Founder of service member recovery group ordered to repay government for military equipment sold on eBay
BANGOR, Maine (Tribune News Service) —A Maine man who founded two organizations dedicated to locating and recovering U.S. military personnel that have gone missing in action must pay the U.S. government $40,585 for equipment he sold on eBay.
The settlement reached between the government, North South Polar Inc. and founder Luciano A. Sapienza ― who also co-founded the Fallen American Veterans Foundation ― was announced Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Through both organizations, Sapienza has worked to investigate numerous instances in which U.S. servicemen have gone missing in action since World War II. Through research and expeditions to locations like Greenland, Sapienza is hoping to locate the remains of the missing men and work with the U.S. government to return them to their families.
In 2013, when he was the president of North South Polar, Sapienza entered into a contract with the U.S. Coast Guard “to provide support services for the recovery of a World War II aircraft from a suspected crash site in Greenland,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Under this contract, Sapienza purchased and received reimbursement from the federal government for four pieces of unspecified equipment. When the contract was completed, instead of returning the equipment to the U.S. Coast Guard, Sapienza sold the items on eBay, the release states.
This sale violated “the False Claims Act, which prohibits a party from having control of Government property and knowingly returning less than all that property to the government,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Sapienza said he sold the equipment after the federal government allegedly failed to pay North South Polar Inc. for a $90,000 bill.
“Anybody who knows me knows I don’t do this kind of stuff, and if the government had paid their bill, they would have gotten their equipment back,” Sapienza said Friday. “But you can’t do it that way because the law is the law. I’ve been hung out to dry by the federal government by, we’re talking about, a couple hundred thousand dollars overall.”
It wasn’t clear how the federal government owed Sapienza that amount of money.
The issue is ultimately a “contract dispute,” according to Sapienza’s attorney, Tom Marjerisen. “It would cost more to litigate than what was actually in dispute.”
According to the group’s Facebook page, North South Polar Inc. was founded in 2010.
In 2008, Sapienza co-founded the Fallen American Veterans Foundation with the families of American military personnel who went missing in action.
North South Polar Inc. was created as an independent corporation for the purpose of the recovery mission in Greenland, Marjerisen said. He said he is unsure if the organization’s corporation status is still active, but that if it is, it is not doing any business.
Owen Casas, who recently took on the role of executive director of the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, emphasized that the two organizations are separate entities.
“I was not part of that organization, I was not part of North South’s missions, I was not part of the activity,” Casas said. “This is a [court] filing related to a member of the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, it is also related to an organization that is not the Fallen American Veterans Foundation.”
Through the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, Sapienza works as an investigative expert to assist the U.S. Department of Defense in locating the remains of servicemen who have gone missing in action. About 83,000 military personnel have gone missing in action since World War II, according to Sapienza.
The Fallen American Veterans Foundation is currently working on about six recovery missions, according to Sapeinza, including in Greenland as well as in the Gulf of Alaska. However, these efforts have yet to result in the discovery of any missing military personnel.
Casas attributes the length of time these recovery missions take to their remote locations, complicated logistics and high costs.
In the past, the Fallen American Veterans Foundation has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, through its POW/MIA Accounting Agency, for funding. However, the group is pivoting to focus more on fundraising efforts.
When asked if the case against Sapienza had an impact on the organization’s ability to work with the federal government for funding, Casas said, “It wouldn’t surprise me.”
Casas said that going forward, the foundation will be focusing on transparency.
“We don’t want anyone to question what it is that we’re doing, why we’re doing, our motives or anything like that,” Casas said. “He and I, for the foundation going forward, have said transparency of finances and access to information is the premium [standard].”
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