October 19, 2021

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Return Preparer Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States

16 min read
<div>A Florida return preparer pleaded guilty yesterday in the Southern District of Florida to conspiracy to defraud the United States.</div>
A Florida return preparer pleaded guilty yesterday in the Southern District of Florida to conspiracy to defraud the United States.

More from: September 16, 2021

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  • Leon DeKalb: U.S. Probation’s First Black Officer
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    Leon Elmer DeKalb made history nearly 80 years ago when he became the first African American probation officer in the federal court system.
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  • U.S. Postal Service: Better Use of Climate Data Could Enhance the Climate Resilience of Postal Facilities
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO's analysis of the United States Postal Service's (USPS) data found that about 1,065 USPS facilities—about 3 percent of USPS's over 32,000 facilities—sustained damage from 21 weather-related natural disasters from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. The damage, from floods, hurricanes, winter storms and other disasters, cost USPS over $30 million and ranged from broken flag poles to collapsed sections of buildings. USPS officials noted that any amount paid to repair damage is a challenge given USPS's poor financial condition. Impact of Most Costly Weather-Related Natural Disasters on the U.S. Postal Service's Facilities, Fiscal Years 2015–2019 GAO's analysis of USPS and federal climate data found that about one-third (just over 10,000) of USPS's facilities are in areas that may be affected by one or more potential climate change effects including flooding, storm surge, sea level rise, and wildfires. Most of the facilities at risk are post offices, but about one-third of USPS's mail processing and distribution facilities, which are crucial to USPS's ability to process and deliver mail, are also at risk. USPS has taken steps to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities, but its practices are not consistent with its policy to assess climate risk early in its investment process. Several factors can affect USPS's efforts to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities, including competing priorities for limited financial resources and a universal service mission that necessitates having facilities in all parts of the country—even in areas at heightened risk from climate change. Nevertheless, USPS has taken steps to incorporate climate resilience, such as adding resilience requirements to its facility guidance and developing a mapping tool to analyze climate data in its facility investment process. However, USPS currently uses these data at the end of the process, rather than in the preliminary planning steps, as specified in USPS policy. Using the data earlier could help USPS enhance the resilience of its facilities to climate change and ensure that Americans continue to have access to mail that they depend upon. Why GAO Did This Study USPS has one of the largest asset portfolios in the United States. Its post offices and other facilities are essential to the processing and delivery of mail, which millions of Americans rely on for communication and commerce. Weather-related natural disasters resulting from extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, can damage USPS's facilities and present financial and operational risks. According to a recent study, some extreme weather events are projected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Investing in climate resilience—taking actions to reduce potential damage by planning for extreme weather events—can help to manage climate change risks. GAO was asked to review the climate resilience of USPS's facilities. This report addresses: (1) how USPS's facilities have been affected by recent weather-related natural disasters; (2) the extent to which USPS's facilities may be affected by climate change effects; and (3) the extent to which USPS has taken steps to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities. GAO analyzed USPS facilities' data and financial data as well as federal climate data; reviewed prior GAO work on climate resilience, the Fourth National Climate Assessment , USPS policies and facility inspection reports; and interviewed USPS officials.
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  • Aircraft Carriers: Homeport Changes Are Primarily Determined by Maintenance Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Navy has a process for proposing and implementing homeport changes that considers a range of factors. The first key step in this process involves the Navy developing and updating an annual plan, known as the Strategic Laydown and Dispersal Plan, that guides the Navy's positioning of operating forces worldwide. Based on the plan, fleet commanders then identify requirements for any changes to homeports and submit requests to schedule a homeport change. Throughout the process, Navy leadership and a working group of stakeholders from across the Navy provide input and analysis. Among other things , the working group develops and assesses proposed changes among the possible aircraft carrier homeports based on their expertise and evaluates various homeport installation factors, such as maintenance dry docks (see figure) or ship power and maintenance facilities. The Navy also considers local factors including crew support and quality of life, such as schools and morale, and possible impacts to the natural and physical environment. The Navy has strengthened its process by implementing prior GAO recommendations, and has other planned actions underway to further improve and update its guidance. Recent Navy Aircraft Carrier Homeport Locations and Dry Dock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard The Navy made 15 aircraft carrier homeport changes in fiscal years 2011 through 2020 among the five available homeports. The driving factor for all 15 changes was maintenance. For example, 10 of the 15 changes involved ships moving to or returning from shipyards in Bremerton or Norfolk for planned dry-dock maintenance or midlife refueling. In 2015 and 2019, the Navy decided to homeport aircraft carriers in Bremerton and San Diego because Everett lacked nuclear maintenance facilities, which were available at the Navy's other aircraft carrier homeport locations. Previously, carriers homeported in Everett received regularly scheduled maintenance at the shipyard in Bremerton but did not conduct an official homeport change. The Navy reported that during these maintenance periods that lasted 6 months or more, the crew commuted 3 to 4 hours daily, which negatively affected maintenance and crew morale. As a result, the Navy decided not to return an aircraft carrier to Everett. According to Navy officials, factors in addition to maintenance needs also informed the changes, including a long-held plan to homeport three aircraft carriers in San Diego. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy relies on 11 aircraft carriers homeported on the East and West Coasts and in Japan to support U.S. defense strategic objectives and operations. These nuclear-powered ships require complex infrastructure, technology, and maintenance, some of which may not be available near their homeport. Changing an aircraft carrier's homeport means moving the ship's approximately 3,200 sailors, a fluctuation of 5,000 or more people depending on the number of family members involved. In House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the House Armed Services Committee noted that the Navy reversed previous plans to homeport an aircraft carrier at Naval Station Everett, Washington. The House Report also included a provision for GAO to review the Navy's process to assign aircraft carriers' homeports. This report examines, for Navy aircraft carriers, (1) the extent to which the Navy has a process for making homeport changes, and considers local installation and other factors in the homeporting process, and (2) homeport changes from fiscal years 2011 through 2020 and the reasons for them. GAO analyzed Navy instructions and related policies, laws, and regulations; homeport plans and maintenance schedules; and fiscal years 2011–2020 documentation of homeport changes. GAO also interviewed Navy officials, including from relevant commands and homeports. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov.
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  • Overseas Contingency Operations: Alternatives Identified to the Approach to Fund War- Related Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Selected Department of Defense (DOD) components use coding and other internal control activities to separately account for overseas contingency operations (OCO) and base amounts in their operation and maintenance (O&M) accounts during budget execution. To record and track OCO and base amounts separately, the military services, U.S. Special Operations Command, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency use coding in their financial systems. These DOD components also have instituted some internal control activities to help ensure separation of OCO amounts. For example, Army and Defense Security Cooperation Agency officials stated that the financial systems they use incorporate system controls that automatically maintain the categories of funding, such as OCO, designated during allotment through subsequent actions to ensure the OCO coding remains throughout budget execution. GAO identified at least four alternatives to the processes used to separate funding for DOD's OCO and base activities: Move enduring costs to the base budget. DOD could request funding for enduring costs—costs that would continue in the absence of contingency operations—through its base budget rather than its OCO budget. Use specific purpose language. Congress could use legally binding language in the annual DOD appropriations acts to specify the purposes—programs, projects and activities—for which OCO amounts may be obligated. Create separate appropriation accounts. Congress could create separate appropriation accounts for OCO and base funding. Use a transfer account. Congress could appropriate funds for OCO into a non-expiring transfer account. DOD would fund OCO with its base budget and later reimburse its base accounts using funds from a transfer account. Implementing these alternatives would require Congress and DOD to take action in different phases of the budget process (see figure). Alternatives for Funding for DOD's OCO and Base Activities in Phases of the Budget Process Each alternative includes tradeoffs that Congress and DOD would have to consider to strike the desired balance between agency flexibility and congressional control. The alternatives, and GAO's summary of their positive and negative aspects identified by questionnaire respondents, could be a reference for Congress and DOD as they consider potential changes to processes for separating the funding of amounts for OCO and base activities. Why GAO Did This Study Since 2001, DOD has received more than $1.8 trillion in OCO funds. DOD defines “contingency operations” as small, medium, or large-scale military operations, while “base” activities include operating support for installations, civilian pay, and other costs that would be incurred, regardless of contingency operations. Congress separately appropriates amounts for base and OCO activities into the same appropriation accounts and directs how funds are to be spent by designating amounts in conference reports or explanatory statements accompanying the annual appropriations acts. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision for GAO to report on the feasibility of separating OCO expenditures from other DOD expenditures. This report (1) describes internal controls that selected DOD components use to separately account for OCO and base amounts during budget execution and (2) identifies and examines alternatives that Congress or DOD could use to separate funding for OCO and base activities. GAO reviewed documentation of DOD internal controls for separating OCO and base amounts in the O&M account, interviewed financial management officials, and, among other things, conducted a literature review to identify alternatives that Congress or DOD could use to separate funding for OCO and base activities. Also, GAO administered a questionnaire to DOD and non-DOD officials to identify positive and negative aspects of these alternatives. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems: DOD Needs to More Effectively Promote Interoperability and Improve Performance Assessments
    In U.S GAO News
    Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) consist of an unmanned aircraft; sensor, communications, or weapons, carried on board the aircraft, collectively referred to as payloads; and ground controls. UAS have been used successfully in recent operations, and are in increasingly high demand by U.S. forces. To meet the demand, the Department of Defense (DOD) is increasing its investment in and reliance on UAS, and often deploying them while still in development. GAO has previously found that DOD's approach to developing and fielding UAS risked interoperability problems which could undermine joint operations. GAO was asked to review (1) UAS performance in recent joint operations and (2) the soundness of DOD's approach to evaluating joint UAS operational performance.DOD has achieved certain operational successes using UAS, including identifying time-critical targets in Iraq and Afghanistan, and striking enemy positions to defeat opposing forces. Some missions effectively supported joint operations, and in other cases, the missions were service-specific. DOD has encountered challenges which have hampered joint operations at times. First, some UAS cannot easily transmit and receive data with other communication systems because they are not interoperable. Although DOD guidance requires interoperability, detailed standards for interoperability have not been developed; DOD has relied on existing, more general standards; and the services developed differing systems. For now, U.S. forces have developed technical patches permitting transmission but slowing data flow, potentially hampering time-critical targeting. Second, some sensor payloads cannot be interchangeably used on different UAS because DOD has not adopted a payload commonality standard. Some UAS missions may have to be delayed if compatible unmanned aircraft and payloads are not available. Based on its experience with UAS in Persian Gulf operations, U.S. Central Command believes communications interoperability and payload commonality problems occur because the services' UAS development programs have been service-specific and insufficiently attentive to joint needs. Lastly, the electromagnetic spectrum needed to control the flight of certain unmanned aircraft and to transmit data is constrained and no standard requiring the capability to change frequencies had been adopted because the problem was not foreseen. Thus, some systems cannot change to avoid congestion and consequently some missions have been delayed, potentially undermining time-critical targeting. In addition to the joint operational challenges, inclement weather can also hamper UAS operations. Unmanned aircraft are more likely to be grounded in inclement weather than manned aircraft and DOD had not decided whether to require all-weather capability. While DOD has acknowledged the need to improve UAS interoperability and address bandwidth and weather constraints, little progress has been made. Until DOD adopts and enforces interoperability and other standards, these challenges will likely remain and become more widespread as new UAS are developed and fielded. DOD's approach to evaluating UAS joint operational performance has been unsound because it was not systematic or routine. DOD has deployed UAS before developing a joint operations performance measurement system, even though results-oriented performance measures can be used to monitor progress toward agency goals. DOD has generally relied on after-action and maintenance reports which have useful but not necessarily joint performance information. DOD has also relied on short-duration study teams for some performance information but had not established ongoing or routine reporting systems. Thus, while continuing to invest in UAS, DOD has incomplete performance information on joint operations on which to base acquisition or modification decisions. In May 2005, U.S. Strategic Command began developing joint performance measures.
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  • 2021 Annual Report: New Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Billions in Financial Benefits
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found GAO identified 112 new actions for Congress or executive branch agencies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. For example: The Office of Management and Budget should improve how agencies buy common goods and services—such as medical supplies and computers—by addressing data management challenges and establishing performance metrics to help save the federal government billions of dollars over the next 5 years, as well as potentially eliminate duplicative contracts. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could enhance third-party information reporting to increase compliance with tax laws and raise revenue. GAO has also previously suggested (1) providing IRS with authority—with appropriate safeguards—to correct math errors and to correct errors in cases where information provided by the taxpayer does not match information in government databases and (2) establishing requirements for paid tax return preparers to help improve the accuracy of tax returns they prepare. These actions could help reduce the substantial tax gap and increase revenues. The National Nuclear Security Administration could implement cost savings programs to operate more effectively at its nuclear laboratory and production sites to potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars over approximately a 5-year period. The Department of Defense's payments to privatized housing projects have lessened the financial effects of the housing allowance rate reductions for these projects, but revising the calculation for these payments could potentially result in millions of dollars of savings. Federal agencies could improve coordination of fragmented cybersecurity requirements and related assessment programs for state agencies, potentially minimizing the burden on states and saving millions of dollars in associated federal and state costs. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could improve coordination of its infectious disease modeling efforts to better identify any duplication and overlap among agencies, which could help them to better plan for and more efficiently respond to disease outbreaks. From 2011 to 2021, GAO has identified more than 1,100 actions to reduce costs, increase revenues, and improve agencies' operating effectiveness. GAO's last report in May 2020 said progress made in addressing many of the actions identified from 2011 to 2019 had resulted in approximately $429 billion in financial benefits, including $393 billion that accrued through 2019 and $36 billion that was projected to accrue in future years. Since May 2020, at least tens of billions of dollars in additional financial benefits have been achieved. For example, based on GAO's updates for spring 2021, HHS's changes to spending limit determinations for Medicaid demonstration waivers further reduced federal spending by about $30 billion in 2019. GAO estimates that tens of billions of additional dollars could be saved should Congress and executive branch agencies fully address open actions, including those that have potential financial benefits of $1 billion or more. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government has made an unprecedented financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic recedes and the economy substantially recovers, Congress and the administration will need to develop and swiftly implement an approach to place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path. In the short term, opportunities exist for achieving billions of dollars in financial savings and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a wide range of federal programs in other areas. GAO has responded with annual reports to a statutory provision for it to identify and report on federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives—either within departments or government-wide—that have duplicative goals or activities. GAO also identifies areas that are fragmented or overlapping, as well as additional opportunities to achieve cost savings or enhance revenue collection. This report discusses the new areas identified in GAO's 2021 annual report—the 11th in this series—and examples of open actions recommended to Congress or executive branch agencies with potential financial benefits of $1 billion or more. To identify what actions exist to address these issues, GAO reviewed and updated select prior work, including matters for congressional consideration and recommendations for executive action. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-6806 or lucasjudyj@gao.gov or Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or sagerm@gao.gov.
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