Woman Pleads Guilty To Theft Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SAN JUAN, P.R. – Zoraida Velázquez-Bracero plead guilty to an information charging her with theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General was in charge of the investigation.

From June 2005 until July, 2015, Velázquez-Bracero was the Purchasing Director at Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, an entity that receives in excess of $10,000.00 in federal funding in a one year period. In this position, Defendant was issued a University corporate credit card for purchasing goods and supplies for the University as well as arranging official travel for University professors. However, in 2008 Defendant started using this corporate credit card for personal expenses not authorized by the University.

Through direct charges and cash advances, Velázquez-Bracero used this corporate credit card to pay for school tuition, household utility bills and other items, and vacations to Disney World, New York City, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Canada, and France. Defendant concealed the use of this corporate credit card by altering and/or creating fictitious credit card statements wherein she hid the charges by increasing the amounts of other legitimate charges to the card, or by deleting the charges altogether before submitting the statement to the finance department for payment.

Although the original limit on this corporate credit card was $80,000.00, Velázquez-Bracero obtained numerous credit limit increases by forging her supervisor’s signature on letters to the credit card company requesting said increases. Defendant knew that she was affecting federal grants when she illegally used this corporate credit card. The total amount of unauthorized charges by Velázquez-Bracero was $655,432.00.

“The defendant misappropriated funds intended to aid University students, for her illegal personal gain,” said US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “At the U.S. Attorney’s Office we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute financial crimes. This arrest should discourage those who get involved in these types of schemes before it’s too late, because we will continue investigating and prosecuting these offenses.”

“Federal education funds exist to provide students with educational opportunities and help students make their dreams of higher education a reality, it’s not a personal slush fund,” said Yessyka Santana, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Southeast Regional Office. “I’m proud of the work of OIG special agents, our law enforcement partners, and the PCUPR staff for holding Ms. Velázquez accountable for her alleged criminal actions.”

As a result of the guilty plea, the defendant may be sentenced to a term of eight to fourteen months in prison, a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00), and/or a term of supervised release of not more than three (3) years. Assistant United States Attorney Scott H. Anderson is in charge of the prosecution of the case.

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Department of Justice Seeks Forfeiture of $34 Million in Bribe Payments to the Republic of Chad’s Former Ambassador to the U.S. and Canada

The Department filed a complaint today seeking the civil forfeiture of approximately $34 million, which represents the cash value of shares in a Canadian energy company that the company used to bribe Chad’s former Ambassador to the United States and Canada for the purpose of influencing the award of oil development rights.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director Joseph S. Campbell of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.

From 2004 to 2012, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, 50, served as Chad’s Ambassador to the United States and Canada.  From approximately 2007 to 2015, Youssouf Hamid Takane, 52, was the Deputy Chief of Mission.  As alleged in the complaint, in 2009, Bechir and Takane agreed to use their official positions to influence the award of oil development rights in Chad to Griffiths Energy International Inc., a Canadian oil company, in exchange for shares in the company.  Thereafter, in or about October 2009, Griffiths Energy issued four million shares to the wives of Bechir and Takane and to another associate.

The complaint further alleges that Griffiths Energy agreed with Bechir and his wife that the company would pay a $2 million “consulting fee” to Bechir’s wife to influence the award of oil development rights in Chad.  After securing the desired oil development rights in February 2011, Griffiths Energy allegedly transferred $2 million to an account held by a shell company created by Bechir’s wife.  This bribe payment was commingled and laundered through U.S. bank accounts and real property, and eventually was transferred to Bechir’s bank account in South Africa, where he is now serving as Chad’s Ambassador.  In 2013, Griffiths Energy pleaded guilty in Canadian court to bribing Bechir.

The $34 million that the United States seeks in forfeiture represents the cash value of the four million shares in Griffiths Energy that were provided to the wives of Bechir and Takane and to their associate.  In a separate action filed in 2014, the United States also is seeking the civil forfeiture of over $100,000 in allegedly laundered funds traceable to the $2 million bribe payment.  Takane resides in the United States.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI.  The case is being handled by Trial Attorney Nalina Sombuntham and Senior Trial Attorney Steven C. Parker of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

This case was brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative by a team of dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, working in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, return those proceeds to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office.  Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an email tokleptocracy@usdoj.gov

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