Navy civilian facing fraud charges for accepting Italy housing payments
By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 27, 2014
NAPLES, Italy — A Navy civilian accused of accepting more than $360,000 in illegal housing benefits and forging documents during a 10-year tour in southern Italy was arraigned on theft and perjury charges in a U.S. federal court Wednesday.
Steven William Ashton, 41, was employed by the Navy as the NATO and Host Nations Program manager for the Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia region. He was arrested at the Naples base in Capodichino last Friday after a grand jury indictment and flown to Norfolk for a first appearance, the Justice Department said.
The indictment accuses Ashton of filing the lease to his girlfriend’s condominium with the base housing office in 2005, which enabled him to receive a monthly reimbursement of 2,200 euros, or about $3,000, for rent.
Ashton, who was otherwise eligible for a housing benefit, never paid rent on the condominium, according to the indictment.
Federal rules prohibit housing benefits for employees living in a spouse-owned apartment; Ashton married his girlfriend in 2006 but never modified the lease, the indictment says.
When questioned by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, Ashton said he had moved the lease to his father-in-law’s name in 2006, according to the indictment. He told the agent that after his father-in-law died in 2007, he continued to pay rent, in cash, to a trust in the man’s name.
Prosecutors charge that Ashton then gave the agent a copy of a lease he claimed was made in 2006 but that agents determined had recently been forged.
As his tour in Naples neared its end in October 2011, Ashton allegedly forged a series of documents allowing him to stay at the base two more years.
One of the documents justified the extension of the tour and was forwarded to Italian authorities for a permit of stay, the indictment says; another gave him access to reduced-price gasoline and on-base amenities such as the commissary and exchange; and a third allowed him to renew the security card that grants access to the base, buildings on the base and equipment inside.
Ashton forged signatures on the documents with computer editing software, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say Ashton also faked several Coast Guard documents to fool Navy officials into granting his boat reduced-price moorage in the Bay of Naples. The alleged scam allowed him to avoid more than $28,000 in fees.
Ashton is identified online as the CEO of Blackgrid Consulting, whose website offers work in “engineering and logistics services” and touts relationships with commercial and government entities. Blackgrid was registered in Delaware in 2010, according to online records, and it is registered with the Defense Contract Management Agency. It’s unclear if the business has been awarded any defense contracts.
A brief biography on the business website says Ashton worked for the Defense Department prior to starting Blackgrid and formerly served as an officer in the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps, where he worked in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations across the world.
The indictment charges Ashton with six counts of making false statements, each punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison; one count of falsifying records in an investigation, which can be punished with a fine and a maximum prison sentence of 20 years; and a count of theft and conversion, which is punishable with a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
The case was investigated by NCIS and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Ashton was charged by a grand jury in the Southern District of Iowa, Ashton’s home state.
A spokesman for the region command that employed Ashton did not return a request for comment by deadline.