Chicago-style shakedown on Afghan battlefield

2 Chicago military officials plead guilty here, including a soldier named Patton
June 19, 2009 (CHICAGO) Except this one wasn't in a Loop tavern or City Hall backroom.

It was in Afghanistan.

In a Chicago courtroom on Friday, two U.S. military officials pleaded guilty to bribery, fraud and conspiracy charges relating to Department of Defense (DOD) contracts in Afghanistan. A third military official entered a guilty plea after admitting that he received stolen property, which was obtained through the bribery scheme.

"As the United States continues to expend resources in Afghanistan, the Antitrust Division will remain vigilant in prosecuting individuals and companies who divert funds for their personal gain," said Christine A. Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department's Antitrust Division.

Army Major Christopher P. West, from Chicago who served in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005, pleaded guilty to charges contained in a superseding indictment filed yesterday in federal court. The plea deal includes three counts of bribery and three counts of conspiracy. West admitted to accepting $90,000 cash from contractors in exchange for awarding DOD contracts at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. He also admitted taking cash payments from contractors in exchange for defrauding DOD by certifying inflated numbers of bunkers and barriers delivered at Bagram Airfield. The scheme caused the Defense Dept. to pay for goods that were invoiced and paid for but never received. Bunkers and barriers are cement structures used for force protection and perimeter walls. According to the plea agreement, West agreed to pay $500,000 in restitution to DOD, to forfeit any fraud-related assets to the United States and to cooperate with the Department's investigation.

Army Sgt. Charles Patton, a friend of West's, also from Chicago pleaded guilty to charges of receiving stolen property. Although a member of the same military unit as West and carrying one of the most respected, famous last names in American military history, Patton was not deployed to Afghanistan. He admitted that he received shipments of cash from West in 2004 and 2005, while West was deployed. Patton hid the money in his home until West returned to the United States and retrieved the cash. Later, at West's request, Patton moved the money to a safe deposit box in his own name. Patton has agreed to pay $100,000 in restitution, to forfeit any fraud-related assets and to cooperate with the Department's investigation according to defense officials.

Two statements from defense officials were included in a late afternoon press release:

"It is shameful that some members of our Armed Forces have conspired with contractors to unjustly enrich themselves while the U.S. is engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan," said Sharon E. Woods, Director, Defense Criminal Investigative Service. "These crimes are particularly contemptible because they involve military members and contractors who are suppose to ensure our troops receive the best support and equipment possible to sustain our military operations. DCIS and its law enforcement partners will aggressively pursue allegations of corruption in Afghanistan and will continue to protect America's warfighters both overseas and in the U.S."

"Today's announcement makes it perfectly clear that such activity by anyone affiliated with the U.S. Army, in or out of uniform, will not be tolerated. We will continue to investigate allegations of this nature and do everything in our power to see that persons responsible are held accountable and brought to justice," said Brigadier General Rodney Johnson, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

The Justice Department also reported:

"Patrick W. Boyd, a U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant from Rockledge, Fla., who served as a contracting officer at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005, pleaded guilty to three counts of bribery and three counts of conspiracy for accepting $90,000 cash from contractors in exchange for the award of DOD contracts at Bagram Airfield. Boyd also admitted to the additional offense conduct of receiving $25,000 in cash from a contractor in return for the award of a telecommunications infrastructure contract at Bagram Airfield. Boyd has agreed to pay $130,000 in restitution to the DOD, to forfeit any fraud-related assets and to cooperate with the Department's investigation.

The superseding indictment also charges brothers Assad John Ramin and Tahir Ramin, both U.S. citizens, and their companies AZ Corporation and Top's Construction, Noor Alam, an Afghan citizen, and his company Northern Reconstruction Organization, and Abdul Qudoos Bakhshi, an Afghan citizen, and his company Naweed Bakhshi Company, with various counts of bribery, fraud and conspiracy. The superseding indictment alleges that these individuals and their companies conspired to and did pay bribes to West, Boyd and others in order to obtain contracts for supplying concrete bunkers and barriers and asphalt paving. It also charges that the contractors, along with West and others, conspired to and did inflate the number of bunkers and barriers delivered to Bagram Airfield, thereby causing the DOD to pay for bunkers and barriers that were invoiced and paid for but never delivered.

West and Boyd were originally indicted in August 2008 on bribery and conspiracy charges. At the same time, the Ramin brothers, Alam and his company and Bakhshi and his company, were indicted on similar charges. Today's superseding indictment adds AZ Corporation and Top's Construction to the indictment, as well as mail fraud charges and additional bribery and conspiracy charges.

The individuals face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the mail fraud conspiracy charge, and up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of the bribery conspiracy counts. The maximum fine for these offenses may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum. The individuals also face up to 15 years in prison and fines up to three times the amount or value of the bribe for each of the bribery counts. Each corporate defendant faces a maximum fine of up to $500,000 on each charged offense.

This case is part of an ongoing investigation being prosecuted by the Antitrust Division's National Criminal Enforcement Section (NCES), with assistance from the Criminal Division's Office of International Affairs. The investigation of this case is being conducted by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (Army CID), and Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Additional assistance was provided by Customs and Border Protection, Field Operations in Chicago; and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations Division."

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