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.

 

Operation Island Express II Nets Two Document Suppliers in Puerto Rican Identity Trafficking Scheme

Posted: 1:14 am ET
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On March 14, 2017, USDOJ announced that two identity document suppliers were sentenced to prison for their role in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents:

Francisco Matos-Beltre, 43, a Dominican national who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, formerly of Philadelphia, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. Isaias Beltre-Matos, 46, a Dominican national and legal permanent resident formerly of Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. Both defendants were sentenced before U.S. District Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez of the District of Puerto Rico. Beltre-Matos pleaded guilty on Aug. 10, 2016, to conspiracy to commit identification fraud and commit human smuggling for financial gain. Matos-Beltre pleaded guilty on Sept. 14, 2016, to conspiracy to commit identification fraud and commit human smuggling for financial gain.

According to admissions made in connection with the pleas, identity document runners located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators, identified as identity document suppliers and brokers, located in various cities throughout the United States allegedly solicited customers for the sale of social security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $400 to $1,200 per set. The defendants also admitted that the conspirators used the U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.

According to the pleas, Beltre-Matos admitted that he sold identity documents to customers, who generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses. Some customers obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport, according to the plea agreement. Matos-Beltre also admitted to being a document supplier and that he bought and transferred identity documents belonging to real people to document brokers. Matos-Beltre admitted that he knew his customers would fraudulently use the documents that he provided.

Diplomatic Security special agents record evidence seized during a training exercise to execute a search warrant in suburban Washington, D.C., July 21, 2009. U.S. Department of State Photo.

USDOJ also announced the contact info for potential victims:

Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report it to the ICE tip line or website.

Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.htmlwww.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.htmlwww.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.

USDOJ credits the Chicago offices of ICE-HSI, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI for leading the investigation, dubbed Operation Island Express II.  Also cited are HSI San Juan and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico, the HSI Assistant Attaché office in the Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2).  Trial Attorneys Marianne Shelvey of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Frank Rangoussis of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico was cited for providing assistance.

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CCTV and Starbucks Receipt Help Identify Zia Zafar in Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

Posted: 2:44 am ET
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Via USDOJ | january 10, 2016 | Zafar Photos

Zia Zafar, 31, of Chino Hills, California, made his initial appearance here today after being charged with the attempted murder of a diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

According to the criminal complaint, on January 6, Zafar disguised himself and followed a Vice Consul of the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara through a parking garage to his vehicle. After the Vice Consul got into his car and drove towards the garage exit, Zafar allegedly shot him once in the chest and fled. The Vice Consul was taken to a local hospital, where he currently remains. Zafar was subsequently detained by Mexican authorities.

Zafar was deported from Mexico yesterday afternoon and arrived in the United States last night. He was immediately arrested and charged with attempted murder of an internationally protected person. Zafar faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Bill A. Miller, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement after Zafar’s initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Sloan, and Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.

The FBI and DSS are investigating the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The Justice Department notes that the charges in the criminal complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Zafar was charged with the attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, an “internationally protected person outside the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1116(a)”.  Court records  indicate that Zafar is represented by Whitney E.C. Minter of the Office of the Federal Public Defender (Alexandria, VA).

Below is an excerpt from the affidavit executed by David J. DiMarco, Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in support of criminal complaint application and arrest warrant in this case:

Probable Cause and Details of the Investigation

8. On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Avenida 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.

9. 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 a payment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, he saw 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.

10. 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 Ashcrafl exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The video then shows ZAFAR following Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to a different area of the 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.

Identification of ZIA ZAFAR

1 1. On or about January 7, 2017, Mexican law enforcement obtained surveillance video from a nearby Starbucks located at Avenida Vallarta #3300, Guadalajara, Mexico. The Starbucks video, dated January 6, 2017, shows an individual matching the description of the above-referenced shooter. Mexican law enforcement obtained a Starbucks receipt dated January 6, 2017, 5:19 p.m. for a purchase totaling 58 Mexican Pesos, paid, by credit card, and signed by the purchaser bearing the name Zafar/Zia.

12. A search of a Mexican Immigration database revealed that ZAFAR, who entered Mexico on a student visa, was born on REDACTED 1985, and holds a U.S. Passport bearing the number REDACTED. A search of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records from California revealed that ZIA ZAFAR, born on REDACTED 1985, holds a California driver’s license bearing the number REDACTED. The records obtained from the Califomia DMV include a signature which bears remarkable similarity to the signature on the aforementioned Starbucks receipt.

13. Mexican Immigration records revealed that ZAFAR reported his local residence in Mexico as in Guadalajara, Mexico. Mexican law enforcement conducted surveillance at the residence on January 7, 2017, at approximately 8:14 p.m. and noted the presence of a Honda Civic with California license plate number 4RZH452. A subsequent check of California DMV records revealed the car was registered to ZAFAR.

14. Mexican law enforcement subsequently detained ZAFAR inside the above-listed residence.

15. 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 fiom the residence.

The court has ordered Zafar’s detention pending trial. In addition to safety of the community, other reasons cited for the detention includes “lack of significant community or family ties to this district”, “significant family or other ties outside the United States”, “history of violence or use weapon”, and “background information unknown or unverified.”

 

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Former DCM’s Spouse Labib Chammas Gets 30 Months in Prison For Sexual Abuse of Household Staff Member

Posted: 12:41 pm ET
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Last October, we posted about the Justice Department’s case against Labib Chammasthe husband of the former DCM at the US Embassy in Rabat, Morocco who pleaded guilty to abusing a member of the household staff who had worked at the embassy residence for 16 years (see Anonymous Letter Outs Sexual Abuse of Household Staff, Former DCM’s Husband Pleads Guilty).

Today, the Justice Department announced that Labib Chammas was sentenced to 30 months in prison for sexually abusing a household staff member

The husband of the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Rabat, Morocco, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for sexually abusing a former household staff member from 2010 to 2013.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Labib Chammas, 65, of McLean, Virginia, pleaded guilty on Oct. 12, 2016, to one count of abusive sexual conduct before U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the District of Columbia.  Judge Cooper also sentenced Chammas to a five-year term of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $15,000 fine.  Chammas is required to register as a sex offender for a period of 15 years.

In pleading guilty, Chammas admitted that between August 2010 and February 2013, while living in State Department-owned housing in Rabat, he sexually abused a woman who had worked at the residence for 16 years.  According to the plea agreement, Chammas supervised the staff at the residence and repeatedly threatened to fire staff members.  Out of fear that she would lose her job, the victim complied with Chammas’s requests that she massage his legs, hip and back, and then with his subsequent demands that she “massage” his genitalia.  On at least five occasions, Chammas took the victim by her head or hair and attempted to force her to perform oral sex.

DSS’s Office of Special Investigations investigated the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Hertzfeld of the District of Columbia and Special Counsel Stacey Luck of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case.

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This case was investigated on February 13. 2013 by DS/OSI agents in Morocco but the individual was not charged and no arrest warrant was issued until May 13, 2016. We’ve previously asked USDOJ about the 3-year gap between the investigation and the filing of charges. At that time, DOJ declined to comment because the case was ongoing. So, we’ll try one more time to request information about the gap in the investigation/filing of charges and will update this when info is available.

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Administrative Leave: A Prerogative to Meet the Needs of the Service, Not/Not an Entitlement

Posted: 12:37  pm RT
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Unlike the MSPB, the Foreign Service Grievance Board does not identify its precedential decisions but the case below on administrative leave is worth noting whether this is precedent setting or not. In this case, FSGB says that administrative leave is 1) not an entitlement, 2) that it is a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service, 3) and that Department was not obligated to provide grievant with an explanation for its decision to deny admin leave.

Via FSGB:

Grievant is a Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent who became involved in an altercation with a local civilian while off duty during a temporary duty (TDY) assignment in Honolulu. This incident resulted in the discharge of his service weapon and the death of the civilian. The State of Hawaii brought criminal charges against grievant, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to represent him, finding that the incident was not the consequence of an official act or performance of his official duties.

For unspecified reasons, the Department placed grievant on administrative leave twice: first, in the aftermath of the shooting, when he was under judicial order not to leave Honolulu, and second, during the pendency of his first trial in 2013 (which resulted in a hung jury). Facing a second trial in 2014, grievant asked the Department to place him on administrative leave again. The Department ultimately denied this latter request and upheld its decision in an agency-level grievance.

Grievant acknowledged that under regulation (3 FAM 3464) the Department has discretionary authority to grant or deny administrative leave. He argued that although the Department is not compelled to grant his request, the weight of both equity and precedent suggest that it should do so. He asserted that the circumstances under which the Department earlier took the initiative to place him on administrative leave are substantially the same as those for which he later requested administrative leave (i.e., for his second trial) and arise from the same incident. He contended that if the Department is to “change” its decision regarding whether to grant him administrative leave, it must provide him an explanation of why it did so.

As the instant appeal does not concern discipline, grievant bears the burden of demonstrating that his grievance is meritorious. We found that grievant had failed to demonstrate that the Department had any obligation to approve his request for administrative leave or that it had violated any law or regulation in not doing so. Finally, we found that the facts of this case do not establish that the Department “changed” its decision; rather, the various decisions it made regarding whether to place grievant on administrative leave were separate, independent decisions. The Board concluded that the Department was not obligated to provide grievant with an explanation for its decision to deny AL. The appeal was denied in its entirety.

Read in full below:

 

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FBI to Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel: “Do you know any foreigners?” #criminalizingdiplomacy

Posted: 1:29  pm ET
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We’ve posted previously about Ambassador Robin Raphel in this blog. See Case Against Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel Ends Without Charges, Who’s Gonna Say Sorry?. Also below:

Today, the Wall Street Journal runs an extensive account of what happened and why this case is a concerning one for American diplomats:

The NSA regularly swept up Pakistani communications “to, from or about” senior U.S. officials working in the country. Some American officials would appear in Pakistani intercepts as often as once a week. What Raphel didn’t realize was that her desire to engage with foreign officials, the very skill set her supervisors encouraged, had put a target on her back.

The FBI didn’t have a clear picture of where Raphel fit on the State Department organizational chart. She was a political adviser with the rank of ambassador but she wasn’t a key policy maker anymore. She seemed to have informal contacts with everyone who mattered in Islamabad—more, even, than the sitting ambassador and the CIA station chief.

[…]
State Department officials said that when they spoke to the FBI agents, they had the feeling they were explaining the basics of how diplomats worked.

At times, Raphel’s colleagues pushed back—warning the FBI that their investigation risked “criminalizing diplomacy,” according to a former official who was briefed on the interviews.

In one interview, the agents asked James Dobbins, who served as SRAP from 2013 to 2014, whether it was OK for Raphel to talk to a Pakistani source about information that wasn’t restricted at the time, but would later be deemed classified.

“If somebody tells you something in one conversation, you might write that up and it becomes classified,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the next time you see them that you can’t talk about what you’d already talked about.”

[…]

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

[…]

Diplomatic Security had yet to restore her security clearance. Some of her friends at the State Department said they believed the FBI opposed the idea.

Kerry and Raphel stood close together for only a couple of minutes. On the sidelines of the noisy gathering, Kerry leaned over and whispered into Raphel’s ear: “I am sorry about what has happened to you.”

Read in full below:

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