic life and political discourse.”

Evidence presented at trial established that from 2012 to 2017, Syring sent over 700 emails to AAI employees, culminating in five death threats in 2017. According to court documents, Syring previously pleaded guilty in 2008 to sending threatening emails to AAI employees. Evidence presented at trial showed that Syring used nearly identical language that he admitted were threats in 2008 as he did in 2017.

According to testimony in court, AAI employees were frightened of Syring, because he had sent them death threats in the past and continued to do so over a decade later. Additionally, according to witness testimony, many AAI employees lived in fear that Syring would follow through his threats and physically harm them. They further testified to the toll it took on them personally and their families and loved ones.

Sentencing is set for Aug. 9. The maximum penalties for the convictions is 42 years of imprisonment.

The case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office and is being prosecuted by Civil Rights Division Senior Legal Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Nick Reddick.

 

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USG Charges Two Individuals For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving the Moroccan Diplomatic Mission and Seven Domestic Workers

 

On March 13, SDNY announced that two individuals were charged for visa fraud conspiracy involving the Moroccan Consulate and Mission in New York. The complaint includes an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”), a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador. Footnote #5 in the complaint says that the USG anticipates that it will enter into a non-prosecutorial agreement with each of the seven domestic workers, all nationals of the Philippines). Footnote #6 notes that the DSS Special Agent is aware that as an ambassador accredited to the Moroccan Mission of the United Nations, CC-1 possesses full diplomatic immunity under Article V of the United Nations Agreement and Article (39)1)of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Via USDOJ/SDNY:

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Christian J. Schurman, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”) at the United States Department of State, announced today the arrest of MARIA LUISA ESTRELLA JAIDI (“JAIDI”), who was charged by complaint along with her brother, RAMON SINGSON ESTRELLA (“ESTRELLA”), for their involvement in a conspiracy to commit visa fraud, make materially false statements, and induce aliens to illegally come to, enter, and reside in the United States.  JAIDI was arrested today in Ancramdale, New York, and will be presented this afternoon in White Plains federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison.  ESTRELLA remains at large.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman stated:  “As alleged, the defendants abused our nation’s process for admitting consular officials in order to bring domestic workers into this country for their own monetary gain and lifestyle.  On top of that, Maria Luisa Estrella Jaidi exploited these workers by not providing them the critical protections and benefits they would have been entitled to had they been properly brought to this country with the appropriate visas.  Today’s charges demonstrate that fraud and abuse of this type will not be tolerated.”

DSS Director Christian J. Schurman said:  “DSS demonstrated its commitment to protecting the integrity of U.S. travel documents and the rights of foreign nationals visiting the United States.  We will continue to pursue those who abuse domestic worker visas to manipulate and exploit their employees for personal gain.  DSS’s strong relationship with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, continues to be essential in the pursuit of justice.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed in White Plains federal court[1]:

From approximately 2006 up to 2016, JAIDI and ESTRELLA conspired with an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”) to fraudulently procure visas for at least seven Filipino domestic workers (the “Domestic Workers”).  CC-1 is a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador.  From approximately 1980 through approximately 2016, CC-1 and JAIDI were married.

In order to fraudulently obtain visas for the Domestic Workers, JAIDI and CC-1 caused the Domestic Workers to submit visa applications containing materially false statements and to submit fraudulent employment contracts in support of those visa applications.  ESTRELLA – who is JAIDI’s brother and who resides in the Philippines – helped recruit several of the Domestic Workers in the Philippines to work for JAIDI and CC-1 in the United States and instructed the Domestic Workers to make false statements in their visa applications and to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

In particular, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused five of the Domestic Workers to falsely state in their visa applications that they would be employed as secretaries, administrative assistants, or technicians at the Moroccan Mission or at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Morocco in Manhattan.  In addition, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused each of the Domestic Workers to submit fraudulent employment contracts to the State Department in support of their visa applications.  The fraudulent employment contracts also overstated the Domestic Workers’ salaries, understated their hours, and falsely guaranteed benefits, including, among others, sick leave, dental insurance, and medical insurance.

Once the Domestic Workers arrived in the United States, JAIDI and CC-1 employed the workers as their personal drivers, domestic helpers, farmhands, and assistants at their residence in Bronxville, New York, as well as at their farm in Ancramdale, New York.  JAIDI and CC-1 paid the Domestic Workers significantly less than the minimum salary required by law and regularly compelled them to work far in excess of 40 hours per week.  In addition, JAIDI and CC-1 generally denied the Domestic Workers the benefits set forth in their employment contracts, compelled the Domestic Workers to work seven days a week, and required the Domestic Workers to surrender their passports.

Read in full: Two Charged In White Plains Federal Court For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving Moroccan Consulate And Mission In New York

Attachment(s):

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.

USG Rapatriates Forfeited Funds From Bakiyev Regime to the Kyrgyz Republic

Posted: 2:05 am EST

 

On February 26, USDOJ announced the repatriation of stolen assets to the Kyrgyz Republic “from the corruption and theft of government funds” by the regime of second President of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his youngest son, Maxim Bakiyev. Bakiyev was ousted from office in 2010 during a public revolt and according to the BBC, father and son had been granted political asylum in Belarus.

The U.S. Department of Justice repatriated stolen assets to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic arising from the corruption and theft of government funds by the prior regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his son Maxim Bakiyev.  The return of the funds was celebrated yesterday in a ceremony in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic attended by Ambassador Alice G. Wells, the head of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs for the Department of State and U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Donald Lu.

These funds were identified in the United States in the criminal prosecution of Eugene Gourevitch for insider trading in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and a $6 million forfeiture order was subsequently entered by the Court.  Following the conviction in the prosecution led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Kyrgyz Government filed a Petition for Remission with the U.S. Department of Justice, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, claiming that the funds subject to the forfeiture order traced back to monies stolen by Maxim Bakiyev from Kyrgyz state authorities and other banking institutions.  On Oct. 4, 2018, the Department of Justice granted the Remission Petition.

So far, approximately $4.5 million of the funds have been collected and are approved for repatriation of the $6 million ordered to be forfeited will be repatriated.  These funds will be deposited  in the account of  the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (“current account of the Central Treasury of the Ministry of Finance of the Kyrgyz Republic in the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic”).  MLARS attorneys working in the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative assisted in the investigation linking these funds to the corruption offenses in Kyrgystan.  Additional efforts will be made by the U.S. Government and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to try to locate and return the remainder of the stolen assets in the forfeiture order.

Read more here: Justice Department Rapatriates Forfeited Funds to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic

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U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

 

This past July we blogged about the guilty plea of U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar over his attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat assigned at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico (see U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico).

We posted previously about this case:

On November 7, USDOJ announced that Zia Zafar was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mr. Ashcraft. In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release. The DOJ release also notes that Mr. Ashcraft survived the attack, but that “the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.”

The original statement is available here.

U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison for the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

A U.S. national and former medical student was sentenced to 264 months in prison for the 2017 shooting of a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Acting Special Agent in Charge Tom Jones of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Christian J. Schurman for U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security and Director for Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, previously pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar was sentenced by U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release.

“Zia Zafar targeted a U.S. government employee and surveilled him before shooting him in the chest at close range,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “The Department of Justice will do everything in its power to prosecute anyone who targets U.S. officials at home or abroad.  I commend the investigative team and our law enforcement partners in Mexico for their outstanding work in bringing Zafar to justice for this premediated heinous act.”

“The FBI works closely with international partners and security services in order to conduct complex investigations and acquire evidence from abroad for criminal prosecutions in the United States,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Jones.  “I want to thank the Mexican government for their full support and cooperation throughout this investigation.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

“Today’s sentencing of Zia Zafar sends a strong message: Diplomatic Security is committed to making sure those who attack diplomatic personnel representing America abroad face serious consequences,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Schurman.  “Diplomatic Security’s strong relationships with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. and foreign law enforcement partners around the world continue to be essential in the pursuit of justice.  Such crimes threaten the national security of the United States.”

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea and facts presented at the sentencing hearing, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar, then living in Guadalajara, Mexico, armed himself with a firearm and wore a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance.  He then waited in a parking garage for the victim, a vice consul who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara, following him as he walked towards his vehicle.  After noticing a security guard nearby, Zafar changed his location to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the vice consul to exit.  When the vice consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the vice consul in his chest.  The vice consul survived, but the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the vice consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Walutes of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

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We were hoping that court records would provide some more clarity about this case, unfortunately, they don’t. We wanted to understand what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this attack. There is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.  U.S. Attorney Terwilliger says, “The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States.” All consulate officials represent the United States in Guadalajara, what made this specific diplomat the target?  The U.S. national attacker reportedly lived in California but was studying in Mexico. This individual left California, went to Mexico, and then later decided to surveil the consulate in Guadalajara in order to find a target? Why? What made him decide he suddenly wanted to shot a representative of his own country one day? What was the trigger? This case remains perplexing to us.

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U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

 

In January 2017, we covered the shooting of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence:

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Director Christian J. Schurman of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar entered his guilty plea before U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Judge Trenga scheduled Zafar’s sentencing hearing for November, 7, 2018.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar armed himself with a firearm, donned a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance, and waited in a parking garage for a Vice Consul, who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara.  Although Zafar initially was following the Vice Consul as he walked towards his vehicle, Zafar noticed a security guard nearby, and instead moved to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the Vice Consul to exit.  As the Vice Consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the Vice Consul in his chest and leaving him in serious condition.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the Vice Consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

“Zia Zafar surveilled and targeted a U.S. official serving in Mexico, lying in wait before shooting him in the chest in a heinous act of premeditated violence,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute those who seek to harm U.S. officials serving overseas.  The Department of Justice will continue work with our domestic and international partners to ensure that anyone who targets U.S. officials abroad will be brought to justice.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

[…] FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the government of Mexico, to include the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Procuraduria General de la Republica, Fiscalia del Estado de Jalisco and Instituto Nacional de Migracion for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

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Th court filings confirmed much of the details previously reported about this case, though the case remains perplexing.  On January 10, 2017, an Affidavit in Support of a Criminal Complaint was filed by David J. DiMarco, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) assigned to the Extraterritorial Squad, Washington Field Office. Includes the following:

On January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft, the victim, was employed with the U.S.Department of State as a Vice Consul in the Consular office in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Vice Consul, Ashcraft is recognized by the Government of Mexico as a diplomat. As such, Ashcraftwas granted diplomatic immunity in the course of his official duties.

On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Agenda Vallarta #3300 in Guadalajara, Mexico. At approximately 6:19 p.m., an individual later identified as the Defendant, ZIA ZAFAR, shot Ashcraft with a pistol as Ashcraft was leaving the gym parking lot in his personal vehicle. The round struck Ashcraft in the chest. Ashcraft was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, where he currently remains.

Special Agents with the FBI interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital. During the interview, Ashcraft stated that when he exited the gym, he noticed the individual later identified as ZAFAR, who was wearing blue scrubs, white shoes, and what appeared to be a wig. Based upon ZAFAR’s behavior, Ashcraft felt as though ZAFAR was waiting for him. Ashcraft walked to apayment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, hesaw that ZAFAR was following him. Ashcraft felt threatened and walked to a populated area of the parking garage. Once ZAFAR was no longer following him, Ashcraft got into his vehicle and drove towards the garage exit. Ashcraft was shot once in the chest while exiting the garage.

Surveillance video from the shopping center and parking garage was obtained by Mexican law enforcement. The video shows a male (later identified as ZAFAR) wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs, and white shoes. ZAFAR appears to be following Ashcraft as Ashcraft exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The videothen shows ZAFAR followmg Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to adifferentarea ofthe garage,the video shows ZAFAR walking up an incoming vehicle ramp at 6:17 p.m. Approximately one minute later, ZAFAR is seen at the top of the exit vehicle ramp, pacing back and forth with his right hand in his pocket. At approximately 6:19 p.m., Ashcraft’s vehicle pulls up to the garage exit. The video shows ZAFAR taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield. The video then shows ZAFAR fleeing the scene.

The criminal complaint filed on January 9, 2017 was originally filed under seal and the offense description is listed as “Attempted Murder of an Internationally Protected Person”.

The AFFIDAVIT by USA as to Zia Zafar was also sealed. The criminal case cover sheet is redacted but includes Zia Zafar’s name, Juvenile FBI file number #316130AC9, and year of birth as 1985. The subject’s race, place of birth, language/dialects are left blank (or redacted, hard to tell).

In April 28, 2017, the Defense filed a motion to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) by Zia Zafar. The filing says that “Sealing of this document is necessary in order to safeguard the privacy and safety of the defendant.”

A Memorandum in Support by Zia Zafar re 28 MOTION to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) also includes the following:

B. Sealing is necessary in order to safeguard the safety and privacy of the defendant. Counsel for the defendant has considered procedures other than sealing and none will suffice to protect this information from disclosure and to prevent public dissemination of information concerning Mr. Webster’s mental health.

Mr. Webster?

On May 5, 2017, there was a Status Conference to determine the competency of the defendant.

On August 11, 2017 there was an Arraignment/Competency Hearing.

On January 12, 2018 the Court granted the Motion for Psychiatric Exam and ordered that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination at the Alexandria Detention Center.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to shooting the U.S. diplomat in Mexico.

The Statement of Facts filed on July 13, 2018 as part of Zafar’s plea agreement is only three page long and notes that Zafar and the diplomat that he attacked did not know each other. According to the Statement, the diplomat was targeted because “the defendant knew from earlier surveillance that he worked at the United States Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.” News citing Mexican officials previously reported that Zafar targeted Ashcraft over a visa denial.

The Affidavit submitted in support of the warrant says Zafar entered Mexico on a student visa, had a California driver’s license and drove a Honda Civic with California license plate. It doesn’t say when he entered Mexico or how long was he residing in the country prior to the attack.

The Affidavit did cite the use of a Starbucks receipt and Mexican immigration database to identify Zafar, and help in his apprehension by Mexican authorities.  It also says that “Mexican law enforcement searched the residence and recovered a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name ZIA ZAFAR. A pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video were also recovered from the residence.”

The court filings do not indicate what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this incident; there is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.

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Trump Orders the Establishment of a National Vetting Center to “Identify Individuals Who Present a Threat”

Posted: 2:56 am ET

 

The Presidential Memorandum is titled “Optimizing the Use of Federal Government Information in Support of the National Vetting Enterprise”. On February 6, Trump ordered the establishment of an interagency National Vetting Center “to identify individuals who present a threat to national security, border security, homeland security, or public safety.”

Border and immigration security are essential to ensuring the safety, security, and prosperity of the United States. The Federal Government must improve the manner in which executive departments and agencies (agencies) coordinate and use intelligence and other information to identify individuals who present a threat to national security, border security, homeland security, or public safety. To achieve this goal, the United States Government must develop an integrated approach to use data held across national security components. I am, therefore, directing the establishment of a National Vetting Center (Center), subject to the oversight and guidance of a National Vetting Governance Board (Board), to coordinate the management and governance of the national vetting enterprise.

The National Vetting Governance Board will have the following composition:

The Board shall consist of six senior executives, one designated by each of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The chair of the Board will be rotational:

The chair of the Board shall rotate annually among the individuals designated from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  The director of the Center shall serve as an observer at Board meetings.

More:

(a)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence, shall establish the Center to support the national vetting enterprise.

(i)    The Center shall coordinate agency vetting efforts to identify individuals who present a threat to national security, border security, homeland security, or public safety.  Agencies may conduct any authorized border or immigration vetting activities through or with the Center.  Agencies may support these additional activities, provided that such support is consistent with applicable law and the policies and procedures described in subsections (b) and (d) of this section.

(ii)   The Secretary of Homeland Security shall designate a full‑time senior officer or employee of the Department of Homeland Security to serve as the director of the Center.  The Secretary of State and the Attorney General shall detail or assign senior officials from their respective agencies to serve as deputy directors of the Center.

(iii)  The director shall lead the day-to-day operations of the Center, communicate vetting needs and priorities to other agencies engaged in the national vetting enterprise, and make resourcing recommendations to the Board established pursuant to subsection (e) of this section.

(iv)   Agencies shall provide to the Center access to relevant biographic, biometric, and related derogatory information for its use to the extent permitted by and consistent with applicable law and policy, including the responsibility to protect sources and methods.  Agencies and the Center shall, on a consensus basis, determine the most appropriate means or methods to provide access to this information to the Center.

(v)    The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency shall, on a continuing basis, work together to ensure, consistent with the authorities and available resources of each official’s respective agency, that the daily operations and functions of the Center, as determined by the Board, are supported, including through the assignment of legal and other appropriate personnel, and the provision of other necessary resources, consistent with applicable law, including the Economy Act (31 U.S.C. 1535).  To the extent permitted by law, details or assignments to the Center should be without reimbursement.

(vi)   The day-to-day operations of the Center shall be executed by appropriate personnel from agencies participating in the national vetting enterprise, to the extent permitted by law, in a manner that adequately facilitates active and timely coordination and collaboration in the execution of the Center’s functions.  Agencies shall participate in the Center and shall provide adequate physical presence to enable the Center to effectively accomplish its mission.  To the extent appropriate, additional agency co-location may be virtual rather than physical.  Each agency shall fund its participation in the Center, consistent with the agency’s mission and applicable law.  There shall be no interagency financing of the Center.

(vii)  The Center shall not commence operations until the President has approved the implementation plan described in subsection (g) of this section.

Deliverable:

Within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, shall, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and using the NSPM‑4 process, jointly submit to the President for approval a plan to implement this memorandum.

Read the full memorandum here.

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Libyan National Charged in 2012 Attack on U.S. Special Mission and Annex in #Benghazi

Posted: 2:22 am ET
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Media reports say that U.S. special forces have captured a militant who was allegedly involved in the 2012 deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  The suspect has been identified as Mustafa al-Imam. An unnamed official told the AP that the suspect was captured in Misrata, on the north coast of Libya and was taken to a U.S. Navy ship at the Misrata port for transport to the United States.

Per DOJ announcement:

Mustafa al-Imam, a Libyan national approximately 46 years old, has been charged for his alleged participation in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

“The murder of four Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 was a barbaric crime that shocked the American people. We will never forget those we lost – Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Ambassador Christopher Stevens – four brave Americans who gave their lives in service to our nation,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  “We owe it to them and their families to bring their murderers to justice. Today the Department of Justice announces a major step forward in our ongoing investigation as Mustafa al-Imam is now in custody and will face justice in federal court for his role in the attack.  I am grateful to the FBI, our partners in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense who made this apprehension possible.  The United States will continue to investigate and identify all those who were involved in the attack – and we will hold them accountable for their crimes.”

“The apprehension of Mustafa al-Imam demonstrates our unwavering commitment to holding accountable all of those responsible for the murders of four brave Americans in a terrorist attack in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia.  “Together with our law enforcement partners, we will do all that we can to pursue justice against those who commit terrorist acts against the United States, no matter how far we must go and how long it takes.”

Mustafa al-Imam is charged in a recently unsealed three-count criminal complaint.  The complaint, which was filed under seal on May 19, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges al-Imam with:

  • Killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility involving the use of a firearm and dangerous weapon and attempting and conspiring to do the same.
  • Providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death.
  • Discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.Al-Imam is in U.S. custody, and upon his arrival to the U.S. he will be presented before a federal judge in Washington, D.C.

Read the full announcement here.

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Three Fraudsters Sentenced For @StateDept Exchange Visitor Program Scheme

Posted: 1:46 am ET
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Via USDOJ: Three Sentenced for Orchestrating a Nationwide Exchange Visitor Program Fraud Scheme

Acting United States Attorney Steve Butler of the Southern District of Alabama, U.S. Department of State Inspector General Steve A. Linick, and Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer, Jr. of the New Orleans Field Office announce that lead defendant David Marzano of Zephyr Cove, Nevada, has been sentenced to 26 months in federal prison.  His prison sentence will be followed by 3 years of supervised release.  Marzano was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $815,570.00.  Marzano’s co-defendants, Laura Blair also of Zephyr Cove and Janece Burke of Deerfield, Illinois, were each sentenced to 5 years of probation.   The court order Blair to pay $815,570.00, and Burke to pay $271,856.67 in restitution.

In 2002, David Marzano pled guilty in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia to a conspiracy involving the unlawful smuggling of aliens.  The conviction stemmed from a staffing agency Marzano operated in the Atlanta area that utilized an illegal alien workforce.   For that offense, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

After getting out of prison, Marzano began using the aliases “Paul Cohen” and “David Cole,” and started a series of new staffing agencies and shell companies based in Chicago, Illinois.  At the time of his arrest Marzano was the CEO of Bullseye Jobs and the former Director of the predecessor company, Hospitality & Catering Management Services.  Marzano’s adult daughter Janece Burke, a.k.a., “Paula Delaney,” “Paula Lawton,” “Jane Moore,” and “Danielle Young,” was the President of Bullseye, and Marzano’s wife Laura Blair, a.k.a., “Jean Cox,” was the company’s Marketing Director.  Together, and with the assistance of others, these defendants engaged in a massive, nationwide fraud scheme designed to unlawfully profit from U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Programs.

As was set out in the Indictment, in 1961, Congress passed the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961.  The purpose of the Act was to increase mutual understanding between people in the United States and people from other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges that assist the U.S. Department of State in furthering the foreign policy objectives of the United States.

These educational and cultural exchanges are administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program and governed by specific regulations set out in 22 C.F.R. Part 62.  Annually, more than 275,000 foreign nationals from all over the world enter the United States through one of the Exchange Visitor Programs.  These programs include the Summer Work & Travel Program (“SWT Program”) and the Intern & Training Program (“I/T Program”).

Unlike the SWT Program, the I/T Program is limited to training, and is not an employment program.  As such, regulations specifically prohibit employers from using I/T Program participants as substitutes for ordinary employment or work purposes.  Furthermore, staffing agencies are expressly prohibited from being involved in the I/T Program.

Since the defendants were operating several staffing agencies, the only way to get organizations to sponsor I/T Program participants of the defendants’ companies was to fraudulently misrepresent the true nature of their businesses.   This was primarily done via e-mail between the defendants — who operated under numerous aliases— and sponsor organizations.  In addition, the defendants created various shell companies with names that closely resembled well-known corporations.  One such shell company was Crowne Partnership Group, which, despite representations made by the defendants, had no association with Crowne Plaza Hotels.

As a result of their fraud scheme, more than 200 foreign nationals came to the United States believing that they would be part of the Department of State’s I/T Program.  As the Court heard from victims who testified at the hearing or who submitted victim impact letters, the thousands of dollars necessary to enroll in the program and travel to the United States was a major hardship for many of the foreign victims.  They believed the investment was worth it as the training received through the I/T Program would allow them to return to their home country with much better prospects for being hired as an upper-level executive in foreign-based U.S. companies.  However, rather than receiving the high-level managerial training they expected, the victims were pawned off as cheap foreign labor to restaurants, hotels, and theme parks.  The victims were also required to live in housing arranged by the defendants’ companies.  The businesses where the victims worked paid Marzano directly, but the victims only received a small portion of the wages they earned.

On May 12, 2015, David Marzano and Laura Blair were arrested at Tampa International Airport.  Janece Burke was arrested that same morning in Deerfield, Illinois.  Contemporaneous with the arrests, multiple search warrants were executed in Florida and Nevada.

On June 22, 2015, Janece Burke pled guilty to conspiring with Marzano and Blair to commit wire and mail fraud.  Thereafter, Burke began cooperating with the United States.  Laura Blair pled guilty to the conspiracy charge on April 4, 2016.  That same day, David Marzano pled guilty to the conspiracy charge, as well as a charge for substantive wire fraud, and began cooperating with the United States as well.  The extensive cooperation by both Burke and Marzano has led to various administrative and criminal actions related to other fraud schemes within the I/T Program and other State Department initiatives.

Acting United States Attorney Steve Butler lauded the extensive partnership between the Department of State Office of Inspector General and the Mobile Office of Homeland Security Investigations in shutting down this major fraud scheme.  “The defendants falsely and fraudulently misrepresented the nature of their businesses, which caused real harm to over two hundred victims across the world,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Butler.  “These were vulnerable victims who believed they were coming to the United States to receive high-level training, but who were unfortunately subject to a cruel bait-and-switch.  My office will continue to aggressively prosecute those who seek to defraud vulnerable victims.”

Inspector General Steve A. Linick commended the work of those involved in investigating the case from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State. “We are proud to have played a key role in investigating and bringing to justice those who exploit U.S. Department of State programs, such as these, for personal gain.”

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Ray Parmer stated, “Mail and wire fraud can have a devastating impact on victims.  In this case, people expected to come to this country legally and get training and experience.  However, the greed of these three individuals turned trusting people into cheap foreign labor.  HSI will continue to work with our partner law enforcement agencies to ensure we bring those guilty of committing these crimes to justice.”  The New Orleans Field Office, run by Special Agent in Charge Parmer, is responsible for criminal investigations in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

This matter was jointly investigated by the U.S. Department of State – Office of Inspector General and HSI-Mobile.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Bodnar of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.

 

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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.