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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Weekly Address: Creating New Pathways of Opportunity for Americans Like You

ALASKA NATIONAL GUARD FIGHTING WILDFIRES IN ALASKA

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 

Army Sgt. Sonny Cooper looks back into the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after dropping water from a bambi bucket to support firefighting efforts at Russian Lake near Willow, Alaska, June 15, 2015. Cooper is a crew chief assigned to the Alaska National Guard's 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment. Alaska National Guard photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Kevan Katkus.

An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter drops gallons of water from a bambi bucket onto the Stetson Creek fire near Cooper Landing in Alaska, June 17, 2015. Alaska National Guard photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Balinda O'Neal.



CDC SAYS EARLY TREATMENT OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER MAY SAVE MILLIONS, PREVENT PREMATURE DEATH AND DISABILITY

FROM:  U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
Prevention and early treatment of RMSF in Arizona may save millions by preventing premature death and disability

Several Arizona American Indian communities severely impacted by outbreak, CDC/IHS study finds

The mounting costs of an epidemic of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) among several American Indian tribes in Arizona suggests that prevention and control efforts would be cost effective.  A recent study released by experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indian Health Service (IHS), in partnership with Arizona tribes, describes an estimated $13.2 million in losses linked to the epidemic of RMSF between 2002 and 2011, on two Indian reservations. Cost estimates include medical costs, time off work, and loss of lifetime productivity due to early death. These values underestimate the actual cost of the epidemic because long-term losses from disability and expensive medical procedures are not included. Preventing tick bites is the most important step in preventing severe illness and death from RMSF. CDC, IHS, state, and tribal governments are working together to develop effective prevention programs to gain control of this devastating epidemic.

“Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is completely preventable,” said Naomi Drexler, CDC epidemiologist and one of the study’s authors. “State, federal and tribal health authorities have been working together since the start of the epidemic to build effective community-based tick control programs, and these efforts have produced remarkable reductions in human cases. These programs are costly, but medical expenses and lives lost cost four times more than RMSF prevention efforts. Increasing access to these prevention efforts is critical to save lives and protect communities.”

Published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the study reviewed 205 medical records from two American Indian communities at the center of the epidemic. Over 80 percent of RMSF cases required emergency room visits, 14 percent were admitted to the intensive care unit for severe illness, and 7 percent were fatal. The average cost per death from RMSF ($775,467) is more than five times that of pneumococcal disease ($140,862) in the United States. More than half of RMSF deaths were among children, raising the long-term social costs of the epidemic.

RMSF is a severe disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii and spread through the bite of an infected tick. RMSF begins with non-specific symptoms such as fever and headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes rash. Severely ill patients may require amputation of fingers, toes or limbs due to blood loss; heart and lung specialty care; and management in intensive care units. More than 20 percent of untreated cases are fatal; the average time from the beginning of symptoms to death is only eight days.

U.S. MARSHALS OFFER REWARD FOR NEW YORK PRISON ESCAPEES, ADD MEN TO 15 MOST WANTED LIST

FROM:  U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE
U.S. Marshals Add New York Prison Escapees David Sweat, Richard Matt
To “15 Most Wanted” Fugitives List

Washington – The U.S. Marshals Service today added David Sweat and Richard Matt, the two violent, escapees from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, to its 15 Most Wanted fugitives list.

Sweat and Matt, convicted murderers, escaped June 6 and sparked a massive manhunt by hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers. Sweat was serving a life sentence for the murder of a Broome County (NY) sheriff’s deputy in July 2002. Matt was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the murder of a man he beat and dismembered in December 1997.

“The agency’s 15 Most Wanted fugitive list is reserved for the worst of the worst,” said U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton. “There is no question David Sweat and Richard Matt fall into this category. While their brazen prison escape has left the public on edge, it has only ignited our sheer determination to bring them back to justice. Together with our law enforcement partners, the Marshals will work tirelessly to ensure the threat they pose and their run from the law is short lived.”

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said, "These dangerous men will be brought to justice. We want to assure the public that all available assets are being used to locate Richard Matt and David Sweat. The U.S. Marshals Service's MOST WANTED list is yet another way to notify the public of this escape and generate new leads. We want to thank our state, federal and local law enforcement partners, who continue to provide much needed manpower, equipment and expertise for this effort. We will continue to work together, collectively and collaboratively, until these two men are found."

“We are absolute in our commitment to apprehend these dangerous escapees and will leave no stone unturned with the help of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners during this fugitive investigation,” said Northern District of New York U.S. Marshal David L. McNulty. “Sweat and Matt have violent criminal histories and pose a significant threat to anyone who may come in contact with them.”

For each escapee, the U.S. Marshals Service is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading directly to his apprehension.

DOJ ANNOUNCES GUILTY PLEA IN $228 MILLION TAX REFUND FRAUD CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Friday, June 19, 2015
Operator of O.I.D. Process Pleads Guilty for Involvement in $228 Million Fraudulent Tax Refund Scheme

A California man pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of conspiracy to submit false claims, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California.

According to the plea agreement, Duffy R. Dashner, aka Kevin Dashner, 42, of Reseda, California, and his co-conspirators, including Mark R. Maness, operated a business called O.I.D. Process through which they helped others to prepare and file individual federal income tax returns that claimed false Original Issue Discount (OID) interest income and federal tax withholdings, resulting in fraudulent claims for tax refunds (OID returns).  Dashner and Maness charged clients of O.I.D. Process a non-refundable registration fee to join the organization, and a 20 percent “refund acquisition fee” for any refund check issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Dashner and Maness also operated a website and conducted weekly conference calls with clients to promote their business and to assist clients in preparing and filing OID returns.

Dashner and Maness required clients of O.I.D. Process to change their mailing address with the IRS to the address of another co-conspirator who was an attorney in San Francisco.  As a result, all correspondence from the IRS to the clients and the clients’ OID refund checks were sent to the attorney’s address rather than the clients’ home address.  By receiving the refund checks, Dashner and Maness were able to ensure that they received their 20 percent refund acquisition fee.  O.I.D. Process clients filed approximately 200 fraudulent OID returns claiming refunds that totaled approximately $228 million.

Dashner’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 2 in San Francisco before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California.  The statutory maximum sentence for conspiracy to submit false claims is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  Maness previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to submit false claims against the United States and was sentenced in February 2015 to serve 41 months in prison, and ordered to pay $1,176,668 in restitution to the IRS.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and U.S. Attorney Haag commended the special agents of IRS–Criminal Investigation, who investigated the case, and Trial Attorney Matthew J. Kluge of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael G. Pitman of the Northern District of California, who are prosecuting this case.

SECRETARY KERRY'S STATEMENT ON WORLD REFUGEE DAY

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
World Refugee Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 18, 2015

World Refugee Day, marked on June 20, is a time to honor those who flee violence and persecution and those who help them on their journey.

It’s almost unfathomable that nearly 60 million men, women and children are now displaced inside and outside of their countries. That is the largest number the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has ever counted and 8 million more than the record set just one year ago. We’ve seen haunting images of Syrian families fleeing indiscriminate barrel bombings and young children rescued at sea after days without food. Escaping from bullets, bombs, or machetes is often just the beginning of the ordeal. Refugees remain in exile for an average of 17 years. Some are born and grow up in camps and never get to leave them.

I’ll never forget meeting with refugee leaders on my recent trip to Kenya, where 350,000 mainly Somali refugees live in a remote, dusty camp complex called Dadaab. By video link to Nairobi, I spoke to a group Dadaab’s best students. They told me how they dream of attending university and pursuing careers in medicine, politics and human rights. But they also shared their fears that they would end up trapped and jobless, and that all their striving would be in vain. We cannot let that happen.

For those scattered by violence and oppression, the United States is and will remain their most fervent defender. I am proud that U.S. humanitarian assistance exceeded $6 billion dollars last year. The United States is the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid, and resettles more refugees than any other nation. The resilience, determination, and achievements of the millions resettled here in the United States prove the value and importance of our work. People who have been uprooted deserve more than food, shelter, and medical care. They deserve dignity and respect and the opportunity to build a better future.

We have a duty to the millions stranded away from home, not just to preserve life, but to safeguard hope.

Friday, June 19, 2015

DOD ANNOUNCES 'SIGNIFICANT' GAINS MADE BY ANTI-ISIL FORCES

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
General: ‘Significant’ Gains Made by Anti-ISIL Forces in Northern Syria
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2015 – Anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces have made significant gains in northern Syria, which will have positive effects in Iraq as well, a senior U.S. Central Command official said today.

During a telephone conference from Southwest Asia with Pentagon reporters, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Chief of Staff Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley provided operational updates on coalition and anti-ISIL force efforts in Iraq and Syria.

Closing a Gap

Weidley said the latest operational developments in Syria are focused on the gains anti-ISIL forces have made in northern Syria.

“These anti-ISIL forces,” he said, “which [comprise] ethnic Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turks and non-Kurdish Christians among others, have been making significant gains against [ISIL] for months, including expelling [ISIL] from Kobani and from the Tel Hamis pocket in northeast Syria.”

Weidley said anti-ISIL forces have been conducting operations since early May to close the gap between the two areas.

These efforts, the general said, culminated earlier in the week with ISIL retreating from the Tel Abyad border crossing and abandoning terrain equivalent to “82 times the size of Ramadi -- roughly 4,100 square kilometers.”

“These gains,” Weidley said, “have severed multiple primary and secondary lines of communication in the [ISIL]-dominated territory as well as east-west lines of communication across northern Syria towards Iraq.”

These developments will further constrict ISIL mobility, supply, sustainment and communications within Syria, he said, and will have positive effects for the Iraq portion of the campaign as well.

Iraq Operational Updates

Weidley also discussed the deployment of coalition forces to eastern Anbar Province, adding that the new advise-and-assist and tribal engagement platforms are an extension of existing platforms in Iraq.

“Like existing coalition forces in Iraq,” he said, “these elements partner with the [Iraqi security forces'] operational-level headquarters and tribal leaders to coordinate, integrate and synchronize the unique capabilities that the coalition brings with the operations being conducted by these Iraqi command and leadership nodes.

“We had a good tribal ceremony at this location on Wednesday, in which 500 Sunni tribal fighters attended and were inducted into the Popular Mobilization Forces, including pay and arms,” Weidley added.

Beiji Update

The general said Iraqi security forces and PMF are making steady progress as they increase their footholds in and around Beiji.

“PMF elements are conducting clearing operations within the urban areas,” he said, “and are making measured progress despite a large number of [improvised explosive devices].”

The general said ground forces continue to hold their positions despite small-scale ISIL attacks that include mobile suicide bombs aiming to disrupt security force and PMF efforts.

“The [Iraqi security forces] located at the Beiji Oil Refinery [are] benefitting from reinforcement and resupply capabilities through the line of communication from the south, which the Iraqis have been able to sustain since the last week of May,” Weidley said.

“The fighting continues in and around Beiji and many of the portions of the area remain contested," the general continued. "The [Iraqi security forces] and PMF both report solid progress toward their objectives, so efforts continue in the right direction.”

Weidley said the coalition has conducted numerous air strikes in ISIL support zones located in Huwayjah, Sharkat, and along the Tigris River to the north, including Mosul. “This interdiction has resulted in significant disruption to [ISIL] support to Beiji,” he said.

Ramadi Update

Weidley said he is encouraged by the activities of Iraq’s government, which are setting the stage for a future counterattack in Ramadi.

“Great efforts have been made in advancing organizational, and command and control changes that will facilitate success in future operations,” he said.

Weidley said the coalition views this as a positive step, as the situation in Ramadi is “probably best described as anticipatory,” from both an Iraqi security force and ISIL perspective.

Although ISIL forces continue to prepare their defenses within Ramadi, he said, Iraqi forces are conducting shaping operations and working towards the city’s liberation.

The general described numerous ongoing “shaping” activities, such as securing logistical lines of communications, securing t-road junctions, intersections, key terrain, establishing logistics areas, finalizing planning, rehearsals, preparing equipment and collecting intelligence.

These shaping operations will set the conditions for follow-on operations, Weidley said.

West Wing Week: 06/19/15 or, "Her Map & Compass"

11 CHARGED IN CONSPIRACY TO MANUFACTURE, DISTRIBUTE COUNTERFEIT 5-HOUR ENERGY DRINK

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Friday, June 19, 2015
Eleven Defendants Charged in Nationwide Conspiracy to Manufacture and Distribute Counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY Drink
Defendants Sold Millions of Bottles of Counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY Drink

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California, Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Lisa L. Malinowsk of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Los Angeles Field Office of Criminal Investigations announced today that 10 people were arrested after being charged with conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce.  The defendants were arrested on charges stemming from the illegal distribution and counterfeit of the liquid dietary supplement 5-Hour ENERGY.  One further defendant was not arrested but remains subject to an arrest warrant.

According to the indictment that was unsealed yesterday, all 11 defendants were involved in the illegal repackaging and eventual counterfeiting of 5-Hour ENERGY.  The supplement is owned by a group of entities referred to in the indictment as Living Essentials, which manufactured all 5-Hour ENERGY at factories in Wabash, Indiana.  Living Essentials has registered and owns all 5-Hour ENERGY trademarks and a copyright, including the “5-Hour ENERGY” name and various graphical elements of the product’s labeling and packaging.  The 5-Hour ENERGY trademarks and copyrighted material are displayed on every bottle of 5-Hour ENERGY and display boxes.  Living Essentials does not provide licenses to any individual or entity to manufacture 5-Hour ENERGY.

According to the indictment, defendants Joseph Shayota and Adriana Shayota, his wife, through their company Baja Exporting LLC, agreed with Living Essentials to distribute 5-Hour ENERGY in Mexico.  Living Essentials manufactured the liquid 5-Hour ENERGY product and provided Spanish-language labeling and display boxes to Baja Exporting.  Living Essentials additionally provided Baja a complete product package under the agreement that the 5-Hour ENERGY with Spanish-language labeling was only to be distributed by Baja in Mexico.  Nevertheless, according to the indictment, rather than distributing authentic 5-Hour ENERGY with Spanish-language labeling in Mexico, the defendants attempted instead to divert the product and to sell it in the United States at a higher price.  After initial efforts to sell the product failed because of the Spanish-language labeling and display boxes, the defendants replaced the labeling and display boxes with counterfeit labels and boxes designed to imitate Living Essentials’ packaging in the United States.  The defendants repackaged over 350,000 bottles of 5-Hour ENERGY and sold them in the United States at a price that was 15 percent lower than what Living Essentials charged for authentic United States 5-Hour ENERGY.  By December 2011, Joseph and Adriana Shayota had sold off Baja’s remaining stock of the repackaged/relabeled 5-Hour ENERGY.

Also according to the indictment, by early 2012, the defendants had moved into counterfeiting the entire 5-Hour ENERGY product.  The defendants manufactured the counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY liquid at an unsanitary facility using untrained day workers.  The defendants mixed unregulated ingredients in plastic vats while attempting to mimic the real 5-Hour ENERGY products.

From December 2011 through October 2012, the defendants allegedly ordered more than seven million counterfeit label sleeves and hundreds of thousands of counterfeit display boxes and placed false lot and expiration codes on the bottles and boxes.  The defendants often changed the lot and expiration codes on the counterfeit bottles and boxes to parallel the valid codes being used on the authentic product.

The indictment further alleges that the defendants travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico, and hired manufacturers for the blank plastic bottles and plastic bottle caps imprinted with the Living Essentials-trademarked “Running Man” logo.  They also purchased equipment, including a steam tunnel machine, to shrink-wrap the counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY labels on the counterfeit bottles and an inkjet printer to place false lot numbers and expiration dates on the bottoms of the counterfeit bottles.

The defendants also allegedly used code words in purchase orders and invoices for counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY.  For example, defendants Walid Jamil, Juan Romero and Leslie Roman referred to the counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY liquid contents as “michelada,” “juice blend” and “spices.”

In addition, the indictment alleges that from May 2012 to October 2012, Midwest Wholesale Distributors, a company owned by Jamil, distributed more than four million bottles of counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY into commercial channels throughout the United States.  Midwest sold approximately 508,032 counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY bottles to Baja Exporting and 3,521,232 counterfeit 5-Hour ENERGY bottles to the Dan-Dee Company, which was owned by defendants Kevin Attiq and Raid Attiq.  A partial list of retail vendors and wholesale distributors to whom the alleged counterfeit product was sold is attached.

“The defendants’ alleged conduct demonstrates a complete disregard of the health and safety of consumers,” said U.S. Attorney Haag.  “My office will continue to vigorously prosecute those individuals who place greed over the well-being of the community by distributing counterfeit dietary products.”

“The business of trafficking in counterfeit merchandise harms victims in many ways," said Special Agent in Charge Johnson.  “Intellectual property crimes are anything but victimless.  Intellectual property crimes can destroy jobs, suppress innovation and jeopardize the public health and safety.  In this complex case, the suspects allegedly produced a product to counterfeit a popular dietary supplement that was ultimately consumed by the public.  The FBI and its partners will continue to bring these types of criminals to justice.”

“U.S. consumers rely on FDA oversight of foods to ensure that they are safe and wholesome,” said Special Agent in Charge Malinowski.  “Criminals who produce and sell counterfeit and misbranded dietary supplements put the public health at risk by utilizing unknown and unregulated ingredients that could put the consumer in danger of serious illness or death.  This alleged counterfeit operation was especially egregious as the investigation revealed this product was sold, distributed and placed on the shelves of numerous retailers throughout the United States.  We will continue to investigate violators of our laws and work to bring them to justice.”

The 11 indicted defendants, all of whom are charged with conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce, include:

Joseph Shayota, 63, of El Cajon, California. Shayota was arrested yesterday at his residence.  He made an initial appearance before the Honorable U.S. Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes in the Southern District of California, who ordered him released on $250,000 bond and to surrender his passport.  Shayota’s next scheduled court appearance will be on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before the Honorable U.S. Magistrate Judge Howard R. Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California.

Adriana Shayota, 44, also of El Cajon. Shayota was arrested yesterday at her residence.  She made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stormes in the Southern District of California, who ordered her released on $100,000 bond and to surrender her passport.  Shayota’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Justin Shayota, 32, of Troy, Michigan. Shayota was arrested yesterday at his residence. He made an initial appearance before the Honorable U.S. Magistrate Judge David T. Grand in the Eastern District of Michigan, who ordered him released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and to surrender his passport by noon tomorrow. Shayota’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Walid Jamil, aka Wally Jamil, 65, also of Troy. Jamil self-surrendered to the FBI yesterday. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Grand in the Eastern District of Michigan, who ordered him released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and to surrender his passport by noon tomorrow. Jamil’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Raid Jamil, aka Brian Jamil, 46, of West Bloomfield, Michigan. Jamil surrendered to the FBI yesterday. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Grand in the Eastern District of Michigan, who ordered him released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and to surrender his passport by noon tomorrow. Jamil’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Kevin Attiq, 51, of El Cajon. Attiq was arrested yesterday at his residence. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stormes in the Southern District of California, who released him on $100,000 bond and to surrender his passport. Attiq’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Fadi Attiq, 57, of El Cajon. Attiq was arrested yesterday at his residence. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stormes in the Southern District of California, who released him on $100,000 bond and to surrender his passport. Attiq’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Leslie Roman, 61, of Rancho Cucamonga, California. Roman was arrested yesterday at his residence. He made an initial appearance before the Honorable U.S. Magistrate Judge David T. Bristow in the Central District of California, who released him on $50,000 bond after he surrendered his passport. Roman’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Mario Ramirez, 55, of San Diego.Ramirez was arrested yesterday at his residence. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stormes in the Southern District of California, who released him on $100,000 cash via cashier’s check and ordered him to surrender his passport. Ramirez’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Camilo Ramirez, 30, of San Diego. Ramirez was arrested yesterday at his residence.  He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stormes in the Southern District of California, who released him on $100,000 cash via cashier’s check and ordered him to surrender his passport.  Ramirez’s next scheduled court appearance is on July 9, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lloyd to schedule further proceedings in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Juan Romero, 68, of Upland, California. An arrest warrant remains outstanding for Romero.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  If convicted, the defendants face the following maximum statutory penalties:

For each count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods: 10 years imprisonment, a $2 million fine, three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

For each count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement: five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

For each count of conspiracy to introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce: five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matt Parrella and Susan Knight of the Northern District of California are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Elise Etter.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

JUNE 18, 2015: AIRSTRIKES CONTINUE AGAINST ISIL

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Coalition Continues Airstrikes Against ISIL in Syria, Iraq
From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release

SOUTHWEST ASIA, June 18, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials reported details of the latest strikes, which took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.

Airstrikes in Syria

Bomber, attack, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted six airstrikes in Syria:

-- Near Hasakah, an airstrike destroyed two ISIL tunnel systems.

-- Near Dayr Az Zawr, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Tal Abyad, four airstrikes struck one large and two small ISIL tactical units, destroying two ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL vehicles and an ISIL excavator.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Attack, fighter, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 16 airstrikes in Iraq, approved by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:

-- Near Baghdadi, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Huwayjah, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Beiji, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL pontoon bridge.

-- Near Fallujah, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying two ISIL rocket rails and an ISIL bunker.

-- Near Ramadi, four airstrikes struck multiple defensive obstacles and fighting positions.

-- Near Sinjar, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying two ISIL heavy machine guns, two ISIL buildings and an ISIL excavator.

-- Near Tal Afar, five airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL bunker. Two ISIL buildings, two ISIL heavy machine guns and an ISIL vehicle bomb were destroyed, and land features were struck to deny ISIL a tactical advantage.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

RECENT DOD TRAINING PHOTOS FROM HAWAII, CALIFORNIA

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT  

A Marine provides security for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters taking off after inserting Marines for an enemy village assault exercise during Operation Lava Viper on Pohakuloa training area, Hawaii, June 10, 2015. The Marines are assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ricky S. Gomez.

Marine Cpl. Colton Derick lays down for cover during a simulated enemy explosion during an integrated training exercise on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., June 13, 2015. Derick is a rifleman assigned to the 4th Marine Division's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, Marine Forces Reserve. U.S. Marine photo by Cpl. Ian Ferro.

CRISIS FORCE DEPLOYMENT TO BE MADE PERMANENT AT MORON AIR BASE, SPAIN

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
U.S., Spain Agree to Make U.S. Crisis Force Deployment Permanent
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2015 – U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations’ defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.

In the State Department’s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.

The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.

Protecting, Stabilizing

The crisis response task force protects U.S. diplomatic personnel and facilities in Africa and supports efforts to stabilize an area of shared concern, defense officials said.

The United States bases nearly 4,000 personnel in Spain at Naval Station Rota and at Moron Air Base.

“We are very grateful to our Spanish allies and partners and friends for this agreement. You’ve hosted the United States military for more than 60 years now, and every day this partnership, this relationship, grows stronger,” Blinken said.

On behalf of the U.S. government, the deputy secretary expressed gratitude for the long years of military cooperation and anticipation of many more years of strong partnership.

Years of Cooperation

Blinken also presented Ybanez with a letter from Secretary of State John Kerry, who is recovering from a recent bike accident that kept him from signing the amendment in Madrid as planned.

“Secretary Kerry … very much wished he could be here to do this today,” Blinken said. “We now have him back in Washington. We’re going to get him back in the building very soon, but he asked me to convey this to you and to the foreign minister on his behalf.”

The amendment allows for a maximum long-term U.S. military presence at the base of 2,200 military personnel, 500 U.S. Defense Department civilian employees and 21 aircraft.

After U.S. consultations with the Spanish government, a surge capability was included in the amendment of another 800 dedicated military crisis-response task force personnel and 14 aircraft at Moron, for a total of 3,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel and 35 aircraft.

Bolstering Crisis Response

The surge capability would temporarily bolster crisis response capabilities, defense officials said.

The presence of the crisis response task force in Spain has increased joint training opportunities, with more than 52 joint exercises in the past two years, an increase of more than 50 percent, the officials added.

Long-term basing and increased joint training will benefit NATO interoperability, they said.

The amendment comes three years after the second protocol of amendment to the defense and cooperation agreement, which gave the United States permission to homeport four ballistic-missile defense-capable ships in Rota as Spain’s contribution to NATO’s ballistic missile defense.

Three ships have arrived, and the fourth is due in September, defense officials said.

SECRETARY KERRY'S STATEMENT ON POPE FRANCIS' ENCYCLICAL ON THE ENVIRONMENT

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Pope Francis' Encyclical on the Environment
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 18, 2015

The Pope’s powerful encyclical calls for a common response to the critical threat climate change poses to our common home. His plea for all religions to work together reflects the urgency of the challenge. The faith community – in the United States and abroad – has a long history of environmental stewardship and aiding the poor, and Pope Francis has thoughtfully applied those same values to the very real threat our planet is facing today.

The devastating impacts of climate change – like heat waves, damaging floods, coastal sea level rise and historic droughts – are already taking place, threatening the habitat all humans and other creatures depend on to survive. We have a responsibility to meet this challenge and prevent the worst impacts. As stewards of our planet, we can all work together to manage our resources sustainably and ensure that the poorest among us are resilient to climate change. We have the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science to show us what is causing this problem, and we are equipped with the tools and resources to begin solving it.

Engagement on this issue from a wide range of voices is all the more important as we strive to reach a global climate agreement this December in Paris.

CDC ANNOUNCES 43 STATES TAKING ACTION TO SCREEN NEWBORNS FOR CONGENITAL HEART DEFECTS

FROM:  U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
MMWR News Synopsis for June 18, 2015
State Legislation, Regulations, and Hospital Guidelines for Newborn Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Defects — United States, 2011–2014

Forty-three states have taken action on newborn screening for critical congenital heart defects (CCHD) through statute, regulations, or hospital guidelines. Of those 43 states, 32 (74 percent) are collecting or planning to collect CCHD screening data. Through these actions, more newborns with CCHD may be detected, treated and able to live fully. CCHDs are birth defects that require treatment during the first year of life. Without timely detection, CCHDs could lead to disability or death. Newborn screening for CCHD allows for the possibility of early identification and treatment. State mandates for newborn screening for CCHD will likely increase the number of newborns screened and cases detected, leading to more lives saved. In 2014, CDC collaborated with key partners to assess states’ actions for adopting newborn screening for CCHD. Data collection at the state level is important for surveillance, monitoring outcomes, and evaluation of CCHD newborn screening programs.

36 FIRMS CHARGED BY SEC WITH FRAUDULENT MUNI-BOND OFFERINGS

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
SEC Charges 36 Firms for Fraudulent Municipal Bond Offerings
Cases Are First Against Underwriters in Muni-Bond Disclosure Initiative
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2015-125

Washington D.C., June 18, 2015 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced enforcement actions against 36 municipal underwriting firms for violations in municipal bond offerings. The cases are the first brought against underwriters under the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation (MCDC) Initiative, a voluntary self-reporting program targeting material misstatements and omissions in municipal bond offering documents.
The Enforcement Division initiative announced in March 2014, offered favorable settlement terms to municipal bond underwriters and issuers who self-reported securities law violations. The first issuer charged under the initiative settled with the SEC in July 2014.

“The MCDC initiative has already resulted in significant improvements to the municipal securities market, including heightened awareness of issuers’ disclosure obligations and enhanced disclosure policies and procedures,” said SEC Chair Mary Jo White.  “This ongoing enforcement initiative will continue to bring lasting changes to the municipal securities markets for the benefit of investors.”

In today’s actions, the SEC alleged that between 2010 and 2014 the 36 firms violated federal securities laws by selling municipal bonds using offering documents that contained materially false statements or omissions about the bond issuers’ compliance with continuing disclosure obligations.  The underwriting firms also allegedly failed to conduct adequate due diligence to identify the misstatements and omissions before offering and selling the bonds to their customers.

“The MCDC initiative highlights the importance of continuing disclosure in the municipal bond market and due diligence in the underwriting process,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.  “The initiative has brought much needed attention to these issues and has already improved the behavior of participants in the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market.”

Continuing disclosure provides municipal bond investors with information, including annual financial reports, on an ongoing basis.  The SEC’s 2012 Municipal Market Report identified issuers’ failure to comply with their continuing disclosure obligations as a major challenge for investors seeking information about their municipal bond holdings.

“The settlements announced today reflect these underwriters’ cooperation in self-reporting their own misconduct and agreeing to improve their procedures going forward,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, Chief of the Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit.   “Because these 36 firms underwrite a substantial portion of the country’s municipal bonds each year, we expect a large number of bondholders will benefit from the resulting improvements in due diligence and disclosure.”

The 36 firms, which did not admit or deny the findings, agreed to cease and desist from such violations in the future.  Under the terms of the MCDC initiative, they will pay civil penalties based on the number and size of the fraudulent offerings identified, up to a cap based on the size of the firm.  The maximum penalty imposed is $500,000.  In addition, each firm agreed to retain an independent consultant to review its policies and procedures on due diligence for municipal securities underwriting.

The MCDC initiative, which is continuing, is being coordinated by Kevin Guerrero of the Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit.  The cases announced today were investigated by members of the unit, including Michael J. Adler, Eric A. Celauro, Joseph O. Chimienti, Kevin Currid, Susan E. Curtin, Peter J. Diskin, Keshia Ellis, Brian D. Fagel, Sally J. Hewitt, Jason A. Howard, Brian P. Knight, Robbie L. Mayer, Heidi Mitza, Cary S. Robnett, Ivonia K. Slade, Steven Varholik, Jonathan Wilcox, Monique C. Winkler, and Deputy Unit Chief Mark R. Zehner, with assistance from Ferdose al-Taie, Peter Moores, and Jeremiah Roberts.

*  *  *

Link to the SEC’s orders and penalty amounts:

•           The Baker Group, LP – $250,000

•           B.C. Ziegler and Company – $250,000

•           Benchmark Securities, LLC – $100,000

•           Bernardi Securities, Inc. – $100,000

•           BMO Capital Markets GKST Inc. – $250,000

•           BNY Mellon Capital Markets, LLC – $120,000

•           BOSC, Inc. – $250,000

•           Central States Capital Markets, LLC – $60,000

•           Citigroup Global Markets Inc. – $500,000

•           City Securities Corporation – $250,000

•           Davenport & Company LLC – $80,000

•           Dougherty & Co. LLC – $250,000

•           First National Capital Markets, Inc. – $100,000

•           George K. Baum & Company – $250,000

•           Goldman, Sachs & Co. – $500,000

•           Hutchinson, Shockey, Erley & Co. – $220,000

•           J.P. Morgan Securities LLC – $500,000

•           L.J. Hart and Company – $100,000

•           Loop Capital Markets, LLC – $60,000

•           Martin Nelson & Co., Inc. – $100,000

•           Merchant Capital, L.L.C. – $100,000

•           Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated – $500,000

•           Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC – $500,000

•           The Northern Trust Company – $60,000

•           Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. – $400,000

•           Piper Jaffray & Co. – $500,000

•           Raymond James & Associates, Inc. – $500,000

•           RBC Capital Markets, LLC – $500,000

•           Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated – $500,000

•           Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., LLC – $240,000

•           Smith Hayes Financial Services Corporation – $40,000

•           Stephens Inc. – $400,000

•           Sterne, Agee & Leach, Inc. – $80,000

•           Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. – $500,000

•           Wells Nelson & Associates, LLC – $100,000

•           William Blair & Co., L.L.C. – $80,000

Thursday, June 18, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S STATEMENT ON SHOOTING IN CHARLESTON CHURCH

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE
Statement by the President on the Shooting in Charleston, South Carolina
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  This morning, I spoke with, and Vice President Biden spoke with, Mayor Joe Riley and other leaders of Charleston to express our deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night.

Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church.  We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night.  And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.

Any death of this sort is a tragedy.  Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy.  There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.

Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church.  This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty.  This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery.  When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret.  When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps.  This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.

The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them.  The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation.  We understand that the suspect is in custody.  And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.

Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case.  But I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise.  I’ve had to make statements like this too many times.  Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.  We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.  Now is the time for mourning and for healing.

But let’s be clear:  At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.  And it is in our power to do something about it.  I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.  But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.  And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.

The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history.  This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked.  And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.

The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.  That, certainly, was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago, after four little girls were killed in a bombing in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama.

He said they lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly.  “They say to each of us,” Dr. King said, “black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.  They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with [about] who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.  Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.

“And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”

Reverend Pinckney and his congregation understood that spirit.  Their Christian faith compelled them to reach out not just to members of their congregation, or to members of their own communities, but to all in need.  They opened their doors to strangers who might enter a church in search of healing or redemption.

Mother Emanuel church and its congregation have risen before –- from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times -– to give hope to generations of Charlestonians.  And with our prayers and our love, and the buoyancy of hope, it will rise again now as a place of peace.

Thank you.

END              
12:28 P.M. EDT

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: President Obama Speaks at the Congressional Picnic

243 INDIVIDUALS CHARGED IN $712 MILLION MEDICARE FRAUD CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Thursday, June 18, 2015
National Medicare Fraud Takedown Results in Charges Against 243 Individuals for Approximately $712 Million in False Billing

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced today a nationwide sweep led by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in 17 districts, resulting in charges against 243 individuals, including 46 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $712 million in false billings.  In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also suspended a number of providers using its suspension authority as provided in the Affordable Care Act.  This coordinated takedown is the largest in Strike Force history, both in terms of the number of defendants charged and loss amount.  

Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Burwell were joined in the announcement by FBI Director James B. Comey, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Deputy Administrator and Director of CMS Center for Program Integrity Shantanu Agrawal, M.D.

The defendants are charged with various health care fraud-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statutes, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.  The charges are based on a variety of alleged fraud schemes involving various medical treatments and services, including home health care, psychotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment (DME) and pharmacy fraud.  More than 44 of the defendants arrested are charged with fraud related to the Medicare prescription drug benefit program known as Part D, which is the fastest-growing component of the Medicare program overall.

“This action represents the largest criminal health care fraud takedown in the history of the Department of Justice, and it adds to an already remarkable record of enforcement,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “The defendants charged include doctors, patient recruiters, home health care providers, pharmacy owners, and others.  They billed for equipment that wasn’t provided, for care that wasn’t needed, and for services that weren’t rendered.  In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue our focus on preventing wrongdoing and prosecuting those whose criminal activity drives up medical costs and jeopardizes a system that our citizens trust with their lives.  We are prepared – and I am personally determined – to continue working with our federal, state, and local partners to bring about the vital progress that all Americans deserve.”

“This Administration is committed to fighting fraud and protecting taxpayer dollars in Medicare and Medicaid,” said Secretary Burwell.  “This takedown adds to the hundreds of millions we have saved through fraud prevention since the Affordable Care Act was passed.  With increased resources that have allowed the Strike Force to expand and new tools, like enhanced screening and enrollment requirements, tough new rules and sentences for criminals, and advanced predictive modeling technology, we have managed to better find and fight fraud as well as stop it before it starts.”

According to court documents, the defendants participated in alleged schemes to submit claims to Medicare and Medicaid for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided.  In many cases, patient recruiters, Medicare beneficiaries and other co-conspirators allegedly were paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, so that the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary or never performed.  Collectively, the doctors, nurses, licensed medical professionals, health care company owners and others charged are accused of conspiring to submit a total of approximately $712 million in fraudulent billing.

“The people charged in this case targeted the system each of us depends on in our most vulnerable moments,” said Director James Comey.  “Health care fraud is a crime that hurts all of us and each dollar taken from programs that help the sick and the suffering is one dollar too many.”

“Every day, the Criminal Division is more strategic in our approach to prosecuting Medicare Fraud,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “We obtain and analyze billing data in real-time.  We target hot spots – areas of the country and the types of health care services where the billing data shows the potential for a high volume of fraud – and we are speeding up our investigations.  By doing this, we are increasingly able to stop schemes at the developmental stage, and to prevent them from spreading to other parts of the country.”

“Health care fraud drives up health care costs, wastes taxpayer money, undermines the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and endangers program beneficiaries,” said Inspector General Levinson.  “Today’s takedown includes perpetrators of prescription drug fraud, home health care fraud, and personal care services fraud, three particularly harmful types of fraud plaguing our health care system.  This record-setting takedown sends a message to would-be perpetrators that health care fraud is a risky way to line your pockets.  Our agents and our law enforcement partners stand ready to protect these vital programs and ensure that those who would steal from federal health care programs ultimately pay for their crimes.”

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged over 2,300 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $7 billion.

Including today’s enforcement actions, nearly 900 individuals have been charged in national takedown operations, which have involved more than $2.5 billion in fraudulent billings.  Today’s announcement marks the first time that districts outside of Strike Force locations participated in a national takedown, and they accounted for 82 defendants charged in this takedown.

*********

In Miami, a total of 73 defendants were charged with offenses relating to their participation in various fraud schemes involving approximately $263 million in false billings for home health care, mental health services and pharmacy fraud.  In one case, administrators in a mental health center billed close to $64 million between 2006 and 2012 for purported intensive mental health treatment to beneficiaries and allegedly paid kickbacks to patient recruiters and assisted living facility owners throughout the Southern District of Florida.  Medicare paid approximately half of the claimed amount.

In Houston and McAllen, Texas, 22 individuals were charged in cases involving over $38 million in alleged fraud.  One of these defendants allegedly coached beneficiaries on what to tell doctors to make them appear eligible for Medicare services and treatments and then received payment for those who qualified.  The company that paid the defendant for patients submitted close to $16 million in claims to Medicare, over $4 million of which was paid.    

In Dallas, seven people were charged in connection with home health care schemes.  In one scheme, six owners and operators of a physician house call company submitted nearly $43 million in billings under the name of a single doctor, regardless of who actually provided the service.  The company also significantly exaggerated the length of physician visits, often times billing for 90 minutes or more for an appointment that lasted only 15 or 20 minutes.  

In Los Angeles, eight defendants were charged for their roles in schemes to defraud Medicare of approximately $66 million.  In one case, a doctor is charged with causing almost $23 million in losses to Medicare through his own fraudulent billing and referrals for DME, including over 1000 expensive power wheelchairs and home health services that were not medically necessary and often not provided.

In Detroit, 16 defendants face charges for their alleged roles in fraud, kickback and money laundering schemes involving approximately $122 million in false claims for services that were medically unnecessary or never rendered, including home health care, physician visits, and psychotherapy, as well as pharmaceuticals that were billed but not dispensed.  Among these are three owners of a hospice service who allegedly paid kickbacks for referrals made by two doctors who defrauded Medicare Part D by issuing medically unnecessary prescriptions.

In Tampa, five individuals were charged with participating in a variety of schemes, ranging from fraudulent physical therapy billings to a scheme involving millions in physician services and tests that never occurred.  In one case, a licensed pain management physician sought reimbursement for nerve conduction studies and other services that he allegedly never performed.  Medicare paid the defendant over $1 million for these purported services.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., nine individuals were charged in two separate criminal schemes involving physical and occupational therapy.  In one case, three individuals face charges for their roles in a previously charged $50 million physical therapy scheme.  In the second case, six defendants were charged for their roles in a $8 million physical and occupational therapy scheme.

In New Orleans, 11 people were charged in connection with $110 million in home health care and psychotherapy schemes.  In one case, four individuals who operated two companies – one in Louisiana and one in California – that mass-marketed talking glucose monitors (TGMs) across the country allegedly sent TGMs to Medicare beneficiaries regardless of whether they were needed or requested.  The companies billed Medicare approximately $38 million for the devices and Medicare paid the companies over $22 million.

The cases announced today are being prosecuted and investigated by Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams from the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas, Central District of California, Eastern District of Louisiana, Northern District of Texas, Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Florida; and agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG and state Medicaid Fraud Control Units.

In addition to the Strike Force, today’s enforcement actions include cases brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Southern District of California, Southern District of Illinois, Northern District of Ohio, Western District of Kentucky, District of Maryland, District of Connecticut, District of Alaska and the Southern District of Georgia.

A complaint or indictment is merely a charge, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Affordable Care Act has provided new tools and resources to fight fraud in federal health care programs. The law provides an additional $350 million for health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts, which has allowed the Justice Department to hire more prosecutors and the Strike Force to expand from two cities to nine. It also toughens sentencing for criminal activity, enhances provider and supplier screenings and enrollment requirements, and encourages increased sharing of data across government.

In addition to providing new tools and resources to fight fraud, the Affordable Care Act clarified that for sentencing purposes, the loss is determined by the amount billed to Medicare and increased the sentencing guidelines for the billed amounts, which has provided a strong deterrent effect due to increased prison time, particularly in the most egregious cases.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ROBERT WORK MEETS WITH CANADIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Right:  Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work meets with Canadian Defense Minister Jason Kenney and Associate Defense Minister Julian Fantino at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Canada, June 15, 2015. The leaders discussed global security challenges, including collaboration for ongoing operations in Iraq to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen.  

Work Travels to Ottawa to Meet With Canadian Officials
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2015 – Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work began a two-day visit to the Canadian capital of Ottawa yesterday to meet with senior Canadian government officials and the Permanent Joint Board on Defense.

In a statement announcing the trip, Pentagon officials said the deputy secretary visited the Canadian Parliament and National Defense headquarters.

He also met with Canadian officials, including Defense Minister Jason Kenney, Associate Defense Minister Julian Fantino, Deputy Defense Minister John Forster, Associate Deputy Defense Minister John Turner, and Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, officials said.

The leaders discussed global security challenges, including collaboration for ongoing operations in Iraq to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, officials said.

Commending Canada’s Contributions

“Work commended Canada for its contributions, particularly in conducting airstrikes against ISIL targets, ways to address the risks to minority populations in Syria, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq,” the Pentagon statement said. “Additionally, the deputy secretary and Canadian officials discussed the situation in Ukraine, and efforts to provide assistance to Ukraine, as well as NATO reassurance initiatives.”

Regarding Western Hemisphere defense, the statement said, Work and Canadian leaders professed support for the North American Aerospace Defense Command and modernization of the North Warning System.

Anniversary Dinner

The deputy secretary also attended a dinner celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, the most senior bilateral defense forum between the United States and Canada. Established in 1940, the board focuses on policy issues related to continental defense and security, such as asymmetric threats, officials explained.

At the dinner, officials said, Work noted that the bilateral defense cooperation between the United States and Canada remains one of the world's strongest, as demonstrated by operations at NORAD and the work of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense.

Throughout his visit, officials added, Work reaffirmed the Defense Department's commitment to sustaining a strong bilateral relationship with Canada.

DEFENSE CONTRACTOR TO PAY $7.1 MILLION TO RESOLVE FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT INVESTIGATION

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
IAP Worldwide Services Inc. Resolves Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Investigation
Former Company Vice President Pleads Guilty to Participating in Bribery Scheme

A Florida defense and government contracting company, IAP Worldwide Services Inc. (IAP), entered into a non-prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a $7.1 million penalty to resolve the government’s investigation into whether the company  conspired to bribe Kuwaiti officials in order to secure a government contract.  A former vice president of IAP also pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for his involvement in the bribery scheme.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant Director in Charge Andrew G. McCabe of the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig Jr. of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office made the announcement.

James Michael Rama, 69, of Lynchburg, Virginia, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 11, 2015.

In 2004, Kuwait’s Ministry of the Interior (MOI) initiated the Kuwait Security Program (KSP), a project that was intended to provide nationwide surveillance capabilities for several Kuwaiti government agencies primarily through the use of closed-circuit television.  The project was divided into two phases: a planning and feasibility period called “Phase I” and an installation period called “Phase II.”  The MOI was responsible for overseeing the KSP, including selecting contractors to facilitate its implementation.  Revenues from the Phase II contract were expected to be substantially greater than from Phase I.

According to admissions made in connection with both the non-prosecution agreement and Rama’s plea agreement, IAP and Rama schemed to ensure that IAP worked as the consultant for Phase I so that it could tailor the requirements for the Phase II contracts to IAP’s strengths, which would give the company an advantage in the Phase II bidding.  To that end, both IAP and Rama admitted that in February 2006, executives and senior employees of IAP, including Rama, set up a shell company called “Ramaco” to bid on Phase I, in part to conceal IAP’s role in crafting the Phase II requirements and its conflict of interest in connection with securing the Phase II contract.

Ultimately, Ramaco secured the Phase I contract for approximately $4 million.  According to admissions made in connection with both agreements, the Rama and IAP agreed that half of that amount would be diverted to a consultant who would pay bribes to Kuwaiti government officials to assist IAP in obtaining and retaining the Phase I contract and to obtain the Phase II contract.  IAP and Rama admitted that they disguised the payments by transferring funds Ramaco received to an IAP bank account and then to the consultant through a series of accounts and intermediaries.  According to the factual statements incorporated into both the non-prosecution agreement and Rama’s plea agreement, between September 2006 and March 2008, IAP and its co-conspirators paid the consultant approximately $1,783,688 understanding that some or all of the funds would be used to bribe Kuwaiti government officials.

Based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to IAP’s cooperation, the Criminal Division entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company.  The non-prosecution agreement requires IAP’s continued cooperation.  In addition, the non-prosecution agreement requires IAP to conduct a review of its existing internal controls, policies and procedures, and make any necessary modifications to ensure that the company maintains accurate record keeping and a rigorous anti-corruption compliance program.  The non-prosecution agreement further requires IAP to report periodically to the Criminal Division and to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia regarding remediation and implementation of the aforementioned compliance program and internal controls, policies and procedures.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office and the DCIS Mid-Atlantic Field Office.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Tarek Helou and Trial Attorney James P. McDonald of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Nathanson of the Eastern District of Virginia.  The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance during the investigation.

U.S. SPOKESPERSON EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER SHAIKH ALI SALMAN CONVICTION IN BAHRAIN

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Concern Over the Conviction of Shaikh Ali Salman in Bahrain
Press Statement
John Kirby
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
June 16, 2015

The U.S. Government is deeply concerned by the June 16 conviction and sentencing by a Bahraini court of Shaikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of al Wifaq. As we have consistently said, opposition parties that peacefully voice criticism of the government play a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic states and societies. Creating an atmosphere in which a full range of political opinions can be peacefully expressed is essential in Bahrain, across the Middle East, and globally. As we pointed out in our December 31 statement, we are also concerned that this action has the potential to inflame tensions.

The United States believes that no one, anywhere, should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly. Any charges against Ali Salman that were brought on that basis should be dropped. We also strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to the protection of freedom of expression.

U.S.M.S. ANNOUNCES 41 PEOPLE CHARGED FOR ROLES IN MASSIVE HEROIN TRAFFICKING OPERATION

FROM:  U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE
Multi-State Heroin Trafficking Operation Based in Baltimore, Maryland
Fractured by Federal Indictment

Harrisburg, PA – Multiple individuals were arrested today pursuant to a 163-count federal indictment charging 41 people with facilitating an extensive, multi-state heroin trafficking operation, United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, West Virginia State Police Colonel Jay Smithers, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Scott Smith, announced.

On June 16, 2015, the USMS in the Middle District of Pennsylvania arrested two of the suspects named in the indictment. They are 46 year-old Craig Rhodes and 24 year-old Veronica Thomas. Both suspects were arrested at a residence on North 4th Street in Chambersburg, Pa.

United States Marshal Martin J. Pane stated, “Heroin is a cancer on our society. The Marshals Service will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to rid our communities of those who prey upon our youth. Those charged will now face appropriate charges in the federal criminal justice system.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Krasinski is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the West Virginia State Police, and the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, a HIDTA-funded initiative, are leading the investigation. The United States Marshals Service and the Baltimore County Police Department in Maryland are also supporting the investigation.

The USMS M/PA Task Force worked jointly in this investigation with personnel from the York City Police Department, York County Sheriff’s Office, Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, Harrisburg Bureau of Police and the Chambersburg Police Department.

CO2, BIG DINOSAURS AND THE EQUATOR

FROM:  NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Big dinosaurs steered clear of the tropics
Climate swings lasting millions of years too much for dinos

For more than 30 million years after dinosaurs first appeared, they remained inexplicably rare near the equator, where only a few small-bodied meat-eating dinosaurs made a living.

The long absence at low latitudes has been one of the great, unanswered questions about the rise of the dinosaurs.

Now the mystery has a solution, according to scientists who pieced together a detailed picture of the climate and ecology more than 200 million years ago at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, a site rich with fossils.

The findings, reported today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), show that the tropical climate swung wildly with extremes of drought and intense heat.

Wildfires swept the landscape during arid regimes and reshaped the vegetation available for plant-eating animals.

"Our data suggest it was not a fun place," says scientist Randall Irmis of the University of Utah.

"It was a time of climate extremes that went back and forth unpredictably. Large, warm-blooded dinosaurian herbivores weren't able to exist close to the equator--there was not enough dependable plant food."

The study, led by geochemist Jessica Whiteside, now of the University of Southampton, is the first to provide a detailed look at climate and ecology during the emergence of the dinosaurs.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels then were four to six times current levels. "If we continue along our present course, similar conditions in a high-CO2 world may develop, and suppress low-latitude ecosystems," Irmis says.

"These scientists have developed a new explanation for the perplexing near-absence of dinosaurs in late Triassic [the Triassic was between 252 million and 201 million years ago] equatorial settings," says Rich Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

"That includes rapid vegetation changes related to climate fluctuations between arid and moist climates and the resulting extensive wildfires of the time."

Reconstructing the deep past

The earliest known dinosaur fossils, found in Argentina, date from around 230 million years ago.

Within 15 million years, species with different diets and body sizes had evolved and were abundant except in tropical latitudes. There the only dinosaurs were small carnivores. The pattern persisted for 30 million years after the first dinosaurs appeared.

The scientists focused on Chinle Formation rocks, which were deposited by rivers and streams between 205 and 215 million years ago at Ghost Ranch (perhaps better known as the place where artist Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted for much of her career).

The multi-colored rocks of the Chinle Formation are a common sight on the Colorado Plateau at places such as the Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

In ancient times, North America and other land masses were bound together in the supercontinent Pangea. The Ghost Ranch site stood close to the equator, at roughly the same latitude as present-day southern India.

The researchers reconstructed the deep past by analyzing several kinds of data: from fossils, charcoal left by ancient wildfires, stable isotopes from organic matter, and carbonate nodules that formed in ancient soils.

Fossilized bones, pollen grains and fern spores revealed the types of animals and plants living at different times, marked by layers of sediment.

Dinosaurs remained rare among the fossils, accounting for less than 15 percent of vertebrate animal remains.

They were outnumbered in diversity, abundance and body size by reptiles known as pseudosuchian archosaurs, the lineage that gave rise to crocodiles and alligators.

The sparse dinosaurs consisted mostly of small, carnivorous theropods.

Big, long-necked dinosaurs, or sauropodomorphs--already the dominant plant-eaters at higher latitudes--did not exist at the study site nor any other low-latitude site in the Pangaea of that time, as far as the fossil record shows.

Abrupt changes in climate left a record in the abundance of different types of pollen and fern spores between sediment layers.

Fossilized organic matter from decaying plants provided another window on climate shifts. Changes in the ratio of stable isotopes of carbon in the organic matter bookmarked times when plant productivity declined during extended droughts.

Drought and fire

Wildfire temperatures varied drastically, the researchers found, consistent with a fluctuating environment in which the amount of combustible plant matter rose and fell over time.

The researchers estimated the intensity of wildfires using bits of charcoal recovered in sediment layers.

The overall picture is that of a climate punctuated by extreme shifts in precipitation and in which plant die-offs fueled hotter fires. That in turn killed more plants, damaged soils and increased erosion.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, calculated from stable isotope analyses of soil carbonate and preserved organic matter, rose from about 1,200 parts per million (ppm) at the base of the section, to about 2,400 ppm near the top.

At these high CO2 concentrations, climate models predict more frequent and more extreme weather fluctuations consistent with the fossil and charcoal evidence.

Continuing shifts between extremes of dry and wet likely prevented the establishment of the dinosaur-dominated communities found in the fossil record at higher latitudes across South America, Europe, and southern Africa, where aridity and temperatures were less extreme and humidity was consistently higher.

Resource-limited conditions could not support a diverse community of fast-growing, warm-blooded, large dinosaurs, which require a productive and stable environment to thrive.

"The conditions would have been something similar to the arid western United States today, although there would have been trees and smaller plants near streams and rivers, and forests during humid times," says Whiteside.

"The fluctuating and harsh climate with widespread wildfires meant that only small two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs could survive."

-NSF-
Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

DOJ SAYS 7 BOA CONSTRICTORS SENT BACK TO BRAZIL

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
United States Repatriates Seven Boa Constrictors to Brazil

Seven boa constrictors seized in connection with an illegal wildlife smuggling scheme have been returned to the government of Brazil, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney John W. Huber of the District of Utah.

“This case exhibited many of the hallmarks that make illegal wildlife trafficking a growing international scourge, including actors motivated by greed who illegally smuggled rare and precious wildlife across international boundaries,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “The return of the precious snakes to Brazil brings to an end this years-long international saga, and serves as an example of our commitment to working with law enforcement partners in Brazil and elsewhere to combat transnational crime.”

“The successful prosecution of Mr. Stone and the recovery and repatriation of the offspring from this rare and valuable leucistic boa constrictor are due to the exceptional cooperation between the United States and Brazilian authorities,” said U.S. Attorney Huber.  “The illegal wildlife trade threatens the survival of many threatened and endangered species and Mr. Stone’s conviction in this case demonstrates our resolve to prosecute those who engage in such activities.”

The seven boa constrictors are the offspring of a rare and extremely valuable white (leucistic) boa constrictor known as “Lucy” or “Diamond Princess” that was found in the Niterói district of Rio de Janerio in 2006.  Because of its rarity, Brazilian authorities housed the white boa at the Niterói Zoo, a private foundation that rescued and rehabilitated injured wild animals.  In January 2009, Jeremy Stone, a Utah-based collector, breeder and seller of reptiles, traveled to Brazil, secured possession of the snake and unlawfully returned with it back to the United States.

After learning that Stone was marketing snakes bred from a rare white boa, the Brazilian government requested assistance from the United States in securing the return of the leucistic boa and any offspring.  Thereafter, pursuant to a mutual legal assistance treaty, federal investigators obtained a warrant authorizing the seizure of the snake and any offspring from Stone’s property in Utah.  In executing the warrant, agents from the FBI learned that the leucistic boa constrictor had died.  Agents turned the offspring over to the U.S. Marshals Service, which delivered the eight surviving offspring to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.  One of the snakes died shortly thereafter.

In July 2014, Stone pleaded guilty plea to unlawfully transporting wildlife into the United States.  As part of his plea agreement, Stone agreed to forfeit the boa’s offspring to the United States.

In October 2014, the government of Brazil filed a petition asserting its ownership of the white boa and its offspring because it had been caught in the Brazilian wild.  Thereafter, the United States asked the court to amend the preliminary order of forfeiture to recognize Brazil’s claim to the snakes.  In February 2015, the court entered a final order of forfeiture awarding the white boa’s seven surviving offspring to the government of Brazil.

The Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Office of International Affairs, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Utah and the FBI, worked jointly with the government of Brazil to secure the repatriation of the seven offspring.

DOD REPORTS ISIL TACTICAL LOSSES

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
ISIL Tactical Losses Continue in Iraq, Syria
From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release

SOUTHWEST ASIA, June 17, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials reported details of the latest strikes, which took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.

Airstrikes in Syria

Fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted four airstrikes in Syria:

-- Near Hasakah, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying two ISIL antenna arrays and an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Aleppo, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

-- Near Kobani, one airstrike struck an ISIL large tactical unit.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Attack, bomber, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted seven airstrikes in Iraq, approved by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:

-- Near Baghdadi, one airstrike destroyed an ISIL resupply vehicle and an ISIL weapons cache.

-- Near Huwayjah, one airstrike struck an ISIL staging area.

-- Near Beiji, one airstrike destroyed two ISIL armored vehicles.

-- Near Mosul, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and an ISIL mortar firing positon, destroying an ISIL structure.

-- Near Sinjar, three airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying three ISIL heavy machine guns, three ISIL fighting positons, three ISIL tunnel entrances, an ISIL structure and an ISIL rocket propelled grenade.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: The Vice President Speaks at the Clean Energy Investment Summit

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: 6/25/15: White House Press Briefing

DOD VIDEO: COAST GUARD COMBATS INTERNATIONAL CRIME

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT


2015 - U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations, VADM Charles Michael testified before a House subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Drug Interdiction Efforts.

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN TESTIFIES TO CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Washington, DC
June 16, 2015
AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Congressman Engel. Distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. And thank you for being here. Thank you also for your leadership in advancing America’s national security interests and our values in the world.

Last week I traveled to Ukraine, where I had the chance to see up close what happens when the rules undergirding our international peace and security are ignored. At a shelter for displaced families in Kyiv, I met a mother who told me how her husband and two-year-old child had been killed in February when a shell struck their home in a village in eastern Ukraine. The shelling, as you all know, was part of a sustained assault by combined Russian-separatist forces – and the victims just two of the more than 6,300 people who have been killed in the Moscow-manufactured conflict. Shortly after the attack, the mother fled town with her five surviving children in a van whose roof and doors had been blasted out. Her plea – one I heard echoed by many of the displaced families I met from eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea – was for the fighting to stop, and for their basic rights to be respected.

As the members of this Committee know, we are living in a time of daunting global crises. In the last year alone, Russia continued to train, arm, and fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine; a deadly epidemic spread across West Africa; and monstrous terrorist groups seized territory across the Middle East and North Africa, committing unspeakable atrocities. These are the kinds of threats that the United Nations exists to prevent and address. Yet it is precisely at the moment when we need the UN most that we see the flaws in the international system, some of which have been alluded to already.

This is true for the conflict in Ukraine – in which a permanent member of the UN Security Council is violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity that it was entrusted with upholding. It is true of the global health system that – despite multiple warnings of a spreading Ebola outbreak, including those from our own CDC – was slow to respond to the epidemic. And it is true of UN peacekeepers, who too often stand down or stand by when civilians they are responsible for protecting come under attack. Thus leaving populations vulnerable and sometimes open to radicalization.

Representing our nation before the United Nations, I have to confront these and other shortcomings every day. Yet though I am clear-eyed about the UN’s vulnerabilities, the central point I want to make to this Committee is that America needs the United Nations to address today’s global challenges. The United States has the most powerful set of tools in history to advance its interests, and we will always lead on the world stage. But we are more effective when we ensure that others shoulder their fair share and when we marshal multilateral support to meet our objectives. Let me quickly outline five ways we are doing that at the UN.

First, we are rallying multilateral coalitions to address transnational threats. Consider Iran. In addition to working with Congress to put in place unprecedented U.S. sanctions on the Iranian government, in 2010 the Obama Administration galvanized the UN Security Council to authorize one of the toughest multilateral sanctions regimes in history. The combination of unilateral and multilateral pressure was crucial to bringing Iran to the negotiating table, and ultimately, to laying the foundation whereby we were able to reach a framework agreement that would, if we can get a final deal, effectively cut off every pathway for the Iranian regime to develop a nuclear weapon.

Consider our response to the Ebola epidemic. Last September, as people were dying outside hospitals in West Africa, hospitals that had no beds left to treat the exploding number of Ebola patients, the United States chaired the first-ever emergency meeting of the UN Security Council dedicated to a global health issue. We pressed countries to deploy doctors and nurses, to build clinics and testing labs, and to fill other gaps that ultimately helped bend the outbreak’s exponentially rising curve. America did not just rally others to step up, we led by example, thanks also very much to the support of this Congress, deploying more than 3,500 U.S. Government civilian and military personnel to Liberia, which has been Ebola-free since early May.

Second, we are reforming UN peacekeeping to help address the threats to international peace and security that exist in the 21st century. There are more than 100,000 uniformed police and soldiers deployed in the UN’s sixteen peacekeeping missions around the world – that is a higher number than in any time in history – with more complex responsibilities also than ever before. The United States has an abiding strategic interest in resolving the conflicts where peacekeepers serve, which can quickly cause regional instability and attract extremist groups, as we have seen in Mali. Yet while we have seen peacekeepers serve with bravery and professionalism in many of the world’s most dangerous operating environments, we’ve also seen chronic problems, too often, as mentioned, including the failure to protect civilians.

We are working aggressively to address these shortfalls. To give just one example, we are persuading more advanced militaries to step up and contribute soldiers and police to UN peacekeeping. That was the aim of a summit that Vice President Biden convened at the UN last September, where Colombia, Sweden, Indonesia and more than a dozen other countries announced new troop commitments; and it is the message I took directly to European leaders in March, when I made the case in Brussels that peacekeeping is a critical way for European militaries to do their fair share in protecting our common security interests, particularly as they draw down in Afghanistan. This coming September, President Obama will convene another summit of world leaders to build on this momentum and help catalyze a new wave of commitments and generate a new set of capabilities for UN peacekeeping.

Third, we are fighting to end bias and discrimination at the UN. Day in and day out, we push back against efforts to delegitimize Israel at the UN, and we fight for its right to be treated like any other nation – from mounting a full-court diplomatic press to help secure Israel’s permanent membership into two UN groups from which it had long and unjustly been excluded, to consistently and firmly opposing one-sided actions in international bodies. In December, when a deeply unbalanced draft resolution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict was hastily put before the Security Council, the United States successfully rallied a coalition to join us in voting against it, ensuring that the resolution failed to achieve the nine votes of Security Council members required for adoption. We will continue to confront anti-Israel bias wherever we encounter it.

Fourth, we are working to use UN tools to promote human rights and affirm human dignity, as we did by working with partners to hold the first-ever Security Council meeting focused on the human rights situation in North Korea in December. We used that session to shine a light on the regime’s horrors – a light we kept shining through a panel discussion I hosted in April, with escaped victims of the regime. One woman told of being forced to watch the executions of fellow prisoners who committed the “crime” of daring to ask why they had been imprisoned, while another woman told how members from three generations of her family – her grandmother, her father, and her younger brother – had starved to death. This is important for UN Member States to hear.

Fifth, we are doing everything within our power to make the UN more fiscally responsible, more accountable, and more nimble – both because we have a responsibility to ensure American taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and because maximizing the efficiency of our contributions means saving more lives and better protecting the world’s most vulnerable people. Since the 2008 to 2009 fiscal year, we have reduced the cost-per-peacekeeper by 18 percent, and we are constantly looking for ways to right-size missions in response to conditions on the ground, as we will do this year through substantial drawdowns in Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and Liberia, among other missions.

Let me conclude. At the outset, I spoke of my recent visit to Ukraine. Across the range of Ukrainians I met – from the mother who lost her husband and two-year-old child in the assault by combined Russian-separatist forces; to the brave students who risked their lives to take part in the Maidan protests against the kleptocratic Yanukovych government; to the young members of parliament working to fight corruption and increase transparency – what united them was the yearning for certain basic rights. And, the belief that the United States could lead other countries – and the United Nations – in helping make their aspirations a reality.

I heard the same sentiment when visiting UN-run camps of people displaced by violence in the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, and in the Ebola-affected communities of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone at the peak of the outbreak.

Some may view the expectation that America can help people overcome their greatest challenges and secure their basic rights as a burden. In fact, that expectation is one of our nation’s greatest strengths, and one we have a vested interest in striving to live up to – daunting as it may feel in the face of so many crises. But we cannot do it alone, nor should we want to. That is why it is more important than ever that we use the UN to rally the multilateral support needed to confront today’s myriad challenges.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.