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A former employee of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe in Stuttgart, Germany, pleaded guilty on Friday to accepting bribes in return for steering work to a Romania- and Iraq-based contractor.

Steven Merkes, who worked as a logistical planner, faces up to two years in prison and $250,000 in fines for performing acts for Philip Bloom in return for $24,000 in cash and future employment, according to a Justice Department news release.

Sentencing for Merkes is scheduled for June 1.

Bloom, one of the ringleaders in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud the former Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, was sentenced Friday to 46 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $3.6 million for committing bribery and money-laundering and conspiring to defraud.

Both cases were tried in U.S. District Court in Washington.

According to the Justice Department, Merkes worked at the special operations command, or SOCEUR, as an airman until January 2005, and afterward as a Defense Department civilian employee.

In both positions, Merkes’ official duties consisted of planning military exercises for special operations forces in the European theater, according to the Justice Department.

The U.S. European Command, which is headquartered in Stuttgart and oversees SOCEUR, had little to say about Merkes’ conviction.

“Mr. Merkes worked here, but he left in early 2006,” according to a statement by the U.S. European Command public affairs office. “We know of no illegal activity while he was here.

“We have no knowledge of the allegations or the investigation being conducted by Department of Justice.”

Bloom, 67, of Bucharest, Romania, was at the center of a scandal that resulted in the arrests of at least four servicemembers and three civilians. One of the civilians, Robert Stein, was sentenced Jan. 29 to nine years in prison for charges including weapons possession.

Stein, a former comptroller with the Coalition Provisional Authority, was convicted of, among other crimes, stealing money from the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq that was funneled to Bloom for the purchase of assault rifles, silencers and grenade launchers, for personal use in the United States, according to the Justice Department.

Bloom has cooperated with the investigation.

Others charged in the case include Col. Curtis Whiteford, Lt. Cols. Debra Harrison, Michael Wheeler and Bruce D. Hopfengardner, and civilians Michael Morris and William Driver.


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