Army recruiting scheme could cost taxpayers $100 million
- Article by: Helene Cooper
- New York Times
- February 4, 2014 - 7:05 PM
WASHINGTON – An Army program meant to increase the number of recruits during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars devolved into an illegal free-for-all that could cost taxpayers close to $100 million, military investigators said. They described new details of what they called a long-running scheme among National Guard recruiters that went undetected for years.
Army officials appeared before a Senate hearing on Tuesday and sketched out a far-reaching criminal endeavor that has implicated more than 1,200 people — 200 of them officers — including two generals and dozens of colonels.
Criminal investigators for the Army said soldiers, civilians and National Guard recruiters had used a recruiting bonus program as a “bounty” from which they could illegally collect funds for recruiting soldiers they had not actually recruited.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the chairwoman of the Senate panel holding the hearing, was visibly irate and repeatedly expressed anger and surprise as she listened to Army investigators describe the fraud they say took place under a recruiting program that began in 2005 at the height of the Iraq war to address an enlistment shortfall in the Army National Guard.
$7,500 for each recruit
Under the program, National Guard soldiers — and their relatives, as well as other civilians and retirees — who signed up to be recruiting assistants could earn up to $7,500 for each new recruit they managed to enlist.
But investigators said that in many cases, high school guidance counselors and even principals with access to their students’ personal information took credit for recruiting students who they happened to know were joining the Army.
The result, according to Maj. Gen. David E. Quantock, commanding general of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, are fraudulent payments that have already reached $29 million and could, by the end of the investigation, come close to $100 million.
“So there were high school counselors who heard there was a bounty and knew kids were signing up for the military so they went and took advantage of this?” McCaskill asked.
One person, now under prosecution, was fraudulently paid $275,000 under the recruitment program, and four others received more than $100,000 each, according to papers released Monday by the Senate panel.
The bonuses allowed the Army to increase enlistment during the wars; in return the Army paid more than $300 million for 130,000 new recruits.
After reports of potential fraud in 2007, the Army examined the program and found that 705 recruiters were linked to payments with a high risk of fraud, including multiple large recruiting bonuses going into the same bank accounts. Federal prosecutors have indicted several former recruiters and soldiers accused of abusing the bonus program.
The investigation comes at a fraught time for the Army, as the country is moving away from the military buildup of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and grappling with issues of a smaller military with an attendant smaller budget.
The Army terminated the recruiting bonus program in February 2012 and ordered a review.
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