Corrupt Politicians and Tools of the Gulen Movement

Corrupt Politicians and Tools of the Gulen Movement
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Monday, November 9, 2015

Gulen Politician Bridenstine in ethics probe over free trip to Azerbaijan- blame it on a "friend" Kemal Oksuz

He was invited on all-expenses-paid trip to Azerbaijan by new acquaintance.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Magnolia Science Academy - A Gulen Charter School: Gulen California operation Pacifica Institute the ...

Magnolia Science Academy - A Gulen Charter School: Gulen California operation Pacifica Institute the ...: Congressman Mike Honda is among a group of lawmakers who accepted trips from organizations secretly funded by a Turkish religious movement ...

Gulen"Faith Movement" funds 200 trips for lawmakers to Azerbaijan and Turkey

WASHINGTON — A Turkish religious movement has secretly funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008, apparently repeatedly violating House rules and possibly federal law, a USA TODAY investigation has found.
The group — a worldwide moderate Islamic movement led by a religious scholar named Fethullah Gülen — has been accused by the Turkish government of attempting a coup in that country. Turkish leaders have asked the United States to extradite Gülen from the remote compound in rural Pennsylvania where he has lived for 20 years.
The movement has founded hundreds of charter schools across the United States and around the world, has its own media organizations, and was deeply entrenched with the Turkish regime until a falling out two years ago. That led President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to declare Gülen was running "a parallel state" inside the country with the intent of undermining the government. In advance of Turkish elections this weekend, police raided the offices of Gülen affiliated-media organizations..
A dozen different Gülen groups have sponsored congressional travel since 2008 and have filed forms with the House certifying that they were paying for the trips. The House Ethics Committee approved all the trips in advance based on the forms the Gülen groups submitted.
But a USA TODAY investigation found many of those disclosures were apparently false. Some of the Gülenist groups claimed to be certified nonprofits, but they do not appear in state or IRS databases of approved charities. Groups that did register with he IRS filed tax forms indicating that they did not pay for congressional travel. And five of the groups admitted to congressional investigators earlier this year that a Gülenist group in Turkey was secretly covering the costs of travel inside Turkey for lawmakers and staff.
Congressional disclosures show the Gülen-backed trips totaled more than $800,000 in free travel for lawmakers and staff. That number likely underestimates the costs since many of the in-country expenses were not reported. And it is not at all clear where the $800,000 came from, since many of the groups involved do not appear to have the resources to pay for large delegation trips.
One Gülen group, the Texas-based Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, sponsored trips for three lawmakers and seven staff members in 2011, filing disclosures claiming it was the sole sponsor of the trips at a total cost of about $54,000. But the same organization filed an IRS tax form that year claiming it spent only $33,000 on travel with no expenditures for the travel of public officials.
The network of Gülen organizations is hard to untangle. The BBC reported in 2013 "the movement's influence extends far beyond Turkey, funding hundreds of Islamic schools, and think tanks and media outlets, from Kenya to Kazakhstan. It has attracted millions of followers and billions of dollars."

Head of US House Ethics Committee received money from group linked to Azerbaijan probe

When and how did Kemal Oksuz turn into such a greedy bastard?
He came to the USA full of bright hopes and dreams as a faithful representative of Hizmet.  Only to be involved with Shady Dealings in the Solidarity Construction firm, getting the Harmony School's million dollar construction contracts without ANY construction experience.
Kemal Oksuz then started Hizment NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations aka Non-Profits)
Turquoise council for Ameriasians
Niagara Foundation
Assembly of Friends of Azerbaijan
What happened to this once honest person, how did he become so corrupt with greed?

The House Ethics Committee has dropped its probe into 10 members of Congress who traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2013 with oil industry money, according to a Friday afternoon press release. The panel passed a trove of documents it collected to the Justice Department for a possible review of actions by parties outside Ethics’ jurisdiction.
But even as the Ethics Committee investigated the matter, its chairman, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), received political contributions from local individuals linked to the nonprofit network involved in the trips. The donations amounted to $8,000 and were given on a single day.
Earlier, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) — an independent, nonpartisan body tasked with investigating matters for referral to the Ethics Committee — found “substantial reason to believe” the 10 members of Congress who traveled to Azerbaijan received illegal gifts. The House Ethics Committee on Friday, however, reported that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) and then-Rep. Steve Stockman, (R-Texas) all acted in “good faith” and didn’t break any rules by attending the lavish Eurasian oil conference.
Instead, the Ethics Committee assigns blame to a “criminal conspiracy” of unnamed third parties in its report.
“Both the Committee and Office of Congressional Ethics found evidence suggesting that a number of parties outside the House may have affirmatively lied to and/or withheld information from both the Committee and the House Members and staff who were invited,” the press release reads. The panel passed nearly 190,000 pages of material related to the probe on to the Justice Department, saying it was “referring the matter of third parties apparently engaging in a criminal conspiracy to lie to Congress” to DOJ “for such further action as it deems appropriate.”
The identity of the third parties remains unclear. But Houston businessman Kemal Oksuz and several others linked to a nationwide Turkic group signed the travel forms for the members of Congress in 2013, affirming that their nonprofit groups were the sole sponsors of the trip. To send a large contingent of House staffers and 10 members cost more than $270,000, according to a Houston Chronicle report on the trip.
But the money actually came from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, according to Washington Post account of a leaked OCE report in May.
In the most recent report, released Friday, Oksuz “invoked his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify,” the Ethics Committee wrote, calling him “in many respects the central witness to most of the substantive allegations in question.” Other potential witnesses were beyond the committee’s reach, in Azerbaijan and elsewhere. The Committee, which said the Washington Post story “impeded” its probe, concluded it couldn’t determine conclusively who paid the travel bills and resolved to let the 10 lawmakers in question off the hook.
Oksuz serves a constellation of nonprofit organizations that claim to promote Turkic-American civil life in a number of roles and was president of the two groups that organized the 2013 conference, according to the Houston Chronicle report. That year, he was also a board member for the Turkish American Alliance, an umbrella group for six nonprofit federations that promote the philosophy of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish scholar living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Many in that network are avid political givers — Oksuz and his family alone gave $26,200 to four of the ten lawmakers who traveled to Azerbaijan in 2013. Other lawmakers who went on the junket received similar contributions from employees of nonprofits and charter schools in the network.
During his investigation, the chair of the Ethics Committee did, too. Dent received $8,000 from five individuals linked to the nonprofit network on May 1, 2015, campaign finance records and other documents show.
According to FEC records, one donor who gave $1,000 is an imam at the Cosmos Foundation, an organization that once contracted with Oksuz to build its headquarters. Three donors, who together gave Dent $5,000, list the Lehigh Dialogue Center, or LDC, a nonprofit in Pennsylvania, as their employer. One other donor — who gave Dent $2,000 — served as LDC’s treasurer in 2013. The LDC is affiliated with the Turkic American Alliance, which itself paid travel expenses for 11 House staffers to the Baku conference in May 2013.
Gulen is a political opponent of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who has accused him of treason. Gulen’s Saylorsburg, Pa., address, where he has a 26-acre compound, abuts Dent’s district.
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. and an expert in congressional ethics, explained that conflicts of interest are bound to arise at times simply because lawmakers on the Ethics Committee, just like their colleagues who are not on the panel, need to raise funds. Still, she said, the contributions raise flags.
“How someone who is adjudicating something involving these parties accepts contributions from a party that’s involved in this seems totally inappropriate,” McGehee said. “You kind of have all the components you need to create a very glaring conflict here.”
Drew Kent, Dent’s chief of staff, disputed a substantive connection between the donors and the two Houston-based non-profits explicitly named in the Ethics Committee’s probe in an emailed statement.
“The Congressman has a long-standing relationship with the Turkish-American community in his district, has participated in events at the Lehigh Dialogue Center to promote inter-faith understanding and Turkish-American relations,” Kent said.
Kent added, “Any insinuation of impropriety by [Dent] or the local individuals who supported the Congressman is preposterous and not based in truth or fact.”
Representatives for the Turkic American Alliance could not be reached for comment by phone or email.

Gulen Politicians on the run- Turkey Retains Robert Amsterdam on Expansion of Gülen Investigation

With an inquiry into defrauding state funds and abuse of visa applications, the FBI has turned up the heat on schools linked to the controversial Gülen Movement of retired Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, a prime suspect in terror investigations in Turkey

Fethullah Gülen, a notable resident of Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania and a prime suspect in a number of terror investigations in Turkey, faces further troubles in his adopted country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating a school chain linked to his shady Gülen Movement for charges of fraud. The investigation is looking into allegations that the charter school chain diverted state funds it acquired to individuals and institutions tied with the movement, which faces terror charges in a number of investigations in Turkey, where it is formally called the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization or FETÖ.

The investigation is likely to boost Turkey's cause in its fight against the organization accused of overthrowing the Turkish government. Turkey had already employed an international law firm to assist in a global investigation into the activities of the Gülen Movement, which operates a worldwide network of schools and companies.

Concept Schools probed by the FBI operate 19 charter schools in several states and the Cleveland branch of the FBI leads the investigation into alleged wrongdoings in its activities. Vicki Anderson, the bureau's Cleveland Media Coordinator, told Anadolu Agency "a white-collar crime investigation" into the school chain was underway and she would not disclose further, as the investigation was ongoing. Anderson said an indictment will be released by the attorney's office soon.

The investigation was started after a series of raids in June 2014 at schools and offices of the Concept Schools network in Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. The FBI had seized documents regarding the school chain's contracts, documents related to e-rate grants and documents related to money transfers. E-rate is a program by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that provides discounts to schools in the United States for acquiring affordable equipment for telecommunications and Internet access. E-rate has a budget of $3.9 million and the school chain is suspected of diverting grants it received to acquire services from companies and people linked to the Gülen Movement and violating competition rules.

According to its website, Concept Schools, founded in 2002, operate 17 schools in Ohio, four in Illinois, three in Missouri, three in Indiana and one school each in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Overall, there are more than 140 schools in 26 states operated by groups linked to the Gülen Movement, which is active in all continents with a large network of schools.

The Chicago Sun-Times had reported that Concept Schools had diverted nearly $1 million to eight companies going into 2014.

Gülenists are also claimed to have abused a work visa system for Turkish teachers they brought to the United States. Teachers are issued an H-1B, a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S.-based employers to temporarily employ foreigners in specialty occupations. Charter schools operated by Gülenists have long been a point of contention in the U.S. A New York Times article from 2011 was one of the first in-depth articles on the issue, pointing out to dubious contracts to new companies with little experience awarded by charter schools. The article, focused on Gülen-linked schools in Texas, had questioned the spending of taxpayers' money by publicly financed schools, especially in awarding contracts to Turkish-owned businesses linked to the movement. It also revealed that visa abuse dated back to at least 2009 and a complaint by a charter school union in Chicago over Concept Schools' abuse of the visa system.

Lawyer Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam and Partners LLP, a law firm employed by Turkey to assist in the global investigation into the Gülen Movement, said at a press conference on Monday that companies in the United States linked to the movement had actively abused the visa system and brought in more foreign workers than large companies like Google into the United States. Amsterdam had said that most of those foreigners were not capable of teaching and had a limited knowledge of English. He claimed many of them were hired by charter schools and diverted nearly half of their income to the Gülen Movement.

Several schools affiliated with the movement are already closed. A school in Pennsylvania where Fethullah Gülen lives in a large compound was shut down for not fulfilling the criteria for charter schools. Truebright Science Academy was closed due to poor academic performance. The school was already under fire for irregularities in the H1B visa applications and employing inexperienced Turkish teachers paid more than their American counterparts.

Schools tied to the Gülen Movement have faced closures elsewhere in the world. As Turkey has stepped up its fight against the movement, Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey, shut down schools the movement operates in the country, as did Gabon and Senegal. In January, Tajikistan announced that it will not extend the agreement it made with the Gülen Movement over permission to operate schools in the country. Kosovo, Congo, Kazakhstan, Japan and Somalia have launched processes to close the movement's schools. Activities and operations of the Gülen Movement in the U.S. and Turkey have been scrutinized by a number of American media outlets that question the movement's motives, opacity and why the U.S. government is providing refuge for Fethullah Gülen, who is currently facing numerous charges including treason and extradition. The movement, led by Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S., is accused of wiretapping thousands of people including government officials and encrypted phones. It has been accused of infiltrating state institutions in Turkey and trying to overthrow the government. Government officials have continuously expressed their determination to continue to lawfully fight the Gülen Movement, whose followers are accused of infiltrating state institutions to gain control of state mechanisms and illegal wiretapping, forgery of official documents and espionage.

Turkey, which has already purged a large number of Gülenist infiltrators from law enforcement and judiciary, is seeking to curb the movement's influence abroad in legal battles.

Lawyer Robert Amsterdam said at Monday's press conference that Gülenists were trying to gain political influence around the world with its activities through hiring international journalists. He said a comprehensive investigation into its activities was needed.

Amsterdam argued that an international investigation launched against the Gülen Movement will be of benefit to everyone and it is necessary for the accountability that global norms require. The lawyer had also claimed that they received death threats from Gülenists since they announced they would work with Turkey for investigation into Gülenists' activities.

Speaking to A Haber TV yesterday, Robert Amsterdam said they were still in the early stages of an investigation and was monitoring the FBI operations against Gülenist-linked schools. Amsterdam said the investigation is focused on overall organization rather than Fethullah Gülen. He said Gülen-linked schools received approximately $150 million from state funds in the United States every year.

Amsterdam also reiterated death threats by members of the movement, which advocates a peaceful dialogue between people of different faiths. He said Gülenist media outlets also released news reports defaming him and his firm. He said the extent of threats in the form of phone calls and e-mails showed the movement was not as transparent as it claims to be. Amsterdam stressed that the movement had a significant power in politics in the United States. The lawyer said the Gülen Movement funded congressmen and senators to wield influence.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Gulen Movement linked to US House Ethics probe of lawmakers bribe and trips to Azerbaijan benefiting SOCOR oil

  • Several lawmakers caught up in an investigation of their participation in a lavish overseas trip introduced legislation that would benefit the alleged host of their spring 2013 junket – the state-owned Azerbaijani oil company. Additionally, these lawmakers — and others on the trip — have received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from a network of individuals with close ties to two nonprofit organizations to which the oil company allegedly funneled money to pay for the trip.
    The official actions of the lawmakers to encourage energy development in the Caspian Sea and the clusters of contributions from people linked to the nonprofits that facilitated the trip have not been previously reported. The trip itself has been scrutinized by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which found that the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to the two nonprofits to pay for the 10 lawmakers to attend a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, at which the development of natural gas pipelines through the Caucasus region and Turkey were discussed, according to the Washington Post. Earlier reports on the trip said it was paid for by two Texas nonprofits closely affiliated with followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ).
    A representative of SOCAR confirmed to OpenSecrets Blog that his company provided the money to AFAZ. According to a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing from 2014, AFAZ was working on behalf of SOCAR. Travel disclosures by the lawmakers who went to Baku indicate the travel and other costs were paid by the Turquoise Council or one of several Turkic-American groups with close ties to the Council.
    Members of a Congressional delegation to Baku in May 2013, pictured with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. (AFAZ website).
    Members of a Congressional delegation to Baku in May 2013, pictured with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. (AFAZ website).
    But the journey was only one of the benefits the lawmakers received from parties involved in planning the event. At least five of the lawmakers who attended the conference received tens of thousands of dollars since 2011 from board members and employees of the two nonprofits as well as individuals affiliated with several other Texas-based organizations linked to Gulen. Two of them sponsored bills that appear to benefit Azerbaijani natural gas interests and efforts to build a pipeline through the region.
    The trip to Baku was not a secret, nor was it on its face unusual. Lawmakers may take trips at others’ expense — as long as those picking up the tab aren’t foreign governments or lobbyists. The House Ethics Committee must approve the trips in advance, and did so in this case. But the nonprofits misrepresented themselves to the Ethics Committee and were actually funded by SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s state oil company, according to the Post‘s account of the ethics report. The lawmakers who took the trip – and whose travel costs ran into the tens of thousands of dollars each, including gifts like carpets and tea sets — have denied knowing the true source of the funding.
    Rauf Mammedov, SOCAR’s representative in the United States and a board member of AFAZ, told OpenSecrets Blog that it is true that his company funded AFAZ, but insisted it was never a secret.
    “SOCAR gave funds to AFAZ in 2013 and those funds were intended to help facilitate the conference,” Mammedov said. “In return, AFAZ was to ensure that SOCAR would be publicly and prominently identified as a main sponsor of the conference.” Mammedov also said that SOCAR does no lobbying.
    But Chris Rizek, an attorney representing AFAZ, said in a statement that AFAZ did not fund the congressional trips, and on travel disclosure forms it appears the Turquoise Council paid for the lawmakers to go to Baku. Representatives of the Turquoise Council did not respond to multiple requests seeking an interview as to the source of the money.
    Most of the members of the congressional delegation, including those whose travel was not covered by the nonprofits, seem to have had a long and friendly relationship with the Gulen movement and those interested in expanding oil and gas interests in the Caspian Sea region. OpenSecrets Blog analyzed donations made by board members of the two foundations, along with any identifiable family members, and directors and employees of several other nonprofit organizations with ties to the Gulen movement, and found hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Congress and at least $196,000 to the campaigns of five members of the delegation to Baku since 2008.
    Taking an interest in Azerbaijan
    The development of natural gas fields in the Caspian Sea involves an intersection of Turkish and Azerbaijani interests. While the conference was held in Baku, where SOCAR is based, the gas would have to travel via a pipeline through Turkey in order to make it to markets in Europe or elsewhere. In fact, many members of the congressional delegation traveled on to Turkey after the conference.
    The overlap between those involved in the two nonprofits that shuttled members of Congress to Baku and donors to the lawmakers adds a further element of intrigue to the story. Many of the donors, as well as the two nonprofits, appear to be affiliated with the religious and political movement associated with Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam who went into self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s. Gulen, whose followers number in the millions worldwide, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have had an antagonistic relationship, particularly in the wake of a  corruption scandal that has weakened Erdogan’s administration.
    Shortly after returning from the conference, which took place on May 28-29, 2013, Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Okla.) sponsored an amendment to the annual defense appropriations bill that would have required the Department of Defense to issue reports on the strategic importance of natural gas interests in the Caspian Sea area and the value of building a pipeline out of the region.
    On June 13, a mere two weeks after the conference, his office issued not one, but two press releases proclaiming his support for the amendment.
    “Full exploitation of Caspian resources and pipeline diversification could have big implications for both NATO energy security and the political independence of the post-Soviet world,” Bridenstine’s press release claimed.
    The amendment — which was included in the final version of the bill passed by the House, but not the version ultimately signed into law — specifically called for the Department of Defense to submit “a detailed report on the implications of new energy resource development and distribution networks, both planned and under construction, in the areas surrounding the Caspian Sea for energy security strategies of the United States and NATO.”
    In December 2013, Bridenstine took a flurry of further actions to promote the idea of developing Caspian Sea natural gas interests.
    On Dec. 10, he published an op-ed in the Washington Times, in which he railed against Russia and declared that “rather than capitulate to Moscow’s bullying, Baku builds oil and gas pipelines that specifically avoid the trap of crossing into Russian territory.”
    “Fortunately, Azerbaijan’s energy boom – a genuine partnership with private enterprise – provides an additional way to ensure energy security,” Bridenstine wrote. “The United States should fully support Azerbaijan’s energy development so that Baku is not forced to choose between integrating with the West or being coerced into Vladimir Putin’s dreams of a new Russian imperium.”
    Bridenstine also argued that Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of 1992 should be repealed. That language bans Azerbaijan from participating in a number of aid and economic programs open to other former Soviet republics. A waiver of the ban has been in place since 2001.
    Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Ohio) with Irina Akhoundova, AFAZ board member and president of Houston-Baku Sister City Association. (via
    Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Okla.) with Irada Akhoundova, AFAZ board member and president of Houston-Baku Sister City Association. (via
    On Dec. 15, Bridenstine visited the Azerbaijan Center in Houston for an event sponsored by the Houston-Baku Sister City Association — an organization run by Irada Akhoundova, a board member of AFAZ.
    On his disclosure forms, Bridenstine valued the Baku trip at more than $14,100. But that’s not all that came his way. In the 2014 election cycle alone, the Oklahoma congressman also received $29,000 from donors in the network associated with AFAZ or the Turquoise Council, an OpenSecrets analysis shows. There were 11 different donors, and all the money came in on three dates: three weeks before the Baku trip, on May 7, 2013; nine days after his op-ed, on Dec. 19, 2013; and Oct. 27, 2014.
    Bridenstine’s office said it did not have time to respond to questions on the subject. But others on the Baku trip also tried to bring Congress’s attention to development of natural gas interests in the Caspian Sea after their return.
    Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who attended the conference but, according to his office, was a speaker and did not have his expenses paid by AFAZ or Turquoise Council, has sponsored two House resolutions “[e]xpressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to promoting energy security of European allies through opening up the Southern Gas Corridor.” Specifically, the resolutions highlight the value of the pipeline sought by organizers of the Baku conference. The first iteration was sponsored on June 27, 2013, one month after the Baku conference.
    Seven of the 10 other members on the Baku trip, including Bridenstine, signed on as cosponsors to the first version, and four of the 10 signed on to the more recent one, which Turner sponsored in March.
    According to an OpenSecrets Blog analysis of Turner’s campaign finances, he has received at least $38,200 over his career from donors linked to AFAZ, Turquoise Council or the other Gulen-affiliated groups. Again, many of the donations came on the same date.
    For example, on Dec. 20, 2012, several months before the Baku trip, Kemal Oksuz, the chairman of the Turquoise Council and AFAZ donated $2,500 to Turner. The same day, a Houston man named Tarik Celik, the head of a group called the American Turkic Business Council, which uses the same mailing address as the Turquoise Council, also donated $2,500, as did his wife.
    Turner’s office refused to answer questions about donations to his campaign.
    Odd couple?
    Reps. Ted Poe and Sheila Jackson Lee could hardly be more ideologically at odds or represent districts that are more demographically different. Poe is a conservative Republican and a member of the Tea Party Caucus; he represents the northern suburbs of Houston. Jackson Lee is a liberal Democrat elected by the voters of inner city Houston, and in 2010 generated a ruckus by comparing the Tea Party to the Klu Klux Klan at the NAACP annual convention.
    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. (AFAZ website).
    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. (AFAZ website)
    But they do have some things in common. Both went on the Baku trip as paid guests of the Turquoise Council. And both have received significant campaign money from board members of that group and AFAZ, as well as from board members or employees of a slew of Gulen-linked organizations, mainly in Texas. Those organizations include the Harmony Public School charter school system, a sprawling and fast-growing chain with a heavy emphasis on STEM education, and North American University, a relatively new school in Houston with a similar focus on science. Neither is officially affiliated with Gulen, but followers of the movement fill many of the top leadership roles and a number of those involved with both of the educational institutions have ties to various board members of AFAZ or Turquoise Council.
    Since 2011, Jackson Lee has received more than $78,000 from donors identified by OpenSecrets as associated with AFAZ, the Turquoise Council or other nonprofits in the Gulen orbit, and Poe has received $39,200. And in a strange bit of ideological dissonance, a number of these contributors gave to both lawmakers — including the wife of the founder of AFAZ and the Turquoise Council and eight staff members of Harmony Public Schools.
    Jackson Lee, the top recipient of money from the donors identified by OpenSecrets, declined to answer any questions about the donations. A spokesperson told OpenSecrets Blog only that her campaign obeys all campaign finance laws.
    Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) with the president of Azerbaijan in Baku in May 2013. (AFAZ website).
    Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) with the president of Azerbaijan in Baku in May 2013. (AFAZ website)
    In total, OpenSecrets Blog found this group of donors has donated more than $482,000 to federal candidates since 2011. While the OpenSecrets Blog analysis focused primarily on donors from Texas to politicians on the May 2013 trip to Baku and those most closely linked to AFAZ and the Turquoise Council, a 2014 investigation published by BuzzFeed found pockets of Gulen donors in New York City as well. While some of those donors overlapped with those identified by OpenSecrets Blog, Buzzfeed found donations from Gulen groups to a sixth member of the May 2013 Baku delegation, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.).
    The Kemal Oksuz nexus
    Among the most generous of these donors is Kemal Oksuz, a Houston businessman and the founder of both the Turquoise Council and AFAZ. In 2013, Oksuz was also listed as a board member of the Turkic American Alliance, the nonprofit which claims to bring together the various Turkish American organizations that paid for the travel that was not picked up by the Turquoise Council. Oksuz and his immediate family members have donated more than $103,000 to federal politicians since 2011, according to data.
    That includes $26,200 they gave to four members of the Baku delegation, including $5,000 to then Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), just six days before the event – which Okusz attended as well. They increased their giving to Stockman by another $7,000 later in the summer of 2013.
    Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) center, with AFAZ board member Irina Akhoundova in blue and white. AFAZ founder Kemal Oksuz at far right. (
    Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) center, with AFAZ board member Arada Akhoundova in blue and white. AFAZ founder Kemal Oksuz at far right. (
    Oksuz is the former executive director of the Niagara Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that lists Fethullah Gulen as its chairman. Oksuz, who did not return calls or emails seeking comment, was also the co-owner of Target Design Management, a Houston construction firm, which has done work worth tens of millions of dollars for a small, close-knit group of organizations with strong links to the Gulen movement. According to the firm’s website, its current projects include a $13 million contract with Harmony Public Schools and a $59 million contract with North American University. In fact, the ties between Harmony and Oksuz’ firm are so close, and the relationship so lucrative, that the firm attracted national attention soon after it was established.
    Okusz appears to have multilayered political connections. Milla Perry Jones, the sister of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is on the AFAZ board. Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign received at least $25,000 from this network of donors. And Okusz’ social media accounts are littered with photos of him with prominent American politicians — including numerous shots of him in Baku on the 2013 trip, with, among others, Bridenstine and Turner. Oksuz also appears in pictures from the 2013 visit by Bridenstine to the Houston-Baku event.
    Oksuz declined to comment. AFAZ’ attorney, Chris Rizek, said in a statement that he “believes the conference served as a forum to advance shared goals and greater understanding between the United States and a key ally in an important region of the world.” He did not respond to questions about whether Oksuz knew of a coordinated effort to raise funds for members of Congress who might help develop gas interests in the region.
    In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fethullah Gulen told followers they may not visit him at his estate in Pennsylvania without first donating to their local member of Congress; Gulen denied saying that.
    Ethics Investigation
    The question of who really paid for trips remains unanswered, but may not for long.
    According to the Houston Chronicle, the House Ethics Committee launched a formal investigation into the matter in March.
    Rauf Mammedov, a board member of AFAZ and the representative of SOCAR in the United States, told OpenSecrets Blog that it was no secret that his company funded AFAZ. But he disavowed any knowledge of the details of how the trip was paid for.
    “SOCAR gave funds to AFAZ in 2013 and those funds were intended to help facilitate the conference. In return,” Mammedov said, “AFAZ was to ensure that SOCAR would be publicly and prominently identified as a main sponsor of the conference. You’d have to speak with the trip organizers to get more information about how things were paid for.”
    Although he’s a board member of AFAZ, Mammedov said his day-to-day interaction with the organization was “nonexistent.”
    Mammedov also denied any knowledge of an effort to encourage donors to give to members of Congress.
    Rizek, the AFAZ attorney, complained that the report leaked to the Washington Post had made it difficult for the truth to come out.
    “The government disregarded due process by leaking a preliminary report to the press outside of congressionally mandated procedures,” he said in a statement to OpenSecrets Blog. “A full and legitimate process would have revealed the preliminary report’s inaccuracies … Contrary to the assertions of the preliminary report and related press stories, for example, AFAZ did not underwrite congressional travel expenses and any donations AFAZ received therefore did not fund congressional travel.”
    Rizek did not respond to questions about Oksuz’ other group, the Turquoise Council, which the lawmakers reported as the main underwriter of the trip.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2015

    Gulen Movement King of the Junkets Kemal Oksuz and 5 Non Profits behind 2013 "lawmakers" trip to Azerbaijan

    August 6th will be the date the House Ethics Committee will discuss the findings of their investigation on the 2013 US lawmakers trip to Azerbaijan.  As you recall, this trip was paid for by the SOCOR oil of Azerbaijan (Gulenists operated) but the money was funneled to 5 non-profits in the USA operated by known members of the Gulen Movement.  With the junket hosted and facilitated by non other than Gulen money man Kemal Oksuz.  Kemal Oksuz started Niagara Foundation in Chicago, then started Turquoise Council of Turkic Asians based out of Texas, and is now the directors of the oil money greed group AFAZ (American Friends of Azerbaijan) 

    Will Kemal Oksuz, the Gulen money man be the fall person for the politicians?  It's very likely he will fall under federal indictments of money laundering, civil RICO and other organized crime as the other Gulen money man Adem Arici who sits in Federal prison. 

    The other scenario playing out is a statement released by the Ethics Committee that thinly "shoots the messenger" which is the great investigative journalists who broke this story.  Obtaining paperwork, that was key in this bribe trip which resulted in the lawmakers coming back to the USA and voting on lifting Iranian sanctions for the Deniz pipeline partnership with Azerbaijan.  If the "messengers" are shot, then we know there is no justice and freedom of good investigative journalism. 
    House Ethics Committee Statement
    Pursuant to House Rule XI, clauses 3(b)(8)(A) and 3(r), and Committee Rules 17A(b)(1)(B), 17A(c)(1), and 17A(k)(1), the Committee has voted to extend its review of the matters regarding Representative Jim Bridenstine, Representative Yvette Clarke, Representative Danny Davis, Representative Rubén Hinojosa, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Leonard Lance, Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, Representative Gregory Meeks, and Representative Ted Poe, which were transmitted to the Committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on May 8, 2015.
    The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.  In light of the extraordinary circumstances here, the Committee has determined it is appropriate to provide additional information.
    In these matters, a newspaper obtained materials transmitted by OCE to the Committee.  The newspaper then published a story about aspects of the materials and related allegations.  Other news outlets then reported on the newspaper story, apparently without having access to the materials transmitted by OCE to the Committee.
    Although the Committee is required to make public the materials transmitted to it by OCE in certain circumstances, the Committee did not authorize the public release of those materials.  Such an unauthorized release may have violated House Rules and other standards of conduct.  Moreover, the unauthorized disclosure of the materials has directly impacted the Committee’s investigation, which began well before OCE transmitted the materials to the Committee.
    Materials transmitted to the Committee by OCE are not intended to be the resolution of a matter.  Instead, they are intended to support OCE’s recommendation to the Committee about whether allegations in a particular matter should be investigated further or should be dismissed.  An OCE referral is expressly precluded from containing any conclusions regarding the validity of the allegations upon which it is based or the guilt or innocence of the individual who is the subject of a review.  In addition, the Committee is required to review a referral from OCE without prejudice or presumptions as to the merit of the allegations.
    The Committee’s investigation and the materials sent to the Committee by OCE involve privately-sponsored, officially-connected travel to Azerbaijan.  Each of the nine Members sought the Committee’s review and determination whether they could accept the invitation.  In each case, the Committee reviewed the materials submitted by the Member and sponsor and approved the Member to accept the travel before the trip began.  Subsequently, questions arose about whether the trips complied with the requirements for such travel.
    The Committee’s review of these matters is ongoing.  Every Member has fully cooperated with the Committee’s review.  In order to comply with Committee Rule 7 regarding confidentiality, out of fairness to all respondents, and to assure the integrity of its work, the Committee will refrain from making further public statements on this matter at this time.  The Committee’s next public statement with regard to the Azerbaijan Trips will occur on or before Thursday, August 6, 2015.

    Foreward by
    Charter school “overseer” and public schools consultant, Denis Smith recently wrote about a Washington Post investigative story published on May 24, 2015, -- which chronicled a 2013 all-expense paid trip of 10 members of Congress along with their 32 staffers to Azerbaijan (our Congress seems to travel like royalty, with an entourage of 3 “staffers” per person). According to the Post, “The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, known as “SOCAR,” allegedly funneled $750,000 through non-profit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding for the conference in the former Soviet republic…”(The Washington Post).

    Smith makes an interesting analogy to the 2013 Congressional junket to Azerbaijan -- and to the practices of other American politicians who likewise greedily participate in “quid pro quo” practices – hands out and eyes closed approach – accepting free trips, campaign contributions, and gifts from Gulenists -- and in exchange for what?

    What indeed! Exactly what are our legislators giving in exchange for receiving Gulenist gratuities? What’s a free trip to Istanbul or a Turkish rug worth these days? Is it worth the continuing violation of American educators’ civil rights, the abuse of American tax payer funding, and usurping of American jobs in order to bolster Gulenist ranks with H1-B visa holders?

    While our legislators complacently stuff their mouths with free dinners, our public school funds, have – for the past 13 years, been methodically siphoned off to finance the 147 “Gulen-inspired,” charter schools, that among other things -- pay for the Gulenists’ graduate degrees, hire and pay H1-B visa holders’ higher prevailing wages (versus their American and more experienced educators and administrators), and whatever other follies the Gulenists manage to think up to divert our tax funds.

    Instead of jetting off to places like Azerbaijan or Istanbul, perhaps our jet-setting politicians could take a trip over to their local unemployment offices and check out how many unemployed American educators and administrators are standing in line – and maybe just maybe – have something more to offer their constituents than tea and baklava --  like a job.

    Below is Denis Smith’s article:

    Published on May 24, 2015, by Denis Smith and reprinted with permission

    Should Scrutiny of Legislative Foreign Travel be Part of Needed Charter School Reform?

    On May 14, the Columbus Dispatch carried a Washington Post story about a 2013 congressional junket to Azerbaijan that has come to light recently. According to the Post, 10 members of Congress and 32 staffers, part of a group of more than 300 well-connected Americans, received  all-expense paid trips to this oil-rich former Soviet Republic and returned with exotic gifts.

    In order to provide cover for the congressional junketeers, lest they fall afoul of (heaven forbid) law and regulation, some voodoo accounting was deployed. “The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 through non-profit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding for the conference in the former Soviet republic…,” according to the Post story.

    In as much as current laws prohibit foreign governments from engaging in activities that might influence the formation of national policy, one wonders if there are similar examples of junketeering on the state level that might raise questions about seeming influence on state law and regulation.

    As Sarah Palin would say, you betcha.

    For Ohio, the Niagara Foundation might provide an example, as it seems to show some similarities with the activities of SOCAR, though it has no apparent government ties.  A non-profit, Chicago-based Niagara is an organization whose honorary president is Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish exile and religious leader living in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Niagara shares close ties with Concept Schools, also based in Chicago, a regional charter school management company linked to Gulen and his adherents.

    As part of the larger Gulen network, Concept manages charter schools in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Concept operates 19 charter schools in Ohio, and there are currently 147 schools that are part of the Gulen network, making it the second largest of the national charter chains.

    Like SOCAR, Niagara and other Gulen-related organizations have offered elected officials and state regulators free trips to Turkey and sponsored receptions for state legislators. The following link details the travel sponsorship activities of these organizations on a state-by-state basis. It should be of some interest to Ohio residents that Cliff Rosenberger, currently Speaker of the House, is one of the legislators identified as the recipient of a trip to Turkey sponsored by Niagara.

    In a post from April 2012, the Niagara Foundation’s website also identified three Ohio legislators that made a trip to Turkey, including Rosenberger. The group’s itinerary included Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Kayseri, and Antalya, according to Niagara’s website.

    A 2013 report, “Concept Schools, Illinois, and the Gulen Movement,” found that the organization’s strategies are to “seek access to public officials, academics, and other influential people and VIPs, usually to offer a gift, an invitation to a special event or honorary dinner, a trip to Turkey, etc.” That same report contains this statement from the American Foreign Policy Council: “Gulen himself lives in the Poconos, a rural tourist hub in northeast Pennsylvania. He inspires his followers from America, making him, among other things, the most powerful figure in the world of American charter schools.”

    In absorbing all of this, gentle reader, what can we take from these statements, other than the fact that the most powerful American charter school figure is not even an American?

    Could it be that private, non-profit foundations (Niagara) exist to work in cooperation with charter school operators (Concept) to promote cultural understanding by offering all-expenses paid or largely subsidized trips to Turkey? Or could it be that the best way to achieve cultural understanding is to invite legislators, state policymakers, and perhaps even charter school authorizers on guided trips?

    If you are skeptical about the real purposes of these trips – or junkets, as they are labeled when it comes to describe some congressional travel – then what should be in place in state law and regulation to ensure that transparency and accountability are present and that the public interest is served?

    The tool that should help the public is probably already in place:

    No public official shall use a position of authority or influence or office to secure anything of value or the promise or offer of anything of value that may manifest a substantial and improper influence with respect to his/her duties. R.C. 102.03(D)

    This section of the Ohio Revised Code has served as one of the core features of the state’s ethics law. But in light of the activity of the Niagara Foundation and its allied organization, Concept Schools, state ethics law needs to be strengthened to include everyone that makes a living in the charter school industry, including employees of for-profit management companies, as well as non-profit organizations that serve as charter school authorizers. Whether state, school district, corporate or non-profit, the principle needs to be the same – by having access to public funds, no one can use a position of authority or influence to secure a gift or benefit as the result of their position. Certainly, there would be major pushback on expanding the language defining a “public official” to everyone who otherwise benefits directly from working in the charter school industry. But if we want to start on real reform of these so-called schools of choice, current ethics law needs to be greatly revised.

    Since it is known that the current speaker, one among many others in positions of authority or influence, has benefited from a trip to Turkey while serving in the state legislature that supposedly monitors the operation, condition and performance of charter schools, what does the public need to know so that individuals can be held more accountable in the future due to increased transparency requirements in state ethics laws?

    Here are some questions that need to be addressed:

    • How can “anything of value” not include the cost of an overseas trip by legislators?
    • What other members of the legislature have accepted anything of value from the Niagara Foundation and Concept Schools? Since legislators regularly vote on charter school policy and funding, would this constitute a conflict-of-interest for some members in light of the state ethics laws? If other current members have accepted trips, do any serve on such key committees as education and finance?
    • Have invitations for travel been conveyed to employees of private agencies that work in the charter school industry, inasmuch as Ohio law allows non-profit organizations to serve as charter school authorizers? If this has occurred, shouldn’t there be voluntary disclosure as part of the charter school clean-up and reform process?
    • Have third-parties, like the SOCAR example with the congressional delegation, been used to extend invitations and pay for travel so that other, more well-known organizations, have some cover and avoid the limelight?
    • Has any member of the legislature or any other public agency ever disclosed the approximate cost of a trip sponsored by any organization that has an interest in the continued development of privately operated, publicly funded charter schools?
    • Has any member returned with any gifts, and if so, has the value been accurately reported? This question is posed in light of the work of the Office of Congressional Ethics and its findings. The Post story contains this interesting passage: “Investigators also said lawmakers received a number of gifts, including crystal tea sets, briefcases, silk scarves, turquoise earrings, gold-painted plates and Azerbaijani rugs. Some congressional staff members told the investigators they thought that the rugs were worth about $300 — $50 below the reporting threshold — and that they didn’t need to disclose them on their forms filed with the Ethics Committee.”
    These questions are raised in light of the ethics probe underway in Washington that is centered on foreign travel and the need for full disclosure and transparency regarding the trip, its sponsors, and any intended influence on the legislative process.  But they are also only the tip of the iceberg.

    Like the Titanic, the for-profit charter school industry has for too long been sailing in dangerous, murky, non-transparent waters, on a zigzag course to disaster. Addressing these legitimate questions is important in the continuing work of delivering systemic charter school reform. After all, we have these questions in search of answers.

    But there’s one more thing. Since we have been talking about ethics law and regulation, it should be understood that the very people who write and enact such laws should start leading by example. For the very people who champion these so-called schools of choice by the creation of law and regulation, there is no other choice.

    “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” Mark Twain once observed. For the citizens of Ohio, however, the ironic thing might be that we in fact may be safer when the legislature is in town rather than on an overseas junket sponsored by some organization unknown to us.

    So is it time for the legislature to investigate itself (snicker)? As Sarah Palin would say, you betcha. 

    NOTE:  Since this article was written, a reception for members of the legislature sponsored by the Niagara Foundation was held in the Statehouse Atrium on May 20.

    Denis Smith is a retired public school administrator who has worked as a charter school consultant for an Ohio charter school sponsor organization and as a staff member in the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools.  As such, he is a charter school watchdog and has also served as a director of communications for several organizations.