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Saturday, November 8, 2014

TROPICAL CYCLONE 05B EXPECTED TO HEAD TO EAST-CENTRAL INDIA

FROM:  NASA 

Right:  NASA's Terra satellite flew over Tropical Cyclone 5B in the Bay of Bengal on Nov. 6, 2014.  Image Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

NASA-NOAA's 
Suomi NPP Satellite Sees Tropical Cyclone 05B Headed to India

Tropical Cyclone 05B was meandering in the Bay of Bengal on Nov. 8, but forecasters expect it to move west and head toward east-central India for landfall. NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite captured a visible image of the tropical storm off India's coast.

When Suomi NPP flew over Tropical Cyclone 05B (TC05B) on Nov. 7 at 08:09 UTC (3:09 a.m. EST), the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS instrument aboard captured a visible image of the storm. The VIIRS image showed a band of thunderstorms wrapping into the center from the northern quadrant, and fragmented bands of thunderstorms around the rest of the storm.
VIIRS is a scanning radiometer that collects visible and infrared imagery and "radiometric" measurements. Basically it means that VIIRS data is used to measure cloud and aerosol properties, ocean color, sea and land surface temperature, ice motion and temperature, fires, and Earth's albedo (reflected light).

At 1400 UTC (9 a.m. EST) Tropical Cyclone 05B's (TC05B) maximum sustained winds were near 35 knots (40.2 mph/64.8 kph). It was located near 14.3 north latitude and 87.4 east longitude, about 333 nautical miles (383.2 miles/616.7 km) southeast of Visakhapatnam, India. TC05B was moving to the north at 2 knots (2.3 mph/3.7 kph), and is expected to turn to the west.
The India Meteorological Department's Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) forecast noted that light to moderate rainfall would occur at a few places on Nov. 8 and on Nov. 9 would spread over a larger area over Andhra Pradesh and adjoining north coastal Tamil Nadu as TC05B nears.  RSMC calls for sustained winds between 30 and 40 kph with higher gusts along and off the coasts of Andhra Pradesh and north Tamilnadu. Sea conditions are expected to be rough along those coasts both days and fishermen were advised not to venture out to sea.

Weekly Address: This Veterans’ Day, Let’s Honor Our Veterans

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS IN BEIJING, CHINA

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Press Availability in Beijing, China
Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
China National Convention Center
Beijing, China
November 8, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin by thanking our Chinese hosts for their very, very warm welcome and for the depth and breadth of the discussions that we’ve been able to have at APEC this year.

This is my ninth trip to Asia and the Asia Pacific in the 21 months since I have served as Secretary of State. And I have returned again and again to this region for one simple reason: The United States is a Pacific nation, and we take our enduring interests here very seriously, our responsibilities likewise. We know that America’s security and prosperity are closely linked to the Asia Pacific, and that is why President Obama began the rebalance to Asia in 2009. It’s why he has asked me to redouble my own efforts in the region over the course of the next two years.

I’ve had a number of very productive bilateral meetings in the course of the last day here on the sidelines of the APEC conference with Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China and other Asia Pacific allies and partners, including Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand. And both the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers briefed me on the progress that they announced in their bilateral relations, and we, the United States, very much welcomed the reduction in tension between Asia’s two largest economies. I look forward to continuing these discussions and to deepening our partnerships with APEC economies when President Obama arrives on Monday for the APEC Leaders’ meetings here in Beijing. Excuse me.

To ensure that the partnerships that we talk about here at APEC are able to endure, it is really essential that we reach agreement on the rules of the road. And we need to do so through multilateral institutions where all voices can be heard. APEC is essential to upholding the rules-based system throughout the Asia Pacific. It is the best way to ensure that all of our economies, big and small economies, have a voice. And I am very pleased with the progress that we made this year on the regional economic integration and on strengthening connectivity and infrastructure development. The United States is very committed to working with our APEC partners in order to build stable regional economic order based on rules and norms that are reinforced by institutions. Our goal is to remove barriers to trade and investment so that businesses in all APEC economies can grow and create jobs and compete with other companies and other countries on an equal basis. APEC has and will continue to play a critical role in guaranteeing that.

Today, we also made important progress with China and other APEC economies on promoting women’s economic empowerment, combating corruption, supporting educational opportunities across borders, and advancing our commitment to clean energy. First, we launched the APEC Women and the Economy Dashboard. The dashboard will be a measure of progress across APEC economies on key issues for women’s economic empowerment. And it will allow us the ability to be able to measure education, leadership positions, opportunities for employment, all the different things that contribute to the ability to increase women’s empowerment in the economy. We also launched a Women’s Entrepreneurship in APEC Network. And that will link women entrepreneurs and business owners to each other and to supply chains all across the region. Frankly, that is good for business, it is good for workers, and it is good for all of our economies.

Second, we deepened our partnership with APEC economies on combating corruption. The principles that we adopted are clear and they are compelling. We are determined to prevent, detect, and effectively prosecute foreign bribery. We’re providing guidance to our businesses on how they could help prevent and detect corruption. And we are enhancing our law enforcement cooperation and we’re promoting the adoption of APEC business codes of ethics for small and medium enterprises. And we believe that this cooperation is a major step forward. Corruption not only creates an unfair playing field, it not only distorts economic relationships, but corruption also steals from the people of every country the belief that the system can work for everybody. So it is important that systems are transparent and accountable, and ultimately, that people at every level have an ability to have confidence that that system is working for everybody with the same set of rules.

We also made progress in education and clean energy. We launched an APEC scholarship, an internship initiative, to provide more educational opportunities for students in all APEC economies. We committed to doubling the share of renewables in the region’s energy banks by the year 2030. And we reaffirmed our commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is for APEC to lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We at last have an opportunity to put ourselves on the path to a clean energy future, and that is a path that is more essential than ever because of the urgent threat of global climate change. The solution to climate change is good energy policy. And we believe today, we helped in APEC to move APEC economies to a commitment in that direction.

These efforts complement and reinforce one another. Curtailing corruption makes our marketplace more efficient and more fair. Cutting fossil fuel subsidies creates a cleaner environment and a stronger economy. Enhanced opportunities for women affect and advance the cause of social justice and prosperity. And these are all separate fronts, but actually, all of them support a single, important goal: securing an equitable and sustainable future for all of our countries.

Finally, we also discussed a broad array of challenges, global challenges – from Daesh or ISIL, from the turmoil of the Middle East, from Ebola, to climate change, to the threat of terrorism in many different places. We all understand that Ebola is a global threat requiring global action, and I particularly want to thank Japan for providing an additional $100 million for treatment, prevention, and broader efforts that will promote stability in the hardest-hit countries. Over the last weeks under President Obama’s leadership, many countries have been coming together in an effort to try to create a greater response on Ebola. Many countries have responded remarkably and they’re contributing healthcare workers, they’re contributing construction materials, medical supplies, doctors, nurses, experts, technicians, laboratories, beds, hospital equipment. Every country has an ability to do something, and we are grateful for those that are, but we need more countries to still do more.

And I want to emphasize, across the board, as a planet, all of us on this globe are not yet doing enough to be able to curb and eradicate the threat of Ebola. There are hundreds of new cases each week, and the UN has identified $1 billion in urgent needs. In my meetings over the past two days, I urged all of our APEC partners to help to meet that need with specific efforts along the lines that I just described. So we hope the response will grow, and obviously, out of that can come an enormous example of the ability of countries to come together. What we do against Ebola can actually be a model for what we can do against any other future challenge of similar kind. So this is not a one-time lost moment; this is something that can serve all of us to build a long-term infrastructure to deal with the potential of any communicable disease that can move across boundaries and borders at any time.

With that, I would be happy to answer a few questions.

MS. HARF: Our first question is from Carol Morello of The Washington Post, and there is a microphone for you too, if you’ll just hold on one second.

QUESTION: Could you provide some more details on your discussions this morning with Mr. Lavrov, specifically about Ukraine and Iran? Did he provide any assurances that Russia is committed to upholding the Minsk agreement, particularly when it comes to sending troops and tanks into Luhansk? And if there is credible evidence to the contrary, how would the U.S. respond? New sanctions or something else?

On Iran, did he assess what he considers the prospects for a November 24th agreement? And what is your sense, given the correspondence between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei, that Iran is prepared to make a deal given they – the fact they still refuse to be transparent regarding current and past use of nuclear materials?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov was a very in-depth meeting in which we discussed a number of different crises in the following context: Obviously, the United States and Russia have some clear differences and some clear disagreements about certain policies at this point in time. And we discussed, obviously, those disagreements. But we also know that we need to find the places where we can agree and cooperate because it is important for the world to do so.

With respect to Iran, Russia has been a constructive, engaged, serious partner in the effort to try to find a solution to a problem that is not – that shouldn’t lend itself to other disagreements, but which has enormous impact for everybody and which is strategically important not just to the United States or the P5+1, but to all countries, and which can have a profound impact on nonproliferation for the long term. So Russia has been working as a constructive participant in the P5+1 process. They have made various suggestions that have helped to move the process along. And we are hopeful that over the course of the next weeks, it will be possible to close real gaps that still exist in order to be able to reach an agreement, but I’m not going to stand here and predict at this point in time what the odds of that are.

I also want to make this very, very clear: No one, to my knowledge, has confirmed or denied whether or not there is a letter or was a letter, and I’m not going to comment on what the President of the United States and a leader of another country may or may not communicate – may or may not communicate privately. I will tell you this, though: No conversation, no agreement, no exchange, nothing has created any kind of a deal or agreement with respect to any of the events that are at stake in the Middle East. There is no linkage whatsoever of the nuclear discussions with any other issue, and I want to make that absolutely clear. The nuclear negotiations are on their own, they are standing separate from anything else, and no discussion has ever taken place about linking one thing to another, one involvement with another, that I am aware of. And I’m confident I am aware of what the President has been doing and saying with respect to this issue.

The issue of Ukraine we discussed, obviously, at length, but we also discussed Syria, we discussed the Middle East peace process, we discussed other issues of concern. Suffice it to say that we do have some disagreements about some of the facts on the ground with respect to Ukraine. We have agreed to exchange some information between us regarding that. And we have also agreed that this is a dialogue that will continue. But the issue of sanctions or other issues obviously have been made clear, are that the choices Russia makes will decide what happens with respect to sanctions in the long run here.

And our hope is still that the process of the Minsk agreements can go forward, that they will be implemented, and that it will be possible over time, with their implementation, to see the border sealed, to see the troops withdrawn, and to see stability restored in a way that allows everybody to move down a path of de-escalation. But it really is up to the events over the course of the next weeks to determine whether or not that happens.

MS. HARF: Great. Our final question is from Hu Ling of Phoenix TV. The mike is coming.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary. I come from Hong Kong, Phoenix TV. My question --

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. My question concern about the China and Japan relationship. You have also mentioned about a little bit in your final (inaudible) speech, and I wonder how you – what’s your comment on the agreement reached by China and Japan, and that they finally made the top leader meeting during the APEC time? And also, do you think it’s come to a release – relief for U.S. and also other Asia country? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: What was the last part of the question? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Sorry, I do wonder, the meeting – the top leader meeting welcomes to relief for U.S. and also other neighboring country in Asia? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: The top leader meeting in – between --

QUESTION: Yeah, between China and Japan.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I discussed this new agreement with both Foreign Minister Wang Yi and also with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan. And both of them explained to me what they believe they have achieved in the four points with respect to the agreement between them. I want to be clear that the United States welcomes this initiative. We think that any steps that the two countries can take to improve the relationship and reduce the tensions is helpful not just to those two countries, but it’s helpful to the region.

And I think it’s entirely appropriate that that particular discussion took place here at APEC, which frankly is becoming not just a place to discuss economic ideas, but also to reflect on the fact that today, the ability of economics to work requires stability and a peaceful process in place. So I think that security issues are also automatically on the table. So to have this emerge from this meeting, I think, is important.

Now this agreement is a beginning; it’s not an end. It’s the outline of steps that now need to be taken in order to really define how certain tensions are going to really be resolved. So it will be over time that this will be given a little more meat on the bones. But we absolutely appreciate the initial effort, we think it’s very constructive, and we have hopes that it can lead to a greater definition and to a reduction further of any conflict or tension in the region.

MS. HARF: Great. Thank you all very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Thank you.

SPACEX DRAGON RETURNS ON THIS WEEK @NASA

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: THE PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY HOST "A SALUTE TO THE TROOPS..."





SEC CHARGES ALLEN PARK, MICHIGAN WITH FRAUD INVOLVING MUNICIPAL BOND OFFERING

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
November 6, 2014

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against the City of Allen Park, Mich., and two former city leaders in connection with a municipal bond offering to support a movie studio project within the city.

An SEC investigation found that offering documents provided to investors during the Detroit suburb’s sale of $31 million in general obligation bonds contained false and misleading statements about the scope and viability of the movie studio project as well as Allen Park’s overall financial condition and its ability to service the bond debt.

The city and the two officials – former mayor Gary Burtka and former city administrator Eric Waidelich – have agreed to settle the SEC’s charges.

“Municipal bond disclosures must provide investors with an accurate portrayal of a project’s prospects and the municipality’s ability to repay those who invest,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division.  “Allen Park solicited investors with an unrealistic and untruthful pitch, and used outdated budget information in offering documents to avoid revealing its budget deficit.”

The SEC alleges that Burtka was an active champion of the project and in a position to control the actions of the city and Waidelich with respect to the fraudulent bond issuances.  Based on this control, the SEC charged Burtka with liability for violations committed by the city and Waidelich.  This is the first time the SEC has charged a municipal official under a federal statute that provides for “control person” liability.  Burtka has agreed to pay a $10,000 penalty.

“When a municipal official like Burtka controls the activities of others who engage in fraud, we won’t hesitate to use every legal avenue available to us in order to hold those officials accountable,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit.

According to the SEC’s administrative order against Allen Park and its complaints against Burtka and Waidelich filed in federal court in Detroit, the city began planning the studio project in late 2008 with the belief it would bring much-needed economic development.  The state of Michigan had just enacted legislation that provided significant tax credits to film studios conducting business in Michigan.  The original plan detailed a $146 million facility with eight sound stages led by a Hollywood executive director, and the city initially planned to repay investors with $1.6 million in revenue from leases at the site.  Allen Park issued bonds on Nov. 12, 2009, and June 16, 2010, to raise funds to help develop the site.

The SEC’s order finds, however, that by the time the bonds were issued, Allen Park’s plans to implement and pay for the studio project had deteriorated into merely building and operating a vocational school on the site.  Yet none of these plan changes were reflected in the bond offering documents or other public statements, which continued to repeat the original plans for the movie studio project.  Investors were left uninformed not only about the deterioration of the project itself, but also the substantial impact it would have on the city’s ability to service the bond debt.  Without the planned revenues from the studio project, the expected annual debt payments on the bonds represented approximately 10 percent of the city’s total budget.  Furthermore, Allen Park used outdated budget information in the bond offering documents that did not reflect the city’s budget deficit of at least $2 million for fiscal year 2010.  The studio project completely collapsed within months after the second set of bonds were issued, and Michigan appointed an emergency manager for Allen Park in October 2010 while citing the failed project as a primary factor in the city’s deteriorating economic condition.

The SEC’s complaints allege that Waidelich as city administrator reviewed and approved the offering documents for the bonds.  Waidelich’s actions violated Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5(b).  Without admitting or denying the allegations, Waidelich has consented to a final judgment barring him from participating in any municipal bond offerings and enjoining him from future violations.  The SEC alleges that Burtka is liable as a control person under Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act, based on his control of Waidelich and the city.  Without admitting or denying the allegations, Burtka consented to a final judgment requiring him to pay the $10,000 penalty, barring him from participating in any municipal bond offerings, and enjoining him from future violations.

The SEC’s order against Allen Park finds it violated Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act and Section 10 (b) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5(b).  The city agreed to cease and desist from future violations of those provisions.  The SEC considered certain remedial measures taken by the city, which settled the enforcement action without admitting or denying the findings.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Sally J. Hewitt of the Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit with assistance from John E. Birkenheier, John E. Kustusch, and Jean M. Javorski in the SEC’s Chicago Regional Office and Mark R. Zehner, Deputy Chief of the Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit.

FTC, PATENT ASSERTION BUSINESS SETTLES ALLEGATIONS BUSINESS MADE PHONY LEGAL THREATS

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 

FTC Settlement Bars Patent Assertion Entity From Using Deceptive Tactics
A company and its law firm have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they used deceptive sales claims and phony legal threats in letters that accused thousands of small businesses around the United States of patent infringement. The settlement would bar the company, MPHJ Technology Investments, LLC, and its law firm from making deceptive representations when asserting patent rights.

The settlement with MPHJ is the first time the FTC has taken action using its consumer protection authority against a patent assertion entity (PAE). PAEs are companies that obtain patent rights and try to generate revenue by licensing to or litigating against those who are or may be using patented technology.

“Patents can promote innovation, but a patent is not a license to engage in deception,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Small businesses and other consumers have the right to expect truthful communications from those who market patent rights.”

According to the FTC’s administrative complaint, MPHJ Technology Investments, LLC, bought patents relating to network computer scanning technology, and then told thousands of small businesses that they were likely infringing the patents and should purchase a license. In more than 9,000 letters sent under the names of numerous MPHJ subsidiaries, the complaint alleges, MPHJ falsely represented that many other companies had already agreed to pay thousands of dollars for licenses.

The administrative complaint also alleges that MPHJ’s law firm, Farney Daniels, P.C., authorized letters on the firm’s letterhead that were sent to more than 4,800 small businesses. These letters warned that the firm would file a patent infringement lawsuit against the recipient if it did not respond to the letter. The letters also referenced a two-week deadline and attached a purported complaint for patent infringement, usually drafted for filing in the federal court closest to the small business receiving the letter. In reality, the complaint alleges, the senders had no intention—and did not make preparations—to initiate lawsuits against the small businesses that did not respond to their letters.  No such lawsuits were ever filed.

In the proposed consent order, announced today for public comment, MPHJ, Farney Daniels, and MPHJ’s owner, Jay Mac Rust, agree to refrain from making certain deceptive representations when asserting patent rights, such as false or unsubstantiated representations that a patent has been licensed in substantial numbers or has been licensed at particular prices. The proposed order also would prohibit misrepresentations that a lawsuit will be initiated and about the imminence of such a lawsuit.

The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent order was 5-0.

The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The proposed consent order will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through December 8, 2014, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation to Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section of the Federal Register notice.

NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

OWNER OF HOME HEALTH COMPANIES RECEIVES PRISON SENTENCE IN $74 MILLION FRAUD

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Owner and Administrator of Two Miami Home Health Companies Sentenced to 80 Months in Prison for $74 Million Fraud Scheme

The owner and administrator of two Miami home health care companies was sentenced today to serve 80 months in prison for her participation in a $74 million Medicare fraud scheme.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Derrick Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.  U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke in the Southern District of Florida imposed the sentence.

Elsa Ruiz, 45, of Miami, pleaded guilty in July 2014 to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  In addition to the prison sentence, Ruiz was ordered to pay $45 million in restitution.

Ruiz was an owner and operator of Professional Home Care Solutions Inc. and an administrator of LTC Professional Consultants Inc., both of which purported to provide home health and therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries.  According to admissions during her plea hearing, Ruiz and her co-conspirators operated LTC and Professional Home Care for the purpose of billing the Medicare program for, among other things, expensive physical therapy and home health care services that were not medically necessary or were not provided.

According to her admissions, Ruiz’s primary role in the scheme was to negotiate and pay kickbacks to patient recruiters and to otherwise oversee the schemes operating out of LTC and Professional Home Care.  Specifically, Ruiz and her co-conspirators paid kickbacks to patient recruiters for the referral of patients and for the provision of prescriptions, plans of care, and certifications for medically unnecessary therapy and home health services.  Ruiz and her co-conspirators used these prescriptions, plans of care, and medical certifications to fraudulently bill the Medicare program for home health care services.

From approximately January 2006 to June 2012, LTC and Professional Home Care submitted approximately $74 million in claims for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided, and Medicare paid approximately $45 million on those claims.

The case is being investigated by HHS-OIG and the FBI and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Joseph S. Beemsterboer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 2,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $6 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

1,500 ADDITIONAL TROOPS TO BE DEPLOYED TO IRAQ

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
President Authorizes Additional Troops for Counter-ISIL Effort
By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2014 – As part of the strategy to defeat terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, President Barack Obama authorized Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to deploy up to 1,500 additional troops to Iraq, the Pentagon press secretary announced today.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said the troops will serve in non-combat roles by joining the existing advise-and-assist mission and initiating a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

The defense secretary recommended the troop increase following a request by Iraq’s government and an assessment of Iraqi units by U.S. Central Command, Kirby said.

Based on Evaluation of Iraqi Forces’ Progress

The decision also was based on an evaluation of the progress made by Iraqi security forces in the field, and it comes in concert with the development of a coalition campaign plan to defend key areas and go on the offensive against ISIL terrorists, the admiral said.

“U.S. Central Command will establish two expeditionary advise-and-assist operations centers in locations outside of Baghdad and Irbil to provide support for the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level and above,” he said.
The admiral said about 630 of the newly authorized troops will be assigned to the expanded advise-and-assist mission. In addition, Centcom will establish several new training sites across Iraq that will accommodate the training of 12 Iraqi brigades -- nine from the Iraqi army and three Kurdish peshmerga brigades, Kirby said.

The remainder of the troops, about 870, will be assigned to this mission in various roles, including logistics and force protection, he added.

While site surveys are still being conducted, a senior administration official speaking on background said the training sites likely will be located in Anbar, Irbil, Diyalah and Baghdad provinces. The locations reflect the geographic areas in which the Iraqi security forces want to make progress, the official added.

Coalition Forces Will Participate

Several hundred coalition troops will join U.S. personnel at these locations to help build Iraqi capacity and capability, Kirby said. A number of coalition nations have agreed to contribute personnel to the training effort, he said, noting that Hagel met today with Danish Defense Minister Nicolai Wammen, and the Danes have agreed to provide 120 trainers.

The training will be funded through a request for a $1.6 billion fund that the administration will submit to Congress, as well as from the Iraqi government, the admiral said. It will take about two months to prepare the training sites, he noted, while the training itself is expected to be six to seven months in length.

“Ultimately, these Iraqi forces, when fully trained, will enable Iraq to better defend its citizens, its borders, and its interests against the threat of ISIL,” Kirby said, “and it is perfectly in keeping with the mission that we've been assigned there to assist the [Iraqi security forces] and peshmerga forces again as they improve their capability against ISIL.”

FEDERAL BANKING AGENCIES NOTE "SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES IN UNDERWRITING STANDARDS AND RISK MANAGEMENT OF LEVERAGED LOANS"

FROM:  FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION 
For Immediate Release November 7, 2014 
Credit Risk in the Shared National Credit Portfolio is High; Leveraged Lending Remains a Concern

The credit quality of large loan commitments owned by U.S. banking organizations, foreign banking organizations (FBOs), and nonbanks is generally unchanged in 2014 from the prior year, federal banking agencies said Friday. In a supplemental report, the agencies highlighted findings specific to leveraged lending, including serious deficiencies in underwriting standards and risk management of leveraged loans.

The annual Shared National Credits (SNC) review found that the volume of criticized assets remained elevated at $340.8 billion, or 10.1 percent of total commitments, which approximately is double pre-crisis levels. The stagnation in credit quality follows three consecutive years of improvements. A criticized asset is rated special mention, substandard, doubtful, or loss as defined by the agencies' uniform loan classification standards. The SNC review was completed by the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Leveraged loans as reported by agent banks totaled $767 billion, or 22.6 percent of the 2014 SNC portfolio and accounted for $254.7 billion, or 74.7 percent, of criticized SNC assets. Material weaknesses in the underwriting and risk management of leveraged loans were observed, and 33.2 percent of leveraged loans were criticized by the agencies.

The leveraged loan supplement also identifies several areas where institutions need to strengthen compliance with the March 2013 guidance, including provisions addressing borrower repayment capacity, leverage, underwriting, and enterprise valuation. In addition, examiners noted risk-management weaknesses at several institutions engaged in leveraged lending including lack of adequate support for enterprise valuations and reliance on dated valuations, weaknesses in credit analysis, and overreliance on sponsor's projections.

Federal banking regulations require institutions to employ safe and sound practices when engaging in commercial lending activities, including leveraged lending. As a result of the SNC exam, the agencies will increase the frequency of leveraged lending reviews to ensure the level of risk is identified and managed.

In response to questions, the agencies also are releasing answers to FAQs on the guidance. The questions cover expectations when defining leveraged loans, supervisory expectations on the origination of non-pass leveraged loans, and other topics. The FAQ document is intended to advance industry and examiner understanding of the guidance, and promote consistent application in policy formulation, implementation, and regulatory supervisory assessments.

Other highlights of the 2014 SNC review:

Total SNC commitments increased by $379 billion to $3.39 trillion, or 12.6 percent from the 2013 review. Total SNC outstanding increased $206 billion to $1.57trillion, an increase of 15.2 percent.

Criticized assets increased from $302 billion to $341 billion, representing 10.1 percent of the SNC portfolio, compared with 10.0 percent in 2013. Criticized dollar volume increased 12.9 percent from the 2013 level.

Leveraged loans comprised 72.9 percent of SNC loans rated special mention, 75.3 percent of all substandard loans, 81.6 percent of all doubtful loans, and 83.9 percent of all nonaccrual loans.

Classified assets increased from $187 billion to $191 billion, representing 5.6 percent of the portfolio, compared with 6.2 percent in 2013. Classified dollar volume increased 2.1 percent from 2013.

Credits rated special mention, which exhibit potential weakness and could result in further deterioration if uncorrected, increased from $115 billion to $149 billion, representing 4.4 percent of the portfolio, compared with 3.8 percent in 2013. Special mention dollar volume increased 29.6 percent from the 2013 level.
The overall severity of classifications declined, with credits rated as doubtful decreasing from $14.5 billion to $11.8 billion and assets rated as loss decreasing slightly from $8 billion to $7.8 billion. Loans that were rated either doubtful or loss account for 0.6 percent of the portfolio, compared with 0.7 percent in the prior review. Adjusted for losses, nonaccrual loans declined from $61 billion to $43billion, a 27.8percent reduction.

The distribution of credits across entity types—U.S. bank organizations, FBOs, and nonbanks—remained relatively unchanged. U.S. bank organizations owned 44.1 percent of total SNC loan commitments, FBOs owned 33.5 percent, and nonbanks owned 22.4 percent. Nonbanks continued to own a larger share of classified (73.6 percent) and nonaccrual (76.7 percent) assets than their total share of the SNC portfolio (22.4 percent). Institutions insured by the FDIC owned 10.1percent of classified assets and 6.7 percent of nonaccrual loans.
The SNC program was established in 1977 to provide an efficient and consistent review and analysis of SNCs. A SNC is any loan or formal loan commitment, and asset such as real estate, stocks, notes, bonds, and debentures taken as debts previously contracted, extended to borrowers by a federally supervised institution, its subsidiaries, and affiliates that aggregates $20 million or more and is shared by three or more unaffiliated supervised institutions. Many of these loan commitments also are participated with FBOs and nonbanks, including securitization pools, hedge funds, insurance companies, and pension funds.

In conducting the 2014 SNC Review, the agencies reviewed $975 billion of the $3.39 trillion credit commitments in the portfolio. The sample was weighted toward noninvestment grade and criticized credits. In preparing the leveraged loan supplement, the agencies reviewed $623 billion in commitments or 63.9 percent of leveraged borrowers, representing 81 percent of all leveraged loans by dollar commitments. The results of the review and supplement are based on analyses prepared in the second quarter of 2014 using credit-related data provided by federally supervised institutions as of December 31, 2013, and March 31, 2014.

11/6/14: White House Press Briefing

ISS AGENCY HEADS MEET IN PARIS


International Space Station Agency Heads  Image Credit: NASA

The heads of the International Space Station (ISS) agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States met in Paris, France, on Nov. 4, 2014. The following is a joint statement issued by the leaders:

Recognizing the full mission breadth of the ISS from research that benefits all of humanity, to technology development, to expanding commercial use of low Earth orbit, to enhancing international cooperation and understanding, the agency heads reaffirmed their support for continued ISS operations.

The heads discussed the many ways that research on ISS is benefitting people on Earth, from biomedical breakthroughs to new materials and technologies.  The international partnership is increasing scientific output of the space station through collaboration to meet the needs of the expanding user community and serve as a foundation for future exploration endeavors.

The ISS partner agencies are working through their respective governmental procedures for continued ISS utilization through at least 2020 and noted the U.S. commitment to extend ISS utilization to at least 2024. They also noted the ongoing work by other governments for a similar extension.  In reviewing the strong commitment that enabled 14 years of continuous human presence on ISS in low-Earth orbit, the agency leaders noted the stable, solid, and robust ISS partnership that will serve as the basis for working together in future human exploration.

The heads reaffirmed the ISS is the foundation for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit highlighting its technical, scientific, and developmental capabilities. The ISS partnership will continue to advance the use of the ISS for the benefit of humanity.


SECRETARY KERRY'S PRESS AVAILABILITY IN PARIS, FRANCE

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Press Availability in Paris, France
Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Chief of Mission Residence
Paris, France
November 5, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well good evening, and thank you for being here. It’s a pleasure for me to be back in Paris on my way to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing. And in the meantime, I was able to have a number of important and constructive meetings here today, particularly with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France and also with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan.

I want to express my appreciation to Minister Fabius for his generous welcome and for his hosting us here today in Paris, and I’m particularly pleased with the extent and breadth of the discussion that we were able to have.

I’m also able to welcome – though she isn’t here right now because she was presenting her credentials in Monaco today – but I want to welcome our new ambassador to France, Jane Hartley and just mention I know Jane. And whether it’s been as a top staffer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development or at the White House, in the private sector, she comes here with a huge understanding of our country and the values that we stand for, and also with a huge commitment to public service which has been enduring over a long period of time. And we’re delighted to have her in Paris, finally, to continue and to deepen the partnership with the oldest alliance that the United States has.

Foreign Minister Fabius and I covered a lot of ground in our discussion this afternoon, and we went through – particularly focused on, among other things, the nuclear negotiations with Iran, our shared fight against ISIL, the complications of Syria, the challenges of Syria, the Mideast peace process itself; as well as other subjects such as turning the tide on Ebola, the situation in Lebanon, and of course, the larger issues of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace; and particularly the challenge of Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreement.

Nowhere is the mission of a Europe that is whole and free and at peace more clear at this particular moment than in the challenge of Ukraine. The United States and France remain deeply committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, to its territorial integrity. And the parliamentary elections in Ukraine last month were a very bold and very clear statement about the choice for change that the people of Ukraine have made. They want an inclusive, accountable government, and they made it clear that they also want a future that was connected to Europe. They want a European future, as well as respect for their sovereignty and their right of choice.

As I discussed with President Poroshenko, who I talked to while I was flying here yesterday, we are concerned, obviously, about the lack of follow-through on some aspects of the Minsk agreement. And I particularly urged President Poroshenko to take the next step by naming a broadly inclusive governing coalition and articulating a concrete reform agenda in order to address the voters’ demands that they expressed in their election for a transparent, open government; a clean, modern judiciary; long-term energy security; and strengthening the investment climate, among other priorities.

We also talked about the need to continue to take the high road of adhering to the Minsk agreement, and not to fall into the possibility invited by measures taken by Russia to engage in a tit-for-tat process. I think President Poroshenko could not have been more clear about his determination to maintain that high moral ground, to continue to press for the implementation of Minsk, to continue to press for the ability of the people of Ukraine to determine their future, and he expressed his desire to honor the special law with respect to the separatist’s desires within Luhansk and Donetsk, but he wants to do so within the context of the process that had been agreed upon. It is essential to resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the country’s other challenges that they take transparent political steps to bring people to the political process in a way that resolves the conflict, not exacerbates it.

By contrast, unlawful voting in eastern Ukraine over the weekend is a blatant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and the Minsk agreement. And President Obama has been clear, as have I during my conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, that neither the United States nor the international community will recognize the results. The only legitimate local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk will be those that conform with Ukrainian law and with the Minsk agreement, and that is where the focus of Ukrainians, Russians, and the international community should be.

We also call on Russia and its proxies in eastern Ukraine to end the violence around Mariupol and the Donetsk airport and to enforce the ceasefire and to begin working in good faith on restoring Ukrainian control over the international air border. And the President and I have repeatedly said if the Minsk agreement is fully implemented, sanctions can be rolled back; and if it isn’t and violations continue, pressure will only increase. The choice is Russia’s.

So Foreign Minister Fabius and I also spent a good deal of time discussing the EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. The United States and France remain in lockstep with our international partners on the importance of making certain that Iran does not have a pathway to a nuclear weapon. This is the policy of the international community, of everybody, and of the United Nations as expressed through a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

With the November 24th deadline rapidly approaching, I will travel to Oman later this week to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif and Cathy Ashton. A unified P5+1 has put on the table creative ideas to be able to achieve our objective, and now we will see if Iran is able to match the public words that they are prepared to prove to the world that they have a peaceful program, to match those words with the tough and the courageous decisions that need to be made by all of us. The time is now to make those decisions.

And during my meetings today with Foreign Minister Fabius and Foreign Minister Judeh, I also discussed the best way to coordinate international efforts against the ISIL threat. The size and strength of ISIL demands a broad-based coalition. The nature of their actions demands a broad-based coalition. And we are working intensively with our partners along five reinforcing lines of effort to shrink ISIL’s territory, cut off its financing, stop the flow of foreign fighters, expose the hypocrisy of its absurd religious claims, and provide humanitarian aid to the victims of its aggression.

More than 60 countries have come forward with critical commitments and many others have expressed strong opposition to ISIL’s campaign of terror and of horror. The world is united against this threat, and President Obama’s strategy will succeed because doing it with allies and partners isn’t just smart, it is absolutely essential and it is the strong way to deal with this challenge. And I will continue to work to build support for the coalition at the APEC meeting in Beijing.

In my conversation with Foreign Minister Judeh, we also discussed the increasing tensions recently in areas across Jerusalem, and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. We condemn the terrorist attack in Jerusalem this morning that killed at least one person when a car was driven wantonly, purposefully into pedestrians. And the confrontation at the al-Aqsa Mosque is also of particular concern where reports of damage are deeply disturbing. Holy sites should not become the sites of tension, and concrete steps need to be taken now by all sides to de-escalate this situation.

We also note the importance of the special role of Jordan in the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, a role confirmed in the Jordan-Israel treaty of peace. And we obviously believe that peace between Israel and Jordan is central to stability in the region, and we are in touch with both sides on this matter and hope that all parties will draw back and reduce these tensions.

Finally, the United States is committed to intensify every aspect of our engagement in the challenge of Ebola, and we call on our international partners to join in doing the same. We are deeply appreciative of the contributions that so many have made. We’re deeply appreciative of the contributions France has made, and we appreciate the leadership that they are taking particularly with respect to Guinea.

I’ve been making phone calls each day to counterparts in order to try to encourage concrete steps from one country or another. Each country may choose to do something different. But the important point to make is that no one country is going to resolve this by itself. This needs to be a global initiative, a global effort. And we believe that already the steps that we are taking is having impact that can be measured. And literally, we are raising this issue in every single bilateral meeting that we are having.

So I am very proud that the people of the United States have contributed more than $360 million to the response effort; directly to the response, another billion-plus to the military deployment of our folks who are over there now putting themselves at risk in order to build the capacity to be able to help to deal with this. We are delivering support in some very unique ways that only the American military is able to provide.

But we know, as I said a moment ago, even that will not be able to do it on its own. Every country has a contribution to be able to make of people, of money, of humanitarian assistance, medical supplies, beds, airlift. There are countless ways to be able to help, and we hope that more yet will join in that initiative. Everything that we do literally depends on how we all coordinate together, and I want to thank our many partners in this effort for the tremendous contributions from as far away as China and in Asia, to those right in the epicenter in Africa who are helping to fight back.

With that, I’d be very happy to take any questions.

MS. HARF: Great. The first question is from Pam Dockins of Voice of America. And wait, the mike will be coming to you. We only have one mike.

SECRETARY KERRY: Excuse me? Oh, we only have one mike.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Good.

QUESTION: Clearly, the Iran nuclear talks were front and center for you today. Can the negotiations go past the November 24th deadline, and what is the likelihood of that happening? Additionally, is there a new urgency to reach an agreement before the new Republican majority in the Senate takes over? And then finally, also, how do you see last night’s election results impacting U.S. foreign policy and America’s standing with the rest of the world?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. On the issue of the Iran nuclear talks, we are gearing up and targeting November 24th. We’re not talking about or thinking about going beyond that date. That’s a critical date. And we believe it is imperative for a lot of different reasons to get this done. Most people don’t understand why, if you’re simply trying to show that a program is peaceful, it would take so long. People want to know that the transparency and accountability necessary to get this done is on the table, and we ought to be able to reach agreement. So our press is to try to get this done. And I think that it gets more complicated if you can’t. It’s not impossible if you’re not able to, but I think let’s see what happens when we bear down as we are.

An enormous amount of work has gone into this. For months upon months, we’ve had expert teams sitting down, working through details, looking at all of the technical information that is necessary to be able to make a judgment about what the impact of a particular decision is. Some of it’s very complicated, and we’ve tried to reduce it to as simple and understandable a format as possible. And it’s been very constructive. The Iranian team has worked hard and seriously. The conversations have been civil and expert.

And my hope is that now is the moment for really political decisions to be made that make a judgment that we can show the world that countries with differing views, differing systems, but with a mutual interest of trying to prove a peaceful program can in fact do that and get the job done. So we’re very hopeful about that, and I have every intent of making myself available and doing everything necessary to try to do that. And I’m confident that Foreign Minister Zarif will likewise make himself available and continue to push forward.

On the subject of the elections, let me just say that it was 10 years ago this afternoon that I conceded in a race for the presidency. And I have nothing but the greatest respect for the American political electoral process. There are winners and there are losers. Sometimes it’s your friends; sometimes it’s yourself. What you learn, if you’re in the process, is nothing but respect for the voters and for the system.

Now, I’m out of politics now. I’m in a different role, and I’m not going to comment on the – any of the political aspects of it, except to say that America will remain joined together with a strong voice with respect to our foreign policy. Our values are our values, shared by all Americans, and they are at the core of American foreign policy and of what we try hard to enforce and stand up for and advocate about around the world. That will not change. Sometimes there’s a different view or another about a particular subject, but in our process, traditionally the United States of America has been strongest when partisanship is left at the water’s edge and we stand up for America’s interests. I’m confident that is what will continue to happen over the course of these next months.

The one thing I would ask for with this election is I hope that, now that the election is over, the 60 outstanding nominees who have been the prisoner of the political process for these past – over a year now will be able to be passed very, very quickly. Thirty-nine of them are already on the Senate calendar. And some of them, I might say – I happen to have it here with me right now, no accident – well, one of them has been waiting 477 days, 473 days to be passed. Another, 466 days; another, 460 days; another, 460 – 460, 460, 418, 418, 399 – excuse me, 382. And yes, 399.

So I mean, I could run through a long list here. These are professionals. These are career people. They got kids. They need to know where they’re going to school. They need to be able to go out and do their jobs. My hope is that with this election now, in the next days when Congress comes back, I really hope that they will get affirmed very quickly in a bloc form or otherwise, because I think they deserve it, and I think our country is stronger and better served when we have the full team on the playing field.

MS. HARF: Our final question is from Lara Jakes of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thanks. I wanted to ask you about the Mideast peace process, but wondering if you would mind clarifying something you just said about the Iran negotiations. You said we ought to be able to reach an agreement; it gets more complicated if you can’t, but it’s not impossible. So the question was: Do you see these negotiations going past November 24th? Are you saying it’s not impossible for them to go past November 24th?

SECRETARY KERRY: What I’m saying is we have no intention at this point of talking about an extension, and we’re not contemplating an extension. If we were inches away, and most of the logical, achievable, expectable – expected issues are dealt with, but you have some details you just got to fill in, could I see a – under those circumstances, perhaps. But it would depend entirely on what’s outstanding. If big issues are hanging out there that are really fundamental and pretty simple, no, I don’t. I think that under those circumstances, something’s wrong. And so we’re going to have to see. And I think if it becomes more complicated to manage in terms of externals, if it is prolonged for reasons that are harder to explain – that’s the point I’m making.

So we have no expectation of a continuation. We’re not – I’m not contemplating it. I want to get this done. I think they do. I think the team does. And we are driving towards the finish with a view to trying to get it done.

QUESTION: But it gets more complicated with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it’s not a question – no, it has no – I don’t believe that changes either side. I honestly don’t. I believe that the same substantive issues would be there regardless of who is in control of the United States Senate. And remember, the United States Senate is still going to be subject to 60 votes to pass anything. So while it may be Republican or Democrat, it’s still subject to 60 votes. And as we have learned in the last few years, the minority has enormous power to stop things from happening, so this really is going to depend on other things. That is not what I am referring to. What is complicated is managing internal expectations in other places outside of us that may or may not have a profound impact on the longer term.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go back to my original question about Mideast peace? I appreciate your indulgence. You met today with former Prime Minister Tony Blair; you expressed concerns about continued Israeli settlements after your meeting with Foreign Minister Fabius. And then you heard Foreign Minister Judeh call for a new round of Mideast peace talks.

At this point, how do players from the U.S., France, Britain, and Jordan convince Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table? Do you see this happening anytime within the next three to six months? And how harshly do you expect the international community to respond to the new settlements? Also, if you have any readout on your meeting with Mr. Blair, we’d appreciate it.

SECRETARY KERRY: So we got three more questions there as an add-on, right?

QUESTION: You know – (laughter) --

QUESTION: You see this (inaudible).

QUESTION: You read that whole list of numbers, so this is my payback. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m actually not – let me just say this, that Foreign Minister Judeh very effectively said that the only way to resolve these issues of the Middle East, whether it’s the Haram al-Sharif, the Mount – the Temple Mount, the issues of East Jerusalem, the issues of settlements, the issues – the only way to resolve them is through a negotiated settlement in the end.

As President Obama said very directly at the United Nations in his speech a few weeks ago, there is nothing sustainable about the status quo, and we’re seeing that unfold. It’s not sustainable. So we need to get back to those negotiations. But I am not going to speculate and I’m not going to get into any of the internals of what those expectations are or aren’t. I think it’s important to leave space here politically for the leaders to be able to make their decisions in the next days. We are in touch. I’m talking constantly with all of the leaders involved in this issue, both immediately and tangentially in the neighborhood, and we’re going to continue to be pressing forward.

Obviously, we’ve all been reading about the potential of issues going to the United Nations at some point in time, and individual countries have already engaged in their own initiatives – Sweden, Great Britain, and others may. But for the moment, I think my role is better defined by saying less rather than more with respect to what the expectations may or may not be and what we may or may not do.

Thank you all.

MS. HARF: Great, thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all.

QUESTION: And their building activity?

SECRETARY KERRY: You know we’re opposed. We’ve said that very clearly.

QUESTION: Your meeting with Mr. Blair – is it on Mideast?

SECRETARY KERRY: Among other things.

MS. HARF: Thank you. Thank you, guys.

QUESTION: There’s no more misunderstanding with Mr. Netanyahu (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Only tonight?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. That’s not --

MS. HARF: Thank you.

MAN SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN DEADLY FIREBOMBING OF FEDERAL WITNESS'S FAMILY

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Philadelphia Man Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison for Deadly Firebombing of Federal Witness's Family

A Philadelphia man was sentenced today in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to serve 40 years in prison for his role in the retaliatory firebombing that killed six members of a federal witness’s family, including four children.  

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division made the announcement.  

Lamont Lewis, 38, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty in 2011 for his role in the firebombing of Eugene Coleman’s family home in retaliation for Coleman’s cooperation with law enforcement.  Lewis also pleaded guilty to an additional five murders murder-for-hire, and drug trafficking charges, and agreed to testify against Kaboni Savage and his cousin, Robert Merritt, who assisted Lewis in carrying out the firebombing.  U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania imposed the sentence after considering Lewis’s cooperation in the prosecution of Savage and others.

According to Lewis’s testimony at trial, at Savage’s direction, Lewis and Merritt firebombed the Coleman family home in retaliation for Coleman’s testimony against Savage.  Lewis admitted that he spoke to Savage in the evening hours of Oct. 8, 2004, at which time Savage asked for a favor and told Lewis that his sister, Kidada Savage, would explain the plan after the phone call.  Shortly thereafter, Kidada Savage advised Lewis of the plan to firebomb the Coleman residence, and drove Lewis to the location to identify the house.  In the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004, Lewis contacted Merritt and explained the plan to him.  Lewis and Merritt filled up two gas cans while en route to the Coleman residence.  Then, while Lewis gained entry and fired warning shots into the residence, Merritt threw a gas can with a lit cloth fuse, and then a second gas can, into the occupied Philadelphia row house.  Six people, including four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years, were killed in the fire.

Co-defendants Kaboni Savage,Kidada Savage, and Merritt were also convicted for their roles in the firebombing at the May 2013 trial.  Kaboni Savage, who was also convicted of other crimes, was sentenced to death for 12 counts of murder in aid of racketeering.  Kidada Savage and Robert Merritt were sentenced to life in prison.

The case was investigated by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and the Maple Shade, New Jersey Police Department.  The United States Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshals Service, and the Philadelphia / Camden High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force also assisted in the investigation.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Steve Mellin of the Criminal Division’s Capital Case Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys David E. Troyer and John M. Gallagher of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.          

SMART GROWTH IMPLEMENTAION ASSISTANCE IN PHOENIX AND MESA, ARIZONA

Thursday, November 6, 2014

DOD VIDEO: REGIONAL COMMAND EAST CLOSES OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

video


WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: PRESIDENT OBAMA HOLDS NEWS CONFERENCE AFTER ELECTIONS

U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND REPORTS AIRSTRIKES CONTINUING IN SYRIA, IRAQ

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL in Syria, Iraq
From a U.S. Central Command News Release

TAMPA, Fla., Nov. 5, 2014 – U.S. military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria Nov. 3 through today, using attack and fighter aircraft to conduct four airstrikes, U.S. Central Command officials reported.

Separately, officials said, U.S. and partner-nation military forces conducted 10 airstrikes in Iraq over that period using fighter, attack and remotely-piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists.

Airstrike Details

In Syria, three airstrikes near Kobani struck a small ISIL unit, two ISIL fighting positions and an ISIL dump truck used in construction of fighting positions. An airstrike north of Sinjar destroyed an ISIL fighting position used to launch mortar attacks and struck a small ISIL unit manning the position, and two additional strikes north of Sinjar struck a small ISIL unit and destroyed an ISIL armored vehicle.

In Iraq, an airstrike near Mosul destroyed ISIL-occupied buildings, including one housing a generator used for oil production and another used to manufacture explosive devices. Three airstrikes near Bayji struck two small ISIL units, destroyed an ISIL vehicle, an ISIL-occupied bunker and an ISIL anti-aircraft artillery piece.

Also in Iraq, an airstrike near Fallujah struck a small ISIL unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle. Three airstrikes near Ramadi damaged an ISIL vehicle and destroyed an ISIL checkpoint.

All aircraft left the strike areas safely, officials said, noting that airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project power and conduct operations, Centcom officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

THE NORTH AMERICAN HALLOWEEN WEATHER SYSTEM

FROM:  NASA 

A potent weather system with origins in Manitoba, Canada moved south across the Great Lakes on Halloween and blew all the way to Florida, bringing snow and hard frost to regions that do not see either in some winters. The storm system then moved back up the U.S. East Coast and pounded New England with a Nor'easter. This image shows the southern Appalachian Mountain range, along the border of Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, as fall color was turned to winter white. The natural-color image was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite on Nov. 2, 2014. Six inches of snow fell in Asheville, North Carolina, where snow usually doesn't fall before Christmas. Higher in the mountains, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, LeConte Lodge (elevation 6400 feet) reported 22 inches of snow and temperatures of 9 degrees Fahrenheit. In Columbia, South Carolina, measurable snow fell nine days earlier than ever recorded for that city. More information. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.



POLITICAL CONSULTANT PLEADS GUILTY IN ILLEGAL POLITICAL CONTRIBUTION CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Washington Political Consultant Pleads Guilty in Fraud and Corruption Scheme
Political consultant Thomas Lindenfeld, 59, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in a fraud and corruption scheme related to illegal campaign contributions.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko of the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Office and Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard Gross of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

According to admissions in his plea agreement, Lindenfeld agreed to route an illegal $1 million political contribution for “Elected Official A” during a 2007 campaign for elected office. The contribution was in the form of a loan routed through Lindenfeld’s political consulting firm, LSG Strategic Services Corporation (LSG).  When the campaign donor attempted to collect on the outstanding balance of the $1 million loan, however, Lindenfeld and his co-conspirators, at the direction of Elected Official A, engaged in a complicated series of transactions using federal grant money and monies from Sallie Mae’s charitable arm illegally to repay the loan.  These transactions were routed through several entities, including LSG, and were all falsely labeled as payments for services that were never actually rendered.

Lindenfeld admitted that, in exchange for the work he had done on the campaign, which included concealing the illegal campaign contribution, Elected Official A agreed to use his elected position to steer federal funding to Lindenfeld’s proposed environmental advocacy group, Blue Guardians.  Lindenfeld further admitted that he created Blue Guardians at the direction of Elected Official A for the purpose of receiving the federal funding.

According to Lindenfeld, Elected Official A advocated for $15 million in federal funding for Blue Guardians as a reward for Lindenfeld’s services.  Five hundred thousand dollars was approved in 2009 as an earmark through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Lindenfeld admitted, however, that the Blue Guardians did not exist in December 2009, and that he only created an email address, articles of incorporation, and a tax identification number for Blue Guardians in April 2010.  After receiving questions from NOAA and members of the press, Lindenfeld declined the funding, stating that he and Elected Official A decided it could be better spent on the oil spill in the Gulf.  NOAA did not disburse the $500,000 to Lindenfeld or Blue Guardians.

U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Bartle III scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 25, 2015.

The case is being investigated by the FBI and the IRS-CI with assistance provided by NASA’s Office of Inspector General and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Gray of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Trial Attorney Eric L. Gibson of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS WITH JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Remarks With Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh Before Their Meeting
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Paris, France
November 5, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: (In progress) -- we’ll talk about. He’s been a critical partner, together with King Abdullah of Jordan, in the efforts to try to work for stability and peace in the Middle East. That remains an urgent priority, notwithstanding the very serious complications that have grown up over the course of the last months. We urge everybody to try to step back and find a way to create enough calm and enough space to be able to negotiate these difficult issues. None of them lend themselves to unilateral resolution, and I condemn today’s terrorist act of somebody driving in another car into innocent people standing on the roadside. That is not just a terrorist act and an act of – an atrocity, but it only makes matters worse. It only raises tensions.

There are those who oppose peace, and people need to not allow those who oppose peace to control what is happening in the region. The peacemakers need to control it, and they need to take steps to begin to move in a different direction. That’s what’s important. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Well, I just want to add to that that it’s a great opportunity to meet the Secretary of State yet again, and our close consultation is something of mutual benefit. I think we have a lot to discuss. But the only way – just to reiterate what the Secretary’s saying, the only way that we can prevent these unilateral measures from continuing to take place is to have a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, at the core of which is the Palestinian-Israeli. So I think this is what we will want to work on achieving so that we don’t have another Gaza and we don’t have these continuous violations and unilateral actions.

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS WITH FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Remarks With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius After Their Meeting
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Quai d'Orsay
Paris, France
November 5, 2014

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (In French.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Merci. Thank you, Laurent. As Foreign Minister Fabius has just said to you, we had a broad discussion on all of the topics that he mentioned to you. We agree that we are living in very, very complicated times with enormous challenges, but we also believe that we are up to those challenges. And whether it is Ebola or ISIL, Syria, Iraq, the challenge of the nuclear program in Iran, Afghanistan, France and the United States are cooperating more than ever before, hand in hand closely, driven by our values, as Laurent said, and mindful of the fact that the world is looking for leadership on these issues.

We did talk, as he said, about our approaches to and our concerns about the negotiations with respect to Iran’s program, and I agree with Laurent. They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb. We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful. And so we talked today about our common positions, about our common interests. We are hand in hand, linked in this effort, and we will work extremely closely together in the next weeks to try to find a successful path.

In addition, we are very committed to continuing to press for the stability and ability to find peace in the Middle East. We talked about that today. We both have deep concerns about the continued settlements that are taking place and the need for all parties involved to avoid confrontation and try to find a way back to the negotiations, which are critical and the only way, in the end, to be able to bring about the stability and peace that people want.

So there are many challenges beyond even the ones we talked today – Libya, North Africa, counterterrorism – but I’m very grateful to Laurent Fabius for the leadership of France, for their engagement, for their initiative individually in certain countries – Mali, elsewhere, Central African Republic, where France has been willing to take the lead and help to make a difference. And we remain committed, particularly in these next weeks when so much is at stake, to continuing to work together extremely closely.

So I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here today and I thank Laurent for his good counsel and for his good food. (Laughter.) Thank you, sir.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: Thank you, sir. Merci.

MEMBER ANDROID PIRACY GROUP PLEADS GUILTY FOR ROLE IN DISTRIBUTING PIRATED APPS

 FROM:   U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, November 3, 2014

Conspirator in Android Mobile Device App Piracy Group Pleads Guilty
A leading member of an online piracy group pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to distribute more than one million pirated copies of copyrighted Android mobile device applications, or “apps,” with a total retail value of more than $1.7 million.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia and Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office made the announcement.

Scott Walton, 28, of Cleveland, Ohio, pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement before U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. of the Northern District of Georgia.  Walton will be sentenced at a later date.  A second co-conspirator, Kody Jon Peterson, 22, of Clermont, Florida, pleaded guilty to an information on April 14, 2014, for his role in the conspiracy.

According to statements made in court, Walton and his fellow conspirators identified themselves as members of the SnappzMarket Group.  From May 2011 through August 2012, they conspired to reproduce and distribute over one million copies of copyrighted Android mobile device apps.  The apps had a total retail value of over $1.7 million and were distributed through the SnappzMarket alternative online market without permission from the victim copyright owners, who would otherwise sell copies of the apps on legitimate online markets for a fee.

The indictment charges Walton and two other leading members of the SnappzMarket Group with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and related charges for allegedly distributing the copyrighted Android mobile devices apps through the group’s website, www.snappzmarket.com [external link].  On Aug. 21, 2012, the FBI executed a seizure order against the website, which was the first time a website domain involving mobile device app marketplaces had been seized.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Chief John H. Zacharia of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Bly of the Northern District of Georgia.  Significant assistance was provided by the CCIPS Cybercrime Lab and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

WHITE HOUSE READOUT: PRESIDENT OBAMA'S CALL WITH MONROVIA MEDICAL UNIT

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Readout of the President’s Call with the Monrovia Medical Unit

The President on Wednesday morning spoke by phone with the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps who are staffing the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU), the 25-bed hospital constructed by the U.S. Military that will open its doors later this week. The President underscored the indispensability of the MMU’s mission—to treat national and international healthcare workers who fall ill with Ebola in their brave service to others. He noted that these PHS officers will offer hope to their patients while also reassuring other healthcare workers in the region and those around the globe whose services are needed to end this epidemic. The President thanked the members of the Corps as well as their families for taking on this challenge, commenting that, of the 71 officers selected, all of them accepted the assignment, a testament to their selfless service to the nation. The President specifically commended Rear Admiral Scott Giberson, who is heading the contingent, on his leadership, and reminded the full team that, through their service, we will bring this epidemic under control at the source, the only way to prevent additional cases of Ebola domestically.

U.S. EXTENDS BEST WISHES TO SIKHS ON BIRTH OF GURU NANAK DEV JI

FROM:  THE STATE DEPARTMENT 
Anniversary of the Birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 5, 2014

 On behalf of the people of the United States and the Department of State, I extend my best wishes to Sikhs around the world as they celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism and the first Sikh Guru.

Guru Nanak’s timeless teachings and principles—the equality of all people, pluralism within diverse societies, and compassion towards one another—are shared not only by Sikhs, but also by people of all faiths. That shared spirit is at the heart of everything the Department of State strives to accomplish throughout the world. We recently celebrated these values as Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and members of other faiths came together to celebrate Diwali at the Department of State.

Now on the anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birth, as friends and family gather to celebrate this special day, know that the people of the United States stand with you in recognition of our shared values and with a mutual commitment to human dignity, compassion, and service.

11/4/14: White House Press Briefing

NASA SCIENCECASTS VIDEO: SUNSET SOLAR ECLIPSE

LOS ALAMOS NOVEL ROCKET DESIGN FLIGHT TESTED

SECRETARY HAGEL CONGRATULATES TUNISIAN COUNTERPART FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION SUCCESS

FROM:   U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Hagel Praises Tunisia’s Election Process as Model for Region
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2014 – During a meeting with Tunisian Defense Minister Ghazi Jeribi at the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel congratulated his counterpart for the successful parliamentary elections underway in Tunisia and praised the vote as an important model for the region, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

In a statement summarizing the meeting, Kirby said the two defense leaders followed up on previous bilateral Joint Military Commission discussions held in Tunis in May.

“Minister Jeribi and Secretary Hagel discussed ways in which the U.S. and Tunisia could cooperate in fighting terrorism, given continuing instability in the region,” the admiral said.

Regional Concern About Foreign Fighters

The two leaders also discussed the growing regional concern over foreign fighters from North Africa moving to Iraq and Syria, Kirby said, as well as the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other al-Qaida splinter groups emerging in Africa.

Jeribi thanked the United States for ongoing security cooperation programs, and Hagel underscored the strong U.S. commitment for continued support to Tunisia, the press secretary said.

SEC, FINRA ISSUE ALERT TO INVESTORS REGARDING SHELL COMPANIES BEING SOLD AS PENNY STOCKS

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) today issued an alert warning investors that some penny stocks being aggressively promoted as great investment opportunities may in fact be stocks of dormant shell companies with little to no business operations.

The investor alert provides tips to avoid pump-and-dump schemes in which fraudsters deliberately buy shares of very low-priced, thinly traded stocks and then spread false or misleading information to pump up the price.  The fraudsters then dump their shares, causing the prices to drop and leaving investors with worthless or nearly worthless shares of stock.

“Fraudsters continue to try to use dormant shell company scams to manipulate stock prices to the detriment of everyday investors,” said Lori J. Schock, Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.  “Before investing in any company, investors should always remember to check out the company thoroughly.”

Gerri Walsh, FINRA’s Senior Vice President for Investor Education, said, “Investors should be on the lookout for press releases, tweets or posts aggressively promoting companies poised for explosive growth because of their ‘hot’ new product.  In reality, the company may be a shell, and the people behind the touts may be pump-and-dump scammers looking to lighten your wallet.”

The investor alert highlights five tips to help investors avoid scams involving dormant shell companies:

Research whether the company has been dormant – and brought back to life.  You can search the company name or trading symbol in the SEC’s EDGAR database to see when the company may have last filed periodic reports.

Know where the stock trades.  Most stock pump-and-dump schemes involve stocks that do not trade on The NASDAQ Stock Market, the New York Stock Exchange or other registered national securities exchanges.

Be wary of frequent changes to a company's name or business focus.  Name changes and the potential for manipulation often go hand in hand.

Check for mammoth reverse splits. A dormant shell company might carry out a 1-for-20,000 or even 1-for-50,000 reverse split.

Know that "Q" is for caution.  A stock symbol with a fifth letter "Q" at the end denotes that the company has filed for bankruptcy.

MEDICAL DIAGNOSTICS COMPANY TO PAY $14.35 MILLION TO RESOLVE FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ALLEGATIONS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, November 3, 2014
Bio-Rad Laboratories Resolves Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Investigation and Agrees to Pay $14.35 Million Penalty

A California-based medical diagnostics and life sciences manufacturing and sales company, Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. (Bio-Rad), has agreed to pay a $14.35 million penalty to resolve allegations that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by falsifying its books and records and failing to implement adequate internal controls in connection with sales it made in Russia.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office made the announcement.

“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “The department pursues corruption from all angles, including the falsification of records and failure to implement adequate internal controls.   The department also gives credit to companies, like Bio-Rad, who self-disclose, cooperate and remediate their violations of the FCPA.”

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” said Special Agent in Charge Johnson.  “This action demonstrates the benefits of self-disclosure, cooperation, and subsequent remediation by companies.”

According to the company’s admissions in the agreement, Bio-Rad SNC, a Bio-Rad subsidiary located in France, retained and paid intermediary companies commissions of 15-30 percent purportedly in exchange for various services in connection with certain governmental sales in Russia.  The intermediary companies, however, did not perform these services.  Several high-level managers at Bio-Rad, responsible for overseeing Bio-Rad’s business in Russia, reviewed and approved the commission payments to the intermediary companies despite knowing that the intermediary companies were not performing such services.  These managers knowingly caused the payments to be falsely recorded on Bio-Rad SNC’s and, ultimately, Bio-Rad’s books.  Bio-Rad, through several of its managers, also failed to implement adequate controls, as well as adequate compliance systems, with regard to its Russian operations while knowing that the failure to implement such controls allowed the intermediary companies to be paid significantly above-market commissions for little or no services.

The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation.  That cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation.  In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.

In addition to the monetary penalty, Bio-Rad agreed to continue to cooperate with the department, to report periodically to the department for a two-year period concerning Bio-Rad’s compliance efforts, and to continue to implement an enhanced compliance program and internal controls designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations.

In a related matter, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today announced that it had entered into a cease and desist order against Bio-Rad in which the company agreed to pay $40.7 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest in connection with the company’s sales in Russia, as well as in Thailand and Vietnam.

The department acknowledges and expresses its appreciation for the assistance provided by the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Andrew Gentin of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

13 FIRMS SANCTIONED BY SEC FOR VIOLATING RULE TO PROTECT SMALL INVESTORS

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
November 3, 2014

The Securities and Exchange Commission sanctioned 13 firms for violating a rule primarily designed to protect retail investors in the municipal securities market.

All municipal bond offerings include a “minimum denomination” that establishes the smallest amount of the bonds that a dealer firm is allowed to sell an investor in a single transaction.  Municipal issuers often set high minimum denomination amounts for so-called “junk bonds” that have a higher default risk that may make the investments inappropriate for retail investors.  Because retail investors tend to purchase securities in smaller amounts, this minimum denomination standard helps ensure that dealer firms sell high-risk securities only to investors who are capable of making sizeable investments and more prepared to bear the higher risk.

In its surveillance of trading in the municipal bond market, the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit detected improper sales below a $100,000 minimum denomination set in a $3.5 billion offering of junk bonds by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico earlier this year.  The SEC’s subsequent investigation identified a total of 66 occasions when dealer firms sold the Puerto Rico bonds to investors in amounts below $100,000.  The agency instituted administrative proceedings against the firms behind those improper sales: Charles Schwab & Co., Hapoalim Securities USA, Interactive Brokers LLC, Investment Professionals Inc., J.P. Morgan Securities, Lebenthal & Co., National Securities Corporation, Oppenheimer & Co., Riedl First Securities Co. of Kansas, Stifel Nicolaus & Co., TD Ameritrade, UBS Financial Services, and Wedbush Securities.

The enforcement actions are the SEC’s first under Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) Rule G-15(f), which establishes the minimum denomination requirement.  Each firm agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and pay penalties ranging from $54,000 to $130,000.

“These actions demonstrate our commitment to rigorous enforcement of all types of violations in the municipal bond market,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  “We will act quickly and use all available tools to protect investors in municipal securities.”

LeeAnn G. Gaunt, Chief of the SEC’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit added, “These firms violated a straightforward investor protection rule that prohibits the sale of muni bonds in increments below a specified minimum.  We conduct frequent surveillance of trading in the municipal bond market and will penalize abuses that threaten retail investors.”  

The SEC’s orders against the 13 dealers find that in addition to violating MSRB Rule G-15(f) by executing sales below the minimum denomination, they violated Section 15B(c)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which prohibits violations of any MSRB rule.  Without admitting or denying the findings, each of the firms agreed to be censured.  They also agreed to review their policies and procedures and make any changes that are necessary to ensure proper compliance with MSRB Rule G-15(f).

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, is being conducted by Joseph Chimienti, Sue Curtin, Heidi M. Mitza, and Jonathon Wilcox with assistance from Kathleen B. Shields.  The case is supervised by Kevin B. Currid and Mark R. Zehner.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the MSRB.