Former Employee of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan Sentenced to Prison for Soliciting Approximately $320,000 in Bribes From Contractors

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A former employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) based in Afghanistan was sentenced today to 100 months in prison for soliciting approximately $320,000 in bribes from Afghan contractors in return for his assistance in U.S. government contracts.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney John E. Childress of the Central District of Illinois; Special Agent in Charge Sean Cox of the FBI’s Springfield, Illinois Field Office; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko; Special Agent in Charge Michael Mentavlos of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Southwest Field Office and Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s (CID) Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU) made the announcement.

Mark E. Miller, 49, of Springfield, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard H. Mills of the Central District of Illinois, who also ordered Miller to serve three years of supervised release following his prison sentence and forfeit $180,000 and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  Miller previously pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with seeking and receiving bribes.

As part of his guilty plea, Miller admitted that he worked for the USACE from 2005 until 2015, including in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, and maintained a residence in Springfield during that time.  From February 2009 to October 2011, Miller was assigned to a military base, Camp Clark, in eastern Afghanistan.  He was the site manager and a contracting officer representative for a number of construction projects in Afghanistan.

On Dec. 10, 2009, the USACE awarded a contract worth approximately $2.9 million to an Afghan construction company for the construction of a road from eastern Afghanistan to the Pakistani border.  This contract later increased in value to approximately $8,142,300.  Miller oversaw the work of the Afghan company on this road project, including verifying that the company performed the work called for by the contract and, if so, authorizing progress payments to the company by the USACE, he admitted.

Also as part of his guilty plea, Miller admitted that, in the course of overseeing the contract with the Afghan company, he solicited from the owners of the company approximately $280,000 in bribes in return for making things easier for the company on the road project, including making sure the contract moved along and was not terminated.  He further admitted that, after the contract was no longer active, he solicited an additional $40,000 in bribes in return for the possibility of future contract work and other benefits.

This matter was investigated by the FBI, DCIS, SIGAR and Army CID-MPFU, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Fort Worth Division.  Trial Attorney Daniel Butler of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris of the Central District of Illinois are prosecuting the case.

Former Employee of U.S. Government Contractor in Afghanistan Pleads Guilty to Accepting Kickbacks From Subcontractor

Monday, March 5, 2018

A former employee of a U.S. government contractor in Afghanistan pleaded guilty today to accepting illegal kickbacks from an Afghan subcontractor in return for his assistance in obtaining subcontracts on U.S. government contracts.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak of the Northern District of Georgia; Special Agent in Charge John Khin of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Southeast Field Office, Atlanta Resident Agency; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko; Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s (CID) Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU); Special Agent in Charge David J. LeValley of the FBI Atlanta Resident Agency and Special Agent in Charge Wendell W. Palmer of Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), made the announcement.

Christopher McCray, 55, of Jonesboro, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee, pleaded guilty to one count of accepting illegal kickbacks before U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen of the Northern District of Georgia.  He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Cohen on June 14 at 10:00 a.m. EST.  McCray was charged in an indictment filed on April 25, 2017 in the Northern District of Georgia with one count of conspiracy to accept kickbacks and 14 counts of accepting illegal kickbacks.

As part of his plea, McCray admitted that he was employed as the country manager for a subcontractor of an American company that was moving cargo for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service from Bagram Airfield to military bases through Afghanistan.  When the prime contractor needed McCray’s employer to take a much bigger role in the distribution, McCray had the chance to influence the choice of the necessary Afghan trucking company as a subcontractor to his employer.  McCray’s employer entered into a subcontract with an Afghan company but before the choice of the subcontractor was made, the Afghan trucking company secretly agreed to kick back to McCray 15 percent of the revenues it would receive on the contract, he admitted.  McCray thereafter remained as the only representative of his employer in Afghanistan for the duration of the subcontract and was responsible for checking the accuracy of the invoices submitted to McCray’s employer and the quality of the Afghan company’s work, all while secretly receiving the kickbacks, he admitted.

McCray received the secret payments from December 2012 to May 2014.  He and the Afghan trucking company also maintained a separate set of invoices, which showed the amounts charged to McCray’s employer and the amounts kept by the Afghan company and the amounts sent to McCray.  McCray was first paid in cash, then by wires sent to his bank in Atlanta and then by Western Union payments sent to his mother, who would deposit the funds, mostly in cash, into McCray’s bank accounts, he admitted.

DCIS, SIGAR, Army CID-MPFU, the FBI and Air Force OSI investigated this matter.  Trial Attorney James Gelber of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Pearce of the Northern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.

Owner of Afghanistan Marble Mining Company Indicted for Defrauding U.S. Agency and Defaulting on a $15.8 M Loan

Friday, June 16, 2017

The former owner of a now-defunct marble mining company in Afghanistan was charged in an indictment unsealed today with allegedly defrauding the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a U.S. government agency, and defaulting on a $15.8 million loan.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Azam Doost, aka Adam Doost, Mohammad Azam Doost and Mohammad Azim (Doost), 39, most recently of Union City, California, was charged in an indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with three counts of major fraud against the United States, eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of false statements on loan applications or extensions and eight counts of money laundering. The indictment also has a forfeiture notice.

The indictment alleges that in February 2010, while working at his company, Equity Capital Mining LLC, Doost, along with his brother, obtained a $15.8 million loan from OPIC for the development, maintenance and operation of a marble mine in western Afghanistan. The loan proceeds were paid directly from OPIC to the alleged vendors who provided equipment for the mine, as reported to OPIC by Doost or his consultant. Doost was required to deal with these companies in arms-length transactions or, to the extent any transactions were other than at arms-length, he was required to report any affiliation he had with a vendor. Doost informed OPIC that he had no affiliation with any of the alleged vendors with whom he dealt, when in fact he allegedly had financial relationships with several of them. The indictment alleges that Doost’s business partner was listed with the bank for a number of these alleged vendors and, upon receipt of money from OPIC into the respective accounts, significant amounts of this money were then transferred from that respective account to companies and individuals with whom Doost was associated, or to pay debts Doost owed. Doost’s consultant allegedly received a commission of $444,000 for his alleged consulting services with the first of three disbursements from OPIC, and shortly after $40,000 was transferred from his account to a Doost company in California

The indictment further alleges that when the time came for Equity Capital Mining LLC to repay the loan to OPIC, Doost provided purported reasons to OPIC why it was not able to make those repayments at a time when Doost had control of sufficient funds to make those repayments. Doost and his brother failed to repay any of the principal on the OPIC loan, and only a limited amount of interest, and ultimately defaulted on the loan, the indictment alleges.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

SIGAR, with assistance from the FBI, investigated the case. Trial Attorney Daniel Butler of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is prosecuting the case.

Defense Contractor Pleads Guilty to Major Fraud in Provision of Supplies to U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

Supreme Foodservice GmbH, a privately held Swiss company, and Supreme Foodservice FZE, a privately-held United Arab Emirates (UAE) company, pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the United States and agreed to resolve civil violations of the False Claims Act, in connection with a contract to provide food and water to the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, the Justice Department announced today.  The companies pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA) and paid $288.36 million in the criminal case, a sum that includes the maximum criminal fine allowed.

In addition, Supreme Group B.V. and several of its subsidiaries have agreed to pay an additional $146 million to resolve a related civil lawsuit, as well as two separate civil matters, alleging false billings to the Department of Defense (DoD) for fuel and transporting cargo to American soldiers in Afghanistan.  The lawsuit was filed in the EDPA, and the fuel and transportation allegations were investigated by the Southern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Virginia, respectively, along with the Department’s Civil Division.

“The civil resolutions and agreements reflect the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to hold accountable contractors that have engaged in war profiteering,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The department will pursue contractors that knowingly seek taxpayer funds to which they are not entitled.”

“These companies chose to commit their fraud in connection with a contract to supply food and water to our nation’s fighting men and women serving in Afghanistan,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  “That kind of conduct is repugnant, and we will use every available resource to punish such illegal war profiteering.”

The Criminal Fraud

In 2005, Supreme Foodservice AG, now called Supreme Foodservice GmbH, entered into a contract with the Defense Supply Center of Philadelphia (DSCP, now called Defense Logistics Agency – Troop Support) to provide food and water for the U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan.  According to court documents, between July 2005 and April 2009, Supreme Foodservice AG, together with Supreme Foodservice KG, now called Supreme Foodservice FZE, devised and implemented a scheme to overcharge the United States in order to make profits over and above those provided in the $8.8 billion subsistence prime vendor (SPV) contract.  The companies fraudulently inflated the price charged for local market ready goods (LMR) and bottled water sold to the United States under the SPV contract.  The Supreme companies did this by using a UAE company it controlled, Jamal Ahli Foods Co. LLC (JAFCO), as a middleman to mark up prices for fresh fruits and vegetables and other locally-produced products sold to the U.S. government, and to obscure the inflated price the Supreme companies were charging for bottled water.  The fraud resulted in a loss to the government of $48 million.

Supreme AG, Supreme FZE and Supreme’s owners (referred to in court documents as Supreme Owners #1 and #2) made concentrated efforts to conceal Supreme’s true relationship with JAFCO, and to make JAFCO appear to be an independent company.  They also took steps to make JAFCO’s mark-up on LMR look legitimate, and persisted in the fraudulent mark-ups even in the face of questions from DSCP about the pricing of LMR.

Even though the SPV contract stated that the Supreme food companies should charge the government the supplier’s price for the goods, emails between executives at the companies (referred to as Supreme Executive #1, #2, etc) reveal the companies’ deliberate decision to inflate the prices. Among other things, Supreme Owner #1 increased the mark-up that JAFCO would impose on non-alcoholic beer from 25 percent to 125 percent.  On or about Feb. 16, 2006, during a discussion about supplying a new product to the U.S. government, one Supreme executive wrote to another, “I am very sure the best option is to buy it from Germany and mark up via [JAFCO], like [non-alcoholic] beer.”

In early March 2006, after a DSCP contracting officer told the Supreme food companies that she wanted to see a manufacturer’s invoice for specific frozen products, Supreme Foodservice GmbH lowered its prices for those products to prices that did not include a JAFCO mark-up.  On March 14, 2006, instead of disclosing that the initial pricing had included a mark-up, a Supreme executive misled the DSCP representative by saying, “Based on more realistic quantities, we have been able to negotiate a better price,” to explain the change in pricing.

In June 2006, when a DSCP contracting officer raised questions about pricing focusing on four specific items, Supreme executives again misled the DSCP, claiming that the high prices were for a high quality of product, and offering to sell lower quality products for lower prices.  Supreme Foodservice GmbH did this even after analyzing its JAFCO margin on the four items in question and finding its profit margins were between 41 and 56 percent.

In September 2007, after a fired Supreme executive threatened to tell the DSCP about the fraud, his former employer entered into negotiation of a “separation agreement” with that executive to induce that executive not to disclose the ways in which the Supreme food companies were overcharging the DSCP.  The agreement stated that the executive would receive, among other things, a payment of 400,000 euros in September 2010, provided that the executive did not cause: a deterioration in the economic situation linked to the SPV contract; the termination of the SPV contract; or a decrease in the price levels for products, specifically including LMR and bottled water provided to the U.S. government.

Defendant Supreme GmbH pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, conspiracy to commit major fraud and wire fraud.  Supreme FZE, which owns JAFCO, pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States.  The Supreme companies agreed to jointly pay $48 million in restitution and $10 million in criminal forfeiture.  Each company also agreed to pay $96 million in criminal fines.  In addition, as a result of the criminal investigation, the Supreme companies paid $38.3 million directly to the DSCP as a refund for separate overpayments on bottled water.

The Civil Settlements

In a related civil settlement, Supreme Group agreed to pay another $101 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the EDPA by a former executive, which alleged that Supreme Group, and its food subsidiaries, violated the False Claims Act by knowingly overcharging for supplying food and water under the SPV contract.  The payment also resolves claims that, from June 2005 to December 2010, the Supreme food companies failed to disclose and pass through to the government rebates and discounts it obtained from its suppliers, as required by its SPV contract with the United States.

“Today’s results are part of an ongoing effort by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and its law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of the Department of Defense’s acquisition process from personal and corporate greed,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations James B. Burch for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General.  “The Defense Criminal Investigative Service will continue to pursue allegations of fraud and corruption that puts the Warfighter at risk.”

“We are very pleased with this resolution, and are gratified that the public can now see what we’ve been aggressively investigating,” said Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU).  “Companies that do business with the government must comply with all of their obligations, and if they overcharge for supplying our men and women in uniform who are bravely serving this nation, they must be held accountable for their actions.”

Separately, Supreme Site Services GmbH, a Supreme Group subsidiary, agreed to pay $20 million to settle allegations that they overbilled for fuel purchased by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for Kandahar Air Field (KAF) in Afghanistan under a NATO Basic Ordering Agreement.  The government alleged that Supreme Site Services’ drivers were stealing fuel destined for KAF generators while en route for which the company falsely billed DLA.

“It is important that government contractors supporting conflicts abroad be held accountable for their billings to the government,” said U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “The DoD investigating components are instrumental in protecting the interests of the government, and their efforts in this investigation are to be commended.”

Supreme Group’s subsidiary Supreme Logistics FZE also has agreed to pay $25 million to resolve alleged false billings by Supreme Logistics in connection with shipping contracts between the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), located at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and various shipping carriers to transport food to U.S. troops in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.  The shipping carriers transported cargo destined for U.S. troops from the United States to Latvia or other intermediate ports, and then arranged with logistics vendors, including Supreme Logistics, to carry the cargo the rest of the way to Afghanistan.  The United States alleged that Supreme Logistics falsely billed USTRANSCOM for higher-priced refrigerated trucks when it actually used lower-priced non-refrigerated trucks to transport the cargo.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois is committed to protecting the integrity of all of the vital missions carried out at Scott Air Force Base, including the mission of the U.S. Transportation Command,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton for the Southern District of Illinois.  “These vital services carried out by the brave men and women of the armed forces of the United States deserve, and will receive, our full support, and this office will do everything possible to protect their missions.”

“These settlements are victories for American taxpayers,” said Special Inspector General John F. Sopko for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  “It sends a clear signal that whether a case involves a mom and pop outfit or a major multinational corporation, we will work tirelessly with our investigative partners to pursue justice any time U.S. dollars supporting the mission in Afghanistan are misused.”

The EDPA lawsuit was initially filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, by Michael Epp, Supreme GmbH’s former Director, Commercial Division and Supply Chain.  The False Claims Act prohibits the submission of false claims for government money or property and allows the United States to recover treble damages and penalties for a violation.  Under the Act’s whistleblower provisions, a private party may file suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The case remained under seal to permit the United States to investigate the allegations and decide whether to intervene and take over the case.  Epp will receive $16.16 million as his share of the government’s settlement of the lawsuit.

The criminal and civil matters in the EDPA were the result of a coordinated effort by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, DCIS, U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Command’s MPFU and the FBI.

The investigation of Supreme Site Services ’ alleged false billings for fuel was conducted by the Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the investigation of Supreme Logistics’ alleged false invoices for transportation was handled by the Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois.  Both matters were investigated by the Defense Contract Audit Agency Office of Investigative Support, the Army Audit Agency, the International Contract Corruption Task Force, the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit, the DoD Office of Inspector General’s DCIS, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The claims resolved by the civil settlements are allegations only, except for the conduct for which the Supreme food companies have pleaded guilty.

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.