A suburban Chicago businessman has been indicted on federal criminal charges for allegedly illegally exporting gun parts and other defense articles from the United States to a company in Ukraine.
Glenn Stepul owned a Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based business that distributed horizontal directional drilling equipment. From 2014 to 2016, Stepul conspired with a Ukranian resident – Andriy Yakin – and an unindicted co-conspirator in Ukraine to violate the Arms Export Control Act by exporting or attempting to export pistol slides and stainless steel gun barrels from the United States to Ukraine, without obtaining the required authorization from the U.S. Department of State, according to an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Stepul, Yakin, and the unindicted co-conspirator also conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by exporting or attempting to export rifle scopes and night-vision cameras from the United States to Ukraine, without obtaining the required authorization from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the indictment states.
The charges allege that Stepul commingled and concealed some of the export-controlled items inside shipments of drilling equipment sent to Ukraine. One such shipment was intercepted by customs officials in Lviv, Ukraine, in September 2014, the indictment states. Stepul had completed a customs declaration falsely describing the items inside the parcel as “household goods,” “cosmetics,” “toys,” “stationary,” and “cassettes,” the indictment states.
The indictment charges Stepul, 33, of Miami Beach, Fla., and formerly of Wheeling, Ill., and Yakin, 38, of Poltava, Ukraine, with conspiracy to violate the AECA and IEEPA and knowingly impede and obstruct the functions of the Commerce and State Departments. Stepul also faces additional export-control, smuggling, and false statement charges. Stepul pleaded not guilty to all charges during his arraignment Thursday before U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey in Chicago. Judge Blakey scheduled a status hearing for Dec. 16, 2020, at 1:00 p.m.
Yakin is believed to be residing in Ukraine, and a warrant for his arrest has been issued.
The indictment was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI; James M. Gibbons, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; Dan Clutch, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security-Office of Export Enforcement, Chicago Field Office; and Cynthia Bruce, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Southeast Field Office. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson S. Walker.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
- Federal Research: Agency Actions Needed to Address Foreign InfluenceBy Sam NewsOctober 5, 2021What GAO Found U.S. research may be subject to undue foreign influence in cases where a researcher has a foreign conflict of interest (COI). Federal grant-making agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) can address this threat through COI policies and requiring the disclosure of information that may indicate conflicts. In a December 2020 report, GAO reviewed five agencies, including NSF, which together accounted for almost 90 percent of all federal research and development expenditures at universities in fiscal year 2018. GAO found that three of the agencies it reviewed have agency-wide COI policies and two do not (see figure). The three agencies with existing COI policies focus on financial interests and do not specifically address or define non-financial interests, which may include multiple professional appointments. In the absence of agency-wide COI policies and definitions for non-financial interests, researchers may not fully understand what they need to report on their grant proposals, leaving agencies with incomplete information to assess the risk of foreign influence. Elements of Conflict of Interest (COI) Policies at Selected Agencies In the report, GAO found that agencies were working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on efforts to protect federally funded research and were waiting for OSTP to issue guidance on addressing foreign influence before updating their policies. In January 2021, the White House and OSTP issued documents for agencies and research organizations, respectively, on actions to strengthen protections for federally funded research against foreign influence. As of September 2021, OSTP is working on implementation guidance for agencies, due to be issued in November 2021. All five agencies have mechanisms to monitor and enforce COI policies and requirements. While most agencies collect non-financial information, such as details of foreign collaborations, agencies rely on universities to monitor financial conflicts. All five agencies have enforcement mechanisms for responding to an alleged failure to disclose required information, however, only NSF and the National Institutes of Health have written procedures for such allegations. In addition, agencies have referred cases for criminal investigation, among other enforcement actions, where they identified researchers who failed to disclose required information. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government reported expending about $44.5 billion on university science and engineering research in fiscal year 2019. Safeguarding the U.S. research enterprise from threats of foreign influence is of critical importance. Recent reports by GAO and others have noted challenges the research community faces in combatting undue foreign influence while also maintaining an open research environment that fosters collaboration, transparency, and the free exchange of ideas. This testimony discusses, among other things, (1) COI policies and disclosure requirements at selected agencies and universities that address potential foreign threats, and (2) mechanisms to monitor and enforce policies and requirements. It is based on a report that GAO issued in December 2020 (GAO-21-130).[Read More…]
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- Aviation Services: Information on Airports Exercising Their Right as the Sole Provider of FuelBy Sam NewsJuly 28, 2021What GAO Found Based on GAO's survey, 588 of the nearly 2,000 airports responding to the survey reported exercising their proprietary exclusive right (the right to be the sole service provider) for aviation fuel services. While airports are generally prohibited from granting an exclusive right to any party to provide aviation services, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that an airport can be the exclusive provider of such services, thereby precluding other parties from providing those services at the airport. Most (567) of these airports are general aviation airports—airports that have no scheduled commercial service or have scheduled service but fewer than 2,500 passenger boardings per year. The 588 airports are located in 45 of the 48 contiguous states and in all of the FAA regions covering these states. Location of Airports that Reported Using the Proprietary Exclusive Right on GAO Survey, by Federal Aviation Administration Region Note: An airport sponsor may elect to provide any or all of the aeronautical services at its airports and be the exclusive provider of those services. This is known as the proprietary exclusive right. GAO's survey and interviews with selected airports found most airports that report exercising their proprietary exclusive right do so based largely on attracting users to the airport, providing a high level of reliable customer service, and generating airport revenue. Over 90 percent of the 588 airports responded that attracting users to the airport and generating revenue were very important or somewhat important to their decision to provide fuel service. Further, officials from 17 of the 26 airports GAO interviewed explained that the resulting revenue was a main factor in their decision to provide fuel service. For example, one airport manager said the revenue allows the airport to invest in capital projects, such as building hangars, to help attract users to the airport. The revenue can also help an airport become as financially self-sustaining as possible, which is a requirement to receive federal airport grants. Airports also cited providing consistent customer service as a key factor in exercising their proprietary exclusive right. For example, one airport manager GAO spoke to said complaints about the former private fuel provider's customer service and prices prompted the airport to become the sole service provider. Why GAO Did This Study FAA, through federal airport grants, helps fund airports' capital development and is responsible for overseeing airports' compliance with federal requirements incorporated in airport grant agreements. Under these agreements, airports are generally not allowed to grant exclusive rights to any person or entity to provide aeronautical services—such as fuel—on airport grounds. FAA has determined, however, that airports themselves can opt to be the exclusive provider of such services by exercising their proprietary exclusive right. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to examine airports that have exercised their proprietary exclusive right. This report addresses what is known about the number and characteristics of airports that are currently exercising their proprietary exclusive right to provide fuel and the factors airports consider when deciding whether to exercise this right to provide fuel. GAO reviewed relevant federal statutes, FAA policies and guidance, airport documents and websites, and conducted a web survey of all 3,010 public use airports in the contiguous United States. GAO interviewed officials at a non-generalizable sample of 26 airports that self-identified as exercising their proprietary exclusive right and at 10 airports that are not exercising their proprietary exclusive right, selected based on a mix of characteristics, including the amount of fuel sales. GAO also interviewed FAA compliance staff at headquarters and regional offices. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Defense Infrastructure: Documentation Lacking to Fully Support How DOD Determined Specifications for the Landstuhl Replacement Medical CenterBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO FoundDepartment of Defense (DOD) officials considered current beneficiary population data, contingency operations, and most of the expected changes in troop strength when planning for the replacement medical center. However, recently announced posture changes in January 2012 have yet to be assessed for their impact on the facility. DOD estimates that the replacement medical center will provide health care for nearly 250,000 beneficiaries. A majority of those who are expected to receive health care from the center come from within a 55-mile radius of the facility. DOD officials told us that because the replacement medical center was designed for peacetime operationswith the capacity to expand to meet the needs of contingency operationsreductions in ongoing contingency operations in Afghanistan would not have an impact on facility requirements. At the time of this review, DOD officials said they were in the process of assessing proposed changes in posture to better understand their possible impact on the sizing of the replacement medical center.DOD officials incorporated patient quality of care standards as well as environmentally friendly design elements in determining facility requirements for the replacement medical center. DOD also determined the size of the facility based on its projected patient workload. Internal control standards require the creation and maintenance of adequate documentation, which should be clear and readily available for examination to inform decision making. However, GAOs review of the documentation DOD provided in support of its facility requirements showed (1) inconsistencies in how DOD applied projected patient workload data and planning criteria to determine the appropriate size for individual medical departments, (2) some areas where the documentation did not clearly demonstrate how planners applied criteria to generate requirements, and (3) calculation errors throughout. Without clear documentation of key analysesincluding information on how adjustments to facility requirements were madeand without correct calculations, stakeholders and decision makers lack reasonable assurances that the replacement medical center will be appropriately sized to meet the needs of the expected beneficiary population in Europe.DODs process for developing the approximately $1.2 billion cost estimate for the replacement medical center was substantially consistent with many cost estimating best practices, such as cross-checking major cost elements to confirm similar results. However, DOD minimally documented the data sources, calculations, and estimating methodologies it used in developing the cost estimate. Additionally, DOD anticipates that the new facility will become the hub of a larger medical-services-related campus, for which neither cost estimates nor time frames have yet been developed. Without a cost estimate for the facility that includes detailed documentation, DOD cannot fully demonstrate that the proposed replacement medical center will provide adequate health care capacity at the current estimated cost. Further, DOD and Congress may not have the information they need to make fully informed decisions about the facility.Why GAO Did This StudyLandstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) is DODs only tertiary medical center in Europe that provides specialized care for servicemembers, retirees, and their dependents. Wounded servicemembers requiring critical care are medically evacuated from overseas operations to the 86th Medical Group clinic at Ramstein Air Base to receive stabilization care before being transported to LRMC for intensive care. According to DOD, both facilities were constructed in the 1950s and are undersized to meet current and projected workload requirements. DOD plans to consolidate both facilities into a single medical center at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion. In this report, GAO (1) describes how DOD considered changes in posture and the beneficiary population when developing facility requirements, (2) assesses DODs process for determining facility requirements, and (3) reviews DODs process to develop the facilitys cost estimate. GAO examined posture planning documentation, beneficiary demographic data, plans for the replacement medical center, and relevant DOD guidance, as well as interviewed relevant DOD officials.[Read More…]
- Veterans Health Care: Agency Efforts to Provide and Study Prosthetics for Small but Growing Female Veteran PopulationBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides veterans with prosthetic services to assist with their mobility, vision, and hearing needs. The proportion of prosthetics VHA provided to female veterans has been small compared to the share provided to male veterans. However, in fiscal years 2015 to 2019, this proportion grew from 6.8 percent to 7.9 percent and accounted for about $889.1 million of the $15.4 billion total cost of prosthetics. Artificial limbs comprised a relatively small number of the total prosthetics VHA provided to veterans in fiscal years 2015 to 2019; however, veterans who use artificial limbs have complex needs and are significant users of health care services. VHA provided prosthetic services to a small but growing female veteran amputee population (almost 3 percent of veteran amputees in fiscal year 2019), who were generally younger than male veteran amputees. VHA has established an individualized patient care approach in its Amputation System of Care that seeks to address the prosthetic needs of each veteran, including accounting for gender-specific factors. VHA officials said that using a standardized, multidisciplinary approach across VA medical facilities also helps them incorporate the concerns and preferences of female veterans. For example, veterans are provided care by a team that includes a physician, therapist, prosthetist (clinician who helps evaluate prosthetic needs and then designs, fabricates, fits, and adjusts artificial limbs), and other providers as needed. Female veteran amputees GAO spoke with at one VA medical facility said they were satisfied with their VHA care. They also noted a lack of commercially available prosthetic options that VHA providers can use to meet women's needs. Examples of Female Veterans' Artificial Limb Prosthetics Women are generally studied less than their male counterparts in prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation research. VHA designated prosthetics for female veterans a national research priority in 2017, and has funded eight related studies as of May 2020: four pertain to lower limb amputation, three pertain to upper limb amputation, and one pertains to wheelchairs. VHA officials noted the importance of this research priority and the ongoing challenge of recruiting study participants due to the small female veteran population. VHA researchers said they employ various tactics to address this challenge, such as using multi-site studies and recruiting participants from the non-veteran population. Women are the fastest growing veteran subpopulation, with the number of female veterans using VHA health care services increasing 29 percent from 2014 to 2019. Female veterans accounted for an estimated 10 percent of the total veteran population in fiscal year 2019. They are eligible to receive a full range of VHA health care services, including obtaining prosthetics. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VHA's prosthetic services for female veterans. This report examines 1) trends in prosthetics provided by VHA to female veterans; 2) characteristics of the female veteran population with limb loss and how VHA provides prosthetic services to these veterans through its Amputation System of Care; and 3) VHA's research efforts and the challenges that exist in studying prosthetics for female veterans with limb loss. GAO analyzed VHA documents, as well as data from fiscal years 2015 to 2019 on prosthetics and veterans with amputations. GAO interviewed agency officials from VHA central office and officials and female veteran amputees at two VA medical facilities selected for expertise in amputation care and prosthetics research activities. In addition, GAO interviewed VHA researchers conducting studies on prosthetics for female veterans. GAO provided a draft of this report to VA. VA provided general and technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Veterans Affairs: Use of Additional Funding for COVID-19 ReliefBy Sam NewsMay 6, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) received $19.6 billion in supplemental funding—additional funding above the annual appropriation—in March 2020 to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO's analysis of VA data shows that through March 2021, VA had obligated $9.9 billion and expended $8.1 billion of the supplemental funding. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Reported Obligations and Expenditures of CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act Funding through March 2021 Note: An obligation is a definite commitment that creates a legal liability to pay, and an expenditure is the actual spending of money. The majority of the obligated supplemental funding ($8.3 billion) was obligated by VA's Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for care provided to veterans by non-VA providers, the additional costs of salaries (such as for overtime) and related expenses of VHA staff, supplies and materials, and support for homeless veterans, due to COVID-19 response. The remaining obligations included costs of VA's transition to telehealth and telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily through the Office of Information Technology (OIT). According to spend plan documents and department officials, VA plans to obligate its remaining $9.7 billion in funding on activities including COVID-19 testing, purchasing supplies and equipment, and distributing COVID-19 vaccines. VA mainly relies on its standard financial management processes to oversee the use of supplemental funds, including establishing new versions of standard financial codes to account for and report on use of funds through VA's financial system. VA also collected details about the use of supplemental funding, such as descriptions of the activities for which funds were obligated, that were not available in its financial system. In addition, the VA components that received the majority of the supplemental funding—VHA and OIT—set up additional processes and issued guidance specific to the use of supplemental funding, such as establishing councils to review funding requests. Why GAO Did This Study As of April 14, 2021, VA reported 224,538 cumulative veteran cases of COVID-19, and 11,366 deaths. The CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act included supplemental funding for COVID-19 relief, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, permitted VA additional flexibility to transfer these funds across the department. The CARES Act also included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines 1) VA's obligations and expenditures of COVID-19 supplemental funding, as well as its plans to obligate remaining funds, and 2) how VA oversees the use of COVID-19 supplemental funds. GAO reviewed VA data on obligations, expenditures, and spend plans for COVID-19 supplemental funding, as well as contracting documentation and documentation on the processes and guidance VA developed to oversee the use of funds. GAO interviewed VA officials responsible for oversight of the supplemental funding, including officials from five regional networks, selected based on funding levels and geography, to gather information about their roles in overseeing the use of and accounting for supplemental funding. VA reviewed a draft of this report and provided a technical comment, which was incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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