Former Deputy Executive Director of USAID Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft of More Than $200,000 in Grant Funds
South African Doctor Took Money Meant to Promote Safer Childbirth
WASHINGTON – Eugene Sickle, the former deputy executive director of a South African research institute, pled guilty today to a scheme in which he stole more than $200,000 in grant funds originating with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The guilty plea was announced by Channing D. Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Jonathan Schofield, Special Agent in Charge for the USAID Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations.
Sickle, 47, a chemist and a citizen of South Africa, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. The plea, which is contingent upon the Court’s approval, calls for an agreed-upon sentence of six months to 12 months and a day of incarceration. The plea agreement requires Sickle to pay $206,250 in restitution. He is to be deported upon completion of his sentence. The Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson scheduled a sentencing hearing for August 1, 2017.
“Eugene Sickle abused his position to steal more than $200,000 meant to promote safer childbirth practices in South Africa,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “His actions undercut efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help those in need. His arrest and prosecution demonstrate our commitment to ensuring U.S. dollars are spent properly.”
“When individuals are entrusted by the United States to help implement its overseas development programs, nothing but the highest ethical and legal standards are demanded,” said Special Agent in Charge Schofield. “Theft from those who have nothing - from a program dedicated to safer childbirth no less - not only violates the law but is an affront to the very dignity of America's ideals and largess. Whether such egregious behavior transpires domestically or overseas, the OIG stands ready to ensure perpetrators are held to account.”
Based in Washington, D.C., USAID is the lead U.S. government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies. It has regional offices in foreign countries to implement and administer USAID programs and funds. USAID South Africa is one such regional office that works with local organizations in that country.
According to a statement of offense, signed by the defendant as well as the government, Sickle was deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, a South African research institute focusing on sexual and reproductive health as well as vaccine-preventable diseases. Its primary source of funding is USAID, and Sickle administered grant funds for projects. One such project involved a mobile electronic device software application, in connection with the South African National Department of Health, which would help facilitate safer childbirth deliveries in South Africa.
On October 2, 2015, according to the statement of offense, Sickle and the institute’s chief executive officer signed a contract with a company called Alzar Consulting Services Ltd. to develop the childbirth app. Likewise, an individual named “Dr. Carla Das Neves” Alzar’s purported director, signed the contract. Pursuant to this contract, the institute made two payments to Alzar totaling $206,250. However, the childbirth app has never been developed.
Subsequent investigation revealed that Sickle created Alzar in the British Virgin Islands. Unbeknownst to anyone at the research institute, he was the sole owner of the company. Sickle also created e-mail accounts for Alzar and fake Alzar employees, including “Carla Das Neves.” He created a fake LinkedIn page for “Carla Das Neves,” which had a beach scene for a picture, and falsely claimed that “Carla Das Neves” was a trained expert in aid/relief work.
Sickle shepherded the research institute’s contract with Alzar through the approval and compliance process. He signed the contract both as himself and also as “Carla Das Neves.”
According to the statement of offense, Sickle did not perform any of the work required under the contract, nor did anyone else. None of the USAID money was used for its intended purpose to facilitate safer childbirth in South Africa. Instead, Sickle diverted the money to himself personally, and an associate.
Sickle resigned from his position last year. Agents with the USAID Inspector General’s Office arrested him in Washington, D.C., in February 2017. He has been in custody ever since.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John P. Marston and Denise Simmonds and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Vesna Harasic-Yaksic of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.