Sex & $$$ in The Peace Corps IG Investigations (Washington, DC)

 

Peace Corps Office of Inspector General — Semi-annual Report to Congress

The Investigation Unit is authorized to investigate waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in both domestic and international Peace Corps programs and operations. OIG investigators have full law enforcement authority including the authority, upon probable cause, to seek and execute warrants for arrest, search premises, and seize evidence. They are authorized to make arrests without a warrant
while engaged in official duties and to carry firearms. The unit investigates allegations of both criminal wrongdoing and administrative misconduct involving Peace Corps staff, contractors, Volunteers, and other individuals conducting transactions with the Peace Corps. Allegations are made by Peace Corps stakeholders such as Volunteers, trainees, staff, contractors, other federal entities, and the general public. OIG receives these allegations through audits, evaluations, hotline complaints, and other means.

In addition, OIG relies upon the investigative support of the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

Criminal and Misconduct Related Investigations

In 2009, Peace Corps Volunteer Kate Puzey was murdered while serving in Benin, just after reporting concerns that a seasonal Peace Corps contractor was sexually abusing students. Her tragic death raised serious concerns with the agency’s handling of Volunteer safety, security, and the confidentiality of Volunteer complaints. OIG has prioritized investigating Ms. Puzey’s murder and the practices the agency used to protect Volunteers. Our investigations and reviews found significant flaws with the Peace Corps safety and security program, confidentiality policies, and response to victims of crime. The Peace Corps has made major reforms in response to these findings, which we have described below.

The Investigation and Recent Trial

The U.S. Government has been assisting the Government of Benin with the ongoing investigation into Ms. Puzey’s death since 2009. Peace Corps OIG’s initial involvement in the case focused on the circumstances surrounding the related disclosure of confidential information, including the role of agency staff and contractors. Subsequently, OIG special agents participated in an interagency team with law enforcement partners from the FBI and DSS to assist the Beninese authorities to resolve the murder. At the request of the Government of Benin, the team made numerous field visits to assist Beninese counterparts in the collection and documentation of evidence.

On February 25, 2017, a Beninese court of seven jury members (three Beninese judges and four Beninese civilians) concluded the criminal proceedings related to Ms. Puzey’s murder. Representatives of the Peace Corps and OIG attended the trial with Ms. Puzey’s family members. An OIG special agent testified extensively on investigative findings regarding a breach of Ms. Puzey’s confidentiality when she reported concerns about the conduct of a Peace Corps contractor to Peace Corps staff. This breach may have allowed the subject of her concern to discover her accusation and her identity as the complainant.

Ultimately, all four defendants were acquitted. Three of the defendants had been incarcerated for eight years pending trial, and one had been incarcerated for three years. Despite the extensive investigative fieldwork conducted in Benin and other resources devoted to this investigation by the Beninese Gendarmerie, the Peace Corps OIG, the FBI, and the Regional Security Office of the U.S. Embassy in Benin, the case remains unresolved.

OIG and our partners continue to seek justice for Ms. Puzey. Our investigation will remain open pending new evidence or information leading to a resolution of the case.

Peace Corps Reform Following Ms. Puzey’s Murder

In conducting our investigative activity, we uncovered a serious lack of internal controls and breaches of security protocols. As a result, OIG audited the safety and security program in 2010 and performed a follow-up review in 2015.

Among our most significant findings in 2010, the Audit Unit found that the safety and security program lacked clear management structure. No single office accepted ownership of Volunteer safety. The Office of Safety and Security served as a consultative office rather than an oversight office with the ability to implement and enforce its recommendations. In the 2015 follow-up, the Audit Unit found the safety and security program had evolved, making substantial progress to address safety and security needs.

Significantly, the Peace Corps entered into a partnership with the Department of State, allowing the Peace Corps to access the expertise of the regional security officers in each country’s embassy. We made further recommendations for improving the program, including in the areas of training, implementing safety and security recommendations, and measuring performance. The Peace Corps implemented all OIG safety and security recommendations from its 2015 follow up review.

A law bearing Ms. Puzey’s name, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, required the Peace Corps put additional measures in place to enhance Volunteer safety and security, protect Volunteer whistle-blowers, and improve the Peace Corps’ response to victims of sexual assault. OIG has extensively reviewed the Peace Corps’ implementation of the program, issuing nine reports since 2011 – seven required by the Act and two directly related to the subject of sexual assault response – to ultimately improve the way the Peace Corps responds to Volunteers who have been sexually assaulted. The Evaluation Unit conducted over 240 interviews with staff, 70 interviews with Volunteers, reviewed nearly 200 sexual assault case files, and conducted field work in 6 countries specifically to assess how the Peace Corps has implemented this Act.

In the years since Ms. Puzey’s death, the Peace Corps has made substantial reforms to protect Volunteers. It has changed its Volunteer safety and security program, improved the professionalization and training of staff, executed an MOU with the Department of State to address Volunteer safety and security, enhanced confidentiality protections for Volunteers, and developed a comprehensive sexual assault risk response and reduction program. Volunteers are now trained on how to report wrongdoing and staff are trained on how to handle Volunteer concerns confidentially.

OIG continues to prioritize our oversight of programs for Volunteer safety, security, and medical care, and we will continue to make recommendations to help the Peace Corps keep Volunteers healthy and safe.

OIG investigated a report that a Volunteer had raped another Volunteer. OIG interviewed the victim, who informed OIG that the Volunteer subject of the accusations had admitted to the rape both verbally and via email and text message. When interviewed by OIG, the subject denied forcibly penetrating the victim without consent or stated that he had done so “accidentally.” The subject was medically evacuated from the post on the day of OIG’s interview and resigned shortly thereafter. OIG obtained and executed search warrants for a physical location, as well as the email and text messages. OIG uncovered evidence that corroborated the victim’s statements about the subject’s admissions. OIG referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for potential prosecution, but DOJ declined to prosecute.5 OIG investigated a report that a Volunteer had raped another Volunteer on Peace Corps leased property. The incident had been the subject of a restricted report. However, 5 This case was closed at the end of the previous reporting period. Due to an oversight, it was not included in the previous semiannual report, and is instead reported here. because of the possible serious threat posed to the victim and other Volunteers, the Peace Corps converted the restricted report to a standard report and referred the matter to OIG for investigation. The victim reported telling the subject “no” or “please stop,” but he did not. The subject stated he had consensual sexual intercourse with the victim. The subject resigned in lieu of administrative separation. DOJ declined to prosecute the reported rape.

OIG investigated a report that a Volunteer had sexually assaulted another Volunteer. The subject told OIG that he had no recollection of his actions due to consumption of alcohol. The victim expressed a preference for pursuing the matter administratively. As a separate matter, the subject also admitted to consuming illegal drugs on several occasions in violation of agency policy. The subject resigned in lieu of administrative separation. DOJ declined to prosecute the reported sexual assault.

OIG investigated reports that a Volunteer had sexually assaulted two other Volunteers. OIG interviewed the two victims and the subject. However, the subject resigned from the Peace Corps after the OIG interview but before the case could be referred to the agency’s sexual misconduct hearing panel. OIG referred the case to DOJ for potential prosecution, but DOJ declined to prosecute. 6 OIG received an allegation that a Peace Corps manager had extorted temporary workers for sex under the threat of preventing or ending their Peace Corps employment. The investigation corroborated the allegation and the manager’s employment was terminated for cause. OIG is pursuing the case with host country law enforcement authorities.

OIG initiated an investigation upon receipt of information by the RSO at a U.S. Embassy in Africa which indicated that two Peace Corps managers were having sex with their subordinates. OIG, assisted by RSO staff, interviewed the managers. Both managers acknowledged the allegation was true and were terminated for cause.

This case was closed at the end of the previous reporting period. Due to an oversight, it was not included in the previous semiannual report, and is instead reported here.

Other investigations

At the request of another agency’s OIG, Peace Corps OIG investigated whether one of that agency’s criminal investigators provided false information during a fitness-for-duty examination and failed to report certain medical treatment to management, as required. The investigation determined that the information withheld from the screening physician was likely material; however, the screening physician would likely have cleared the criminal investigator for duty following additional reviews. The criminal investigator denied intending to mislead the physician or management, but was unable to provide evidence that management had been informed of the medical treatment. DOJ declined to prosecute the matter in favor of administrative remedies, and the individual received written counselling.

OIG initiated an investigation upon receipt of information from the Peace Corps Office of Management indicating that the Peace Corps continued to fund transit subsidy payments for over 100 former Peace Corps employees after they discontinued their employment with the agency. OIG’s investigation identified several former employees who continued to receive and use their transit benefit subsidies after leaving the Peace Corps. OIG referred information concerning 21 former employees who utilized transit benefits, or whose unused benefits were being retained by third party service providers (such as commuter buses), totaling $19,435.95 to the Peace Corps for possible collection. Additionally, OIG referred information concerning six current and former Peace Corps employees who continued to utilize transit benefits, totaling $1,507.68, after receiving a parking space in the Peace Corps building. OIG thus identified a total of $20,943.63 in potential recoveries.

 

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