Army Sergeant Pleads Guilty for Scheme to Defraud the Military

An Army sergeant pleaded guilty today to bribery and conspiracy to defraud the government for his role in a scheme to steal more than one million gallons of fuel from the U.S. military for resale on the black market in Afghanistan.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker of the Eastern District of North Carolina, Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Southeast Field Office, Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte Division, Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU) and Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko made the announcement.

Christopher Ciampa, 32, of Lillington, North Carolina, entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the Eastern District of North Carolina.  The sentencing hearing was scheduled for the week of December 15, 2014.

“Sergeant Ciampa took bribes to help steal millions of dollars’ worth of fuel meant to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “His greed put his fellow soldiers at greater risk, and his actions stand in stark contrast to the integrity and sacrifice demonstrated every day by the men and women of our Armed Forces.”

“The DCIS, with our investigative partners, continues to aggressively pursue those who deprive the Department of Defense of much needed resources, such as fuel, critical to accomplishing its global missions,” said DCIS Special Agent in Charge Khin.  “Corruption and theft in a combat environment, especially on such a large scale, degrade the effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces, and increases the danger to our warfighters by diverting those resources to our enemies

“Sergeant Christopher Ciampa betrayed his unit and nation for personal profit by entering into illegal relationships in order to personally profit from the sale and transport of fuel valued at millions of dollars,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Strong.  “These actions, especially in a wartime environment, damage the reputation of all soldiers and impede the success of coalition war efforts.  Those who put the reputation and lives of their fellow servicemen and women at risk will be aggressively pursued by the FBI and our military partners dedicated to upholding justice.”

“Our highly-trained special agents are experts in fraud investigations and untangling webs of lies and deceit,” said CID MPFU Director Robey.  “Whether an individual is in or out of uniform, it makes no difference, we will do everything in our investigative power to see those who defraud the Army brought to justice.”

“The crimes alleged in this case are serious and describe actions that undermine our mission in Afghanistan,” said Special Inspector General Sopko.  “SIGAR will continue to work tirelessly to protect the American taxpayers’ hard earned money and bring the full weight of the justice system to bear on anyone who seeks to rob the U.S. government.”

According to his plea agreement, Ciampa was deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Special Forces Group Service Detachment and was assigned to Camp Brown at Kandahar Air Field between February 2011 and January 2012.  During the deployment, one of Ciampa’s chief responsibilities was management of the Transportation Movement Requests (TMRs) for fuel and other items in support of military units in Afghanistan paid for by the U.S. government.

Over the course of the conspiracy, Ciampa and others created and submitted false TMRs for the purchase of thousands of gallons of fuel that were neither necessary nor used by military units.  Instead, Ciampa and his co-conspirators stole the fuel and resold it on the black market in neighboring towns.  Between February 2011 and December 2011, they created false TMRs for 114 large fuel tanker trucks, which could each carry approximately 10,000 gallons of fuel.  All of the TMRs were awarded to a single Afghan trucking company, despite significantly higher rates charged by this company.

As a result of the criminal conduct, the United States suffered a total loss of $10,812,000.  The loss resulted from stolen fuel and payments on the fraudulent TMRs in the following amounts: $9,120,000 in lost fuel and $1,692,000 in fraudulent TMRs for the 114 large tanker trucks.

Ciampa admitted that he and his co-conspirators sent some of the illicit proceeds back to the United States via wire transfer and carried some of the cash in their luggage, and Ciampa hid $180,000 of stolen funds inside stereo equipment that he shipped back to North Carolina with his unit’s gear.  He used his share of the proceeds from the scheme to purchase a truck and other personal items.

The case was investigated by DCIS, FBI, CID MPFU and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Wade Weems on detail to the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section from SIGAR and Assistant U.S. Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan of the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Antitrust Division Increasing Procurement Fraud Footprint Once Again

The Antitrust Division announced that a former owner and operator of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company was sentenced today to serve 50 months in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud Illinois-based Ryan International Airlines, the Department of Justice announced.

This is a legacy case reassigned from the shuttered Atlanta Field Office suggesting a successful and a smooth transition of its assignment to the Washington 1 Criminal Office (formerly the National Criminal Enforcement Section).    For any tea leaf readers, AAG Bill Baer’s comments in this press release (reprinted below) suggest renewed focus by the Antitrust Division into procurement fraud and an increasing willingness to open, investigate and charge matters that involve non Title 15 U.S.C Section 1 offenses in all types of procurements.  The “tell” here is subtle, but it is very significant.

 Baer’s quote today:

 “Awarding government contracts in exchange for payoffs is a crime the Antitrust Division takes seriously,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentence reaffirms the division’s commitment to vigorously prosecute individuals who engage in this behavior.”

If you know the history of Title 18 procurement prosecutions, Baer’s commitment to bringing future procurement fraud cases is significant.  The Antitrust Division was a significant player during the Bush years’ National Procurement Fraud Task Force.  Besides domestic kickback and other Title 18 cases, the Division brought many overseas contingency operations (then “WarZone”) prosecutions for bidding corruption and grant fraud.  In fact, the Division had wide berth to investigate and prosecute cases that involved “corruption of the bidding or award process.”  This was a wider mandate than simply bringing cases of horizontal collusion among competitors.  The National Procurement Fraud Task Force was incorporated into the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force early in the Obama administration and resources were reallocated to new enforcement priorities in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008.  As everyone viewed their new enforcement mission through a financial crimes prism, the focus of the Antitrust Division returned to a more restrictive view of its mission, i.e., bringing Sherman Act cases under 15 U.S.C. Section 1.  At the height of this limitation, for an investigation to receive authority to be opened, it had to include evidence that on its face could be construed classic horizontal bid rigging conduct. 

It is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but there is much that goes into the press release process that provides insights into enforcement agency gestalt, resource allocation, drive to open cases, and willingness to keep cases open and to charge cases, particularly marginal ones.  A press release also can provide insight into the AAG’s mindset and, sometimes, even more importantly from an agency effectiveness perspective, what people reporting to the AAG think his mindset is.

Today’s quote from AAG Baer is instructive.  It is in an active, broad and forceful voice. In a sweeping statement it links “kickbacks” and “the Antitrust Division” in the same sentence and suggests direct Antitrust Division intervention.  Most importantly, it suggests an interest in crimes involving the payment of kickbacks to award contracts (a Title 18 offense where a Section 1 agreement between competitors is usually not present).  It then states that when offenses like these are committed they will be “tak[en] seriously…[and will be vigorously prosecut[ed]” by the Antitrust Division.

Contrast this with Baer’s statement in September 2013 regarding another case on the same investigation:

“Today’s sentence should serve as a stiff deterrent to executives who might be tempted to solicit a kickback from their supplies in exchange for their honest services,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division. “The Antitrust Division is committed to ensuring that contracts are won based on competition and not collusion.”

The 2013 AAG quote literally suggests that deterrence is provided by the length of this sentence rather than by any threat of immediate action by the Antitrust Division.  It then links to a general principle that references the blanket requirement imposed earlier in the Administration that a horizontal agreement between competitors had to be present to justify resources.  It also should be recognized that “collusion” is a primarily a term of art within the Antitrust Division directed at collusion among competitors rather than collusion with a contract officer. 

Baer’s current statement is forward-looking and reaffirms that procurement fraud as a Division priority.   For all intents and purposes, AAG Baer has indicated to line attorneys and the outside world (most importantly, investigative agencies) that the Antitrust Division is again open for cases of “corruption of the bidding or award process.”   This strongly suggests a move away from an exclusive focus on Invitation for Bids (IFB) contracting to the massively larger pie of “everything else” including cost plus contracts, prime vendor contracts, sole source contracts and even the issuance of grants.

To advise clients regarding risk analysis, GeyerGorey LLP has been tracking this progression because in many hidden, but key areas, the Antitrust Division provides disproportionate value to the government’s procurement fraud mission by supporting the agency mission, helping resource investigations and by providing continuity to long investigations and program management.  This message has been received loud and clear by Antitrust Division rank and file and it is in the process of being received by the FBI, IRS-CID and 38 Inspectors General who immediately recognize that they can bring cases to Antitrust that require extensive resourcing or which have been declined.   With history as a guide, we expect procurement fraud investigation openings to increase substantially and we expect current investigations to be prolonged or rekindled as resources are reallocated with Antitrust Division resources.  


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Former airline fuel owner sentenced in fraud scheme

Executive Sentenced to Serve 50 Months in Prison

A former owner and operator of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company was sentenced today to serve 50 months in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud Illinois-based Ryan International Airlines, the Department of Justice announced.

Sean E. Wagner, the former owner and operator of Aviation Fuel International Inc. (AFI), was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach to serve 50 months in prison and to pay $202,856 in restitution.  On Aug. 13, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment against Wagner and AFI, charging them for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud Ryan. On March 6, 2014, Wagner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.   According to court documents, from at least as early as December 2005 through at least August 2009, Wagner and others at AFI made kickback payments to Wayne Kepple, a former vice president of ground operations for Ryan, totaling more than $200,000 in the form of checks, wire transfers, cash and gift cards in exchange for awarding business to AFI.  The charges against AFI were dismissed on Feb. 21, 2014.

Ryan provided air passenger and cargo services for corporations, private individuals and the U.S. government – including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Awarding government contracts in exchange for payoffs is a crime the Antitrust Division takes seriously,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentence reaffirms the division’s commitment to vigorously prosecute individuals who engage in this behavior.”

“This sentencing highlights the continuing commitment of the DCIS to thoroughly investigate and bring to justice any companies or individuals who engage in fraudulent and corrupt practices that undermine the integrity of Department of Defense procurement programs,” said John F. Khin, Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service Southeast Field Office.

As a result of the ongoing investigation, five individuals, including Wagner, have pleaded guilty and have been ordered to serve sentences ranging from 16 to 87 months in prison and to pay more than $780,000 in restitution.  An additional individual has pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation and is currently awaiting sentencing.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I office and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

FORMER OWNER OF AIRLINE FUEL SUPPLY COMPANY SENTENCED TO

WASHINGTON — A former owner and operator of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company was sentenced today to serve 50 months in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud Illinois-based Ryan International Airlines, the Department of Justice announced.

Sean E. Wagner, the former owner and operator of Aviation Fuel International Inc. (AFI), was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach to serve 50 months in prison and to pay $202, 856 in restitution.  On Aug. 13, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment against Wagner and AFI, charging them for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud Ryan. On March 6, 2014, Wagner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.  According to court documents, from at least as early as December 2005 through at least August 2009, Wagner and others at AFI made kickback payments to Wayne Kepple, a former vice president of ground operations for Ryan, totaling more than $200,000 in the form of checks, wire transfers, cash and gift cards in exchange for awarding business to AFI.  The charges against AFI were dismissed on Feb. 21, 2014.

Ryan provided air passenger and cargo services for corporations, private individuals and the U.S. government – including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Awarding government contracts in exchange for payoffs is a crime the Antitrust Division takes seriously,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentence reaffirms the division’s commitment to vigorously prosecute individuals who engage in this behavior.”

“This sentencing highlights the continuing commitment of the DCIS to thoroughly investigate and bring to justice any companies or individuals who engage in fraudulent and corrupt practices that undermine the integrity of Department of Defense procurement programs,” said John F. Khin, Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service Southeast Field Office.

As a result of the ongoing investigation, five individuals, including Wagner, have pleaded guilty and have been ordered to serve sentences ranging from 16 to 87 months in prison and to pay more than $780,000 in restitution.  An additional individual has pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation and is currently awaiting sentencing.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I office and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  Anyone with information concerning anticompetitive conduct in the airline charter services industry is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I office at 202-307-6694 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm

Former Owner of Florida Airline Fuel Supply Company Pleads Guilty in Scheme to Defraud Illinois-Based Ryan International Airlines

A former owner and operator of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company pleaded guilty today to participating in a kickback scheme to defraud Illinois-based Ryan International Airlines, a charter airline company located in Rockford, Ill., the Department of Justice announced.

  Sean E. Wagner, the former owner and operator of Aviation Fuel International Inc. (AFI), pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.  On Aug. 13, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment against Wagner and AFI, charging them for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud Ryan International Airlines.  According to the indictment, Wagner and AFI made kickback payments to Wayne Kepple, a former vice president of ground operations for Ryan, in exchange for awarding business to AFI.  According to court documents, from at least as early as December 2005 through at least August 2009, Wagner and others at AFI made kickback payments to Kepple totaling more than $200,000 in the form of checks, wire transfers, cash and gift cards.  The charges against AFI were dismissed on Feb. 21, 2014.

Ryan provided air passenger and cargo services for corporations, private individuals and the U.S. government – including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“These types of kickback schemes subvert the competitive process and increase costs to American consumers,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The Antitrust Division will vigorously prosecute individuals who defraud American taxpayers and businesses.”

Wagner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.  The count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 criminal fine for individuals.  The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

As a result of the ongoing investigation, four other individuals have pleaded guilty and have been ordered to serve sentences ranging from 16 to 87 months in prison and to pay more than $580,000 in restitution.
The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Southeast Field Office, headed by Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  Anyone with information concerning anticompetitive conduct in the airline charter services industry is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section at 202-307-6694 or visit  www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.

Former Employee of Florida Airline Fuel Supply Company Pleads Guilty to Obstructing Federal Investigation

A former employee of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company pleaded guilty today to obstructing an investigation into fraud and anticompetitive conduct in the airline charter services industry, the Department of Justice announced.

Craig Perez, a former employee of Aviation Fuel International Inc. (AFI), pleaded guilty to a felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City.  The charge against Perez stems from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS)’s investigation into kickback payments made by AFI and its employees to Wayne Kepple, the former vice president of ground operations for Ryan International Airlines.

Ryan provided air passenger and cargo services for corporations, private individuals and the U.S. government, including the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service.

According to court documents, Perez worked for AFI from June 2007 until March 2008 and was vice president of services.  During that time, Kepple received kickback payments from AFI on aviation fuel, services and equipment sold by AFI to Ryan.  In November 2011, a federal agent with DCIS contacted Perez to interview him in relation to its investigation of AFI.  After speaking with the federal agent, and with full knowledge of the purpose of the interview, Perez knowingly destroyed relevant files from his laptop computer relating to his employment at AFI with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation of AFI and his involvement in that conduct.

“The Antitrust Division will hold accountable those who attempt to conceal their illegal actions and obstruct a government investigation ,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Destroying evidence in an attempt to undermine a federal investigation is a crime the division takes very seriously.”

Perez is charged with obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 criminal fine for individuals.  He has agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

Today’s plea is the fifth to arise out of the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into fraud and anticompetitive conduct in the airline charter services industry.  The other four individuals have been ordered to serve sentences ranging from 16 to 87 months in prison and to pay more than $580,000 in restitution.  A sixth individual, Sean Wagner, the owner and operator of AFI, and AFI itself were indicted on Aug. 13, 2013.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, headed by Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin.  Anyone with information concerning anticompetitive conduct in the airline charter services industry is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section at 202-307-6694 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.