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Woman admits fraud over US Consul security contract

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May Salehi (Image from the US District Court for the District of Columbia)
Lucrative kickbacks: May Salehi (Image from the US District Court for the District of Columbia)

A former US State Department staffer has admitted being involved in a fraud scheme linked to improvements at the US Consulate in Bermuda.

May Salehi, 66, who was involved in evaluating bids overseas government construction projects for the US State Department, said she received $60,000 in kick backs after she gave a bidder confidential information about competitors’ bids.

The Washington DC resident pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Audrey Strauss, US Attorney, said: “As a State Department employee, Salehi was entrusted to serve the public. Instead, she abused her position of trust to line her own pockets, as she admitted today.

“Salehi revealed, and traded on, confidential information – corrupting the bidding process and receiving lucrative kickbacks in return.

“Together with our law enforcement partners, this office is committed to rooting out corruption.”

According to the US Department of Justice, the charges related to a project to improve security at the island’s US Consulate.

The bidding process for the multimillion process was launched in 2016 with six companies submitting sealed bids including Maryland-based Montage Inc.

Salehi, who had worked for the State Department since 1991, served as the chair of the technical evaluation panel for the project, which was intended to consider the technical aspects of the bid and if they meet the requirements of the project.

The panel dismissed one bidder, but found that the other five – including the bid from Montage – were acceptable.

Montage and the other remaining bidders were given a two-day window to “rebid” on the project and revise their numbers, during which time Salehi spoke with Sina Moayedi, Montage’s principal.

The Justice Department said Salehi gave Mr Moayedi confidential inside bidding information about the firm’s competitors, which led to Montage increasing its bid by $917,820.

The firm said it had made the change because it had discovered “an arithmetic error” in its estimates.

Montage was awarded the contract, which was valued at $6.3 million and, in the subsequent months Mr Moayedi paid Salehi a total of $60,000 in kickbacks.

Mr Moayedi allegedly used intermediaries to blur the nature of the payments, with Salehi giving one intermediary a Persian rug to mask the kickback.

The Bermuda contract was one of several awarded to Montage by the State Department between 2014 and 2017 for projects across the world, but the deals began to fall under scrutiny in 2018.

An investigation revealed that the firm had struggled financially until 2014, when it turned its attention almost entirely to State Department contracts.

A company insider told investigators that Mr Moayedi had “cultivated a career employee” at the State Department to gain inside information about competing bids.

The investigation revealed multiple phone calls between Salehi to Mr Moayedi at the same time that Montage won three major State Department contracts.

Further red flags were raised when Salehi’s finances were investigated, which revealed her mortgage payments exceeded her gross salary and the suspicious purchase of a Porsche convertible in 2014.

Mr Moayedi was arrested on May 28 this year on three charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bribery of a public official.

Michael Speckhardt, special agent with the Office of Inspector General within the State Department, said: “As government employees, we are entrusted to carry out our responsibilities with integrity and support an equitable process.

“May Salehi did just the opposite. She used her position of public trust to selfishly obtain a personal financial advantage by selling proprietary contracting information for profit.

“Today’s plea, the culmination of extensive investigative and prosecutorial efforts, demonstrates that those who violate the public’s trust will be held accountable for their actions.”