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Reports of Navy housing allowance fraud drop at Norfolk, NCIS says

Norfolk Naval Station, the biggest naval base in the world by population, has reported a sharp decrease in housing allowance fraud in 2018, according to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman.

CHRISTOPHER STOLTZ/U.S. NAVY

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot (TNS) | Published: January 6, 2019

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The temptation to get a bigger paycheck by lying about where a spouse or children live can be too much for some sailors.

Each year, federal investigators look into reports that sailors are getting money for their basic allowance for housing to which they are not entitled.

The monthly housing stipend is intended to offset the costs of living off base. Sailors with dependents receive a larger monthly stipend, which varies based on location and rank. In Norfolk, having dependents can result in an extra $213 to $537 each month for housing.

Sailors who choose a more expensive home than the stipend pay the extra costs out of pocket, while those who choose a less expensive one pocket the difference.

But fraud - either through sham marriages, the claiming of children who are not supported or through spouses who live elsewhere - is a persistent problem.

In 2007, Navy investigators discovered widespread fraud involving sailors marrying foreign nationals to get a large housing allowance that resulted in 40 people being charged in federal court in Norfolk and New York. That followed a global trend at the time, where BAH fraud investigations within the Navy and Marine Corps increased worldwide from 72 in 2004 to 143 in 2006, according to a 2009 story in Stars and Stripes.

A reader recently submitted a question online through The Virginian-Pilot's "Glad You Asked" initiative: Does the Navy still have a BAH fraud problem in Norfolk? If so, is it keeping the local Naval Criminal Investigative Service office busy?

Jeff Houston, an NCIS spokesman, said that most housing allowance fraud investigations are either connected to another investigation or are the result of a specific report of fraud to authorities. In 2018, the NCIS Norfolk field office had four housing allowing investigations.

"To put things in perspective, there are more than 80,000 active duty personnel assigned to Naval Station Norfolk (not counting the other installations in the area), so this accounts for a very small amount of crime," Houston wrote in an email.

In 2014, there were two housing fraud allowance investigations and in 2015 there were three. Houston said there was a spike in 2016, where there were 18 cases, and in 2017 with 21 cases, because of a specific marriage fraud operation.

"This kind of fraud is no longer a pressing issue from the standpoint that we don't get the same level of referrals, but we still work these cases and the Navy still prosecutes them," Houston said.

The Navy encourages people aware of fraud to report it to their local chain of command or to the Office of Inspector General.

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