Sunday, February 25, 2007

A federal indictment hits home

"A grand jury indicted three Army Reserve officers and two civilians Wednesday on charges they steered more than $8.6 million in Iraqi reconstruction funds to a contractor in exchange for kickbacks that included vehicles, jewelry and real estate."

- CNN.com

I knew the three Army officers and one of the civilians named in an indictment issued in a federal court in New Jersey earlier this month. The Army officers worked with me at the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) South Central Office in south central Iraq from October 2003 until my departure in February 2004. The indictment alleges that Phillip Bloom, an American civilian contractor, paid money to the three officers in return for lucrative reconstruction contracts received and incomplete work overlooked.

The officers indicted were Colonel Curtis Whiteford, the Chief of Staff for the CPA office, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Wheeler and Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) Debra Harrison. All three officers are Army Reservists. Debra Harrison was in my Army Reserve unit, the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, out of Norristown, Pa. Debra worked directly for me during this period and volunteered to stay behind in Al Hilla until June 2004. Since I departed at the end of February 2004, I was not present during much of the activities alleged in the indictment.

Two other members of the conspiracy who worked at the CPA office in Hilla have already plead guilty to charges and one has been sentenced to jail. Former Army reserve Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Hopfengardner plead guilty to the conspiracy last August and has yet to be sentenced. Robert Stein, who was a civilian employee of CPA, plead guilty and was sentenced last months to nine years in a federal prison.


I worked closely with all these individuals during the five months that I was at CPA Hilla. Not everyone there was a criminal. Not all of the Iraq reconstruction money was misspent. I am terribly saddened that I have to make these disclaimers but the information about Iraq and about this specific situation has been terribly distorted in the media. Kellogg, Brown and Root, better known in the New York Times and Washington Post as the scandal plagued, Cheney-supported KBR, kept me fed, watered and fueled in a combat zone for ten months, a not-inconsiderable feat.

I met a lot of KBR employees when I was in Iraq and they weren't thieves and criminals, like they are portrayed in any news report you can read when you Google "KBR" and "Iraq". They had tough jobs in Iraq, like we all did, and they don't deserve to be tainted by an association with KBR. But they will be.

I don't deserve to be tainted by my association with the criminals who inhabited the offices of the CPA South Central Office. The commissioned officers in the Army and other Americans who abused their good offices for personal gain. For an expensive watch or a car or an automatic weapon. They sold themselves so cheaply. I don't deserve to be associated with such people.

But I will be. And I can't do anything about it.

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:20 AM

    Michael,

    I'm sorry you have been drug into this mess, but the DOJ guys are after anyone and anything they can find. I am glad the men who did this were caught, but I am angry that innocent people are now accused of things they didn't do.

    Bloom, the contractor, is negotiating with the DOJ for reductions in his sentence. Heaven only knows who will be accused of what.

    Debra returned home from Iraq in June of 2005. She learned of the illegal activitied at CPA-SC in December 2005 when interrogated by the DOJ.

    Jan

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  2. Anonymous8:27 AM

    Michael,

    Sorry, I was incorrect on the dates of my last comment.

    Debra was in Iraq until June of 2004, and didn't know of any illegal activity until December 2004.

    Thank You,
    Jan

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  3. You did your duty, you can hold YOUR head up, thats all that matter, welcome home.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ebankit12:09 PM

    Michael...I was very glad to see your blog site-I can't express the depth of the anger that I feel over the actions of these few; all the outstanding work that was done there in Hillah for the Iraqis just goes by the wayside - we had over 1,400 projects/contracts by the end of the CPA and we had the highest completion rate of any of the regional offices...it was so amazing to be part of that process-it seemed like everyone was trying their very best, under lousy conditions, to help the Iraqis-to somehow, in some way, make their life better. I still get emails from a few of the locals-even get phone calls from over there-and they all voice their appreciation for what we did...that we can take to our hearts...we DID make their life better-if even for a short while. Eric

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  5. Anonymous4:55 PM

    I worked with Deb Harris as a member of the 358 and also volunteered to extend my tour. This resulted in an initial order for me to be sent to CPA-Al Hillah. When Deb learned of this from me, she became furious and insisted that she would stay in Al Hillah and that "Hillah has no need for You (me). It did not matter to me, so I requested and was granted orders to CPA-Baghdad (GreenZone).

    After this story broke I realized why Deb was so adament about continuing in Al Hillah.

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  6. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Sorry to say it, but Philip Bloom is out of jail as of July 21st, 2008, almost 2 years earlier!...Back to Bucharest in his megadollar Villa! $300/month retribution, will take him 1000 years to pay back.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous12:00 AM

    Anonymous said...
    Sorry to say it, but Philip Bloom is out of jail as of July 21st, 2008, almost 2 years earlier!...Back to Bucharest in his megadollar Villa! $300/month retribution, will take him 1000 years to pay back.
    12:58 PM

    =======================

    How did it happen? Why?

    ReplyDelete