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Former US State Department employee jailed over kickbacks for island US Consulate project

May Salehi has been sentenced to a year in prison for receiving kickbacks in return for giving inside bidding information (File photograph)

A former US State Department employee has been sentenced to a year in prison and fined $500,000 for receiving kickbacks in return for giving inside bidding information to a contractor of a lucrative construction project at the US Consulate in Bermuda.

May Salehi was involved in evaluating bids for overseas government construction projects including bids for a multimillion-dollar construction project known as a compound security upgrade at the consulate in 2016.

The process involved blind, sealed bids from numerous bidders – one of six companies to submit bids was Montage.

Salehi was involved in what was dubbed the Bermuda Project, serving as the chair of the Technical Evaluation panel, which evaluates the technical aspects of bids, including whether they meet the structural and security needs of the State Department.

According to a release from the US States Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, in September 2016, the State Department’s employees who evaluate the costs of bids gave five bidders, including Montage, the opportunity to rebid.

During a two-day period when the bidders could decide whether to rebid, Sina Moayedi, Montage’s principal, contacted Salehi by phone seeking insider information about the competitors’ bids.

The release said: “Salehi agreed to meet Moayedi in person during the work day. In response to Moayedi’s inquiry, Salehi told him that all five bids were low, and that his bid was lowest by about a million dollars.”

It added: “Moayedi said that he would give Salehi one per cent of the contract value if he won; and as she walked away, Salehi proposed a cover story by stating: ‘I have rugs to sell’.

“Salehi knew that it was unlawful to provide this confidential bidding information to a bidder. After Moayedi received this inside information from Salehi, Montage immediately increased its bid by nearly $1 million.

“In its revised bid to the State Department, Moayedi and Montage lied as to the reason it had increased its bid by nearly $1 million, falsely claiming that it had discovered ‘an arithmetic error’ in its estimates.

“Montage was ultimately awarded the Bermuda Project with a revised bid of $6.3 million.”

The office said that in the following months, Moayedi provided Salehi $60,000 in kickbacks over three instalments.

The release added: “In making these kickback payments, Moayedi used intermediaries to obscure the link between him and Salehi.

“To conceal the true purpose of the kickback payments, as she had suggested, Salehi gave Moayedi a Persian rug, by providing it to an intermediary who passed it to Moayedi.

“Salehi did not report the $60,000 kickback payments on her taxes, her State Department financial disclosure forms, or her application to renew her top-secret national security clearance.”

Salehi admitted being involved in a fraud scheme. In addition to her one-year prison sentence, Salehi, 66, from Washington DC, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to forfeit $60,000 and pay a $500,000 fine.

Mr Moayedi has been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and major fraud against the United States.

Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, praised the investigative work of the State Department OIG, special agents from the United State’s Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and IRS-CI.