Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Repost From Ellen Tordesillas- Vera Files

Pinay in textbook scam nabbed in the US

By Yahoo! Southeast Asia Editors – June 18th, 2010
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Mary Ann Maslog, the woman who delivered a P3-million bribe in Malacanang 11 years ago in connection with a P200-million textbook contract and was on the run for a string of swindling cases in the Philippines and the United States, has finally been arrested.

A newspaper in the state of Virginia reported the arrest last week of Maslog, now known as Mary Ann Smith, in Seattle, Washington in connection with an immigration scam she operated out of Henrico, a county in Virginia.

“Mary Ann Smith, 41, was arrested in Seattle last week and is awaiting extradition to Memphis, Tenn., where she will stand trial for her role in a Virginia company operating as the International Business Network Inc. (IBN),” the Richmond Times Dispatch said in its June 16 issue. There is still no trial date.

Maslog, who is married to Michael Lee of Virginia, is charged with six counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud in connection with IBN’s receipt of money to facilitate the processing of students in the US.

IBN, which was located at Paragon Place off Glenside Drive in Henrico, charged as much as $6,480 per student to gain access to visas when, according to a federal indictment issued in Memphis, “visa ‘fixers’ or ‘brokers’ had no special access to the United States government that could enable such individuals, agencies or companies to arrange for a student visa,” the news report said.

Maslog’s company also offered permanent resident status or green cards, with victims losing about $34,000, the report, quoting the April federal indictment, said.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that the Central Virginia Better Business Bureau learned of numerous Virginia victims and worked with federal agents for months to unravel IBN operations throughout last year.

It cited the case of a Chesterfield County businessman, Tany Roth, who lost as much as $45,000 to IBN in an effort to bring three relatives to Richmond county from Cambodia for study and to facilitate an adoption.

Roth said he sent the company checks but never received any services, and that Smith canceled meetings and disappeared. Roth’s experience is not part of the federal indictment.

The report said that even after receiving more than $40,000, IBN demanded payment of additional fees to cover such things as health insurance.

A Filipina based in the United States wrote VERA Files to say she met Maslog and her husband last December and was one of their victims.

“She (Maslog) posed as someone from Grant USA and they gave us seminars on grant writing where about 10 of us paid $50 each for a one-day seminar,” said the woman, who asked that her identity be withheld. “They claimed to have an office in Makati. We later found out about a month after our seminar that they’re not connected with Grant USA.”

The woman added, “I just want to attest that she’s been going in and out of the Philippines, and I am certain that she and Michael Smith have been victimizing Filipinos through their lies because that’s what they did to us.”

VERA Files reported earlier this week that Maslog is also facing charges of grand theft amounting to more than $100,000 and scheme to defraud in the amount of $50,000.

Maslog, then married to Rommel Maslog, now vice mayor of Talisayan, Misnamis Oriental, first gained notoriety in the Philippines when she was summoned in 1999 by the Senate Blue Ribbon and Education, Arts and Culture Committees probing corruption in the purchase of the textbooks for public schools. She had delivered P3 million to the office of then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who asked National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the matter.

Diokno said he had testified in a Manila court in a case filed aqainst Maslog but has lost track of the case.

The Sandiganbayan has a standing warrant of arrest for Maslog in connection with a P24-million textbook scam in which Maslog, as an agent of Esteem Enterprises in February 1998, allegedly conspired with budget and education officials in Eastern Visayas to collect money from the government using falsified Sub-Allotment Release orders (SARO). SAROs are documents required by the DBM for the release of payments to contractors.

James Katarungan, who had helped investigate Maslog in the US, said Maslog jumped bail the first time she was arrested. Following her arrest last week, he said, “I highly doubt they will let her out on bail this time.”

“It looks like she’s facing some very serious federal charges. The US government is going to throw the book at her,” he said.

VERA Files is the work of senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

Reposted From Ellen Tordesillas- Vera Files

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Repost From Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files

Pinay in textbook scam wanted in the US for swindling

By Yahoo! Southeast Asia Editors – June 17th, 2010
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The woman who shook the nation by delivering P3 million in bribes to MalacaƱang 11 years ago is wanted in the United States for swindling and is believed to be in hiding in the Philippines.

Former textbook agent Mary Ann T. Maslog, who tried bribing officials of the Department of Budget and Management in 1999 so that her firm could wangle a P200 million textbook contract, is now Mary Ann Smith and married to an American who allegedly became her partner in crime.

Court records in Orange County in Florida show that Maslog is wanted for theft and scheme to defraud. She is facing charges of grand theft amounting to more than $100,000 and scheme to defraud in the amount of $50,000 which are classified as criminal felonies punishable with imprisonment.

Maslog also has been charged with civil traffic infraction for improper backing.

A source who participated in the investigation, and who asked to be identified only as James Katarungan, told VERA Files that Maslog operates with her husband, Michael Lee Smith, who hails from Virginia.

Katarungan said Maslog has a bag of tricks and the more successful one is where she takes a job as a salesperson with a reputable company, normally in radio or print advertising.

After a few months, her husband gets an office in or near the building where she works, identifying himself as a sort of a career guidance counselor. The two then promise their victims jobs at the company where Maslog works, although she is in no position to do so.

Maslog would even show victims around her company’s office, explain how things work, and even introduce them to her co-workers who welcome these visitors thinking they were clients.

The couple would then require a deposit from their victims ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, supposedly to cover training in another city, either Houston or Washington, D.C., for six months. Once they get the money, they close shop and skip town.

“She’s done this scam in Virginia and in Florida,” Katarungan said.

Maslog was also into credit card fraud. “While working in sales, she took credit card numbers from paying customers and stole their identities. She defrauded one man in Orange County Florida for over $100,000 by having credit cards made in his name and sent to her. This particular victim owned a gas station and has since gone out of business and was forced into bankruptcy,” Katarungan said.

A number of people the Smiths had conned have gone to court. Maslog was charged with grant theft and scheme to defraud on Feb. 26, 2007 and was ordered arrested Dec. 18 that year.

Arraigned in open court while in jail on Jan. 8, 2008, Maslog posted a $5,000 bail bond for the grand theft charge and $1,500 for the scheme to defraud.

Court records showed she missed the hearing of her cases last Feb. 22 and that her lawyer, David Faulkner, had withdrawn his services.

Maslog first gained notoriety in the Philippines when she was summoned in 1999 by the Senate Blue Ribbon and Education, Arts and Culture Committees which uncovered a web of corruption in the purchase of the textbooks for public schools.

She appeared in those hearings after having been investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation for trying to deliver a bagful of cash to the DBM in January 1999.

The NBI report on the incident stated: “On 19 January 1999 at about 12:00 noon in the afternoon, a mysterious lady later identified as certain Mary Ann Maslog arrived at the Gate No. 7, parking area, Malacanang and gave to one Celeste Payot, a department Legislative Liaison specialist of DBM, one (1) box placed inside a yellow plastic bag with instruction that the same be delivered to Secretary Benjamin Diokno.”

A member of Diokno’s staff was surprised to find money in bundles amounting to P3 million. Diokno sought the assistance of the NBI to investigate what he suspected as a bribe attempt.

The NBI report quoted Maslog as having said, “The three million pesos (P3M)) was really intended for Deputy Tingting de la Serna and consultant Ricardo Fulgencio of the Office of the President, Malacanang as bribe money.”

Vicente “Tingting” de la Serna, a politician from Cebu, was deputy of then Executive Ronaldo Zamora.

An investigative report showed that at least 65 percent of the budget for textbooks went to bribes given at every stage of the contract back then—from clinching the deal with education officials to the release of the payment at the budget office.

Maslog is now a fugitive from U.S. and Philippine laws. A warrant of arrest was issued in November 2008 by Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The warrant has never been served. It was issued in connection with a P24 million textbook scam in which Maslog, as agent of Esteem Enterprises in February 1998, allegedly conspired with budget and education officials in Eastern Visayas ( Region 8 ) to collect money from the government using falsified Sub-Allotment Release orders (SARO). SAROs are documents required by the DBM for the release of payments to contractors.

Almost a year after she helped execute the P24 million scam in Leyte, Maslog figured in the DBM bribe attempt, one of the first major anomalies under the administration of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

The joint Senate committees investigating the bribe attempt cleared De la Serna and Fulgencio for “insufficiency of evidence” but recommended charging and prosecuting a number of persons, among them Maslog.

The Senate found her liable for false testimony; corruption of public officials punishable under the Revised Penal Code; violation of the anti-graft law; violation of Presidential Decree no. 46, which makes it punishable for private persons to give gifts to government officials and employees on any occasion; falsification of public document; and tax evasion.

More than 10 years since the case first came to light, the Sandiganbayan has only made her accountable for the P24 million scam and not for the bungled bribe attempt.

Maslog’s story could have been every barrio lass’ dream of poor-girl-makes-good. Growing up in the poor town of Talisayan in Misamis Oriental, Mary Ann Tupa made up for her material deprivations with her gift of gab and persuasive skills, which are assets in sales and marketing.

In her blog, she wrote:“June 1992, I worked as a Medical Representative for Dispo Philippines. I was assigned in Davao City. Six months after, I was promoted as the Assistant District Sales Manager for Butuan City.”

A friend of her sister described Maslog as having “a strong personality.”

In her narration of why her marriage to former Talisayan Mayor Rommel Maslog failed, Maslog showed she could defy moral standards. “One day, I woke up and realized, I was in love with one of my sales representatives, which was a No-No to the company,” she wrote.

Rommel Maslog is now vice mayor of Talisayan, while his current wife, Catherine Ifurung, is mayor.

The Senate investigation into the P3 million bribery attempt revealed that her former husband accompanied Maslog when she went to Malacanang. He has also been charged before the Sandiganbayan for other cases unrelated to his ex-wife’s.

Maslog has reportedly returned to Talisayan, a small town with a household population of a little over 4,000. But sources there say she has not been seen in town. Some say they heard she had gone to Canada but is back in the Philippines.

A resident of Talisayan said two of her children with Rommel were brought to Talisayan recently but the youngest remained in Manila.

Katarungan said Maslog and her current husband Michael Lee, who is also facing charges in the state of Virginia, are on the run. “They purchase and use disposable (pay as you go) cell phones and change them out every few weeks.’

In her blog entry dated Jan. 18, 2009, Maslog gave a glimpse of her life: “We often stay in relationships that aren’t healthy for us. Sometimes emotionally abusive or physically abusive. Many women live every day in unhealthy relationships because of many reasons.”

Reposted From Ellen Tordesillas Of Vera Files

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Repost From GMA News.TV

OFW mother and daughter in UAE freed, seek help with repatriation

A mother and her daughter, both Filipino domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who have recently finished serving their sentences for abandoning their “abusive" employer, are now seeking the assistance of the Philippine Embassy there for their repatriation. In an e-mail sent to GMANews.TV, a woman who said she was a friend of workers Mariam Calvez and her daughter Roxanne said the two are currently detained in a Dubai jail, but now allowed to return to the Philippines.

The problem, however, is that the two are unable to raise funds for their tickets, according to the Calvezes’ friend. Assistance to Nationals officer Carlito Dizon of the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai told GMANews.TV in an interview that Roxanne called him Tuesday to inform him that they are currently at an immigration detention center in Dubai, and that their passports are missing. According to Dizon, he has yet to reach the Calvezes’ former employer to ask about their passports, but said Roxanne did not mention anything about funding their repatriation. He added the Embassy may not have sufficient funds to repatriate the two, as there are hundreds of OFWs in the Middle Eastern country who need repatriation. “In Dubai alone, there are over 200 Filipinos who are waiting to be repatriated," Dizon explained, adding that the Embassy will likewise ask the Calvezes’ former employer if he can shoulder the ticket costs. Philippine Consul General Adelio Cruz earlier said in a separate e-mail to GMANews.TV that the two ran away from their employer in Abu Dhabi in September 2009, as they complained that they had not received their salary (two months for Mariam and four months for Roxanne). The two also complained of physical injuries inflicted on Roxanne, insufficient food and overwork. Cruz said the Calvezes went to Dubai and took on part-time jobs. In January this year however, the house they were staying in was raided by the UAE’s Criminal Investigation Division. Cases of absconding and theft were then filed against them by their former employer, who alleged that the two stole 70,000 UAE dirhams (about P880,000) and diamond jewelry. According to Cruz, the Calvezes were originally detained at Dubai Central Prison and then transferred to the Al Wathba Central Prison in Abu Dhabi where they stayed until recently. In a separate interview, an official of the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi said that in the past, the UAE government would ask businessmen in the country to sponsor the tickets of migrant workers there who need to be repatriated. “However, given the recent economic crisis, corporations here are not that willing to donate money for the repatriation of workers," said the official who requested anonymity. She added they have yet to hear about the status of Mariam and Roxanne, but said they may have been victims of a false accusation by their employer. “What usually happens here is that when workers run away and eventually get arrested, their previous employers would file any case against them, even if the charge is not true, just for the sake of getting back at them," the official explained.—JV, GMANews.TV

Reposted From GMA News.TV

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Repost From AP

Philippine bus crash kills 18, mostly Iranians

CEBU, Philippines – A tourist bus packed with Iranian nationals plunged into a ravine Sunday while negotiating a mountain road in the central Philippines, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 30 others.

The bus, carrying dozens of mostly Iranian medical students and doctors, apparently suffered brake failure then plummeted into a 100-foot (30-meter) ravine in Balamban town in Cebu province, police Senior Superintendent Erson Digal said.

At least 18 people, mostly Iranians and including children, were killed, said regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Wilson Feria, who was at the scene of the accident.

Villagers and police pulled at least 10 bodies from the mangled bus wreckage at the rocky bottom of the ravine. Several seriously injured passengers were brought to hospitals, Digal told The Associated Press.

Feria said at least seven passengers later died in hospitals.

Many of the Iranian victims were medical students in Cebu, a bustling commercial and tourism center 350 miles (560 kilometers) southeast of Manila. They were identified by relatives and through their IDs, Digal said.

Feria said it was not clear if the Iranians, who rented the bus, were involved in a medical mission or went for an outing at one of several resorts in and around Cebu.

He said four air force helicopters ferried the dead and at least 31 injured passengers to a military camp in Cebu city, where they were picked up by ambulance vans then brought to hospitals.

An unspecified number of passengers were still pinned in the wreckage, Digal said.

A Japanese shipbuilding company in Balamban offered to send a crane to help lift the bus so those pinned underneath and in the wreckage can be retrieved, Feria said.

Poorly maintained vehicles and roads, along with inadequate safety signs, railings, training and weak traffic law enforcement, are blamed for many deadly accidents in the Philippines.

Reposted From AP