Former NGO Procurement Official Pleads Guilty to Bribery

A former non-governmental organization (NGO) procurement official pleaded guilty today to paying bribes to NGO procurement officers in exchange for sensitive procurement information related to NGO contracts funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  These contracts were for the procurement of food and supplies that would ultimately be provided to those affected by various humanitarian crises, including refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin of the District of Columbia, and Inspector General Ann Calvaresi Barr for the USAID Office of Inspector General (OIG) made the announcement.

Ernest Halilov, 42, a citizen of Turkmenistan, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia to one charge of federal programs bribery.  Sentencing is scheduled for March 26, 2021.

According to admissions as part of his plea agreement, from January 2011 through December 2016, Halilov coordinated a bid-rigging scheme to bid on contracts procured by NGOs and funded by USAID, to support the agency’s response to various humanitarian crises.  Specifically, Halilov bribed two NGO officers in order to obtain confidential procurement information, such as bid evaluation information, specifications, and internal vendor rankings.  In turn, Halilov would provide this information to his preferred companies in exchange for kickbacks, ensuring that the companies had an advantage over other bidders, thus increasing their ability to win NGO-procured contracts.  Halilov also admitted that he instructed a witness to lie to law enforcement agents and destroy emails related to the investigation.

USAID-OIG investigated this case.  Trial Attorney Laura Connelly of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Scotland Morris of the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case.  In addition, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided critical investigative assistance and in securing the defendant’s extradition from Ukraine.  The Department of Justice also appreciates the significant cooperation and assistance provided by authorities in the Ukraine.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) oversight of federally operated health care facilities' decision-making process about the use of funds has been limited and inconsistent. Funds include those from appropriations, as well as payments from federal programs, such as Medicaid and from private insurance, for care provided by IHS to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). While some oversight functions are performed at IHS headquarters, the agency has delegated primary responsibility for the oversight of health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds to its area offices. Area office officials said the oversight they provide has generally included (1) reviewing facilities' scope of services, and (2) reviewing facilities' proposed expenditures. However, GAO's review found that this oversight was limited and inconsistent across IHS area offices, in part, due to a lack of consistent agency-wide processes. While IHS officials from all nine area offices GAO interviewed said they reviewed facilities' scope of services and coordinated with tribes when doing so, none reported systematically reviewing the extent to which their facilities' services were meeting local health needs, such as by incorporating the results of community health assessments. Such assessments can involve the collection and assessment of data, as well as the input of local community members and leaders to identify and prioritize community needs. These assessments can be used by facilities to assess their resources and identify priorities for facility investment. While IHS has identified such assessments as a priority, the agency does not require federally operated facilities to conduct such assessments or require the area offices to use them as they review facilities' scope of services. To ensure that facilities are effectively managing their resources, IHS has a process to guide its review of facilities' proposed construction projects that cost at least $25,000. However, IHS does not have a similar process to guide its oversight of other key proposed expenditures, such as those involving the purchase of major medical equipment, the hiring of providers, or the expansion of services. Specifically, GAO found limitations and inconsistencies with respect to requiring a documented justification for proposed expenditures; documenting the review and approval of decisions; and conducting an impact assessment on patient access, cost, and quality of care. The limitations and inconsistencies that GAO found in IHS's oversight are driven by the lack of consistent oversight processes across the area offices. Without establishing a systematic oversight process to compare federally operated facilities' current services to population needs, and to guide the review of facilities' proposed expenditures, IHS cannot ensure that its facilities are identifying and investing in projects to meet the greatest community needs, and therefore that federal resources are being maximized to best serve the AI/AN population. IHS, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides care to AI/AN populations through a system of federally operated and tribally operated health care facilities. AI/AN have experienced long standing problems accessing needed health care services. GAO has previously reported that IHS has not been able to pay for all eligible health care services; however, the resources available to federally operated facilities have recently grown. This report assesses IHS oversight of federal health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds. GAO reviewed IHS policies and documents; and interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, nine area offices, and three federally operated facilities (two hospitals and one health clinic). GAO recommends that IHS develop processes to guide area offices in (1) systematically assessing how federally operated facilities will effectively meet the needs of their patient populations, and (2) reviewing federal facilities' spending proposals. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
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    Federal and state courts reported a combined 10 percent increase in authorized wiretaps in 2019, compared with 2018, according to the Judiciary’s 2019 Wiretap Report. Convictions in cases involving electronic surveillance also increased.
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  • Texas Man Charged In $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud
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    A Dallas-area man was charged in an indictment filed Thursday for his alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking approximately $24.8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Justice Department Requires Divestiture of Credit Karma Tax for Intuit to Proceed with Acquisition of Credit Karma
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it is requiring Intuit Inc. and Credit Karma Inc. (Credit Karma) to divest Credit Karma’s tax business, Credit Karma Tax, to Square Inc. in order for Intuit, the creator of TurboTax, to proceed with its $7.1 billion acquisition of Credit Karma.  The department said that without this divestiture, the proposed transaction would substantially lessen competition for digital do-it-yourself (DDIY) tax preparation products, which are software programs used by American taxpayers to prepare and file their federal and state returns.
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    A Connecticut man was charged yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with assaulting an officer during the breach of the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. He will be presented in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today, before appearing in Washington D.C. 
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    The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with Collabera, Inc., a Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based information technology (IT) staffing agency.  The settlement resolves the department’s claims that Collabera violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) when it discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizens.
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  • Four Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Indicted for COVID-Relief Fraud
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    Four individuals were charged in an indictment for their alleged participation in a scheme to submit at least 35 fraudulent loan applications seeking over $5.6 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Aviation Consumer Protection: Increased Transparency Could Help Build Confidence in DOT’s Enforcement Approach
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Transportation's (DOT) enforcement approach generally uses a range of methods to encourage compliance with consumer protection regulations, including conducting outreach and information-sharing, issuing guidance, and sending non-punitive warning letters for those violations that do not rise to the level that warrants a consent order. DOT usually enters into consent orders when it has evidence of systematic or egregious violations. Such orders are negotiated between DOT and violators (e.g., airlines) and typically include civil penalties. DOT officials see benefits from using consent orders, which can include credits for actions taken to benefit consumers or to improve the travel environment. Annual consent orders increased from 20 in 2008 to 62 in 2012, but then generally declined to a low of eight in 2019. GAO's analysis showed that the decline in consent orders was most marked among those issued against non-air carrier entities (e.g., travel agents), those addressing certain types of violations such as advertising, and orders containing smaller civil penalty amounts. DOT officials said that the agency did not change its enforcement practices during this time. Examples of DOT's Compliance Promotion and Enforcement Efforts Airlines and consumer advocates GAO interviewed said that DOT's enforcement process lacked transparency, including into how investigations were conducted and resolved and about when and why DOT takes enforcement actions. Moreover, DOT publishes limited information related to the results of its enforcement activities, notably information about the number and type of consumer complaints it receives as well as issued consent orders. DOT does not publish other information such as aggregated data about the number or nature of open and closed investigations or issued warning letters. DOT is taking some actions to increase transparency, such as developing a publicly available handbook, but none of those actions appears to fully address the identified information gaps such as information about the results of investigations. Some other federal agencies provide more information about enforcement activities, including publishing warning letters or data about such letters. Publishing additional information about how DOT conducts investigations and enforcement, and about the results of enforcement activities, could improve stakeholders' understanding of DOT's process and help build confidence in its approach. Consumer advocates, airlines, and other stakeholders have raised concerns about how DOT enforces aviation consumer protection requirements. DOT has the authority to enforce requirements protecting consumers against unfair and deceptive practices, discrimination on the basis of disability or other characteristics, and other harms. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 contained a provision for GAO to review DOT's enforcement of consumer protection requirements. This report examines: (1) DOT's approach to the enforcement of aviation consumer protections and the results of its efforts, and (2) selected stakeholder views on this approach and steps DOT has taken to address identified concerns. GAO reviewed DOT data on consent orders and consumer complaints; reviewed other DOT documentation related to its enforcement program; interviewed DOT officials and selected industry and consumer stakeholders, including advocacy organizations, which we identified from prior work and a literature review; and identified leading practices for regulatory enforcement. GAO is making two recommendations, including: that DOT publish information describing the process it uses to enforce consumer protections, and that DOT take additional steps to provide transparency into the results of its efforts. DOT concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • GPS Modernization: DOD Continuing to Develop New Jam-Resistant Capability, But Widespread Use Remains Years Away
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) is closer to being able to use military code (M-code)—a stronger, more secure signal for the Global Positioning System (GPS) designed to meet military needs. However, due to the complexity of the technology, M-code remains years away from being widely fielded across DOD. M-code-capable receiver equipment includes different components, and the development and manufacture of each is key to the modernization effort. These include: special M-code application-specific integrated circuit chips, special M-code receiver cards, being developed under the Air Force Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) programs, and the next generation of GPS receivers capable of using M-code signals from GPS satellites. DOD will need to integrate all of these components into different types of weapon systems (see figure for notional depiction of integration for one system). Integration across DOD will be a considerable effort involving hundreds of different weapon systems, including some with complex and unique integration needs or configurations. Global Positioning System User Equipment Integration The Air Force is almost finished—approximately one year behind schedule—developing and testing one M-code card for testing on the Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Army Stryker vehicle. However, one card intended for use in aircraft and ships is significantly delayed and missed key program deadlines. The Air Force is revising its schedule for testing this card. The M-code card development delays have had ripple effects on GPS receiver modernization efforts and the weapon systems that intend to use them. For example, an Air Force receiver modernization effort that depends on the new technology will likely breach its schedule and incur additional costs because of the delay. In turn, DOD planned to incorporate that receiver into its F/A-18 fighter aircraft, AV-8B strike aircraft, and the MH-53E helicopter, but it no longer plans to do so because of the delay. DOD has not yet determined the full extent of the development effort to widely integrate and field M-code receivers across the department. The amount of additional development and integration work is expected to vary for each weapon system and could range from a few weeks to several years. DOD is taking steps to enable fielding modernized receivers that use M-code cards by working to identify integration and production challenges. DOD has been developing the capability to use its more jam-resistant military-specific GPS signal for 2 decades. The Air Force launched the first GPS satellite capable of broadcasting the M-code signal in 2005, but is only now completing development of the software and other equipment needed to use it. The GPS modernization effort spans DOD and the military services, but an Air Force program office is developing M-code cards for eventual production and integration into weapon systems. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision that the Air Force provide quarterly reports to GAO on next-generation GPS acquisition programs, and that GAO brief congressional defense committees. Since 2016, GAO has provided briefings and reported on various aspects of GPS. This report discusses DOD's progress and challenges (1) developing M-code receiver cards, and (2) developing receivers and taking other steps to make M-code-capable receivers available for fielding. GAO reviewed schedules and cost estimates for the Air Force's MGUE programs; military service and DOD M-code implementation data; and test and integration plans for aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles. GAO also reviewed strategies for continued access to microelectronics and interviewed officials from the MGUE programs, military services, and DOD, and representatives from microelectronics developers. For more information, contact Jon Ludwigson at (202) 512-4841 or ludwigsonj@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Settles Claim Against Texas IT Company for Using Job Advertisements that Discriminated Against and Deterred U.S. Workers in Favor of Temporary Visa Holders
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    The Justice Department today announced that it signed a settlement agreement with Ikon Systems, LLC (Ikon), an IT staffing and recruiting company based in Texas.
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