Corrupt Politicians and Tools of the Gulen Movement

Corrupt Politicians and Tools of the Gulen Movement
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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.


    Wednesday, May 20, 2015

    Gulen Movement does the shit show at the Montana State Capital - education on Islam for Montana

     These Montana legislators no doubt thought they were simply participating in a day celebrating an ethnic group. They have no idea what they’re dealing with. Akyol, as noted below, has praised the jihad flotilla against Israel, on which people were chanting the genocidal jihad chant, “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.” In 2010, Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil  characterized the “liberal” Akyol as a stealthy pro-Sharia, pro-Erdogan Islamic supremacist who wanted to see the caliphate restored.
    Gulen, who has been referred to as the “Turkish Khomeini,” is even worse. See my May 2013 article, “Indoctrinating for Jihad in Charter Schools.” And Middle East Quarterly reports:
    Outside Turkey, his movement runs hundreds of secondary schools and dozens of universities in 110 countries worldwide. Gülen’s aim is not altruistic: His followers target youth in the eighth through twelfth grades, mentor and indoctrinate them in the ışıkevi, educate them in the Fethullah schools, and prepare them for future careers in legal, political, and educational professions in order to create the ruling classes of the future Islamist, Turkish state. Taking their orders from Fethullah Gülen, wealthy followers continue to open schools and ışıkevi in what Sabah columnist Emre Aköz called “the education jihad.”[13]
    The overt network of schools is only one part of a larger strategy. In a 2006 interview, Veren said, “These schools are like shop windows. Recruitment and Islamization activities are carried out through night classes … Children whom we educated in Turkey are now in the highest positions. There are governors, judges, military officers. There are ministers in the government. They consult Gülen before doing anything.”[14]
    The AKP’s controversial education policies, coupled with the Islamist indoctrination in Fethullahist schools, have accelerated the Islamization of Turkish society….The schools of Gülen’s Nur movement in Central Asia have worked to reestablish Islam in a region largely secularized by decades of Soviet control….In 2008, members of the Netherland’s Christian Democrat, Labor, and Conservative parties agreed to cut several million euros in government funding for organizations affiliated with “the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen” and to thoroughly investigate the activities of the Gülen group after Erik Jan Zürcher, director of the Amsterdam-based International Institute for Social History, and five former Gülen followers who had worked in Gülen’s ışıkevi told Dutch television that the Gülen community was moving step-by-step to topple the secular order.[19] While the organizations in question denied any ties to the Gülen movement, Zürcher said that taqiya, religiously-sanctioned dissimulation, was typical in the movement’s interactions with the West. An unnamed former Gülen follower who also once worked in Gülen schools and ışıkevi reported that Fethullahists called the Dutch “filthy, blasphemous infidels” and that they said “the best Dutchman is one who has converted to Islam. All the Dutch must be made Muslims.”[20] Indeed, of the thousands of Fethullahist schools in more than one hundred countries that allegedly teach moderation, none are located in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran that exist under domineering strains of official Islam, and most appear instead geared to radicalize students in secular Muslim and non-Muslim societies.
    Here is the Atlas reader’s report on the Montana event:
    The event Thursday was hosted by the Western American Turkic Council and it was called “Turkish Day.”
    Speaker presenting multicultural interfaith dialogue agendaInterestingly enough there were no signs of the Western American Turkic Council, only, as you can see in one of the pictures, the “Anatolian Cultural Centers.” Upon and initial Google search, I could find no such organization.
    Anatolica Cultural Centers sign
    They were led today by a man named Özgür Yıldız, president of the West America Turkic Council (WATC)  who also gave the presentation in the rotunda. 
    During the presentation, the delegation from the WATC and a delegation from Turkey was here to promote new economic opportunities and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. They mentioned in their presentation, that they met with the governor and secretary of state who are interested in furthering cooperation.
    BooksThey were giving out books to legislators by various authors that have preached for Sharia law and theocratic rule and demonize the West. All of the following books were laid on the table among tourist books and copies of books that described Turkey’s growing economic relationship with the rest of the world and how important it is to the rest of the region.
    Islam Without ExtremesOne book was by Mustafa Akyol who has belittled the Armenian genocide
    And writes books trying to synthesize western liberal thinking with Islamic teaching thereby making it more palatable to the West.
    Akyol also supported the jihadist flotilla against Israel in 2010
    Additionally there were giving out copies of “Essays, Perspectives, Opinions” by M. Fethullah  Gülen, who is a Turkish scholar who now lives in America and has called for the establishment of a theocratic state in Turkey and tries to make orthodox Islam compatible with Western liberalism.
    In “Essays, Perspectives, Opinions” he demonizes the Crusades and the Islamophobia of Germany and the EU for why Turkey is not in the EU.
    Muslim Citizens of the Globalized WorldThey were also giving out a book of collected essays on the  Gülen Movement called “Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World.” One of which promotes more Turkish immigration to Germany and provides means and ways on using dialogue to keep down racial tensions.
    They were also distributing a book on Christian-Islamic relations from the Gülen Movement’s perspective.
    Turkey and the Arab SpringAlso available was “Turkey and the Arab Spring” written by Graham E. Fuller, who was a former CIA station chief in Turkey and a member of the RAND Corporation. his book places a lot of emphasis on the Gülen Movement.
    Apparently his daughter was married to an uncle of the suspects in the Boston Marathon attacks.
    One fella was playing a Turkish flute over the microphone just before the event started that was designed to “set the tone.” It could be heard thought the whole building.
    Line of people getting ready to eat before speech.Tim Fox in photoIn a picture of people in line for food, you can see Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. He is standing right in front of the Turkish flag.
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    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Ten Reps being probed under ethics code for Gulen sponsored junket to Azerbaijan

    Maybe we’ve got a gang of simpletons running our government who would never think to ask why somebody is giving them as much as $20,000 worth of free airfare and gifts. Maybe it’s more realistic to conclude that they knew something was expected in return but wanted a luxury vacation and thought they could get away with it.
    Either way, the cat is now out of the Congressional bag and ten lawmakers have some serious explaining to do.
    An ethics investigation is underway into a 2013 luxury junket in which ten members of Congress were treated to a lavish vacation and gifts by SOCAR, an Azerbaijan state-run oil company. The money, roughly $750,000 was run through non-profits in the United States, allegedly to avoid detection, as reported by the Washington Post.
    Allegations include the filing of false statements with Congress by the non-profits, in which they stated that they were the sponsors of the “conference.” Federal law as well as congressional rules prohibit foreign governments from purchasing favorable treatment from American lawmakers.
    The famous inept Shiela Jackson Lee
    It just so happens that SOCAR was seeking an exemption from U.S. Iranian sanctions in order to build a $28 billion gas pipeline project in the Caspian Sea.
    Those under investigation and the amounts of airfare received in addition to other gifts are:
    • Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) Member of Financial Services Committee – $19,961.80
    • Danny K. Davis (D-IL) Member of Ways and Means Committee – $16,972.00
    • Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) Member of Armed Services Committee – $13,997.70
    • Former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) Member of Foreign Affairs Committee – $13,430.60
    • Ted Poe (R-TX) Member of Foreign Affairs Committee, chairman, subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade – $13,376.60
    • Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) Member of Homeland Security Committee – $13,222.90
    • Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) Member of Ethics Committee – $7,260.60
    • Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) Member of Budget Committee – $7,050.90
    • Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) Member of Foreign Affairs Committee – $5,741.60
    • Leonard Lance (R-NJ) Member of Energy and Commerce Committee – $1,884.70
    • Mike Turner (R-OH) Member of Armed Services Committee – Turner attended while under a separate delegation
    We can understand the Democrats being involved in this. For many it’s all they can do to raise their arms and parrot “hands up don’t shoot.” They truly may not understand that there is no such thing as a free ride, that somebody always fays the fare. Sheila Jackson Lee may have thought SOCAR was an acronym for Slave Owning Caucasians And Racists and assumed that it was merely their white guilt compelling them to pay her what she was, by virtue of her ancestry, rightfully due. SOCAR could have probably gotten away with just a couple of scarves in Lee’s case, but it’s too late now. The inappropriate enticements have been awarded.
    It is interesting to note that one Democrat, Rep Yvette Clarke of NY, is herself a member of the House Ethics Committee. Perhaps a reassignment to another committee would place her somewhere where the mission better matches her character.
    Ted Poe, as a former chief felony prosecutor in Harris County should have and likely did know better. Perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation and the offenses aren’t as bad as they appear but nobody is going to spend that kind of money and expect nothing in return. If Poe didn’t recognize the problem, perhaps that is because it is just one instance of many, of the nature of purchasing influence in Washington DC.
    How was he or anyone to know that this would be the one of many that would happen to gain the public’s eye? The total of $750,000 is much more than the indicated amounts of airfare and trinkets. There must be more accounting to be done and with it, will come more accountability

    Digging deeper into the Azerbaijan bribes by the Gulen Movement spotlight on Representative Danny Davis Illinois

    The Tribune Misses The Gulen Story, Naturally     From Tim Furman's post

    [There's an interesting update to this story at the end of this post.] As predicted, the Trib got the Danny Davis/Gulen Movement story mostly wrong. But at least they covered it. Mind you, I don't care much about what junkets Danny Davis goes on; it really seems to me like he doesn't even do basic research on who's sending him where, and it further seems to me that he probably isn't aware of the relationship between the trip and the loopholing of the Iran sanctions that resulted from it. He's a great guy; he's got impenetrable teflon on these things, and nobody cares. Danny Davis is untouchable, and that's fine with me. It's the Gulen connection that interests me because, well, it's so interesting. Here's the story in a nutshell: This horrific Azerbaijani government, and its energy company, SOCAR, needed some changes made in the US sanctions on Iran in order to keep the gas flowing. What am I talking about? Azerbaijan is sitting on a vast quantity of natural gas. Everyone and his uncle is interested in getting natural gas from Azerbaijan rather than Russia because it throws Russia off balance a little. Still, those sanctions were in place as part of this whole Iranian nuclear negotiation. Suffice it to say that trinkets needed to be distributed to some Danny Davis-types in Congress in order for mysterious, untraceable loopholes to appear in US law. So how did SOCAR achieve that? They called up the Gulen Movement, because everyone in the Caucasus knows that the Gulen Movement has American policymakers on speed dial. There was a time when I thought the Gulen Movement's vast junket-the-policymaker operation existed to prop up the charter schools they run. But now I see it more clearly: the charter schools are the economic engine that props up the influence-seeking racket, which serves the larger purpose: building the power, influence, and political/financial capital of the Gulen Movement in these energy-rich emerging power centers, back closer to home. This whole thing runs on lining the pockets of little men. Let's look at some names. Danny Davis got his trip paid for by one of these groups operating out of 501 Midway Drive in Mt. Prospect. (By my count, there are at least five interrelated entities located there, including Niagara Education Services, Inc. --the parent firm of the Niagara Foundation, the Gulen Movement's public face in Chicago, and one of the two big junket sponsors). Davis's Azerbaijan-junket funder, the recently renamed Turkish American Federation of the Midwest, is run by a guy named Suleyman Turhanogullari. Here's what the Trib reports: Suleyman Turhanogullari, president of the federation, was on the trip, Davis said. Reached by telephone, Turhanogullari asked the Tribune for emailed questions. The questions were emailed, but he did not respond. When you first start attempting to connect the dots, it's easy to get lost in all the different group names. That's by design. These separate junketing groups are all the same thing, with different shell names. [In a tedious but telling sidebar, you will find Mr. Turhanogullari's name listed as one of Joe Moore's contributors in February of 2015. As you know, if you've been paying attention, one of the Gulen-linked charter schools, the Chicago Math and Science Academy, is in Joe Moore's ward, and Joe and his spouse were junketed to Turkey at least once. So that's why Joe's getting $500 from a guy in Mt. Prospect. It's a tip. Those charter schools; they serve a purpose for the Movement, and $500 is the equivalent of nothing to them.] So, Danny Davis got his Baku trip and his Turkish rug, or whatever, paid for by the local Gulenist group, which was only doing what it does best: lining up American policymakers with the most corrupt, repressive people imaginable, who happen to have an unending supply of natural gas. That's not even the interesting part. The story in the Washington Post doesn't even mention the Mt. Prospect groups, but if you watch carefully, you'll see that all of these groups are interconnected: they're all part of one big highly organized operation.The Trib sums it up this way: The Post said the travel expenses for Davis, other members of Congress and several staffers were paid for by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic. The Post said the oil company allegedly funneled $750,000 through U.S.-based nonprofits to conceal funding for the conference. Its story names other nonprofit groups, but not the Turkish group Davis identified. The Office of Congressional Ethics has examined the trip and written a 70-page report about it, the newspaper said. The new information in the Post's story is that the state energy company basically defrayed the costs incurred by the Gulenist groups who schlepped these incurious Americans over to Baku for the party and baubles. And that payment from Baku probably made the trip illegal. But who were these other nonprofit groups? Well, they're shell foundations set up by someone you should probably know by now: Kemal Oksuz, formerly of Niagara Education Services in-- you guessed it-- Mt. Prospect. He's in Texas now, apparently in charge of setting up fake cultural foundations that are really just travel agencies/party planners for Azerbaijani energy interests. Get this: A month before the conference, the nonprofit AFAZ was set up in Houston, home to some of the world’s largest energy companies. “Evidence revealed that SOCAR founded AFAZ in the month prior to the Convention and transferred $750,000 to an AFAZ bank account prior to the Convention,” the OCE report said. AFAZ was created as an “educational, cultural, business, congressional advocacy and charitable organization” with the mission of building “bridges between the United States and Azerbaijan,” according to the nonprofit’s Web site. The investigators for the Office of Congressional Ethics found that AFAZ and the other Houston-based nonprofit, TCAE, concealed the true source of the funding for travel and other expenses for the U.S. officials. “The OCE found that the disclosed nonprofit sponsors contributed virtually no money towards congressional travel to Azerbaijan and played a very limited role in organizing the Convention,” the report said. On April 16, 2013, Kemal Oksuz, an executive in charge of the nonprofits, wrote to the president of SOCAR, requesting $750,000 to underwrite the conference, according to the report. In return, Oksuz pledged that SOCAR’s “logo will be used on all printed materials, banners and website, and that SOCAR will be recognized as the Main Sponsor of the Convention.” Sketchy dude, no? Let me summarize so far: A bunch of American lawmakers took an illegal trip paid for by a foreign government, which funneled the money through a couple of fake Texas foundations run by the Gulen Movement, particularly a prominent Gulen-linked fellow who used to work at Niagara Education Services, which is the same thing as Niagara foundation in Chicago. These groups have other foundations based in a facility in Mt. Prospect, and from there they run a junket program, including the one that paid for Danny Davis to tag along in Azerbaijan, where he got a rug, and the Azerbaijanis got some changes in American law. Want to see an interesting picture?
    I'm sourcing that picture to 2012. Who are those guys? From the left, facing the camera: 1. Rep. Jack Franks (a junketeer) 2. Kemal Oksuz, arranger of fake cultural institutions 3. Asim Mollazade, member of Azerbaijani parliament 4. Mevlut "Hilmi" Cinar, of the Niagara Foundation, junket-provider-in-chief. 5. Mike Madigan, multiple junketeer. Mr. Mollazade visits a lot, representing his young country and putting it in the best light possible. Azerbaijan in reality has a ton of cash and has devolved into a near-totalitarian state: From the NYT "In addition to the dozens of journalists and activists behind bars, many other critics have fled the country or gone into hiding, fearing persecution. The government has shuttered dozens of nongovernmental organizations and media outlets and virtually eliminated all possibilities for independent groups critical of the government to secure foreign financing." [Check out this, from Azerbaijan. It's odd how misery attends these large sporting event everywhere you go. Do what you can to help the imprisoned journalists.] But it's all about the gas, and who better to make introductions to Mike Madigan than the local Gulen guys? It's what they do. They send American policymakers on vacations, they make introductions, and they keep the Azeri gas flowing. They topple militaries. It really doesn't cost much to do these things; hell, the money flowing through the charter schools probably covers it all. If only there was some way to audit those darned things. But that's kooky-talk, I know. Update: Almost certainly as a result of his grooming by the Gulenists, Speaker Madigan in 2013 wrote a strange Happy Birthday message to the Azerbaijani president, who had just won "re-election." Mind you, the Azerbaijani elections are a sad joke; they have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with propping up what is essentially a dictatorship. I will not waste my time scouring the records for a Happy Birthday message from Speaker Madigan to Khadija Ismayilova, one of many journalists languishing in an Azerbaijani prison. Apparently a whole bunch of Gulen-groomed public officials sent Happy Birthday messages to the dictator. I've asked my research department to figure out who got junketed when. (My pretend research department. I'll do it myself.) So, there you have it. The tedious part of the story is that Danny Davis took an illegal trip and got a rug, which he still hasn't taken out of his basement. The slightly more interesting part is that US laws got mysteriously, profitably tweaked as a result of this trip. That level of corruption seems more like a baseline than an outlier, I regret to say. The truly fascinating part is that the people who arranged it all are all working together, they're deeply entrenched in Illinois politics, and they're connected to this highly secretive transnational social/religious/political movement. On the state level, they've got a boatload of audit-proof public funding through their charter school operations and the revenue opportunities those schools open up. And it's almost taboo to talk about any of these things. It certainly is at the Tribune, as I've discussed and on more than one occasion. The Tribune is so under-the-spell that they can't even see what they're looking at. Or maybe it's just off-limits to ask certain questions. Like I say, it's fascinating. Is there anything else even remotely like this? I can't think of any other lobbying/interest group with a profile or scale similar to the Gulen Movement's. It isn't clear to me that the Baku bacchanalia could play out in the same way as today, given that in 2014 the Azerbaijan government read the tea leaves and decided to take sides in the feud between the autocratic Turkish President Erdogan and the Gulen Movement. Who can really know what's going on over there? (Khadija Ismayilova probably knows, but she's in prison.) But if I had to make a summary evaluation of the strength and health of the Gulen Movement around the world, I would say that while they may be on the ropes back home, they're doing fine here, particularly in Springfield. Update: What I've done here is critique a Chicago Tribune story about a Washington Post story that has a few leak-based updates on Houston Chronicle story from July of 2014. There's even more information over at the CASILIPS site, where they were watching this Baku extravaganza in real time, including some better detail on Kemal Oskuz, and his connections to Niagara and Concept. There is nobody with more comprehensive knowledge of the Gulen Movement than CASILIPS. It also appears to me from that article that the scale of the Baku thing was much larger than what has come out so far. Check it out. All of these guys probably got junketed, and most of the junkets probably got funded by the Azerbaijani government, and all of those trips were probably illegal.

    another good article

    Wednesday, May 13, 2015

    Gulen Movement SOCOR Azerbaijan bribes US Politicians for favors, your tax dollars at work

    The state-owned oil company of Azerbaijan secretly funded an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference at Baku on the Caspian Sea in 2013 for 10 members of Congress and 32 staff members, according to a confidential ethics report obtained by The Washington Post. Three former top aides to President Obama appeared as speakers at the conference.
    Lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to the ethics report. Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices show.
    The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 through nonprofit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding for the conference in the former Soviet nation, according to the 70-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative arm of the House.
    The report reflects the most extensive investigation undertaken by the ethics office, which was created seven years ago in response to a number of scandals on Capitol Hill, including lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s illegal funding of lawmakers’ trips.
    The nonprofit corporations allegedly filed false statements with Congress swearing that they were sponsoring the conference. The findings have been referred to the House Committee on Ethics for investigation of possible violations of congressional rules and federal laws that bar foreign governments from trying to influence U.S. policy.
    Tom Rust, chief counsel and staff director for the Ethics Committee, declined to comment.
    “We don’t comment on investigative matters,” he said.
    Kelly Brewington, a spokeswoman for the Office of Congressional Ethics, also declined to comment.
    [This article will be updated with additional responses as they are provided to The Post.]
    The conference, titled U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention: Vision for the Future, took place on May 28 and 29, 2013. During the previous year, SOCAR and several large energy companies sought exemptions for a $28 billion natural gas pipeline project in the Caspian Sea from U.S. economic sanctions being imposed on Iran.

    The congressional investigators could not determine whether lawmakers used their official positions to benefit SOCAR or the pipeline project. They also found no evidence that the lawmakers or their staffers knew that the conference was being funded by a foreign government.
    The investigators noted that the lawmakers relied on representations made to them by two Houston-based nonprofit corporations, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE) and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ). The lawmakers told investigators that they had obtained approval for the trip from the ethics committee.
    The report said members of the House Ethics Committee wrote to the Office of Congressional Ethics requesting a halt to their investigation so that the matter could be taken up by their own committee. OCE officials declined the request. A government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter said OCE feared that the ethics panel, which has a reputation among watchdog groups for shielding lawmakers from embarrassing disclosures. would not take any meaningful action.
    The pipeline has long been an important U.S. policy objective because it would bolster European security by offering an alternative to Russian gas.
    One of SOCAR’s partners was the National Iranian Oil Company, known as NIOC, a relationship that had threatened to scuttle the deal if sanctions were approved without an exemption for the Shah Deniz Natural Gas Project. SOCAR and NIOC each were partners with 10 percent of the project, while BP and Norwegian-based Statoil each held 25.5 percent. Russian-based Lukoil also had a 10 percent share and Turkish Petroleum Corp. had 9 percent.
    Congress had approved two sanctions bills containing passages that exempted the project, which Obama signed into law in August 2012 and January 2013. On June 3, 2013, five days after the Baku conference, Obama signed an executive order assessing economic sanctions against Iran that also exempted the project.

    The Post reported about the trip at the time, in an article noting that three former Obama political advisers — Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina and David Plouffe — spoke at the conference, which was attended by current and former members of Congress. Politico also wrote about the trip and the Houston Chronicle reported that SOCAR had been a sponsor of the conference and raised questions about the nonprofits involved. Only one Western news organization covered the event, the Washington Diplomat, a monthly that writes about the diplomatic community in the nation’s capital.
    But no information surfaced at the time about the alleged $750,000 payment from SOCAR to the nonprofits. Ethics investigators obtained a wire transfer showing that SOCAR sent the $750,000 to AFAZ. SOCAR’s legal counsel told the investigators that the money was “dues” that were “intended to be used as funding for the Convention.”
    The lawmakers who took the trip were Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and then-Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.).
    Clarke is a member of the Ethics Committee.
    Another lawmaker, Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), attended as part of a separate congressional delegation and his expenses were not paid by the conference, according to the report.

    “My official visit was part of my House Armed Services and NATO responsibilities,” Turner told The Post in a statement. “During the visit I met with the President, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Speaker of the Parliament of Azerbaijan and received a classified briefing from U.S. personnel. I was a scheduled speaker at the conference, with former Senator Lugar. The conference did not pay my expenses and I did not receive any gifts.”
    Davis told The Post that the Ethics Committee approved the trip, which he took with his wife, and that he didn’t realize it had been fundedby SOCAR. He said he saw the oil company’s logos in Baku, but “to be very honest about it, I didn’t pay them much attention, honestly.”
    He also said that during the conference he received one rug, which was delivered to his hotel room and is in storage in his basement in Chicago. He said he is considering donating the rug to a museum or a charity.
    Davis also said lawmakers should ask more questions about the source of funding for conferences and congressional travel in the future.
    “Some of these things that we take sometimes for granted probably require a bit more investigation or more prudence,” he said. “So maybe we’ll exercise a bit more scrutiny. I will.”
    Hinojosa, who attended the conference with his wife, said he was also unaware of SOCAR’s involvement.
    “Prior to the trip to Azerbaijan and Turkey, I sought approval from the U.S. House Committee on Ethics to travel,” he said in a statement. “I relied upon this written authorization in deciding to travel overseas. I believed the purpose of the trip was to strengthen U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. I received souvenirs of what I believed to be of minimal value and in compliance with the House Gift rule.”
    The statement added: “My staff and I have fully cooperated with the investigation. Importantly, the report notes that there is no evidence to suggest that Members of Congress who went on the trip knew that impermissible sponsors and organizers may have been involved and that Members relied on the sponsors’ representations in good faith.”
    Lance declined to comment, citing the ongoing ethics investigation. A senior staff member who declined to speak publicly said the congressman was unaware that SOCAR had sponsored the event and that he had returned the one rug he received after he returned to Washington. The staff member also said Lance received a pair of earrings and reimbursed the nonprofit group that helped organize the conference $100 immediately upon returning to New Jersey
    Trip organized in plain sight
    Although lawmakers told investigators that they were unaware that the Azerbaijani government had underwritten the trip through its oil company, investigators noted that SOCAR organized much of the conference in plain sight. The oil company issued invitations, sponsored visa entries for the lawmakers and staff members, and hung banners and placards emblazoned with SOCAR’s logo throughout the conference halls in Baku.
    The investigators concluded in their report that “a person’s ignorance of the true source of travel expenses is not an absolute shield from liability for receipt of travel expenses from an improper source.”
    Several members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has oversight of U.S. relations with Iran and the economic sanctions, attended the conference. They included one of the panel’s most influential members, Poe, who chairs its subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.
    The report said Poe was among those who did not fully cooperate with the Office of Congressional Ethics or did not acknowledge receipt of their request for information.
    In a statement to The Post, Shaylyn Hynes, Poe’s spokeswoman said, “Congressman Poe did cooperate,” providing investigators with documents and answers to their questions.
    “The House Committee on Ethics then requested that the OCE cease its review because it was conducting its own investigation,” Hynes’s statement said. “As a result, we alerted OCE that we were communicating and cooperating directly with the House Committee on Ethics, the official arbiter of House ethics matters.”

    Hynes’s statement added that the congressman thought the conference was being sponsored by the nonprofits.
    “In its report, the OCE clearly states it did not receive any evidence that the Congressman knew that TCAE was not the sole organizer or sponsor of the travel,” Hynes’s statement said. “The OCE further correctly found that “Representative Poe acted in good faith reliance on information received from the purported trip sponsor and approval from the Committee on Ethics.”
    According to the report, three other lawmakers who took the trip also declined to cooperate with the ethics office or did not respond: Jackson Lee, a member of the Homeland Security Committee; Lance, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Meeks, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
    Lance’s staff member said the lawmaker had been ready to cooperate with the Office of Congressional Ethics when he was told by the House Ethics Committee that it would examine the case. Lance is now cooperating with that panel.
    Those who went to the conference and cooperated with the investigation said they thought the nonprofit corporations had funded the trip and reported their travel expenses on their disclosure forms. Several said they believed they did not need to disclose the gifts because their value did not exceed the $350 reporting threshold.
    Lujan Grisham told ethics investigators that she did not disclose the rugs because she did not think they were particularly valuable. She also thought that they were unattractive.
    “It’s not a carpet I would have purchased,” the congresswoman said.
    In recent years, as relations between the United States and Iran have deteriorated over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Congress and the Obama administration have stepped up economic sanctions. The government of Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran, hired several lobbying firms to build a better relationship with policymakers in Washington.
    Considering new sanctions
    As Congress weighed a new round of sanctions against Iran in 2012, SOCAR opened an office in Washington, buying a building in Dupont Circle for $12 million. On April 25 and 26, 2012, a conference called U.S.-Azerbaijan Relations: Vision for Future was held at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington.
    Among the attendees were Poe, Meeks, and Jackson Lee. Ethics investigators said it appeared that SOCAR was a “major funder” of the conference, citing interviews and photographs published on a Web site for the event that showed banners with SOCAR’s logos inside the hotel.
    At the time, Congress was considering the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act. The bill contained a provision that would exempt the gas pipeline project from Iranian sanctions. The provision said that “nothing” in the measure would apply to “the development of natural gas and the construction and operation of a pipeline to transport natural gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe.”
    Three months later, on July 30, 2012, Obama signed an executive order authorizing additional sanctions against Iran and exempting the pipeline. On Aug. 1, Congress approved the sanctions legislation and the exemption. Obama signed it into law nine days later.
    Before adjourning for Christmas, Congress approved another sanctions bill called the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act, which was part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. That bill also contained an exemption for the gas pipeline. On Jan. 2, 2013, Obama signed the legislation into law.
    Soon, members of Congress began receiving invitations to attend a springtime conference in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan known for its mix of medieval architecture and gleaming modern buildings along the shores of the Caspian Sea.

    Exiled Imam Fethullah Gulen started his schools in Azerbaijan some 25 years ago
    it is followers of the Gulen Movement which control, operate and fund SOCOR oil.
    Gulen lobbying in the USA via the Charter Schools they operate is very important to the
    country of Azerbaijan which doesn't have deep seated roots into the USA lobbying except
    for funding as part of AFAZ and other groups they belong to

    A month before the conference, the nonprofit AFAZ was set up in Houston, home to some of the world’s largest energy companies. AFAZ was created as an “educational, cultural, business, congressional advocacy and charitable organization” with the mission of building “bridges between the United States and Azerbaijan,” according to the nonprofit’s Web site.
    The investigators for the Office of Congressional Ethics found that AFAZ and the other Houston-based nonprofit, TCAE, were used to conceal the true source of the funding for travel and other expenses for the U.S. officials.
    “The OCE found that the disclosed nonprofit sponsors contributed virtually no money towards congressional travel to Azerbaijan and played a very limited role in organizing the Convention,” the report said.
    On April 16, 2013, Kemal Oksuz, an executive in charge of the nonprofits, wrote to the president of SOCAR, requesting $750,000 to underwrite the conference, according to the report. In return, Oksuz pledged that SOCAR’s “logo will be used on all printed materials, banners and website, and that SOCAR will be recognized as the Main Sponsor of the Convention.”
    On May 13, SOCAR transferred $750,000 into the Wells Fargo account of AFAZ, according to the report. Three days later, AFAZ made its first money transfer to pay for the plane tickets for the conference attendees.
    “SOCAR and AFAZ provided gifts in the form of impermissible travel expenses to congressional travelers in violation of House rules, regulations and federal law,” the ethics investigators said.
    ‘Sponsors’ provided no funding
    Last summer, the Houston Chronicle published an examination of the Baku conference and interviewed Oksuz. He told the newspaper that he was not required to disclose corporate sponsorships because “those contributions always came after the conventions.”
    Gulen's American Terrorist Gang, head of education, lobbying, junkets, etc.,
    Salim Ucan, Faruk Taban, Bilal Eksili, Kemal Oksuz, Alp Aslandogan
    All arrived in the USA under h1-b Visas facilitated by politicians like Shiela Jackson Lee
    They are in the USA not as loyal Americans but to serve Gulen's interests and promote Turkish interests only. 

    Kemal Oksuz, the King of the Junkets and Gulen Troll
    The investigators said five nonprofits affiliated with the Azerbaijani government said they sponsored the conference, filing sworn statements with the Ethics Committee in April and May 2013.
    “The five sponsoring organizations contributed no funding for the congressional travel in spite of false affirmations on the forms they submitted to the Committee on Ethics,” the investigators wrote in the report.
    SOCAR assembled a list of lawmakers, other U.S. officials and private individuals it wanted to attend the three-day conference. The oil company invited more than 30 people to speak in Baku, according to the report, including Gibbs, Messina and Plouffe. SOCAR also invited Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had lost his reelection campaign in 2012.
    In addition to SOCAR, BP, ConocoPhillips and KBR also helped to underwrite the costs of the conference, estimated at $1.5 million. Those costs included $100,000 for hotel accommodations, $75,000 for food and entertainment, and $1.2 million for travel and other expenses.
    Several members of Congress and their staff members also took side trips to Turkey, traveling to Istanbul, Ankara or both, the investigators found. They included Clarke, Lujan Grisham, Hinojosa and Lance.
    The Bosphorus Atlantic Cultural Association of Friendship and Cooperation, a Turkish nonprofit organization, covered the expenses, the report said. The lawmakers did not disclose the role of that nonprofit.
    “Members of Congress who traveled to Turkey accepted payment of travel expenses from impermissible sources, resulting in an impermissible gift, in violation of House rules and regulations,” the report found.
    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.
    The report said “evidence suggests” that all lawmakers received at least one rug and some got two, one prayer-sized and one area rug. Many staff members also received rugs.
    Only one lawmaker, Bridenstine, disclosed the rugs on his financial forms. He had them appraised: the smaller rug at $2,500 and the larger at $3,500. In a July 2013 letter to the Ethics Committee, he said he wanted to donate the larger rug to the House Clerk’s Office.
    Kemal Oksuz seen with Nevada Congressman Harry Reid
    Kemal Oksuz has only been in the USA 15 years as other members of the Gulen Movement
    arrived via H1-b Visas to be teachers at their Gulen operated publicly funded charter schools

    From DC, to Texas, to Chicago to Nevada and then to New Mexico, here is Kemal Oksuz R
    with members of the NMSU - New Mexico State University signing the paperwork to give
    $$$ to NMSU from Azerbaijan for scholarships. 
    Bridenstine was the only lawmaker to offer to pay for the rugs out of his own pocket, telling the committee that he would like to purchase the smaller rug “at fair market value.”
    But, ultimately, he decided not to keep the rugs.
    “Having sought advice from the Committee on Ethics, I determined the best course of action was to return the rugs and I did so,” he said in a statement to The Post. “I also received a porcelain tea set which was valued at $87, well under the Foreign Gifts Disclosure Act rules, and an educational book and four local traditional music CDs.”
    Kemal Oksuz at a SOCAR event with Houston mayor Annise Parker
    Every one of the logos on this backdrop are Gulen operated organizations. 
    KEMAL OKSUZ mentioned on Sunlight Foundation which investigations corrupt lobby, trace that
    to the school in Louisana raided by the FBI (Kenliworth Math and Science Academy) Kemal Oksuz
    had donated $80,000 to the Lousiana RNC the largest amount every to get a bill quashed that
    would forbid foreigners from operating Charter Schools.  Maybe Kemal will join the other Gulen Money man Adem Arici in Federal Prison.  shame on you Kemal. 

    HERE is a refreshing on Azerbaijan /Gulen Movement trying to spread it's "love" into Hawaii, caught red handed