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Officials indict 5 in Iraq contract scam
Yahoo News/
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
February 7, 2007

WASHINGTON - Three U.S. Army Reserve officers were indicted Wednesday, accused of taking part in a bid-rigging scam that steered millions of dollars for Iraq reconstruction projects to a contractor in exchange for cash, luxury cars and jewelry.

An American businessman in Romania was charged as the go-between for the military officers and the contractor. The husband of one of the reservists was accused of helping smuggle tens of thousands of dollars into the United States that the couple used to pay for a deck and a hot tub at their New Jersey house.

Together, the five used the $26 billion Iraqi rebuilding fund "as their own personal ATM machines," Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said in announcing the charges.

"These defendants actually took bricks of stolen cash ... and smuggled them out of Iraq and back to the United States for their own personal use," McNulty said.

The 25-count indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, marks the latest development in an investigation of $8.6 million in Iraq contracts awarded to construction mogul Philip H. Bloom.

Bloom, an American citizen who ran construction and services companies under Global Business Group, has admitted to laundering at least $2 million that was stolen from reconstruction funds managed by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He awaits sentencing.

McNulty said the five people indicted Wednesday stole or otherwise misused $3.6 million from the CPA fund.

The three reservists — Col. Curtis G. Whiteford of Utah, Lt. Col. Debra M. Harrison of New Jersey and Lt. Col. Michael B. Wheeler of Wisconsin — were responsible for helping supervise the funding and progress of the CPA contracts in al-Hillah, Iraq, southwest of Baghdad.

In return for steering contracts to Bloom between 2003 and 2005, prosecutors said, the military reservists and their accomplices shared an estimated $1 million in cash, and were showered with Porsche and Nissan sports cars, a Cadillac SUV, real estate, a Breitling watch, business-class plane tickets, computers and other items.

Harrison's husband, William Driver, was charged with helping smuggle over $300,000 into the U.S., part of which was used for home improvements, prosecutors said.

One of Bloom's friends, businessman Seymour Morris Jr., allegedly acted as a go-between for the military officers and the construction company by illegally wiring money and securing the goods. Morris is a U.S. citizen who lives in Romania, and owns a Cyprus-based financial services business.

Charges against the five include bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and transporting stolen property.

The indictment was unsealed the day after authorities arrested Morris in Romania. It also followed tough questioning Tuesday by House Democrats of the former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq over how he doled out up to $12 billion in Iraqi money without accounting for it.

At that hearing, in front of the a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, L. Paul Bremer III repeatedly said he had spent Iraqi — not U.S. — money. Bremer ran the country for 14 months.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents helped unravel the scheme by examining money trails and other data gleaned from computers, cell phones, global positioning systems and other devices, said Kumar Kibble, the agency's deputy assistant director for national security.

Stuart Bowen, the government's special inspector general in Iraq, said his team of 10 investigators are pursuing 80 cases of waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars in reconstruction contracts.

Last week, former CPA comptroller and funding officer Robert Stein, 52, of Fayetteville, N.C., was sentenced to nine years in prison for receiving kickbacks from Bloom in exchange for contracts.

Bribery and fraud "has not been a significant component of the American reconstruction experience over there, but where we found it, it has been egregious," Bowen said. "And this is an egregious example of it."

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