Workers for government contractor DynCorp International conspired to bilk the State Department out of millions of dollars, according to a federal investigation in Virginia.
The criminal charges come as DynCorp faces a civil suit from the Justice Department in the District of Columbia that contends it allowed a subcontractor to charge excessive rates. The company has denied wrongdoing, saying it stopped working with that subcontractor “many years ago.”
Both cases involve the training of civilian police officers in Iraq. A 2010 report from the State Department special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction found that oversight of Dyncorp’s police training contract was, and for years had been, weak.
One defendant has pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, along with two relatives who lied to cover up his crime. Another alleged co-conspirator is headed for trial, and another is being extradited from Europe.
Federal authorities allege that the convicted man, Wesley Struble, who most recently lived in the Philippines, knew his co-defendants, Emil Popescu and Jose Rivera, from the world of Iraqi contracting.
Popsecu and Struble were working in 2011 at a company that leased a camp from an Iraqi firm for $124,000 a month. Together, according to prosecutors, they concocted a plan to get DynCorp to lease the camp for more than five times that amount.
Popescu went to work for the Iraqi company and convinced them to cut their current lease, then offer the camp to DynCorp for half a million more a month, authorities allege. Struble, meanwhile, joined Rivera at DynCorp, where they helped convince the giant McLean, Virginia-based contractor to pay the inflated rent. They falsely claimed the previous tenant had paid the same amount.
The State Department ultimately paid $5,320,000 in rent for the property from September 2011 through April 2014. Popescu, Rivera and Struble shared the profits with Iraqi co-conspirators, according to prosecutors.
In a statement, DynCorp spokeswoman Mary Lawrence declined to comment, noting the company “is not the subject of this investigation.”
Rivera and Struble sent thousands of dollars back to family the United States, sometimes hidden in stereo speakers, according to court documents.
Struble convinced his mother and sister to lie about those funds. Now all three have pleaded guilty – Struble to conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act, and his mother and sister to lying in front of a grand jury.
In a recorded phone call in November 2015, Struble told Rivera to simply pretend he had been saving money for years.
“It takes a lot to go into bank records anyway, you know, for any sort of investigation,” Struble said, according to court records.
Rivera, who court records said was working with federal agents, said he didn’t even know for sure how much money they had made, but he could not have possibly saved that much from his legitimate work.
“It wasn’t as much as we wanted, I know that,” Struble replied.
Popescu maintained in a March interview with special agents that the money he received were salary and performance bonuses, according to an FBI affidavit.
Rivera was arrested last month at his home in Potomac, Maryland. Popescu, a Romanian citizen, was arrested there around the same time, according to local news reports.
Rivera on Friday pleaded not guilty and announced his intent to go to trial, despite having cooperated in the investigation against Struble. Popescu is still in the process of being extradited.
Struble, 49, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison on Friday. He was also ordered to pay approximately $3.4 million in restitution.
The U.S. native has for the past five years been living in the Philippines with a woman he met in Iraq. They have two children together, along with her two children from a previous marriage.
In court filings, defense attorneys emphasized that he is a decorated veteran of the war in Iraq. Struble was awarded a Bronze Star for his work as an Air Force counterintelligence agent just after the invasion. His crime, they say, was an “isolated incident.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Rachel Weiner