Wow! A Federal Indictment of an ICT4D Leader

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In September of 2005, organizations and activists from around the world working on mobile technology in activism met together in Toronto. They drafted a Declaration of Intent to increase activists’ ability to organize constituencies and MobileActive was born.
Under the leadership of Katrin Verclas, who previously was the executive director of NTEN, MobileActive grew to become a global network of practitioners using mobile phones for social impact, advising activists and NGOs on how to minimize security risks on their mobile devices.
2010 was a tipping point for Mobile Active. That year mainstream organizations finally grasped the power of mobile phones and Mobile Active became a central clearinghouse for the global ICT4D community. Shortly thereafter, Fast Company proclaimed Katrin one of the Most Influential Women in Technology 2011.
A Federal Indictment for Fraud
According to a federal indictment, 2010 was a tipping point for Katrin too. The Attorney for the District of Maryland and the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State allege that Katrin, as director of MobileActive Corp, participated in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of State of $1.231 million.
In receiving an Internet Freedom grant from the State Department in 2010, she is accused of:

  • Representing that MobileActive was a 501(c)(3) organization, when it was a for-profit entity, in Federal grant documents and to the New York Department of Labor.
  • Taking $610,000 from the State Department to hire software developers, but only paying them $91,888, and keeping $518,112 for Mobile Active.
  • Transferring $432,421 from Mobile Active bank accounts to her personal bank accounts.
  • Filing false quarterly reports to the State Department about MobileActive’s work, including the activity above.

Let’s be very clear: Katrin is innocent until proven guilty. Yet regardless of the final outcome, this is a stunning blow for a leader in technology for development. She was arrested on March 29th and she faces up to 10 years imprisonment.
A Key Lesson to Learn
This is an important reminder that ICT4D is not too small a sub-sector, or too important an effort, to escape the scrutiny of an Office of Inspector General.
Yes, OIGs are on the lookout for the next AED, but they are also looking for small frauds too. USAID staff receiving $5,000 bribes are arrested right next to the CEO and Controller of Louis Berger Group.
So I ask myself, have I done anything that could warrant a federal investigation? I firmly believe I’ve never willfully defrauded the US government or any other donor or employer, but until I saw this indictment, I would’ve sworn Katrin would never be accused of it either.
My heart goes out to her. None of us can fully appreciate what she is going through right now. We can only do our best to make sure our own efforts are clear and legal, that our donors and stakeholders agree, and they are satisfied with our transparency.
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