December 2, 2022

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RGV tax preparer indicted for filing false returns

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A local tax preparer is set to make her initial appearance in federal court on charges of filing false tax returns on behalf of ta

More from: February 23, 2022

  • Slovakia Constitution Day
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    Seth A. Bernstein, the owner of jet charter company All in Jets LLC dba JetReady, located in Florida, has agreed to pay $287,055 to settle allegations that he misappropriated Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan proceeds for his personal expenses. JetReady is a jet charter operator with its principal place of business in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Veterans Affairs
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 33 priority recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Since then, VA has implemented 13 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to ensure that veterans receive evidence-based mental health treatment. In May 2021, GAO identified 8 additional priority recommendations for VA, bringing the total number to 28. These recommendations involve the following areas: response to the COVID-19 pandemic; veterans’ access to timely health care; the veterans community care program; human capital management; information technology; appeals reform for disability benefits; quality of care and patient safety; veteran suicide prevention; efficiency within the VA health care system; national policy documents; procurement policies and practices; and capital planning. Addressing the high priority recommendations identified above has the potential to significantly improve VA’s operations, including those related to COVID-19. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.

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  • Countering Illicit Finance and Trade: Better Information Sharing and Collaboration Needed to Combat Trade-Based Money Laundering
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Trade-based money laundering (TBML) is one of the primary mechanisms criminal organizations and others use to launder illicit proceeds, and the basic techniques involve the mis-invoicing of goods and services, such as through over- and under-invoicing. The Bank Secrecy Act requires, among other things, financial institutions to report suspicious financial transactions to the Department of the Treasury. But for most trade transactions, financial institutions lack visibility into the types of documentation that would allow them to identify suspicious activity. Also, many trade-related documents, such as purchase orders, invoices, and customs documents, are vulnerable to fraudulent manipulation. Criminal organizations exploit these vulnerabilities for other trade-related financial crimes, such as customs fraud, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and sanctions evasion. The Department of Homeland Security (specifically, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations) established the Trade Transparency Unit (TTU) to combat TBML through the analysis of financial and trade data, including import and export data exchanged with partner countries. The TTU uses the Data Analysis and Research for Trade Transparency System (DARTTS) to analyze trade and financial data to identify suspicious transactions that may warrant investigation for money laundering or other crimes. TTU officials told GAO that they conduct most of their analysis in response to specific requests from agents in the field to support ongoing investigations. TBML schemes often involve many types of illicit activity—such as the trade of counterfeit goods and sanctions evasion—that cut across multiple agencies’ roles and responsibilities. However, current federal collaborative efforts to combat TBML do not include some key agencies involved in overseeing trade, and information on suspicious financial and trade activity is siloed among different agencies. For example: Treasury’s national strategy for combating money laundering does not incorporate the views and perspectives of several agencies positioned to identify illicit trade, as well as private-sector entities, such as freight forwarders. There is no formal collaboration mechanism focused on combating TBML, such as a working group or task force, among federal agencies with anti-money laundering and trade enforcement responsibilities. Such a mechanism could facilitate the sharing of information and data on trade-facilitated financial crimes between federal agencies and with private-sector entities. According to agency officials familiar with DARTTS, data from this system are not proactively analyzed to, among other things, identify emerging trends or patterns of illicit activity. Further, the data and analysis are not shared with other relevant agencies involved in combating illicit finance and trade that could potentially identify suspicious activity. TTU officials told GAO that the TTU’s data-sharing agreements with partner countries limit its ability to share DARTTS data, but the TTU could take steps to explore ways to incorporate interagency data sharing into those agreements. With access to relevant data, U.S. agencies may be able to better identify emerging risks and trends related to TBML and other illicit trade schemes. Why GAO Did This Study Criminal organizations and other malign actors exploit vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial and trade systems to obscure the source and destination of ill-gotten proceeds and further their illicit activity. TBML is one of the most challenging forms of money laundering to investigate because of the complexities of trade transactions and the large volume of international trade. U.S. agencies report there has been an increase in TBML activity, in part because criminals are using more sophisticated schemes to avoid detection. GAO was asked to provide information on U.S. efforts to combat TBML. This report examines, among other things, (1) vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial and trade systems that are exploited to facilitate TBML, (2) the data U.S. agencies use to detect and combat TBML, and (3) the extent to which U.S. agencies collaborate to share information to combat TBML. GAO reviewed U.S. agency reports, data, and other documentation. GAO also interviewed U.S. agency officials and representatives of private-sector entities, including from the financial, trade, and technology sectors.

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  • Federal Prison Industries: Actions Needed to Evaluate Program Effectiveness
    In U.S GAO News
    The First Step Act of 2018 made new, nonfederal markets and potential buyers available to Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a government corporation organized within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); however, various challenges could limit FPI’s ability to sell to customers in these markets. FPI makes apparel, personal protective equipment, and furniture, among other products. FPI may now sell to the District of Columbia government, including, for example, to its firefighters; nonfederal, governmental entities for use in correctional settings or in response to a disaster or emergency, such as local jails and first responders; and nonprofit organizations, such as universities. However, a lack of information makes it difficult to estimate the dollar value of these new markets. The following figure depicts the new markets made available to FPI. New Markets for Federal Prison Industries’ Products under the First Step Act Data on the size of most of the new markets are very limited. For example, GAO found no existing national information to help estimate the size and scope of relevant spending by nonfederal entities on disaster relief and emergencies. Also, challenges related to state and local government operations, for example, could limit FPI’s ability to sell products in the new markets made available under the First Step Act. Specifically, state-level prison industries and in-state vendors often have preferential access to many of the procurement markets now available to FPI. FPI and the private sector share some similar operating requirements, such as those related to keeping workers safe. They also face different requirements and business practices, such as those related to the legal framework, security, and costs. Available data indicate that buyers are generally satisfied with the delivery and quality of FPI products. GAO analyzed 231 performance reports on FPI in the federal government’s database for contractor performance, as of August 2019. Customers rated FPI’s performance in the delivery schedule and quality categories as exceptional, very good, or satisfactory on about 80 and 90 percent, respectively, of performance reports. There were too few ratings on cost to analyze them. FPI aims to assist inmates in their reentry into society by providing marketable job skills, but BOP has not reviewed FPI’s impact on recidivism in over 2 decades. BOP relies on outdated studies that assessed the impact of FPI on inmates released in the 1980s. In January 2020, BOP cited a 1992 study as the basis for the Attorney General’s designation of FPI as an Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Program under the First Step Act 0f 2018 . BOP made a plan to evaluate FPI but the plan’s timeline passed and the BOP has not set a new one. Without an updated plan for evaluating FPI, BOP continues to rely on outdated evaluations of FPI and has limited information about FPI’s effectiveness amidst changes to its inmate population Additionally, while BOP has reported some descriptive statistics on recidivism rates, it has not developed a goal. Without a timeline for evaluation and a goal for reducing recidivism, BOP’s ability to assess the effectiveness of FPI will be limited. FPI is a government owned corporation that, as a national reentry program, manages, trains, and rehabilitates inmates through employment. FPI sells inmate-produced goods and services primarily to federal government agencies. The First Step Act of 2018 authorized FPI to sell its products to new markets. A provision in the First Step Act of 2018 required GAO to review various aspects of FPI. This report addresses (1) the potential size and scope of the additional markets made available to FPI under the First Step Act; (2) the similarities and differences in selected requirements and business practices of FPI and private sector sellers of products and services; (3) customers’ satisfaction with FPI regarding quality, price, and timely delivery of its products and services; and (4) the extent to which BOP has evaluated the effectiveness of FPI and other vocational programs in reducing recidivism and the results. GAO examined recidivism studies and data, analyzed performance data, conducted fieldwork at four FPI facilities selected based on security level and type of products produced, met with industry associations, and interviewed agency officials and employed inmates. GAO is making two recommendations: (1) BOP should update its evaluation plan for FPI by setting a new timeline for evaluation and (2) BOP should set a goal to reduce recidivism. DOJ concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov or William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.

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