Former Stuttgart employee jailed for taking bribes
Stars and Stripes June 6, 2007
STUTTGART, Germany — A former employee of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe in Stuttgart was sentenced Friday to a year in prison for taking bribes in return for steering work to a Romania-based contractor.
Steven Merkes, 49, must also pay back any cash or property he gained through his bid-manipulating relationship with contractor Philip Bloom.
According to a Justice Department news release, Merkes received $24,000 in cash and a promise of future employment from Bloom in exchange for helping him apply for and bid on U.S. government contracts.
Merkes, of Las Vegas, who had pleaded guilty on Feb. 16, was sentenced by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Merkes worked in Stuttgart as an operational support planner in the Special Operations Command’s Future Operations Division.
His duties included planning and managing military exercises for U.S. forces in Europe, including Romania, according to the Justice Department press release.
Merkes, a former airman, worked with active-duty project officers to evaluate, select and manage outside contractors such as Bloom, who provided services in connection with the exercises. In his job, Merkes was authorized to evaluate and recommend contractors, according to the release.
From January 2005 through April 2005, Merkes helped Bloom secure the lucrative contracts.
The U.S. European Command, which oversees the Special Operations Command, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
Merkes worked with the Special Operations Command until early 2006, said Jamie Wood, a EUCOM spokeswoman. The Department of Justice investigated the listed allegations against him and he pleaded guilty and was convicted.
“This should be a lesson to all who seek to do illegal, immoral or unethical acts,” Wood said.
Bloom, 67, a U.S. citizen who lived in Bucharest, Romania, was one of the ringleaders in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud the former Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq.
He was sentenced in February to 46 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $3.6 million for committing bribery and money laundering and conspiring to defraud.
The case led to 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.