When we wrote about Bagram Airfield, located in Afghanistan, we asked rhetorically, “Is Bagram just another military base, with the number of corrupt fraudsters simply in proportion to its overall population? Or is it something more—perhaps a poster child for failed leadership and ineffective oversight and missing controls.” Those were some harsh words, perhaps—but we were upset from the sheer quantity of stories of corruption emanating from the Army Airbase. Now we are hearing about a place that sounds even more corrupt, and home to even more pernicious perfidy, than Bagram.
And what’s more, this place isn’t located in the direct line of fire. Sure, it supports the warfighters, but it’s located far behind the front-lines, far away from mortars and suicide sappers.
We’re talking about Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Wikipedia has this to say about Camp Arifjan—
Camp Arifjan is an Army installation located in the State of Kuwait which accommodates elements of the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps and US Coast Guard. The camp was funded and built by the government of Kuwait. … Camp Arifjan is a US military installation utilized as a forward logistics base, Aviation Classification and Repair Activity Depot (Task Force AVCRAD) for the entire Southwest Asian Theater (through Patton Army Air Field), helicopter ground support base, and as a motor pool for armored and unarmored vehicles.
An “insider’s view” of life at the Camp reports the following—
Camp Arifjan is a wierd place, and sort of a mixture between busy military installation, hip university campus, grimy industrial park, and stark correctional facility. Nevertheless, the quality of life is surprisingly good. The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) facilities rival those of many stateside installations. There are two large PXs, several fast food places, two nice recreational centers, a state-of-the-art gym, and even a wood crafts shop. Nearly all indoor facilities have air conditioning. There's a large outdoor pool and several athletic fields. The quality of the food and service at the three dining facilities is exceptional. Bottled water (and even Gatorade) is readily available. … Your work environment will vary greatly on your section's "likership" and mission requirements. Some work standard duty day hours, while others maintain 24-hour operations in shift. As with any workplace, some work hard for big results, while a few work little for little results, and still others work hard for no results. The near-constant rotation of individual replacements from all service components and backgrounds ensures a perpetual state of institutionalized uncertainty.
Moreover, the author describes the Arifjan nightlife as “vibrant” but offers no specifics.
So much for background. Let’s move on to another point of view—that of the Department of Justice, who reported on August 11, 2010, that Wajdi Birjas, age 39, of Evansville, Indiana, had pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to bribe U.S. Army contracting officials stationed at Camp Arifjan” as well as to money laundering conspiracy. The DOJ reported that—
The charge of bribery conspiracy carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. Under the plea agreement, Birjas agreed to forfeit $675,000 to the government.
So if Mr. Birjas gets the maximum sentence (which is doubtful) he’ll be released when he’s 64 years old. What did he do? The DOJ stated that he was a “contract employee at the Host Nation Affairs office,” where he was responsible for “identifying Kuwaiti companies able to provide certain goods and services to the U.S. military in Kuwait.” While assigned to Camp Arifjan—
… Birjas, acting at the direction of a contractor working in Kuwait, developed corrupt relationships with certain Army contracting officials, including Christopher Murray, James Momon and a sergeant first class deployed to Camp Arifjan as a senior procurement non-commissioned officer (NCO.) By bribing these Army contracting officials … the contractor ultimately received a total of more than $1.7 million in connection with contracts to provide various goods and services to the U.S. military. In exchange for his assistance in the bribery scheme, Birjas received a share of the profits that the contracts generated and was allowed to live rent-free in a villa that contained a hidden safe.
Court documents indicate that Birjas paid Murray approximately $10,000; paid the senior procurement NCO approximately $14,000; and paid the airplane and hotel expenses of a co-conspirator and Momon to celebrate New Year’s eve in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. According to the court documents, Birjas also allowed Momon to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of his bribe money in Birjas’s safe.
Birjas admitted that he agreed to arrange for $250,000 of Momon’s bribe money to be transferred from Kuwait to the United States, after Momon had returned to the United States at the end of his tour. Birjas admitted to working out this agreement with the third Army officer and one of his associates, a former master sergeant in the Army who operated a concession to sell clothing at U.S. military bases in Kuwait. According to court documents, Birjas delivered approximately $85,000 worth of Momon’s bribe money to the former master sergeant for ultimate delivery to Momon.
But that’s not all. If that were all to the story, we’d simply shrug and get back to bashing DCAA audit guidance. The DOJ added this little gem toward the end of the press release—
The case against Birjas arose out of an investigation into corruption at the Kuwait contracting office at Camp Arifjan, which has led to charges against 14 individuals. Of those 14 defendants, 12 have pleaded guilty to their crimes, with some are already serving prison sentences. For example, on Dec. 2, 2009, former U.S. Army Major John Cockerham was sentenced to 210 months in prison and ordered to pay $9.6 million in restitution. On Dec. 17, 2009, Murray was sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay $245,000 in restitution. On Aug. 13, 2008, Momon pleaded guilty to receiving approximately $1.6 million in bribes and agreed to pay $5.7 million in restitution. On Feb. 18, 2010, Army contractor Terry Hall pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy and agreed to forfeit $15.7 million to the U.S. government in connection with his payment of more than $3 million in bribes to Cockerham, Momon, Murray and former Army Major Eddie Pressley. The case against Hall’s co-defendants, Eddie Pressley and Eurica Pressley, is scheduled for trial on Nov. 29, 2010, in Decatur, Ala.
14 corrupt U.S. Army contracting officials at one single base? Is this a joke?
We griped about lax oversight and ineffective controls in the article on Bagram. When we wrote about Captain Mike—who did everything he could to get caught, but who would have gotten away with his crimes but for
those meddling kids
his neighbors who reported him to the IRS—we bemoaned the failed
command environment and asked whether his commanding officer was
disciplined for negligence. (Apparently, Captain Mike’s CO kept a safe
with about a million dollars in it and never checked to see how much was
still there, even after Captain Mike rotated back to the States.) But
we never imagined a military base so corrupt that 14 individuals “who were regularly receiving unlawful payments” could operate for so long without getting caught.
Camp Arifjan may just have set the bar—at a new low—for government contract-related corruption.
Which is emphatically not a good thing.
|< Prev||Next >|