Yet another week is done and it’s another week closer to me being able to get home. I can only hope that it goes without a hitch. One never knows here. I’ve been going rather hot and heavy on a new case and I’ve included the press on a case that I was involved with. There are more defendants but the information isn’t public yet so I can’t say any more. Enjoy the reading.
Former U.S. official admits corruption in Iraq
He funneled contracts to friends for at least $2 million in goods and cash
By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit
Updated: 7:03 p.m. ET Feb. 2, 2006
WASHINGTON - Luxury cars, a $20,000 Harley Davidson motorcycle, $10,000 Breitling watches and mountains of cash were all part of an elaborate corruption scheme in Iraq which - court documents allege - involves at least seven Americans, including five Army reserve officers.
A former Iraq reconstruction official, Robert Stein, a convicted felon inexplicably put in charge of $82 million in contracts, pleaded guilty Thursday to corruption, bribery and weapons charges.
"He essentially funneled contracts to his cronies and received bribes," said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, in an interview with NBC News.
Stein, 50, controlled funds in the South Central Region of the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA. He now admits stealing at least $2 million, and accepting at least a million dollars more in bribes. He used the money to buy automatic weapons and an airplane.
Stein also admits steering contracts to an American businessman, Phillip Bloom, who allegedly provided cash, fast cars, even sexual favors from women. Bloom was arrested and charged separately in November. His lawyer on Thursday did not comment.
In one e-mail, cited in court records, Stein tells Bloom that his contract money is coming through. "I love to give you money," he wrote, signing the e-mail, "Bob."
"It shows the brazenness of the people who were around those sums of money and what they thought they could get away with," says Frank Willis, a former official with the Coalition Provisional Authority who has criticized the way the CPA handled cash.
E-mails cited in court records indicate that some unnamed U.S. officials even demanded specific cars: a white SUV and an electric blue sports car.
And what about the projects that were supposed to be built or refurbished in Iraq? A series of audits by Bowen's office found major problems.
"There were millions of dollars in grants and contracts," he says, "that simply went for no work at all."
Bowen says cash was sloppily handled.
"The management of cash in Hilla was haphazard at best. We found that it was kept in footlockers of the trailers that people that lived there," he says. "There was a safe that wasn't locked in the bathroom of the office."
Some of the work that was done was shoddy, according to one audit. For example, a recently repaired elevator at Hilla General Hospital collapsed, killing three Iraqis.
The end result of it all on the ground in Iraq?
"The reconstruction efforts during the CPA, in the South Central Region, around Hilla, failed," says Bowen. "It failed because we had a person of significant responsibility, the person in charge of that money, the controller, simply committed repeated criminal wrongdoing."
The investigation is continuing. As part of his plea, Robert Stein has agreed to restitution of $3.6 million.
Also, this week I was able to have dinner with two fellow Alumni from Santa Clara University. It was a great time. One fellow is a Major General in the Army and the other is a Colonel in the Army. We had a good time talking about the school and old times. We took our pictures together and I sent them to the Alumni Office. We’ll see if they make it to the web site or in the Santa Clara Magazine.
I went to a briefing this week on advising how field commanders should handle evidence if they come across it. It’s a rather amazing dialogue between military and law enforcement. It’s really hard to comprehend that a lot of the field commanders are really young people and they are not necessarily schooled in evidence gathering. One point that we try to drive home is we don’t sacrifice lives knowingly to gather evidence. Now that doesn’t mean we won’t do dangerous assignments. It just means that we won’t purposely go somewhere knowing someone is going to get hurt just because we have an opportunity to gather evidence. It’s going to take sometime but we’ll get there.
Also, I was taking a new agent and showing him around. When went by this old Marine check point that is no longer manned. There was a convoy of Humvees coming in and each would stop at the sign at the old check point. I noticed this Iraqi Bongo truck pull up at the stop sign next to the convoy and then speed up to cut in. I heard the soldier yell to stop and watched him cover off on the truck with the .50cal. The truck stopped immediately but I could see the truck was between us and the Humvee. I told the agent to walk fast so we could get out of the way just in case the soldier decided to talk with the .50 cal. I didn’t want to be behind the target if the fireworks started.
Fr. Dennis at mass today announced that he was taking a 2 week R&R in Jordan. He was trying to make it through his tour of duty without a break but the Head of the Chaplain Corps told him that he must take a break. Consequently, he announced that there would be no priest at the embassy for at least three masses. Then he said he was leaving the priesthood and running away to get married to three young Iraqi women. Of course, everyone just busted out laughing. Father then stated that if he didn’t go on R & R, his superior threatened to place him in a rest home. Actually, Fr. Dennis’ job may not be strenuous but he carries a lot of weight here in dealing with the dead, the dying, the seriously wounded, those with family issues, and those who question their own worth and what they are doing. He does need the breather emotionally.
I had another unique experience with the Iraqis this week. One of the boys that speaks fairly good English wanted to borrow my camera to take to a wedding and then bring the pictures back to develop. I told him that I couldn’t loan him my camera and that he wouldn’t be able to leave the compound with it. He then said I could write him a note. I again told him no that it was impossible and I would not want to be fired for doing such a thing. I really didn’t know if I was making myself clear so I found a KBR employee who is an Iraqi American citizen. I provided him the details and he said he would take care of it. He told me that he still has a problem with the Iraqis in that they think that all Americans are rich, they don’t work too hard, and the women are all loose like on television. He explained that he has the same problems with his relative who continually ask him for loans of money. He said it was like they don’t believe him when he says he doesn’t have spare money. The guy is in his early 40’s and has a wife and kids. He’s here because he has the linguistic talent so he makes a very good wage. The boys aren’t as friendly to me anymore but they have to learn that rules need to be followed and that the money doesn’t grow on trees here or in the USA.
Well, that’s about it for this week. I’m dog tired so I’m calling it for the evening. My best to all. Bob