(Tribune News Service) A jury in federal court Friday found an Elk Grove retiree from the California National Guard guilty of fraud and lying to federal agents in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain incentive payments from a recruitment program.
The program offered retirees or current members of the state Guard opportunities to serve as "recruiting assistants." If one of these assistants referred a potential Guard member to a recruiter or a recruiting office, the assistant would typically receive $1,000 when a nominee enlisted and another $1,000 when the enlistee left for boot camp.
At the conclusion of a seven-day trial, the jury found that Richard C. Sihner falsely claimed he referred would-be soldiers to the Guard.
Between December 2007 and April 2010, he was paid $95,000 for purportedly referring 51 people who enlisted. According to prosecutors, federal agents contacted 39 of the enlistees and learned that none of them had been referred by Sihner.
He made false claims in the notes section of an online portal indicating that he had referred potential soldiers who, in fact, had made contact with recruiters to discuss enlistment for reasons entirely unrelated to Sihner. He entered elaborate falsehoods regarding how he met the potential recruits.
Sihner, 54, was expelled from the program after his account was audited and a number of recruits he claimed to have referred said they had no idea who he was. Prosecutors alleged that Sihner, when confronted, admitted getting the nominees' personal information from a Guard recruiter.
On Dec. 6, 2012, Sihner was interviewed at his home by an FBI agent and an Army criminal investigations division agent. Sihner made a series of false statements to the agents, according to prosecutors.
He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison for each of 18 fraud counts and a maximum five years for the false-statements count. He is scheduled for sentencing May 3 by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez.
The Guard Recruiter Assistant Program, or G-RAP, was established by the U.S. Army National Guard in 2005, when the United States was embroiled in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as a way to leverage the social connections of current and retired members of the Guard in order to beef up troop strength. The G-RAP incentives were designed to encourage assistants to take advantage of their "spheres of influence."
The program was ultimately discontinued because of widespread fraud similar to that perpetrated by Sihner. People who walked into recruiting offices on their own initiative were being claimed by corrupt assistants, often with the help of equally corrupt recruiters, according to federal prosecutors.
(c)2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
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