State Department worker guilty of stealing from U.S. Embassy

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An employee of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was found guilty Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria of stealing nearly $250,000 that had been intended for the payment of the embassy’s shipping and customs services, said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

Justice Department officials said Osama Esam Saleem Ayesh, 36, a resident of Jordan who was hired by the State Department as a shipping and customs supervisor at the embassy, oversaw the shipments of personal property of embassy officials and personnel in Iraq. They said his duties required that he maintain close contact with local Iraqi companies and vendors with expertise in clearing goods through Iraqi customs.

As a State Department employee, the officials said Ayesh knew he would be subject to U.S. conflict of interest laws that prohibit government employees from using their position for personal profit.

On Oct. 15, Ayesh was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of theft of public money and one count of engaging in acts affecting a personal financial interest. The U.S. District Court jury found him guilty on all three counts. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years for each theft count and five years in prison for the conflict of interest charge when he is sentenced April 8 by U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III.

Ayesh was arrested at Dulles International Airport on Aug. 16.

According to court records, Ayesh used his State Department computer to create a phony e-mail account in the name of a real Iraqi contractor and used that account to impersonate the contractor in communications with embassy procurement officials. The records show that he also established a bank account in Jordan under his wife’s name to further his criminal scheme and falsified wire transfer instructions that directed U.S. government electronic funds transfers to that account.

Court records and evidence at trial showed that Ayesh was personally involved in establishing and operating blanket purchase agreements for the provision of customs clearance and delivery services to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. From November 2008 to June 2010, the records show Ayesh submitted false invoices in the name of an Iraqi contractor — which Ayesh fabricated on blank stationery he kept in his embassy apartment — and caused the State Department to wire $243,416 to his wife’s account in Jordan.

This case was prosecuted by David Laufman of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, who is on detail to the Justice Department from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McQuillan in Virginia. The case was investigated by special agents of the State Department’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington field office.

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