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GAO report on poor management of foreign student visa program PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 17 July 2012 12:54

NEW GAO REPORT CAN BE FOUND HERE 

SENATORS: NEW WATCHDOG REPORT REVEALS SHAM SCHOOLS ARE PEDDLING STUDENT VISAS TO FOREIGN NATIONALS—FRAUD SCHEME COULD OPEN A BACKDOOR FOR TERRORISTS TO ENTER U.S.

More Than 1 in 3 Flight Schools That Admit Foreign Students Are Not Even Accredited By FAATwo 9/11 Hijackers Had Applied for Student Visas To Attend Flight Schools

A Decade After Congress Mandated Audit of All Schools That Issue Student Visas, Feds Have Only Recertified 19% of Schools

Senators Announce Hearing, Legislation to Stop Fraud In Student Visa Program

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released a disturbing report by an independent watchdog revealing that the federal government has unknowingly permitted sham colleges and universities to award student visas to foreign nationals. The report, by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO), warns that the fraud scheme could make the nation vulnerable to potential terrorists seeking to enter the United Sattes.

The report found that a “significant number” of schools certified to give out visas to international students are not even certified by the state in which they operate. Of 434 flight schools that provide student visas, an astounding 167—or 38 percent—are not accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration. This finding is especially worrisome since two of the 9/11 hijackers successfully applied for student visas to attend flight schools.

The GAO report was requested by the four senators after a high-profile case of a sham school in California surfaced in February 2011. Tri-Valley University had enrolled over 1,500 foreign students until a federal investigation exposed the school as a scam. Tri-Valley officials were caught giving F-1 visas to undercover agents, posing as foreign nationals, who explicitly professed no intention of attending classes.  Students paid $5,400 per semester in tuition to the school to obtain those student visas until the school was shut down.

The GAO report found that the Tri-Valley case is part of a larger trend of sham schools defrauding the student visa program. In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress demanded that the Department of Homeland Security complete an audit of the roughly 10,000 schools in the U.S. that provide student visas. But the report found that eight years after the deadline for the completion of the audit, federal authorities have only recertified 19 percent of visa-issuing schools.

“The report shows that more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the student visa program remains dangerously vulnerable to terrorists,” said Senator Schumer. “These sham schools are providing a dangerous backdoor entrance to the United States. The bogus school in California exposed last year was really just the tip of the iceberg."

“More than a decade after 9/11 hijackers used student visas to fraudulently enter the United States, this GAO report makes it clear that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement still has no process in place to monitor whether foreign students are actually enrolled in school, or even whether the schools they claim to attend are legitimate,” said Senator Feinstein. “With more than 850,000 foreign students enrolled in 10,000 U.S. schools at the beginning of this year, it’s clear that monitoring activities of students in this country on visas and shutting down sham schools that serve as fronts for criminal activity are questions of national security.”

“As we keep working to fully secure our nation’s borders, we’ve got to lock any back door that people are using to illegally enter our country,” said Senator McCaskill. “Sham universities undermine the student visa program and pose a serious threat to national security. Federal officials need to take the recommendations of this report seriously, and put proper safeguards in place.”

“The Obama administration needs to promptly adopt the independent GAO recommendations and make enforcement of the guidelines for the foreign student visa program its top priority,” said Senator Grassley.  “This is a national security matter.  Foreign student visas were issued to terrorists who attacked the United States both in 1993 and on September 11.  A lesson should have been learned, particularly with regards to flight schools, but Homeland Security officials seem slow to react and have a poor track record in identifying fraud.  Today, participation in the program is growing, yet federal agency officials responsible for keeping track of the students continue to take a lax approach and knowingly, or not, continue to make it fairly easy for fraudulent activity.  That’s completely unacceptable, and it’s time for Secretary Napolitano to manage the program so it can work as Congress intended and national security requires.”

In response to the report, Schumer announced Tuesday that the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security will be holding a hearing on July 24 to assess Congress’ options for reform of the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  Witnesses at the hearing will include Rebecca Gambler, the author of the GAO’s report, and John Woods, Assistant Director for National Security Investigations at ICE.

The senators are also introducing legislation to implement many of the GAO report’s recommendations. Among other provisions, the planned bill would: require schools and universities to be certified by the state in which they operate before they can issue student visas; require flight schools to be certified by the FAA before they can issue student visas; bar schools from issuing student visas while they are under federal investigation, and; stiffen penalties for officials involved in the operation of sham schools.

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Lt. Governor Simon welcomes nation’s lieutenant governors to Illinois PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Justin Stofferahn   
Tuesday, 17 July 2012 09:16

Conference to promote Illinois tourism, spotlight education and veterans issues

CHICAGO – July 17, 2012. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will host the nation’s lieutenant governors in Chicago this week as the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) convenes its 50th annual conference in Illinois.

Expected to generate over $600,000 in hotel, transportation, restaurant and tourism revenue, 30 lieutenant governors and their staffs will meet at the Drake Hotel on Wednesday through Friday to identify policies that can improve college completion rates, link veterans to employment, increase access to locally grown food and combat domestic violence, among other issues.

Simon, the NLGA’s Midwest Region Chair, and Governor Pat Quinn will conduct the conference’s opening ceremonies Wednesday morning.

“I value this opportunity to showcase Chicago and share innovative strategies to grow our state and nation," Lt. Governor Simon said.

Following Wednesday’s opening remarks, Simon will introduce the conference’s opening session on higher education. Jeff Mays, executive director of the Illinois Business Roundtable, and Dewayne Matthews, vice president of policy and strategy at the Lumina Foundation, will discuss higher education policies that can improve college certificate and degree completion rates and connect graduates to good-paying jobs.

Simon recently advocated for passage of legislation that aims to reduce remedial needs at colleges and universities by implementing the state's first math curricula for middle and high schools. The models should lead to more high school seniors enrolling in math courses that prepare them for college and careers. Building on this success, Simon is asking the NLGA to pass a resolution in support of state-specific solutions that will boost high school graduation and college readiness.

“America’s lieutenant governors are making a difference and as we welcome them to Illinois, this is a wonderful opportunity to share best practices and develop solutions,” Governor Quinn said. “We are grateful for our own Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, who is leading the way on education as she pushes to reach our goal of 60 percent graduates by the year 2025.”

On Friday, Simon will moderate a discussion on the role states should play domestic violence prevention, and be joined by the Acting Director of the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, Bea Hanson. The Violence Against Women Act, which enhances the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, is up for reauthorization before Congress.

 

Simon's office is piloting a program that connects domestic violence survivors in underserved areas with family law attorneys for free via Skype. The Virtual Legal Clinic currently operates out of shelters in Peoria and Jacksonville at no new cost to taxpayers and is expected to expand later this year.

 

The NLGA is a bipartisan, nonprofit, professional organization for elected officials who are first in line of succession to the governors in the United States and five territorial jurisdictions. Since 2000, at least 20 lieutenant governors have succeeded governors, including former Lt. Governor and current Governor Pat Quinn. The NLGA last held a conference in Chicago 50 years ago.

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Braley Calls for House Hearing into CFTC Oversight of Peregrine Financial Group PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Giertz   
Monday, 16 July 2012 14:21

Alleged misappropriation of investor funds for twenty years calls into question CFTC’s oversight

 

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today called on the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the Commodities Futures Trading Commission’s role in allowing Peregrine Financial Group of Cedar Falls to apparent misappropriate $200 million of investor funds over 20 years in what could be the largest financial fraud in Iowa history.

 

In a letter to committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, Braley requested a hearing into Peregrine Financial Group and the CFTC’s oversight of commodities trading.  Braley is a member of the House Oversight Committee.

 

“It’s shocking to think that Peregrine was defrauding its customers for more than 20 years,” Braley said.  “My question is, where were the regulators who should have stopped this long ago and how did Peregrine so easily fool them?

 

“It’s the job of regulators to protect farmers, families, and businesses who have invested in futures. I’m greatly concerned that this misappropriation of funds was allowed to continue for so long before it was discovered.  Iowans deserve answers – especially those who were victims of Peregrine’s fraud.”

 

In court filings, federal prosecutors allege that Russell Wassendorf, Sr., CEO of Peregrine Financial Group, admitted to falsifying bank statements and defrauding customers for 20 years.

 

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has said that Peregrine has “used customer funds for purposes other than those intended by its customers.” According to CFTC, the money has been misused for years and as many as 1,845 investors are missing their money.

 

The full text of Braley’s letter to Issa and Cummings follows.

 

--

 

July 16, 2012

 

The Honorable Darrel Issa                          

Chairman                      

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform                        

B3540-A, Rayburn HOB                           

Washington, DC  20515                         

 

The Honorable Elijah Cummings

Ranking Member

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

2471 Rayburn HOB

Washington, DC  20515

 

 

Dear Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings:

 

I am writing to bring to your attention the apparent misappropriation of more than $200 million in client funds by Peregrine Financial Group, an Iowa-based futures trading company. According to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Peregrine has “used customer funds for purposes other than those intended by its customers.”

 

According to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney on Friday, Russell Wassendorf, Sr., Founder and CEO of Peregrine Financial Group, admitted that he was defrauding his customers for as long as 20 years.  According to court documents, Peregrine had as many as 1,845 investors – and it is unclear whether their money will ever be recovered.

 

It is the job of regulators to protect farmers, families, and businesses who have invested in futures.  I’m greatly concerned that this misappropriation of funds was allowed to continue so long before being discovered.

 

In the wake of the MF Global debacle and these new allegations at Peregrine Financial Group, I ask that you immediately hold a hearing to look at unanswered questions related to the role of the CFTC in allowing this situation to continue and investigate whether this agency had the proper procedures in place to prevent this type of abuse from happening again. It is absolutely essential that there is investor confidence in our commodity trading system.

 

It is also important that any hearing focus on whether there is a process in place to expedite the recovery of the assets of these investors.

 

Thanks again for your consideration of this request. We owe it to American taxpayers and investors to ensure a secure marketplace where they can trust that their money is protected from fraud.

 

Sincerely,

Bruce L. Braley

Member of Congress

 

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Judicial conference on Maui scrutiny continues PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 16 July 2012 13:44
Monday, July 16, 2012

Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Budget Committee, have been scrutinizing the expense of the Ninth Judicial Circuit’s upcoming conference in Hawaii.  The Ninth Circuit announced that it will cancel next year’s conference.  Grassley and Sessions are seeking cost containment for the Hawaii conference this year, as well as for future conferences.  Grassley made the following comment.

“After weeks of scrutiny, it’s good to see a response at last to criticism of expensive conferences.  However, while an encouraging sign, cancelling next year’s conference does not necessarily signal lasting change.  This year’s conference is likely to be expensive, and future events could be expensive, as well.  I’m looking for long-term spending reductions and restraint on conference expenditures.”

The Ninth Circuit’s 2013 conference cancellation announcement is available here.

Grassley and Sessions sent a second letter to the Ninth Circuit on Friday.  That letter is available here.

 
Governor Quinn Names Kelly Kraft Director of Communications PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Nafia Khan   
Monday, 16 July 2012 13:31

Kraft to Oversee State Communication Operations;

Mica Matsoff to Serve as a Senior Advisor

CHICAGO – July 13, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today announced that Kelly Kraft will serve as his Director of Communications, effective on Monday. Kraft has served as the Assistant Director and Communications Director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget (GOMB). Mica Matsoff will become Senior Advisor to the Governor. As communications director, Kraft will work closely with Brooke Anderson, who continues to serve as Press Secretary to the Governor.

"Kelly Kraft is a true professional who will do an excellent job communicating major policy issues to the people of Illinois,” Governor Quinn said. "I thank Mica for her great work as communication director, and appreciate her willingness to step up and into this new role to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the state.”

As Director of Communications, Kraft will plan and oversee the execution of the administration’s internal and external communications. She will work closely with senior members of the Governor’s staff and cabinet to develop policies that impact the people of Illinois and move the state forward.

Kraft has served as Assistant Budget Director, helping to guide Illinois' pension reforms, Medicaid restructuring, and Budgeting for Results initiatives. She has also managed complex subjects like debt issuance, financial reporting and budget policy. Prior to her career in public service, Kraft was an award winning and Emmy nominated journalist. She worked as a news anchor, reporter, producer and editor in major television markets such as Las Vegas, Buffalo, San Diego and Chicago. Kraft has also hosted and narrated the award-winning PBS documentaries “Kids in Peril” for law enforcement agencies and students in criminal justice programs.

Kraft earned her bachelor's degree from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana where she studied Journalism and Political Science. Upon graduation, she was awarded the Ross Hazeltine Scholarship, which allowed her to live in Eastern Europe to research life after the fall of communism.  She also studied at Thames Valley University in England. She grew up in Peru, Illinois in La Salle County.

As Senior Advisor, Matsoff will oversee key agencies, develop and implement strategies on high-profile issues, and coordinate policies and initiatives across various agencies of government. Matsoff has been with the Governor’s Office since January 2011 as communications director. Prior to that, she managed press operations at Quinn for Illinois, Chicago 2016, and the departments of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Employment Security. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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