Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another Corrupt Army Officer Pleads Guilty

Are we ever going to get to the bottom of what went on in the early days of the Iraq war? How could our government funnel billions of dollars in cash into the country and not provide any basic oversight or control on what happened to the money?

An Army officer and his wife have pleaded guilty in a money laundering scheme involving contracts in Iraq, the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday.

Maj. John Cockerham, 43, pleaded guilty to one count each of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering, the Justice Department said. His wife, Melissa, 41, pleaded guilty to a count of money laundering.

The pleas were taken on Jan. 31, but weren't unsealed until Tuesday, the Justice Department said.

John Cockerham admitted taking or being promised more than $9 million in bribes for awarding contracts while stationed in Kuwait, the Justice Department said. He was responsible for awarding contracts worth millions of dollars including those for bottled water.

Once he agreed to take the bribes, Cockerham told contractors to pay his wife, sister and others to hide the activity, the Justice Department said.

What's even worse is that, reportedly, two suicides in Kuwait can be linked to the investigation that caught Cockerham:

Although a Justice Department official said it was too early to know if the suspects in the corruption investigation operated independently or in a network, public records indicate that several served overlapping tours. At least two officers who worked at Camp Arifjan when Major Cockerham was there committed suicide after learning they would face bribery charges. One, Maj. Gloria D. Davis of Missouri, shot herself in December 2006, a day after admitting she took at least $225,000 in bribes, government officials said.

Here's how it all worked--allowing Cockerham to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars:

The camp, a $200 million logistics hub, stands like an island in the middle of the desert south of Kuwait City. Major Cockerham worked in a prefabricated two-story building with about 20 other military people and civilians, committing millions of dollars on the phone or with a few strokes on his computer in his cubicle.

Military officials said a major assigned to award such large contracts for the Army Contracting Agency should have at least 10 years of experience in “broad acquisition,” a minimum of four years of direct contracting experience and annual ethics training. But the procurement workload from the Iraq war grew so big so fast that the Pentagon was forced to rush people with virtually no training or experience into some of its most complicated contracting jobs, Army officials said.

“From what I understand, John didn’t get the courses he should have had for his assignment until his assignment was over,” said Mr. Parks, Major Cockerham’s lawyer.

Oversight was virtually nonexistent by design. There were no auditors at Camp Arifjan, and contracts worth more than $500,000 were the only ones requiring review in Washington. Most contracts were written for about $100,000. It was also common for contracting officers to use “blanket purchase agreements,” allowing them to open a line of credit with a company with little more than a promissory note, much like a customer at a small-town grocery store.

Ideally, Army officials said, the purchasing cycle would be divided among at least three contracting officers. One would take an order for supplies from a unit commander and seek bids from companies to fill the order. Another would award the contract, and a third would oversee delivery of the goods. That system, officials said, would allow each contracting officer to serve as a check on the others.

At Camp Arifjan, a single contracting officer handled all three parts of the process, giving the officers broad discretion and creating opportunities for unit commanders to join conspiracies by inflating their troops’ needs. What resulted, said Mr. Young, the Army Contracting Agency director, was “a web of deceit.”

The only thing that is shocking is that he got caught. Cockerham apparently kept ledgers of what he did in his home--a pretty clear indication that he knew what he was doing was wrong, he wanted to keep detailed records of what he was doing, and at the end of the day, proof positive that a person can be too smart for their own good.

Memo to all you wannabe criminal masterminds out there--don't keep a ledger of all of the the illegal things you do in your home.

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