ST. LOUIS — The Missouri National Guard said Friday that it was cooperating with federal officials handling what has been described as one of the largest fraud investigations in Army history.
So far, officials say $29 million was squandered from a recruiting bonus program meant to build up troop numbers during one of the toughest points of the Iraq war.
Military personnel were supposed to be paid anywhere from $2,000 to $7,500 for each buddy they referred to sign up for service. The program wasn’t meant for full-time recruiters, rather these informal “recruiting assistants.”
But officials say full-time recruiters, civilians and others gamed the $386 million program. As of January, the Army said 104 people have been “held accountable” through the court system or administrative action. Many more are under investigation.
In Missouri, at least 18 recruiters and 24 recruiting assistants are under investigation or have been adjudicated, according to one count.
Missouri Guard spokeswoman Maj. Tammy Spicer said the Army Criminal Investigations Command told the Guard that 23 current and former Missouri guardsmen are under investigation.
Spicer couldn’t speak to the disparity in numbers, but said: “We are fully cooperating with the military authorities as they work to determine what wrong doings may have occurred.”
Spicer said 4,400 Guardsmen registered in the referral program. Those who are under investigation and still active in the Guard have been flagged and can’t be promoted or deployed until their names are cleared.
Awareness of the ongoing case was heightened at a Feb. 4 hearing on Capitol Hill titled: “Fraud and Abuse in Army Recruiting Contracts.” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, lambasted military officials for the apparent lack of oversight and slow response.
“Even one case of fraud would have been too many,” McCaskill said at the hearing. “Instead, we now know that thousands of service members, their families and friends may have participated in schemes to defraud the government they served and the taxpayers.
“Worst of all, this program has the potential to become a stain on thousands of recruiters and National Guard members who do their jobs so well and so honorably.”
Director of Army Staff Lt. Gen. William T. Grisoli testified that the Recruiting Assistance Program was established at a time when “tens of thousands of servicemen and women were required to serve extended tours of duty because of a shortfall in troops to relieve them.”
The company, Docupak, was contracted to facilitate the program that helped enlist more than 150,000 people. But he testified that the program continued after recruiting goals were met.
The Army National Guard, the branch of citizen soldiers called on heavily for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, was particularly active in seeking bonuses through its Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, or G-RAP.
The Guard used G-RAP from 2005 to 2012, far longer than active duty and Reserve programs.
Docupak first reported allegations of fraud to military investigators in 2007. The military shut the referral program down in 2012 after an audit.
“What the audit found was astounding,” McCaskill said at the hearing.
Evidence in the case suggests fraud was committed by at least one major general and 18 full colonels and many mid-level officers.
McCaskill pointed out a former member of the Texas National Guard who was sentenced to nearly five years in prison in a conspiracy to obtain $244,000 in fraudulent recruiting bonuses by paying recruiters for names and Social Security numbers of people who had already been recruited.
Not mentioned in the hearing was a 2011 case involving former Missouri Guard recruiter Dejoise J. Gillispie. The war veteran admitted to supplying personal information about recruits to Cheryl D. Ray, a part-time “recruiter assistant” who received 22 payments of $1,000 each for referrals. Federal prosecutors said Ray and Gillispie shared bonus money. Both were sentenced to probation and ordered to repay the money.
Though the Army believes $29 million in fees were fraudulently received in the national scheme to collect referral fees, it expects that amount to climb much higher before the investigation ends in 2016.
There’s a lot of paperwork to go through. In all, 106,364 people received bonuses from the program.