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National recruiting payment scandal ensnares seven Oregon Guard members

An Oregon National Guard investigation identified seven recruiting assistants who abused an incentive program designed to bring in more recruits during the height of the war in Iraq. Oregon Military Dept. spokesman Maj. Stephen Bomar said four of the seven were reprimanded and the other three turned over to the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.

The seven represent a small part of the recruiting payment scandal that made headlines last month when a Senate subcommittee probed abuses of the National Guard's incentive program. An Army audit and other investigations found that as much as $29 million may have been wrongly paid to people who claimed to have assisted in recruitments. About 3,000 soldiers may have received improper payments.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who chaired last month's subcommittee hearing into the scandal said the scale of fraud was "astounding." And she said the audit showed the National Guard made "mistake after mistake" in designing and managing the program.

"This criminal fraud investigation is one of the largest that the Army has ever conducted, both in terms of sheer volume of fraud and the number of participants," she said.

The subcommittee report said Oregon had nine of the so-called "recruiting assistants" under investigation, but Bomar said the state's number was seven. An unspecified number of those have left the Oregon Guard, he said.

The seven, who Bomar would not identify, participated in a now-shuttered program designed to boost enlistments at a time when the Army and the National Guard were struggling to fill the ranks. Under the program, self-declared recruiting "assistants" could earn $2,000 for each person they referred for enlistment who completed basic training. Civilians, as well as military members, were eligible to become assistants.

After the contractor who ran the program noticed evidence of abuses, Army investigators began examining the payments. The Army's auditors found systemwide problems ranging from a lack of oversight by the National Guard Bureau to outright mismanagement and inappropriate pressure by commanders to boost the numbers of recruits.

Recruiters familiar with the program said it scattered money widely while providing little training or documentation about how it was supposed to work.

Bomar said the abuses of the program were "unfortunate" cases of people taking advantage of a system based on personal integrity.

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