03/16/20

Coronavirus is Not ‘The Big One’

By: Lloyd Marcus

Fred Sanford of the Sanford and Son sitcom routinely faked having a heartache to manipulate his son. Placing his hand over his heart, Fred would yell, “This is the big one! I’m comin’ to join you, Elizabeth!”

For three and a half years, Democrats along with their fake news media minions have sought “the big one” to remove Trump from the White House.

All of their this-is-the-big-one attacks on Trump have bombed out; Russian collusion, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, the Mueller Report, the Ukraine phone call, the 25th Amendment, the Emoluments Clauses, quid pro quo, bribery, and far too many for me to remember.

Barely able to contain their excitement, Democrats/fake news media believe they have finally found their kryptonite to take down this superman president. They are confident that their insidious evil manufactured hysteria over the Coronavirus is The Big One that will end Trump’s presidency.

Any one of the bogus attacks launched against Trump would have ended the candidacy or presidency of any other Republican. Clearly, God’s Hand of protection is on Donald J. Trump. Their latest attack, Corona-mania, will fail also.

We have seen Democrats/fake news media repeatedly use their tactic of creating a false narrative which they demand that everyone embrace. Anyone with the guts to rebel is publicly humiliated, branded irresponsible, deemed a truth denier, diagnosed crazy, a racist, sexist and homophobe.

Horrifyingly, Democrats/fake news media seek to criminalize and imprison anyone who disagrees with their false narratives. A coalition of attorney generals sought to prosecute anyone who disagreed with Obama’s belief in man-made climate change. Obama’s DOJ vowed to prosecute anyone who contradicts his statement that Islam is a religion of peace.

And yet, Obama worshiping progressives accuse Trump of behaving like he is a king.

Democrats’/fake news medias’ latest bogus narrative which they demand that we embrace is the Coronavirus as the worse thing that has ever hit America and we’re all gonna die because Trump is in the White House. Anyone who dares to publicly say otherwise is immediately gang assaulted by the media.

Well aware of the consequences of daring not to embrace this narrative, like falling dominoes, corporations are canceling all public gatherings.

The Bible speaks of evildoers setting a trap for someone only to fall into it themselves. “If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself.” Proverbs 26:27 “Let them be caught in the trap they set for me.” Psalm 35:8

In their frenzied quest to use Corona-mania to “destroy Trump,” Democrats/fake news media find themselves caught in their own trap; in the awkward position of advocating for home-schooling. Democrats are aggressively seeking to ban home-schooling. Progressives despise home-schooling because it stops them from indoctrinating students with hatred for Christians and America while implementing the LGBTQ agenda.

Democrats/fake news media say screw your Constitutional right to free speech. They decide the “correct” view of an issue. If you do not conform, they will destroy you.

Here are a few examples. Trump along with a majority of Americans are fine with “legal” immigration. Democrats/fake news media say if you do not surrender to their desire for open borders and rolling out the red carpet to illegals, you are a racist hater of people of color.

Christians along with other Americans instinctively know that marriage is between one man and one woman. When a Muslim gunman massacred homosexuals in a bar, Democrats/fake news media absurdly said everyone who supports traditional marriage is responsible for the massacre.

Do you see how their tyrannical bullying works folks? If you do not surrender to Democrats’/fake news medias’ mandated view of an issue, they will lie about you and make your life hell on earth.

Continuing to prove himself to be a courageous peerless voice of truth, I tip my hat to Rush Limbaugh for refusing to surrender to Democrats’/fake news medias’ mandated bogus doom and gloom narrative about the Coronavirus.

Upon turning on my TV, a reporter said, “And now, the effects of the Coronavirus.” I thought, in reality, the Coronavirus has had very little effect. The reporter was really reporting on the irresponsible despicable hysteria created by Democrats/fake news media solely to take-out Trump. They will fail.

A break from Corona hysteria and anti-Trump media, watch something uplifting.

Lloyd Marcus, The Unhyphenated American

Help Lloyd Spread the Truth
https://www.trumptrainusa2020.com/
http://LloydMarcus.com

03/16/20

Coronavirus, China’s Lies, and Bioweapons Research

By: Cliff Kincaid

Americans are trying to stay safe, as the government attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. As this unfolds, let’s hope that our “intelligence agencies” are taking an objective and honest look at where this virus came from – and whether other diseases are being planned for America and the world. A recent case of alleged “academic espionage” involving China raises the specter of American involvement in Chinese medical and/or biological warfare research.

In making the charge that the Chinese coronavirus originated in the United States, the Chinese have taken a page out of the old Soviet playbook. As concern about AIDS was growing in the 1980s, the Soviet Union launched a disinformation campaign charging that an American military laboratory had developed the virus that caused HIV/AIDS.

The Soviets were lying in order to cover-up their own biological weapons program. Is this what inspires the Chinese lies?

The Soviet campaign included a Pravda cartoon showing an American military officer receiving a vial with the AIDS virus in exchange for providing cash to a doctor in a lab coat. Dead bodies are on the ground around them.

In one of the most notorious examples of Communist disinformation appearing in the U.S. media, then-CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather picked up this story. He reported in a matter-of-fact way, in a newscast on March 30, 1987, that a Soviet publication had charged that an American military laboratory had developed the virus that caused the AIDS epidemic. He did not accompany this charge with any comment from the Pentagon or the State Department.

The liberal anchorman had fallen for a Soviet ploy to use the AIDS charge against the U.S. as a way to divert attention from the Soviet program to develop Ebola and other viruses as weapons.

This story had been exposed as Soviet disinformation even before Rather aired it. Former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky later admitted the Soviet KGB role in spreading the AIDS charge against the U.S. in his book, KGB —The Inside Story, calling the charge a “fabrication” that “also took in some of the Western media.”

In the end, the Soviets had placed the charge in over 200 publications, as well as radio broadcasts, in 25 different languages. This is the model the Chinese are using to divert attention away from them.

The Soviet campaign was so effective that the Wilson Center featured a discussion, “The AIDS Conspiracy: KGB and Stasi Disinformation,” looking back at how the Soviets ran the campaign in association with the East Germany intelligence service. A subsequent report goes into substantial detail.

The reason we should revisit this controversy is to understand why the Chinese communists are using the same kind of disinformation today. The motives behind the Soviet campaign involved far more than just smearing the United States. The Soviet campaign was designed to distract attention from its own biological weapons program. Ken Alibek, deputy chief of the main Soviet biological weapons laboratory, disclosed in his book, Biohazard, that the Soviets had explored AIDS as a weapon but concluded it was too unstable for use. However, he said they did add smallpox to their arsenal. The Soviets tried to cover up a biological weapons disaster at their own Army biological research facility at Sverdlovsk, blaming the deaths on tainted meat.

Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that the Chinese disinformation attacking the U.S. Army as the source of the coronavirus is designed to divert public attention from what has been going on behind-the-scenes in Chinese labs. Alibek’s book describes outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever in China in the 1980s that were caused by an accident in a lab “where Chinese scientists were weaponizing viral diseases.”

In an interesting development, on January 28, as the coronavirus virus was spreading to the United States and Europe, the Department of Justice announced that Dr. Charles Lieber, the Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, and two Chinese nationals had been charged in connection with aiding Communist China. (Lieber and his lawyers declined to comment).

Lieber has his own Lieber Research Group at Harvard. The web page says, “The Lieber group is focused broadly on science and technology at the nanoscale, harnessing the unique physical properties of novel nanomaterials to push scientific boundaries in biology and medicine.”

What’s fascinating are the “sponsors” listed on the bottom of the page. They include the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, and MITRE, a “research and development” center claiming to be “solving problems for a safer world.”

One of the Chinese nationals, according to the DOJ news release, is alleged to have tried to smuggle vials of biological material in his socks that he obtained from the Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Another Chinese national, Yanqing Ye, was identified as a Lieutenant of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China and a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

We are being told by our media and their “fact-checkers” that none of this has anything to do with the coronavirus.

But the sensational allegations in this reported case of “academic espionage” are that Lieber, who became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China, was getting paid big bucks to establish a research lab at WUT. What’s more, the DOJ said that Lieber has received more than $15,000,000 in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DOD).

At a time when Congress seems eager to pile more billions of dollars on the NIH, in order to fight coronavirus, shouldn’t this scandal be investigated to find out where in fact the money has been going, for what purpose, and to whom? Has American expertise been tapped to make China’s secret labs and to engineer viruses to sicken and kill the people of the United States and the world?

Note that a separate entity, the secretive and controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology, has international “partners” that include the NIH and Harvard.

Is there an American connection to coronavirus after all?

*Cliff Kincaid is president of America’s Survival, Inc. www.usasurvival.org.

03/12/20

American Guinea Pigs in a Chinese Lab

By: Cliff Kincaid

“This a global problem that will require global solutions, not more ignorant, nationalist fear-mongering.” So says a writer with an outfit called Popular Resistance about the coronavirus and President Trump’s response. In the midst of this Marxist drivel, President Trump offers a calm answer to a pandemic – protect our people and defend our borders.

The European Socialists, who have implemented open borders and hate the concept of national sovereignty, were caught off-guard. They are irate that Trump is closing America to their infected people and travelers. The Chinese, meanwhile, are angry that they are being blamed for a virus that emerged from their country – and perhaps from their lab.

It looks like key Trump White House personnel are coming to the conclusion that the Chinese communist authorities have their fingerprints all over this deadly disease.

AP reports that Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, declared at a Heritage Foundation event that “this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up.” O’Brien, the author of a book critical of the foreign policy of Barack Hussein Obama, added that the communist regime’s cover-up “probably cost the world community two months” in responding.

In terms of the “outbreak,” the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, Kelvin Droegemeier, asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to “rapidly” look into the origins of the virus.

The words “outbreak” and “cover-up” suggest that, in this growing crisis, something other than a natural occurrence of a virus emerging from somewhere in a food market is happening. The sending of the Droegemeier letter raises questions about Chinese claims about the origin of the virus.

In his talk to the nation on Wednesday night, President Trump accurately described the threat as a “foreign virus.” China doesn’t like that. This, too, suggests that the White House doesn’t buy all of the propaganda about the disease being an unfortunate and accidental development that just happens to have come out of a region in China with a top-secret bio lab.

Yet many news organizations are following the Chinese communist line that this is somehow a “global” problem that has nothing to do with China. Commentators are actually criticizing those who accurately describe the disease as the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus.”

Some are saying that the virus is a flu-like disease that will dissipate when the weather gets warmer. Others are not so sure. The Droegemeier letter to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine notes the publication of a study claiming that the novel coronavirus has elements of HIV, the virus causing AIDS. While the paper was “widely-disputed” and withdrawn, he says we are all entitled to answers about the origin and nature of the virus.

As part of this review, Droegemeier could examine the published studies on the Communist Chinese chemical and biological warfare capabilities. A good place to start is Eric Croddy’s report, “China’s Role in the Chemical and Biological Disarmament Regimes.” Among other disclosures, he cites a Soviet defector, Ken Alibek, as saying that Soviet scientists concluded that outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever in China in the 1980s were caused by an accident in a lab “where Chinese scientists were weaponizing viral diseases.”

At the time of the publication of this paper, 2002, China didn’t even have a maximum containment (Biosafety Level 4) lab. Such a Biosafety Level 4 lab is now in place in Wuhan, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This is the place where the virus originated and the cover-up began. Nature magazine reports it is just one of five or more such labs scheduled to be built in China. The magazine quotes its own experts as saying that the SARS virus “has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times…”

SARS is another virus that somehow “appeared” in China and spread. Perhaps it’s time to question how these viruses are “escaping” or “appearing” in China. But skepticism is in short supply at the major media outlets eager to find fault with Trump.

The Washington Post ran a story claiming that various “experts” have debunked the “fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research.” But that’s not what the experts were actually quoted as saying. The paper said that Milton Leitenberg, an expert on chemical weapons at the University of Maryland, “had discussed the possibility that weapons development at the Wuhan lab could have led to the coronavirus outbreak in a private email chain but that no one had found convincing evidence to support the theory.” One wonders what form “convincing evidence” would have to take. And how is this possible considering this is a communist regime known for lying, cheating, and cover-ups?

Leitenberg then added “Of course, if they are doing bioweaponry, it is covert,” and reportedly said it was “unlikely” the Chinese were making such weapons at that lab.

So the theory that the virus came out of the lab has not been debunked. If it was a natural occurrence, why the cover-up? The Post doesn’t want to blame China because its culprit, for this and dozens of other perceived problems, is always Donald J. Trump. It wants to blame Trump for the impact of the Chinese virus without investigating why this keeps happening.

The Trump’s Administration’s failures in confronting the virus consist almost entirely in the reaction of the Medical Deep State, including the Centers for Disease Control, in quickly developing quick and easy testing procedures for the virus. Trump relied on these “professionals” and they were clearly not prepared. Perhaps they had a naïve view of the communist regime and never imagined that a disease of this kind would emerge from China.

Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, wrote in his 2006 book, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won, that China was a “disease incubator” because of its pollution problems. Now we fear that disease may have been turned into a weapon.

As citizens in a still-free society, we don’t have to wait for the “experts.” Common sense dictates there are just too many coincidences surrounding the appearance of this virus in a region with a controversial lab. Indeed, one doesn’t have to be an “expert” to come to the obvious conclusion that China is experimenting with these weapons and that the communists are treating us like guinea pigs.

Even before this virus is contained, our country has to get back to the business of containing China itself. Our survival as a nation depends on it.

•Cliff Kincaid is president of America’s Survival, Inc. www.survival.org

03/12/20

Hey Amb. Yovanovitch and Adam Schiff, Call Holding Line 3

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Remember the accusations during the Trump impeachment trial that Ukraine had cleaned up corruption? President Trump withheld aid for a couple of very legitimate reasons including corruption in the Ukraine military, corruption in the banking system and money-laundering. The Democrats continued to place the guilt of dying Ukrainians because of the military conflict with Russia in the lap of President Trump. Then there was that pesky Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg that spread propaganda across the world.

Ladies and gentlemen… it is still happening over there… where is the media? Where is Shifty Schiff and Nasty Nadler? Maria Yovanovitch is retired but gotta wonder what she knew.

Anyway, read on… this is yet but only part of what continues to go on in Ukraine… Rudy Giuliani is working many other channels.

Hat tip to the REAL investigative reporters on the case…well done.

Image result for milton group kiev

Luxury cars line the parking lot of the upscale Mandarin Plaza mall in Kyiv, while their well-heeled owners flaunt their wealth in its jewellery and designer clothes stores.

But hidden on its upper floors, protected by armed guards and under the constant surveillance of security cameras, a very different product is being sold.

Sitting elbow-to-elbow under fluorescent lights, a multi-lingual army of call center staff hawk get-rich-quick dreams across the world in the form of cryptocurrency and stock investments for a company called Milton Group.

Now, a cache of documents handed to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter by a whistleblower from inside the call center, and shared with OCCRP, exposes the inner workings of this type of fraud: an old-fashioned boiler-room scam that leverages the power of social media to operate on a global scale.

Armed with a list of over 1,000 people targeted by the call center, reporters from 21 countries and dozens of media outlets spoke to more than 180 victims, revealing a trail of ruined lives from Sweden’s Arctic Circle to the Ecuadorian Amazon, passing through small industrial towns in the Balkans and major world cities like London and Sydney.

The stories were strikingly similar. Many first came into contact with the scam through Facebook ads promising remarkable returns on investments. After entering their contact details to find out more, victims would be deluged with high-pressure sales calls. They would make a small “investment” that quickly yielded impressive — but fake — profits. But requests to withdraw the full funds were not honored.

Those worst affected were preyed upon by the call center’s “retention” desk, whose job was to conjure up new ways to extract more money, often through brutal psychological pressure. Some were harassed into taking out huge loans, threatened by forged letters from UK financial regulators demanding taxes, or contacted by fake lawyers offering to help get their money back — for yet another fee. In the most extreme cases, Milton Group’s retention specialists would convince victims to install software on their computers that allowed the scammers to control them remotely, and steal more money in the process. Some lost more than $200,000.

The victims, fooled by foreign names and addresses, and assurances of sky-high returns believed they were on the phone with a legitimate investment business based in Western Europe. They had no inkling that the people on the other end of the line were largely young Ukrainians or Middle Eastern and African migrants in Kyiv.

Some tried to report their losses to police in their countries, but law enforcement largely failed to connect the dots. Cyber-crime units in multiple countries affected by the call center, including Spain and Italy, told OCCRP and its partners that they were aware of such cross-border frauds, but that they are hard to detect, often go unreported, and require cooperation between law enforcement bodies across many jurisdictions.

However, Swedish authorities have now opened an investigation based on the whistleblower’s extensive evidence, and have been in touch with Europol about the allegations.

“This company what they do, everything is fake,” said Alexey, the whistleblower. (His real name cannot be used to protect his safety.) “They just steal money from people.”

He said staff were told the Kyiv center took in a massive 65 million euros in sales in 2019. To celebrate, the company’s leaders threw a lavish New Year’s party themed around the novel “The Great Gatsby,” about a Jazz-Age bootlegger and con artist. Under neon lights, hundreds of Milton staffers watched contortionists and fire-dancers perform, and were awarded prizes, including cars, cash, and free lodging, for especially good salesmanship.

Milton is apparently tied to other call centers in Albania, Georgia, and North Macedonia employing hundreds more staff.

In some cases, OCCRP was unable to identify whether the specific scam reported by a victim was related to Milton Group. This is not surprising given that many clients had been the victims of repeated scams from a variety of fake investment brands, which by nature are difficult to trace. However, many of them named known call-center operators from Kyiv and the brands they sold.

While it is impossible to determine whether every investment that passed through the Kyiv center was fraudulent, reporters from DN and across OCCRP’s network spoke to more than 180 victims listed in Milton’s client database who confirmed they had lost their money in investment scams. A few had been able to withdraw some funds, likely in an attempt to encourage further investments, or remained hopeful they would be able to cash out their “earnings” one day.

The supposed investments were made by transferring funds through Western Union, bank accounts, credit cards, and cryptocurrencies. Milton salespeople received a higher commission if they could convince their clients to pay in bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, since they are harder to trace. Many of the bank-to-bank transfers were routed through the private accounts of individuals with a UK financial company, with clear instructions not to indicate the money was for investing.

In many cases identified by OCCRP, online credit-card payments were handled by a Cyprus-based company called Naspay, which bills itself as a “state-of-the-art payment gateway” and is owned by David Todua — the same Georgian-Israeli man the whistleblower identified to law enforcement as the person behind Milton Group. (Todua vigorously denies holding any “formal or informal position” in the company, although he conceded that he had attended Milton Group’s New Year’s party as a guest. He also said that Naspay does not process payments, but merely “transfers information” between websites that accept payments and financial institutions. OCCRP did not find evidence Todua has any ownership of Milton.)

After their initial investments, some victims were told they needed to send additional fees in cash to individuals in far-flung countries such as Colombia and Uganda rather than company bank accounts.

Leif Nixon, a Swedish cryptocurrency expert who helps law enforcement investigate bitcoin-related crime, analyzed the bitcoin addresses used by Milton Group to accept payments from its customers. He said the set-up did not appear to be that of a legitimate operator.

He noted several indications that clients’ money was not being invested as promised, including the fact that many different people were told to send their bitcoins to the same few addresses. Clients were also given different addresses each time they made a payment.

“It’s like opening a bank account, but you don’t get an account number; instead, for every deposit you make you get a different account number,” Nixon explained.

Ultimately, he said, $5.9 million in bitcoins from seven of Milton Group’s addresses disappeared into East Asian exchanges in 2019.

“I can’t see why a legitimate operation would make these kinds of transactions,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Call center staff were well aware that their job was to steal, the whistleblower says. Alexey told DN that on one of his first days at Milton, the sales manager joked that even when she was as young as six, she dreamed of being a “motherfucker and stealing people’s money.”

At a training session for new staff at a Tbilisi call center linked to the Milton Group, attended by an undercover reporter last month, a trainer explained that the company’s goal was for customers “to lose their money in a realistic way.” Asked why, she laughed: “It’s naive to ask, to be honest. When they lose the money, it stays with us.”

An internal customer database reviewed by reporters is laced with expletives about “fucking” clients out of money, as well as highlighting their vulnerabilities and how they might best be targeted. In one note from October 2019, a Milton staff member wrote of a 67-year-old Swedish woman: “Sold her home to pay, no money, crying.”

That woman, reached by Dagens Nyheter in a rural part of central Sweden, told journalists she was tricked into investing over $100,000 by Milton staff who took out loans on her behalf.

She, like many other victims, was initially sucked in by the illusion that she was making huge profits: “You become hypnotized and brainwashed.”

But when she wanted to withdraw her supposed earnings, “they disappeared.” Today she cannot afford to buy food or pay her rent. “I have nothing to live for,” she said. While Milton Group’s fake investments have brought its victims financial ruin, the picture is very different for the firm’s alleged managers.

A review of their social media profiles shows that they have a penchant for expensive cars, foreign holidays, and guns. Some also have high-level political connections.

The CEO of Milton Group is Jacob Keselman, who declares himself “the Wolf of Kiev” on his Instagram account, a nod to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the Hollywood film about a notorious penny-stock scammer. His social media profiles are replete with photos of luxury cars, foreign holidays, and the occasional gun. In one photo he can be seen working in a room with a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. He writes: “The one who loves his job is truly happy.”

OCCRP could not obtain official information about Keselman’s national origin, but on his LinkedIn profile he writes that his native language is Russian, he attended university in Kyiv, and he did two stints in sales in Israel before joining Milton Group.

Contacted for comment, Keselman denied that Milton Group had defrauded anyone. “You know how it is working, investment and forex brands … a lot of clients lose money because they don’t understand how it’s working,” he said. He went on to claim that Milton only provided IT support for companies selling investments. He did not respond to follow-up questions.

David Todua, a 38-year-old Georgian-born Israeli citizen, is a frequent visitor to the call center office in Mandarin Plaza, where according to Alexey the staff knew him as one of Milton Group’s owners.

Alexey said he saw Todua there at least six times, including once in November 2019, when he congratulated the staff on their performance and said Milton had brought in $50 million that year to date. The whistleblower said Todua always travelled with multiple bodyguards.

No official documents connect Todua to the scam call center, which on paper is owned by a different Georgian, Irakli Dadivadze. OCCRP was unable to track down any information about him.

However, Todua does own Naspay, a Cyprus-based payment platform through which Milton processes many of its “investments,” internal documents show.

At the firm’s New Year’s party, a man named David was called up to the stage by Keselman, the CEO, identified as the company’s “father,” and presented with a cake with three candles in it, representing the three years Milton Group had been in operation. The whistleblower identified this “father” as David Todua.

“In December, the company turned three years old,” Keselman said, according to an audio recording of the event obtained by OCCRP. “We are big kids, and our father is proud of us, while we are proud of him. And firstly [we] want to say a big thank you, David. And we want to give a cake, because what birthday is without a cake? And David will blow out the candle today.”

Todua told OCCRP he had been at the firm’s New Year’s party as a guest of Keselman, but denied holding any role in the company. “I am not father of any company, I am a proud father of 5 children,” he said.

On Instagram, he calls himself david_todua_007 and poses with a golden Kalashnikov, shoots with a sniper rifle, celebrates birthdays with a champagne tower, and posts photos of expensive cars parked outside his home. (“Hunting is indeed one of my hobbies,” he told OCCRP.)

He also has business ties with a surprising number of politicians from several countries, including ministers and other figures from the United National Movement party, which governed Georgia under President Mikheil Saakashvili for almost a decade until 2012. Saakashvili later became a Ukrainian citizen and forged a political career in the country.

Little is known about Todua’s life in Israel, where he migrated with his family in 1993, but court records and posts from his social media accounts show that he lived until recently in a villa near Tel Aviv. Today he lives in Cyprus.

In Albania, which boasts a 400-strong call center that also appears to be linked to Milton Group, the company operating it is owned by an adviser to a senior minister.

🔗The Georgian Connections

Although David Todua’s family left Georgia for Israel when he was just 11, as an adult he has ties to a surprising number of prominent political figures from his home country.

Most notably, his business partner in two Ukrainian companies is Davit Kezerashvili, an ex-defense minister and former chief of Georgia’s financial police under Saakashvili.

Todua and Kezerashivili co-own Project Partners, a real-estate and construction firm that is based out of a neighboring office building in Kyiv as Milton Group. Its head is Gia Getsadze, a former deputy justice minister in both Georgia and Ukraine.

Project Partners, in turn, co-owns a construction and civil engineering firm, Elitekomfortbud, with another former Georgian official, Petre Tsiskarishvili, a minister of agriculture under Saakashvili and a former leader of his United National Movement party.

Kezerashvili was charged in 2013 with accepting some $12 million in bribes to turn a blind eye to massive smuggling of alcohol from Ukraine to Georgia. He was ultimately cleared of the charges, which he says were politically motivated, but continues to live outside Georgia.

OCCRP has found no evidence that any of the former ministers are involved in the call center. In an email, Kezerashvili said he had never heard of Milton Group and had no knowledge of its activities, but confirmed that he was a business partner of Todua.

“You Will Never Regret This Decision”

Milton Group’s Kyiv call center does not appear unusual at first glance: Hundreds of phone sellers sit side by side, headsets on, using modern telephone and customer management systems.

Workers make up to 300 calls a day to clients around the world in an attempt to reach their monthly sales targets and secure bonuses.

The center is split into different sales desks by language — including Russian, English, Italian, and Spanish — each targeting their own areas of the world. Sellers use so-called “stage names” to build trust with the person on the other end of the call: A Senegalese man on the German desk goes by the name “Todd Kaiser,” while a Ukrainian woman whose real name is Daria calls herself “Diana Swan” or “Kira Lively.”

But undercover footage from inside Mandarin Plaza, as well as leaked internal documents, confirm that Milton was no ordinary call center.”

It is protected by burly guards and personal mobile phones are forbidden.

On the walls, next to posters of sports cars, a whiteboard sets out sellers’ monthly targets: $40,000 for the Russian market; $60,000 for Spanish, and $100,000 for those working the English-speaking desk.

The staffers in the sales department are provided with a set of notes explaining exactly how to target “clients” by nationality.

fraud-factory/Sales-script1.jpg

Notes from Milton Group on how to target clients, based on their nationality or their reasons for not wanting to invest. Credit: OCCRP

Scandinavians, the notes say, are mostly “old people and they really need someone to talk to.”

People from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, on the other hand, like to believe they know everything and are certain that their countries are the best in the world, so call center workers are advised to pump them up.

“The only way to Handle [sic] such people is not to argue with them on whatever direction they take and make them feel that they are intelligent,” the notes explain.

“Later talk to them about how important the financial market has become because of great countries like Australia, UK, and New Zealand.”

“You will never regret this decision” is another line suggested to entice customers.

Those targeted by Milton Group are offered the chance to invest in cryptocurrency, stocks, or foreign currencies through a variety of different “brands,” all of which have generic-sounding names and similar websites, and are moved out of the rotation over time. Recently, Milton Group’s brands have included CryptoMB, Cryptobase, and VetoroBanc. All have been subject to recent investor warnings from regulators in the UK, Italy, and Spain.

The precise relationship between the call center and the brands they market is not always clear. Brands are sometimes not associated with any legal entity; when they are, they hide behind offshore secrecy. CryptoMB and VetoroBanc are run by offshore firms in the Marshall Islands and St. Vincent & Grenadines, respectively, while OCCRP could find no evidence that Cryptobase was tied to any specific company.

fraud-factory/VetoroBanc.jpg

The website for VetoroBanc, one of the brands sold by Milton Group. It presented itself as an independent company, but was actually invented by workers in Milton’s Kyiv office, with the name chosen because it sounded Italian, according to the whistleblower. Credit: OCCRP

Alexey told journalists that the supposed VetoroBanc was entirely fabricated inside the Milton offices, with the name chosen by the Italian retention manager because it sounded “like one of the Italian banks.” The VetoroBanc website uses stock images for its staff that appear to have been taken from the internet. “Sylvia Moreno,” a supposed market analyst, is in fact an American pediatrician.

Alexey explained that staff had no specific expertise in financial products, but were carefully taught to sell “emotions.”

“It doesn’t matter which emotions, positive or negative: You can sell those fake products if people are really thinking about that,” he explained.

Clients were often shown huge profits to encourage them to invest further funds, but the money was always just numbers on a screen, the whistleblower explained. The only time victims were allowed to receive any of their funds back was in order to encourage an even bigger investment.

The most promising — and vulnerable — investors were passed on to the “retention team,” where the top salesmen work.

Their job is to “squeeze the money from the clients to the last cent,” Alexey explained, pushing them to borrow money and sell their cars and apartments. In one case, he said, a heavily pregnant Russian woman was convinced to hand over the small nest egg she had scraped together for her baby.

The most prolific and ingenious scammer at Milton Group is a man on the retention team who tells prospective investors his name is “William Bradley.”

In fact, he is a young Iranian who uses images of well-known US salesman and motivational speaker Marc Wayshak — who dubs himself “America’s sales strategist” — to disguise his identity on video calls.

OCCRP was unable to verify his real name, but at work and on social media he goes by “Hamze” and speaks fluent Farsi. Alexey claimed he takes in a massive $450,000 a month.

The call center’s internal customer database tracks how much each client has “invested,” as well as the potential to extract more money from them. Comments seen by OCCRP are laced with profanities and details of clients’ vulnerabilities.

One reads: “I saw 800 EUR in his bank and he is sick, he have problem and he told me I want someone fuck me and I said Foster [another call center operator] will fuck you.”

Another reads: “Getting fucked every month for at least 1000 EUR. Gets pension on the 20th/works every tuesday.”

Notes from the Milton Group’s internal customer database describing the situation of one of their victims, Östen Morian. Credit: Alexander Mahmoud/DN

fraud-factory/Mean-Note-to-Osten.jpg

An email to Östen Morian by a woman purportedly working for the European Securities and Markets Authority, demanding that he answer his phone. Credit: Alexander Mahmoud/DN

Of another man, a call center staffer wrote: “Very Old man/pushed him to get the commission payment, hoping he can sort that out today, should call back at 3 pm Sweden time.”

A month later, another note appears: “He is at his friend’s home because he doesn’t have money for food. Call him back on Monday, lost 400 k.”

That client was 75-year-old Östen Morian, a retired carpenter who lives close to the Arctic Circle in remote northern Sweden.

Contacted by DN, Morian confirmed he had lost around 400,000 Swedish krona (about $41,000) to the scammers after taking out loans, at 39 percent interest, to make what turned out to be fake investments. He was left heavily indebted.

“I don’t know what I can do,” he said. “Wait to die only.”

Go here for citations, photos and video.

03/12/20

China Says Immoral of US Officials to Blame China for Virus

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

FNC: If you listened to Chinese state-run media, you’d think President Trump went to China and released vials of COVID-19 on groups of unsuspecting men, women, and children.

Beijing has been bending over backward trying to convince the world that the United States is the real culprit behind the quickly spreading virus that’s already claimed more than 4,600 lives across the globe.

It’s a high-stakes strategy for the Asian nation fighting to keep its superpower status amid a national lockdown and palpable anger over claims that Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus, at first covered it up, triggering a worldwide health and economic crisis.

The Chinese government has already published a book in English — with translations in the works in French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic — touting its handling of the deadly disease.

A Battle Against Epidemic: China Combatting COVID-19 in 2020” is a mishmash of glowing state media reports on the accomplishments of President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party and the dominance of the Chinese system in fighting the crisis.

biosafety-level-IV (P4) opened in 2017 in Wuhan

At best, China’s aggressive new campaign can be chalked up to ambitious propaganda.  At its worst, it’s a reckless display from a country that has actively misled the world while working overtime to save its own skin, foreign affairs expert Gordon G. Chang told Fox News.

Chang believes Beijing has been laying the groundwork for a PR attack against the United States for more than a month, first by throwing doubt on the origin of COVID-19 and second, by slamming America’s handling of previous diseases like the swine flu, which decimated China’s pork industry.

On Sunday, Lin Songtian, China’s ambassador to South Africa, said: “Although the epidemic first broke out in China, it did not necessarily mean that the virus is originated from China, let alone ‘made in China.’

Vague and misleading statements like the one from Lin are ripped right out of China’s propaganda playbook and attempt to sow doubt about the global crisis.

Chinese officials have also pushed back on the expression “Wuhan coronavirus” — saying the name used frequently by U.S. conservative commentators unfairly stigmatizes the world’s most populous country.

Chang said it’s just another tactic in China’s playbook, carefully choreographed to make Americans look petty and racist.

“This an all-out assault on the United States,” Chang said.

In December, when the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, many media around the world began referring to it as the “Wuhan virus.” But last month, the World Health Organization renamed the illness COVID-19 so as not to link it to a specific location or group of people.

The name change didn’t stop some, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who blew past warnings and deliberately referred to it as the “Wuhan virus” after China’s foreign ministry called it “highly irresponsible” to do so.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, went even further Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” O’Brien said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington. “There’s lots of open-source reporting from China, from Chinese nationals, that the doctors involved were either silenced or put in isolation, or that sort of thing, so that the word of this virus could not get out. It probably cost the world community two months.”

O’Brien said if experts would have had those two months to get ahead of the spread of the virus, “I think we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what’s now happening across the world.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the Communist Party is pointing the finger at the U.S. so it can dampen discontent back home.

“The Chinese military portal Xilu.com recently published an article baselessly claiming that the virus is ‘a biochemical weapon produced by the U.S. to target China,’” Rubio said.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, has frequently used the term “Wuhan virus” on the Senate floor.

Earlier this week, several social media users took House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to task when he referred to it as “the Chinese coronavirus.”

Instead of backing down, Chang believes officials should keep calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” and push back on accusations of racism.

“This isn’t a Republican thing. We all need to unite and for people to say, ‘this is racist’ is irresponsible,” Chang said. “There is no race known as Wuhanese.”

Chang also said calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” keeps pressure on the Chinese government and forces it to be held accountable by the rest of the world for its initial response to the global crisis, which was widely regarded as abysmal.

China, though, is using everything in its arsenal to paint itself as a global hero, rewriting history and going so far as to demand a thank you for containing the virus as long as it did.

“We should say righteously that the U.S. owes China an apology, the world owes China a thank you,” an editorial on state news agency Xinhua read.

Also peculiar is that Beijing — which is normally quick to censor news — has refused to step in as a wave of anti-American conspiracy theories floods the internet. Among the rumors is that the U.S. created the coronavirus to make China look bad as well as one that accuses the government of covering up thousands of deaths by classifying them as the regular flu.

“It’s more than just some disinformation or an official narrative,” Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s Schools of Information, told The Washington Post. “It’s an orchestrated, all-out campaign by the Chinese government through every channel at a level you rarely see. It’s a counteroffensive.”

03/11/20

Fatal Dependence

By: Tabitha Korol

(INTRODUCTION)  In order to continue the Islamic war against Israel and the Jews, no libel, no matter how mythical, may be abandoned.  No matter the passage of 14 centuries, his followers are mindlessly bound to suffer Mohammed’s dream of world conquest.

***

Fernando Alcoforado’s dissertation, “Radicalism Palestinian not justify genocide in Gaza,” was published on Academia.com despite its numerous inaccuracies.  I am not surprised.  Whether devoid of ethics or in support of a political agenda, their published material can be fallacious and unreliable.

The writer’s title alone revisits the Palestinians’ false accusations of genocide by Israelis.  Substantial documentation produced by Doctors Without Borders has shown that massacres, as in Jenin, were staged with corpses exhumed from nearby cemeteries.   We know that UNRWA’s schools teach hate and violence against Jews and Israel, Palestinian women and children are used as human shields at rocket-launching sites, and children are used to ignite and float explosive balloons and for constructing terror tunnels  – dangerous and deadly activities.  This is not genocide, but child abuse and human sacrifice, where leadership and families weaponize their children for an interminable war.  And when the children are martyred, their parents are paid handsomely by Hamas/PA.

Alcoforado shrewdly inserted that Gaza has existed since Antiquity, insinuating that the Palestinians did likewise. Although the landmass has certainly existed since Ancient times, there was never a Palestinian state, people, government, monetary system, or culture until 1967.  After Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon attacked Israel and lost the war, those caught in the crossfire and trapped in Gaza were barred from returning to their native homelands.  They fabricated this attachment to the land, but the indigenous people of Israel are the Jews, also known as Hebrews and Israelites.

Our academic bemoans the Gazans’ suffering from a dearth of industry and a chronic water shortage.  We agree, but the reason lies firmly with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and can be characterized in one word, Dependence.   The PA receives, arguably, the highest level of aid in all the world, $540 million for 5 million people including succeeding generations, compared with, say, $113 million for Burundi’s 10 million people, or $304 million for Cameroon’s 23 million people.   Funds meant for providing enough electricity and infrastructure to run Gaza’s sewage system, water purification, construction, agriculture, healthcare delivery, and essential medical supplies, are filtered through the fingers of the corrupt PA.  An unemployed population serves as the endless, expendable live ammunition in its war against Israel, but also as PA’s milch cow, so that their leadership may continue to live in grandeur.

The Jews were never tempted with dependence on others.  Notwithstanding overwhelming obstacles, Israel’s pioneers battled malaria to drain the swamps of Galilee, which then exposed the toxic peat beneath, resulting in the death of wildlife.  It took tenacity and commitment to nature and science for the Israelis to make the desert blossom again, and blossom it did.  The Arabs chose another course.

Despite its being 60% desert with a tenfold population increase since its founding, Israel has become a superpower in water management and conservation.  Their technology is now used 150+ countries, and they export $2.2 billion annually in water-related technology and water-intensive produce.  Because Israeli citizens are educated on conserving water, use desalinated seawater for drip irrigation, and treat and recycle nearly all sewage for crops, they are able to provide large amounts of water from their own supplies to Palestinians and the Kingdom of Jordan.

Surely, this could also be done in Gaza, but Palestinian leadership refuses to invest any of the massive aid to develop its own water infrastructure or repair its antiquated system, leading to enormous waste.  When Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel damage Gaza’s pipes, Israel’s water authority makes the repairs. Israel supplies less water to Israeli communities in the disputed territories than is stipulated in the Oslo Accords and transfers the remaining quota to the Palestinians – who merely balk and bask in their victimhood, using the drought as an accusation to discredit Israel to the UN.

When Gaza was under Hamas rule, only 10 percent of the West Bank had modern plumbing in June 1967, but today 96 percent of West Bank Palestinians have clean, safe water piped to their homes in Israel.  Contrarily, Gaza’s water crisis continues because Hamas uses the international funding for its war against Israel.  If Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank as Alcoforado suggests, it would leave Israel in far more peril.  After 1400 years of violence and bloodshed, it would be insanity to believe that Muslims would live in peace based on this researcher’s recommendations.

Our scholar rues the overcrowded conditions in Gaza, one of the most populous places on the map, blaming Israelis, when their countries of origin – Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria – should have accepted their return instead of leaving them hostage.  Their cultures keep them imbued with resentment and hate, without incentive for making improvements.   Is this inevitable in overcrowded societies?

Consider Brooklyn, New York, the most populous borough, the second-most populous county in the US, and a thriving hub of entrepreneurship and high technology start-up firms – a sign of happy lives with no children primed for suicide missions.  The differences are largely a matter of choice and culture.  Israel has held the honors of 5th through 11th happiest nation over the years; none of the tyrannical 57 Islamic member states even remotely qualifies for the list. Alcoforado joins the PA’s futile efforts to delegitimize Israel while the biased UN continues to fund $1.3 billion and train Palestinians to pursue legal advocacy against the one UN member, Israel.

Whether deceived or brazenly deceitful, Alcoforado states that Palestine, “a British protectorate [until 1948], began to have a growing Jewish population.”  He flouts the 3,000 years of continuous Jewish presence in Israel, one of the few ancient peoples to survive into modern times, and Judaism being among the world’s oldest living religions.  He omits the history of the Jews who bought neglected, uncultivated swampland or sand dunes from absentee Arab landowners in the mid-1800s to create agricultural colonies,  undeterred by backbreaking work and illnesses – as reported to the League of Nations in 1921.

The critic conveniently reports half-truths, asserting that the establishment of a free Jewish state resulted in growing populations of Jews only, failing to mention the Christians, Muslims, and other groups that flourished simultaneously.  Israelis developed thriving farms and urban life, industry, power plants, social institutions, universities and the Palestine Orchestra that became the Israeli Philharmonic. They restored their ancient language, Hebrew, and rich culture.  They restored their national independence and welcomed and absorbed the successive waves of returning immigrants and refugees (many fleeing Arab countries).  Arabs in Israel appreciated the development and higher standard of living until Haj Amin al-Husseini began fomenting riots (1929),  committing massacres and rapes, beheadings, torture, and mutilation.  It is fair and honest to say that Arabs live better in Israel than in any Islamic country and, when offered the choice of Israeli or Palestinian citizenship, they invariable choose the former.

Alcoforado vaguely observes, “There were clashes between Arabs and Jews,” but the attackers were Arabs.   Likewise, he added, “Both Israelis and Palestinians claimed this share of the land-based on history, religion, and culture,” but Jewish history, religion, and culture go back more than 3,000 years, whereas the Palestinians appeared in 1967, and their tenuous Islamic attachment goes back no further than the 7th century of Mohammed.  Even the Koran attests that the land was given to the Jews forever (5:21).

“You will find very clearly,” says Sheik Dr. Muhammad Al-Husseini, “that the traditional commenters from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael has been given by God to the Jewish people as a perpetual covenant.  There is no Islamic counterclaim to the land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary.”   The term, “Palestinian” was an insulting term conferred by the Romans on a Roman Empire outpost to which the Judean Jews were exiled.

Today’s Palestinians have no culture inimitable to them before 1967.  Their governance was the Ottomans.  Their monetary system, established by the 1994 Paris Protocol, is tied to the rates of Jordan, the US, and Israel.  There are no discoveries of ancient artifacts to verify any but the Hebrews’ existence.  Their religion is Islam, their common language Arabic with some French.  Their own music emerged after 1948.  Their “traditional dress,” not traceable beyond 1922, may be attributed to the Arab or Bedouin.

Continually troubled by the “mass migration of Jews from various countries to Palestine,” Alcoforado excludes the context of their return to their Biblical native land and that many had been first fleeced before their expulsion from surrounding Arab countries.

On the other hand, Arab migration is a fulfillment of hegira, “departure,” the migration or journey that fulfills Mohammed’s example of “civilizational jihad.”  Mohammed migrated with intent to establish a new base of operations from which to conquer and rule; today’s jihadis do so with the intent of populating and dominating new lands.  Where they cannot advance with weaponry, they can colonize and transform the society, by stealth or violence, to change the demographics, legal systems, and governments of their objective – global submission to sharia and the reestablishment of a caliphate to rule accordingly.  Fifty-seven Islamic states have succumbed; Israel, Europe, and the United States are obviously on the Islamic agenda. President Obama assured us of such a fundamental transformation.

If Alcoforado sincerely believes there can be peace with Palestinians, he is gravely underinformed and ill-informed.  If he speaks on behalf of the Palestinians, as his surname suggests, he has written pure deception, taqiyyah, and it should not be peddled as academic.

03/10/20

Horse Racing Doping Schemers Charged

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Disgusting but it is common in the industry.

Federal prosecutors announced charges on Monday against more than two dozen racehorse trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors in a wide-ranging series of indictments that laid out a corrupt scheme to secretly dope horses and cheat the betting public in what has become a $100 billion global industry.

Maximum Security's Unique Derby Path Serves Him Well ...

Among the 27 people charged was Jason Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security, one of the best racehorses in the world. He covertly administered performance-enhancing drugs “to virtually all the racehorses under his control,” the indictment charged, adding that from February 2018 to February 2020 he entered horses in more than 1,000 races.

Maximum Security moved from Jason Servis after indictments ...

Maximum Security

In May, Maximum Security crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for almost knocking over a rival horse and slowing the momentum of others. Country House, a 65-1 shot, was named the winner. Last month, Maximum Security won $10 million at the Saudi Cup at the King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh, the world’s richest race

The scheme, as laid out in four separate indictments against a total of 27 people, was to manufacture and distribute adulterated and misbranded drugs and to secretly administer them to racehorses under their control.

The participants sought to improve race performance and obtain prize money from tracks throughout the United States, including in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and Kentucky, as well as the United Arab Emirates, one indictment said, “all to the detriment and risk of the health and well-being of the racehorses.”

To avoid detection of their scheme, the indictment said, the defendants routinely defrauded and misled federal and state regulators “and the betting public.”

The charges were to be announced at a news conference on Monday by Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, and William F. Sweeney Jr., head of the F.B.I.’s New York office.

Horse racing has a long history of trainers’ repurposing drugs in pursuit of a performance edge. Frog and cobra venom, Viagra, cocaine, heart medicines and steroids have all been detected in drug tests. This reliance on performance-enhancing drugs combined with lax state regulations has made American racetracks among the deadliest in the world.

Nearly 10 horses a week on average died at U.S. racetracks in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That figure is anywhere from two and a half to five times greater than the fatality rate in Europe and Asia, where rules against performance-enhancing drugs are enforced more stringently.

Last year, at Santa Anita Park, a few miles east of Pasadena, more than 30 horses were euthanized after fatal breakdowns, including 23 of them in a three-month span that nearly shut down racing in Southern California and led to an investigation by the Los Angeles district attorney.

The post More Than Two Dozen Charged in Horse Racing Doping Scheme appeared first on New York Times.

***

Gary West, the owner of Maximum Security, released a statement on Tuesday saying he had terminated Servis’s employment. “Yesterday, Jason Servis, a trainer we have used for 5 years, was indicted on multiple charges regarding using an illegal substance in horses. This news is extremely disturbing and disappointing. Therefore we will be moving all our horses from Jason Servis as soon as arrangements can be made with other trainers. Maximum Security will be sent to Bob Baffert.”

According to the charges, Servis administered a drug called SGF-1000 to Maximum Security and other horses and then conspired with a vet to cover up the doping. Authorities say such acts of doping can cause horses to over-exert themselves, potentially leading to their deaths.

The welfare of racehorses has been under the microscope in the US over the last year after a spike in deaths. More than 30 horses died last year at Santa Anita, one of the most famous tracks in America. According to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, death rates at American tracks are up to five times.

03/10/20

California Bullet Train, Shut-up About Fleecing the Government

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Exactly how come Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein have nothing to say? Pelosi? Nah…

When Mark Styles was hired in October 2018 to help oversee Central Valley scheduling for the California bullet train, he soon learned he had walked into a mess.

California officials knew all along bullet train wouldn't ...

Over the previous half-decade the project had repeatedly fallen behind schedule, and the cost by 2018 had jumped from $64 billion to $77 billion in two years.

California is Building High-Speed Rail | High Speed Rail ...

A core problem was the project’s operating culture, in which managers for WSP, the bullet train’s lead consultant, threatened to punish or terminate employees if they failed to toe the company line, Styles said.

“I was told to shut up and not say anything,” said Styles, a career construction manager who was hired as WSP’s senior supervisory scheduler in the project’s Fresno office. “I was told that I didn’t understand the political arena the project was in. I told them I am not going to shut up. This is my job.”

The atmosphere described by Styles has been corroborated by a half dozen current and former senior officials knowledgeable about the project’s Fresno office.

The officials say it helps explain why California’s high-speed rail endeavor has barreled ahead for more than a decade, despite warnings it was structured on risky assumptions and could run out of money before any trains operate.

WSP spokeswoman Denise Turner Roth rejected Styles’ claims. “We always work carefully with our client to evaluate the demands of each project and to prepare realistic and transparent recommendations regarding schedule and budget,” she said.

But other ex-WSP employees in the Fresno office, including engineer Vera Lovejoy and project controls coordinator Todd Bilstein, say they were also discouraged from sharing bad news with bosses.

“I wanted the project to succeed,” said Lovejoy, who left the project in 2019 after one year. “I was eager to help deliver it. But I couldn’t stay. If you rock the boat, you are labeled as not a team player.”

Bilstein also left in 2019 after a nine-month tenure.

“If I was to give a talk at a construction conference, I would say they were not following generally accepted project management principles,” he said. The company’s failures, he said, ran the gamut of estimating costs, scheduling construction and managing change orders.

“Revealing bad news was discouraged,” he added. “I just couldn’t continue to work there. I don’t work that way. American professionals don’t work that way.”

Styles, who has no lawsuit or other legal claims, is also no longer with WSP. He left in November, calling it “the worst job of my career,” and moved to a new construction job out of state.

Brian Kelly, chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said in a statement that the agency “takes seriously any claim of wrongdoing by an employee or contractor. We have procedures in place for any such claim to be raised and reviewed. We have an expectation that all employees act within the law and that our contractors meet the requirements of state and federal law.”

He added in an interview, “Our focus is on the mission in front of us.”

In the last half-year, Kelly has moved to make changes in his organization’s culture, replacing numerous middle-level management officials, orchestrating more documentation for its plans and vowing to improve transparency in the agency operations.

WSP and Parsons Brinckerhoff, which merged in 2014, have been on the project since the 1990s. The Montreal firm, one of the largest infrastructure engineering organizations, is working under a $666-million contract. When he arrived at the project’s Fresno office, Styles said, he found a dysfunctional operation like he had never seen before — a pressured environment that aimed to contain bad news that could damage the project’s fortunes.

At the time, the rail authority was confronting delay claims, resulting from its slow acquisition of land, and change orders — both amounting to millions of dollars in higher costs.

Within days, he asked to see the detailed justification documents for the change orders. He said he wanted to understand the delays and how they would affect future construction, a routine part of a scheduler’s job.

WSP management, he said, told him that he didn’t need to see the documents. WSP was pushing to “keep the numbers looking good,” which in some cases involved altering reports written by its staff to make construction progress look better, he alleges.

Styles and other sources speaking off the record say that the bullet train schedule, which calls for installing 119 miles of track and a complex signal system from Madera to Wasco by 2022, is “impossible,” even though the project’s budget is predicated on the completion date.

To install track by 2022 would normally require all of the bridges, viaducts, trenches and other structures to be completed beforehand. As a stopgap measure, the rail authority now plans to install tracks in five-mile discontinuous segments, which the Federal Railroad Administration has criticized as illogical.

A more likely scenario would have the current construction completed between 2025 and 2028, which would drive costs up and force the state to either find new money or curtail the project, Styles and others said.

Rail authority spokeswoman Annie Parker said the agency has acknowledged repeatedly that “the deadline is a challenge.” It will require boosting monthly construction spending from the current $46 million to $70 million, said chief financial officer Brian Annis, who added that its construction pace is improving.

Sylmar-based Tutor Perini, which is building rail structures in Madera and Fresno counties, said a week ago it will complete its work in 2023. The company’s contract was initially $1 billion, but delay claims and change orders have doubled the amount.

Chief Executive Ron Tutor told security analysts in a recorded telephone call on Feb. 26, “With our extending the completion date from the end of ’21 to the first quarter of ’23, once again, we are in discussions with the owner to resolve payment for that further delay. However, it seems certain that given all of the results and resolves over the last 90 days that that should be the final end date for high-speed rail.”

It would mean that the rail authority could not begin to install track and signals until after that construction is completed.

When The Times asked the rail authority if it had commented on Tutor’s statement, it received an email Friday from Tutor saying his statement to investors had caused “some confusion.” He said that he hopes that “substantial completion” of his company’s work would occur in early 2022, leaving “paperwork, acceptances and contractual documentation” to be completed early in 2023.

Turning around the multibillion-dollar project has proved difficult for years, given California’s complex governance structure, flawed contracts, and past decisions, officials close to the project say. Executives in civil engineering firms say the rail authority lacks technical resources.

Exactly how come Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein have nothing to say? Pelosi? Nah…

When Mark Styles was hired in October 2018 to help oversee Central Valley scheduling for the California bullet train, he soon learned he had walked into a mess.

California officials knew all along bullet train wouldn’t … source

Over the previous half decade the project had repeatedly fallen behind schedule, and the cost by 2018 had jumped from $64 billion to $77 billion in two years.

California is Building High-Speed Rail | High Speed Rail …

A core problem was the project’s operating culture, in which managers for WSP, the bullet train’s lead consultant, threatened to punish or terminate employees if they failed to toe the company line, Styles said.

“I was told to shut up and not say anything,” said Styles, a career construction manager who was hired as WSP’s senior supervisory scheduler in the project’s Fresno office. “I was told that I didn’t understand the political arena the project was in. I told them I am not going to shut up. This is my job.”

The atmosphere described by Styles has been corroborated by a half dozen current and former senior officials knowledgeable about the project’s Fresno office.

The officials say it helps explain why California’s high-speed rail endeavor has barreled ahead for more than a decade, despite warnings it was structured on risky assumptions and could run out of money before any trains operate.

WSP spokeswoman Denise Turner Roth rejected Styles’ claims. “We always work carefully with our client to evaluate the demands of each project and to prepare realistic and transparent recommendations regarding schedule and budget,” she said.

But other ex-WSP employees in the Fresno office, including engineer Vera Lovejoy and project controls coordinator Todd Bilstein, say they were also discouraged from sharing bad news with bosses.

“I wanted the project to succeed,” said Lovejoy, who left the project in 2019 after one year. “I was eager to help deliver it. But I couldn’t stay. If you rock the boat, you are labeled as not a team player.”

Bilstein also left in 2019 after a nine-month tenure.

“If I was to give a talk at a construction conference, I would say they were not following generally accepted project management principles,” he said. The company’s failures, he said, ran the gamut of estimating costs, scheduling construction and managing change orders.

“Revealing bad news was discouraged,” he added. “I just couldn’t continue to work there. I don’t work that way. American professionals don’t work that way.”

Styles, who has no lawsuit or other legal claims, is also no longer with WSP. He left in November, calling it “the worst job of my career,” and moved to a new construction job out of state.

Brian Kelly, chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said in a statement that the agency “takes seriously any claim of wrongdoing by an employee or contractor. We have procedures in place for any such claim to be raised and reviewed. We have an expectation that all employees act within the law and that our contractors meet the requirements of state and federal law.”

He added in an interview, “Our focus is on the mission in front of us.”

In the last half year, Kelly has moved to make changes in his organization’s culture, replacing numerous middle-level management officials, orchestrating more documentation for its plans and vowing to improve transparency in the agency operations.

WSP and Parsons Brinckerhoff, which merged in 2014, have been on the project since the 1990s. The Montreal firm, one of the largest infrastructure engineering organizations, is working under a $666-million contract. When he arrived at the project’s Fresno office, Styles said, he found a dysfunctional operation like he had never seen before — a pressured environment that aimed to contain bad news that could damage the project’s fortunes.

At the time, the rail authority was confronting delay claims, resulting from its slow acquisition of land, and change orders — both amounting to millions of dollars in higher costs.

Within days, he asked to see the detailed justification documents for the change orders. He said he wanted to understand the delays and how they would affect future construction, a routine part of a scheduler’s job.

WSP management, he said, told him that he didn’t need to see the documents. WSP was pushing to “keep the numbers looking good,” which in some cases involved altering reports written by its staff to make construction progress look better, he alleges.

Styles and other sources speaking off the record say that the bullet train schedule, which calls for installing 119 miles of track and a complex signal system from Madera to Wasco by 2022, is “impossible,” even though the project’s budget is predicated on the completion date.

To install track by 2022 would normally require all of the bridges, viaducts, trenches and other structures to be completed beforehand. As a stopgap measure, the rail authority now plans to install track in five-mile discontinuous segments, which the Federal Railroad Administration has criticized as illogical.

A more likely scenario would have the current construction completed between 2025 and 2028, which would drive costs up and force the state to either find new money or curtail the project, Styles and others said.

Rail authority spokeswoman Annie Parker said the agency has acknowledged repeatedly that “the deadline is a challenge.” It will require boosting monthly construction spending from the current $46 million to $70 million, said chief financial officer Brian Annis, who added that its construction pace is improving.

Sylmar-based Tutor Perini, which is building rail structures in Madera and Fresno counties, said a week ago it will complete its work in 2023. The company’s contract was initially $1 billion, but delay claims and change orders have doubled the amount.

Chief Executive Ron Tutor told security analysts in a recorded telephone call on Feb. 26, “With our extending the completion date from the end of ’21 to the first quarter of ’23, once again, we are in discussions with the owner to resolve payment for that further delay. However, it seems certain that given all of the results and resolves over the last 90 days that that should be the final end date for high-speed rail.”

It would mean that the rail authority could not begin to install track and signals until after that construction is completed.

When The Times asked the rail authority if it had comment on Tutor’s statement, it received an email Friday from Tutor saying his statement to investors had caused “some confusion.” He said that he hopes that “substantial completion” of his company’s work would occur in early 2022, leaving “paperwork, acceptances and contractual documentation” to be completed in early in 2023.

Turning around the multibillion-dollar project has proved difficult for years, given California’s complex governance structure, flawed contracts and past decisions, officials close to the project say. Executives in civil engineering firms say the rail authority lacks technical resources.

“They have all these people in top jobs with no technical background,” said a top executive at a major European engineering firm, who worked on the project. “They are politicians. They never disclose the full cost. They give you incremental truth. They believe that is a successful business model. They should cancel the contracts and start over.”

The Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees billions of dollars in grants, has long warned the rail authority it risked missing deadlines and was headed for big cost overruns. In December 2016, the FRA warned the statethat the cost of the Central Valley construction could jump by $3.6 billion. After The Times obtained a copy of the confidential report and published its findings, the rail authority denied the legitimacy of the analysis. Today, the cost is even higher than the FRA projected.

WSP said it stands by the job it is doing for the bullet train. “To the extent WSP prepares cost and schedule estimates for the program as a whole, WSP brings world-class talent to the project that prepare professional estimates based on client needs and the information available when generated,” Turner Roth said.

Styles said he was shut out of work not long after taking the job at WSP, though the company did not fire him. Over many months, Styles, who was being paid $170,000 annually, said he kept advising management about the problems and writing procedures for contract compliance.

In a Facebook posting in June, Styles wrote that he had been warned by a co-worker “to be careful” and “you know too much” and to take a lower profile. “I’d rather be dead than a coward,” he wrote.

Styles filed an ethics complaint against his former employer in June, which was examined by a management committee in Chicago. “The committee concluded there was no proof that WSP violated ethics with the state,” he said.

Turner Roth said, “In 2019, an employee — who has since left the company — raised a question about the schedule data submitted to WSP by the construction managers and construction contractors. In response to this question, WSP thoroughly investigated the matter, and concluded there was no wrongful conduct by WSP employees in their review of contractor submissions.”

As for Lovejoy, whose career includes engineering jobs at major public agencies and corporations, she said problems started more a decade ago when the Obama administration issued a $2.5-billion grant from its economic stimulus program, intended for “shovel-ready projects.”

The grant came about four years before the first construction contract was issued, and actual work did not begin for two more years. “It was so far from shovel-ready,” Lovejoy said.

Another former WSP employee, who spoke anonymously out of concern that he would face retribution, supported Styles’ assertion that monthly and annual reports submitted by staff often were changed by WSP management before they were reviewed in meetings and sent to state executives.

“We gave them the bad news and they wouldn’t accept it,” he said.

The Times has previously reported that the project has struggled to relocate pipes, electrical lines and other infrastructure that stands in the way of securing parcels and laying track. Today, the rail authority is short by 497 of the 2,042 parcels it needs, according to its most recent progress report. In December, the authority acquired only five parcels.

In late 2018, Hemanth Kundeti, a database manager, was hired into the project to help improve property records, but he lasted only several months.

Kundeti, an employee of a subconsultant to WSP, said he developed his own software tool that could track the work more accurately. It would have allowed the state to replace a subcontractor that was charging $2 million annually to maintain the records, he said.

When he proposed the tool to WSP and state officials, it was rejected. In February 2019, he was twice reprimanded for “insubordination” for continuing to promote his software, according to a copy of the reprimand. In response, he wrote on his warning letter that management “without healthy debate is dangerous for any organization.” He was terminated a few weeks later.

“I am still reeling from the after-effects of being terminated for trying to save taxpayers’ money from being wasted,” said Kundeti, who has found a new job.