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Census Branch Chief Collected Kickbacks for Securing Pal a Job, Feds Say

Brian Snyder/ReutersA U.S. Census branch chief got a job for a friend at a company doing business with the federal government, then demanded he fork over half his earnings as tribute and got him fired when the man tried to negotiate a lower kickback, prosecutors allege.In November 2018, an unemployed acquaintance contacted Joy Saif Choudhury, a branch chief for the Census Bureau, to ask for help getting a job, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday in Maryland federal court. Choudhury, an information technology specialist earning more than $123,000 a year who won a departmental award for organizational management last year, agreed to assist the unidentified acquaintance. As the point person managing the Census Bureau’s federal contract with an IT services company referred to in the complaint as “Business 1,” Choudhury agreed to connect the job seeker with “Business 2,” a subcontractor for the first business, the filing says.Several months later, after passing a background check and receiving a security clearance, Choudhury’s acquaintance was hired.“During a private meeting in Choudhury’s office approximately two weeks after the Victim started work for Business 2, Choudhury told the Victim that Choudhury got the Victim the job and therefore the Victim must pay 50% of his paycheck to Choudhury every month,” FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Hung attested in an affidavit attached to the complaint charging Choudhury with receipt of a gratuity by a public official, a felony.However, Choudhury’s acquaintance argued he couldn’t afford to pay that much, and the two negotiated Choudhury’s cut down to $1,500 a month, the affidavit says. After agreeing to the reduced fee, Choudhury allegedly warned the man that if he didn’t keep up with his payments, he could get him fired “with one phone call.”Choudhury, who is 46 years old and has worked for the federal government since 2015 according to public records, faces a prison term of up to two years if convicted. The Census Bureau, an agency under the aegis of the Department of Commerce, has previously come under fire over corruption allegations related to the 2020 national headcount. In that instance, multiple census takers complained they had been told to falsify reports under pressure to meet an abbreviated deadline ordered by then-President Donald Trump.More broadly, a 2015 report from the Census Bureau’s inspector general alleged a culture of retaliation against anyone who spoke out against the allegedly widespread misconduct throughout the agency. “At an office social event held for a CHEC (Census Hiring and Employment Check) employee, this employee held a knife in his hand to cut the cake,” one passage reads, “and, while making a stabbing motion with his arm, said something to the effect of “This is for who went to the OIG!”For nearly a year—and after an initial $750 payment—Choudhury’s acquaintance paid him between $1,500 and $2,000 in cash every four weeks, according to the affidavit. The pair met either in the parking lot of a shopping center in College Park, Maryland, or at the acquaintance’s residence to make the exchange.On May 16, 2020, Choudhury arrived at the man’s home for his monthly payment, the complaint states. What Choudhury didn’t know was that his acquaintance had been in contact with investigators about the arrangement and was wired for sound.According to the affidavit, Choudhury’s friend attempted to negotiate the kickbacks down from $1,500 a month to something a bit more manageable. But Choudhury wasn’t having any of it, and allegedly responded with a demand for even more money. If the man didn’t want to pay the agreed upon $1,500 anymore, Choudhury said he was free to end the agreement and resign from his job at Business 2. The two men eventually compromised, and Choudhury told his acquaintance that he could pay, for the next two months, whatever he wished. Investigators documenting the exchange on surveillance video then observed the friend hand over $2,700 in an envelope, which Choudhury stuffed in his pants pocket.A few days later, the affidavit explains, Choudhury took aim at his erstwhile pal. He held two separate meetings with the man, his co-workers, and his team leaders, during which he dressed him down for his apparently unsatisfactory job performance.“The Victim thought this negative feedback was unjustified,” the filing says.The next afternoon, the man texted Choudhury and gave him a piece of his mind.“I think enough is enough!” the message read. “I have been patient and tolerate [sic] enough. I have enough evidence (video image and voice recording) of you blackmailing me to collect 18k for my current job. Furthermore you are so greedy that you took percentage of overtime pay. I will be contacting Internal [sic] Affair. I didn’t know this day will come but you have pushed me, now all this evidence will become handy.”Less than an hour later, Choudhury texted a reply.“Hi [Redacted] Bhai: I do not know what you are talking about,” Choudhury wrote, according to the complaint. “I always was only trying to help you. At your time of need, your wife and you requested my wife and me to help you when you did not have a job last year. I synced you up with the vendor and they liked you and onboarded you for the project.”He continued: “You need to pull up your skills to improve your performance. Furthermore, you were yelling in the meeting which is no way of conducting yourself professionally in the meeting to the team and with me. My hands are tied here; yelling at the team did not go well with the team or with the vendor. I have spoken with Tonya and I do not [know] who else she might have spoken to. I kept mentioning to you that we should keep civility in our meeting.”Minutes later, Choudhury’s acquaintance received an email from his boss telling him that he had been fired.Cell tower data subpoenaed by investigators placed Choudhury at the scene of the monthly payoffs, and bank records corroborated the acquaintance’s story. On top of that, phone records reviewed by agents showed Choudhury’s phone connected with the alleged victim’s phone “hundreds of times” during the time period in question.In all, the man said he paid Choudhury a total of $16,650.Choudhury, who is now in federal custody and does not yet have a lawyer listed in court records, was unable to be reached for comment.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.