LOS ANGELES – A former Orange County resident pleaded guilty Tuesday for his role in a scheme to defraud the government of Afghanistan out of more than $100 million. The funds were provided to Afghanistan by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of constructing an electric grid in Afghanistan, in connection with the long-standing U.S. effort to strengthen that country’s basic infrastructure.
Saed Ismail Amiri, 38, who currently lives in Granite Bay, but until last year was a resident of Irvine, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud before United States District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr.
According to court documents unsealed Tuesday afternoon, Amiri was at various times either the owner or senior consultant of Assist Consultants Incorporated (ACI), an Afghan company that had received over $250 million in U.S.-funded contracts since 2013. In or around January 2015, USAID, in connection with the U.S. effort to assist Afghanistan and its people, authorized the national power utility of Afghanistan, Da’ Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), to solicit bids on a U.S.-funded contract to construct five electric power substations to connect Afghanistan’s Northeastern and Southeastern electric grid systems. Bids were sought only from companies that had substantial experience building electric power substations. Specifically, the contract criteria required bidders, such as ACI, to have previously worked on two electric substations of 220 kilovolts or more.
In 2015 and 2016, Amiri, ACI employees and others engaged in a scheme to obtain the contract by submitting a false work history and fraudulent supporting documents to deceive DABS into believing that ACI met the required contract criteria.
Specifically, in July 2015, ACI submitted a bid on the contract for $112,292,241, underbidding its competitors by more than $20 million. In its bid, ACI stated that it had worked as a subcontractor to a prime contractor on two 220 kilovolt substations for a cement factory in Uganda and a textile company in Nigeria. In fact, the alleged prime contractor was a fictitious company that ACI had invented and controlled, ACI had never worked to build a substation in Africa, and neither the Ugandan cement factory nor the Nigerian textile company existed.
In February 2016, after Amiri had returned to Irvine, DABS contacted ACI and requested supporting documents to verify ACI’s work history. Amiri then sent emails to co-conspirators outside California, including emails in which he advised that some of them would need to go to Uganda and Nigeria to obtain false documents to respond to DABS. Amiri thereafter departed the United States and, in furtherance of the scheme, emailed documents to DABS he knew were false and altered, including ACI’s purported subcontract to work on the Ugandan substation, coordinates of the substation, photographs, false bank records, and a false letter purporting to be from a Ugandan government official.
After submitting the fake records to DABS, Amiri met with U.S. law enforcement at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and falsely stated, among other things, that he had learned the prior month that ACI had bid on the contract. Shortly thereafter, Amiri withdrew ACI’s bid. In a subsequent interview with law enforcement, Amiri also falsely stated that another ACI employee had submitted the false documents to DABS, when, in truth and in fact, Amiri had emailed the false documents himself.
Amiri is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Blumenfeld on August 10, at which time he will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. Judge Blumenfeld will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
This matter was investigated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the USAID Office of Inspector General.
Assistant United States Attorney Jeff Mitchell of the Major Frauds Section and DOJ Trial Attorney Matt Kahn of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.