2024-07-18 3:44 AM

News Briefs: January 9th – 15th

Carter, Prince Named F.C. Employees of the Year

Emergency Manager Joe Carter and Deputy City Clerk Veronica Prince are the 2020 and 2021 City Employees of the Year, respectively, City Hall has announced this week.

The community-led Employee Review Board selected Carter for leading the City’s response to the pandemic, and Prince for implementing open meeting procedures and best practices that allowed City Council, boards, and commissions to operate during the pandemic. The Employee of the Year program was paused during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the City statement, Carter exhibited extraordinary leadership, ingenuity, and dedication in planning, preparing, and responding to an emergency that changed the posture of the City’s business and public service communities. The pandemic forced the community to reinvent its way of life and realign its priorities, and Carter was considered the “tip of the spear” in the City’s response.

The nomination reads, in part, “Throughout the pandemic, Joe demonstrated selfless leadership and exceptional courage, putting others’ well-being first to serve and support the City community. He approaches each day with grit, compassion, and grace — and it’s his persistent grace that truly left City employees and residents feeling safe, informed, and empowered by his service. He has never wavered from his mission in keeping the lives and livelihood of City residents and employees healthy and safe.”

Prince was selected for going above and beyond her job description by coordinating and tracking over 500 City virtual board and commission meetings to comply with state law and ensuring boards and commissions work was accessible to the community.

Prince is the main point of contact for staff liaisons to the City’s 21 advisory boards and commissions. During the pandemic, she provided training every time laws changed regarding open meetings. She ensured meeting notices, agendas, materials, and videos were posted for the public. After each meeting, she also posted videos and relevant documents for each meeting to a public access portal. Through it all, Prince provided ongoing support to staff liaisons and worked directly with board and commission members to help them understand open meeting laws and purpose.

Her nomination essay reads, in part, “The additional training and interaction precipitated by the pandemic allowed Veronica to emphasize, with staff and volunteers alike, the importance for our democracy that government proceedings remain transparent and easy for the public to access. Veronica performed this additional work (training, monitoring and posting, keeping track of 500+ meeting videos and agenda materials, and answering daily questions about open meetings) while continuing to excel at her regular duties. Veronica is the backup for all City Clerk duties, including FOIA coordination, records management, and legislative administration.”

The other 2020 nominees were Akida Rouzi (Community Planning and Economic Development) and Steve Helfer (Community Planning and Economic Development). The other 2021 nominees were Matt Brown (Public Works) and Joe Carter (Emergency Management).

Sen. Warner Introduces Drones Act in Congress

Yesterday, Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and South Dakota Sen. John Thune introduced the “Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act of 2023,” comprehensive legislation to streamline the approvals process for beyond visual line of sight drone flights and clear the way for drones to be used for commercial transport of goods across the country – making sure, Warner’s office stated, that the U.S. remains competitive globally in a growing industry increasingly dominated by competitors like China.

Currently, each aircraft operation that takes flight requires unmanned aerial system (UAS) operators to seek waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but the FAA has not laid out any consistent set of criteria for the granting of waivers, making the process for approving drone flights slow and unpredictable, Warner said.  

“Drones have the ability to transform so much of the way we do business. Beyond package delivery, drones can change the way we grow crops, manage disasters, maintain our infrastructure, and administer medicine,” said Sen. Warner. “If we want the drones of tomorrow to be manufactured in the U.S. and not in China, we have to start working today to integrate them into our airspace. Revamping the process for approving commercial drone flight will catapult the United States into the 21st century, allowing us to finally start competing at the global level as technological advancements make drone usage ever more common.”

Russian Vekselberg Land Scheme Suspect Indicted

A federal court in New York unsealed an indictment yesterday charging a citizen of the Russian Federation and legal permanent resident of the United States with participating in a scheme to make over $4 million in U.S. dollar payments to maintain four real properties in the United States that were owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a sanctioned oligarch, as well as to attempt to sell two of those properties.

According to court documents, Vladimir Voronchenko, aka Vladimir Vorontchenko, 70, of Moscow, Russia; New York, New York; Southampton, New York; and Fisher Island, Florida, is additionally charged with contempt of court in connection with his flight from the United States following receipt of a grand jury subpoena requiring his personal appearance and testimony.

According to allegations in the indictment, Voronchenko, who resided at various times in New York, Florida, and Russia, held himself out as a successful businessman, art collector, and art dealer, and as a close friend and business associate of Vekselberg.

On April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Viktor Vekselberg as a Specially Designated National (SDN) in connection with its finding that the actions of the Government of the Russian Federation in Ukraine constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. On or about March 11, 2022, OFAC redesignated Vekselberg as an SDN and blocked Vekselberg’s yacht and private airplane.

Prior to his designation by OFAC, between in or about 2008 and in or about 2017, Vekselberg, through a series of shell companies, acquired real properties in the United States, specifically, (a) an apartment on Park Avenue in New York, New York, (b) an estate in Southampton, New York, (c) an apartment on Fisher Island, Florida, and (d) a penthouse apartment also on Fisher Island, Florida (collectively, the Properties). As of the date of the indictment, the Properties were worth approximately $75 million.

Voronchenko retained an attorney (the Attorney), who practiced in New York, New York, in connection with the acquisition of the Properties. The Attorney also managed the finances of the Properties, including by paying common charges, property taxes, insurance premiums, and other fees associated with the Properties in U.S. dollar transactions from the Attorney’s interest on lawyer’s trust account (IOLTA account).

Prior to Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN, between approximately February 2009 and March 2018, shell companies owned by Vekselberg sent approximately 90 wire transfers totaling approximately $18.5 million to the IOLTA account. At the direction of Voronchenko and his family member who lived in Russia, the Attorney used these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties.

Immediately after Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN, the source of the funds used to maintain and service the Properties changed. The IOLTA Account began to receive wires from a bank account in the Bahamas held in the name of a shell company controlled by Voronchenko, “Smile Holding Ltd.,” and from a Russian bank account held in the name of a Russian national who was related to Voronchenko. Between approximately June 2018 and March 2022, approximately 25 wire transfers totaling approximately $4 million were sent to the IOLTA account. Although the source of the payments changed, the management of the payments remained the same as before: Voronchenko and his family member directed the Attorney to use these funds to make various U.S. dollar payments to maintain and service the Properties. Additionally, after Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018, Voronchenko and others tried to sell both the Park Avenue apartment and Southampton estate. No licenses from OFAC were applied for or issued for these payments or attempted transfers.

On or about May 13, 2022, federal agents served Voronchenko on Fisher Island with a Grand Jury subpoena, which called for his personal appearance for testimony and his production of documents. Approximately nine days later, on or about May 22, 2022, Voronchenko took a flight from Miami, Florida to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then went to Moscow, Russia. Voronchenko failed to appear before the grand jury and has not returned to the United States.

Voronchenko is charged with conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA); violating IEEPA; conspiring to commit international money laundering; each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Voronchenko was also charged with contempt of court, which carries a maximum sentence within the discretion of the court. The indictment also provides notice of the United States’ intention to forfeit from Voronchenko the proceeds of his offenses, including the Properties. 

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York, Task Force KleptoCapture Director Andrew C. Adams, Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Field Office, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Maged Behnam of the FBI Miami Field Office made the announcement.

The FBI and HSI are investigating the case with valuable assistance provided by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs, and OFAC.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Greenwood, Joshua A. Naftalis, and Sheb Swett for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case.

This case was coordinated through the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export controls and economic countermeasures that the United States, along with its foreign allies and partners, has imposed in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine.

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