Wednesday, April 22, 2009

25 Fraud Investigations Underway

Some U.S. troops tempted by reconstruction cash
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2009

The Justice Department has secured more than three dozen bribery-related convictions in the awarding of reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least 25 theft investigations are underway.
From the news article, it sounds like these investigations all involve funds issued under the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP). It is my understanding that Ultra Services supply contracts - totalling around $10-14 million - were paid with CERP funds. So it's possible someone might be looking into Ryan Manelick's case. But that's really just a guess on my part.


Coincidentally, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight held a hearing yesterday titled, Improving the Ability of Inspectors General to Detect, Prevent, and Prosecute Contracting Fraud. Testimony was provided by Mr. Charles W. Beardall, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, Department of Defense. His testimony, available in PDF, goes into a great amount of detail about coordination and collaboration of the different agencies and organizations involved in fraud investigations.

Statement of Charles W. Beardall PDF
Deputy Inspector General for Investigations
Department of Defense
before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight
on "Improving the Ability of Inspectors General to Detect, Prevent, and Prosecute Contract Fraud"
April 21, 2009

See Page 6:
To date, [Defense Criminal Investigative Service] DCIS has initiated 173 investigations relating to [Department of Defense] DoD operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of these investigations, 41 percent involve procurement fraud offenses; 42 percent involve corruption offenses; and 14 percent involve theft, technology protection, and terrorism.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Iraq Contractors Fight for Care

A great new series of articles and investigations from T. Christian Miller, author of Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq with Los Angeles Times, ProPublica and ABC News, on the failure of the Defense Base Act to provide care for injured contractors after they return from Iraq.

Injured War Zone Contractors Fight to Get Care From AIG and Other Insurers
By T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times - April 16, 2009
Civilian contractors died like soldiers. They were injured like soldiers. But back home, the U.S. government consigned the wounded and their families to a private insurance system that shunted them to substandard treatment and delayed their care as they suffered from devastating injuries, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, ABC News and ProPublica has found.

Injured war zone contractors fight to get care

By T. Christian Miller and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2009
Civilian workers who suffered devastating injuries while supporting the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home to a grinding battle for basic medical care, artificial limbs, psychological counseling and other services.

Bailed-Out AIG Pampers Execs While Denying, Delaying Claims of Contractors Injured in Iraq

By Brian Ross and Avni Patel, ABC News, April 17, 2009
Insurance giant AIG, the same company that rewarded its executives with millions in bonuses and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a spa retreat at an exclusive California resort and private jets, has been nickel and diming employees of private contractors injured in Iraq, with a pattern of denying and delaying their claims, a joint investigation between 20/20, the Los Angeles Times and the non-profit group ProPublica has found.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

FOIA update

FOIA responses take forever. 

According to my records, I've filed well over 20 requests to date.  I'm getting a little better at the wording and procedural issues that pop up in writing these letters. I've now got my first administrative appeal under my belt. I haven't filed a Mandatory Declassification Review yet or requested a Vaughn Index so there's still lots of room for new experiences. And who knows, maybe one day, a request will go to court.

So, let's see...I filed four FOIA requests with CENTCOM back in February of 2008. Still waiting. One with the State Department from 2007 which they actually contacted me about two months ago to say was on its way. It hasn't arrived yet. The appeal with the National Security Agency is still outstanding - while I'm not optimistic on that one, I did expect to get the rejection almost immediately. Not sure what's up with that. A few more FOIA requests outstanding with CENTCOM - one in particular that I hope they'll be forthcoming about. And a new one that I haven't yet received a response letter confirming its receipt and assigning a case number.

So while we wait...wanna learn a little about how to file an FOIA request?

A good place to start is the Department of Justice website page on the Freedom of Information Act. It provides a broad overview and is written in fairly simple and easy to understand language. They have a page, FOIA Post, that includes summaries of recent rulings that effect the FOIA. Good idea to look these over in case a recent ruling might increase the potential for a federal agency to release the information you seek.

After filing the administrative appeal with the NSA, one of the things I learned was the importance of writing an FOIA request with the view towards possibly pursuing information in court. Now, this doesn't mean you have to fill your request with legalese, but it does mean you want to leave a trail of bread crumbs that lead to the information you seek. For example, if you're requesting information that was mentioned in say a White House memo freely distributed to the public, cite and include the memo with your request.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University is a great resource for information regarding FOIA requests that bump up against National Security, otherwise known as Exemptions 1 and 3 of the FOIA and the lovely Glomar response (neither confirm nor deny the existence nor non-existence...) They have a new PDF booklet available online (includes information on Mandatory Declassification Reviews):
A National Security Archive Guide
Written by Kristin Adair and Catherine Nielsen
Edited by Meredith Fuchs, Yvette M. Chin, Malcolm Byrne and Tom Blanton
January 29, 2009
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is another great resource. They have an entire area of their website dedicated to Freedom of the Press Resources including an FOIA letter generator. Just plug in some information and it will spit out a letter for you.

And since I brought it up, the National Security Agency also has an area of its website devoted to the FOIA including their version of a handbook - which is really just basic contact information on where to send your request. By the way, NSA isn't all cloaks and daggers. They have aliens too! The NSA has one section devoted to FOIA requests for UFO's under their Declassification Initiatives.

The Department of Defense website for FOIA is the Requester Service Center. They have a handbook which includes a list of their Components and Commands with whom to file an FOIA request. Some times the tricky part with the Department of Defense is just figuring out who to file with.

Well, that's it for now. Back to waiting for the mail...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

New Ruling on 2003 Iraq Fraud

By James Glanz, New York Times, April 10, 2009
The decision, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., reverses a decision that had put a chill on what are believed to be dozens of pending whistle-blower cases involving contractors in Iraq. The earlier decision set aside a jury’s verdict in 2006 that the contractor, Custer Battles, must pay about $10 million in damages and penalties to the United States government and two whistle-blowers.

The jury had found that under the False Claims Act, Custer Battles filed fake invoices and vastly inflated its costs, as two former employees of the company had charged. But the judge in the case, T. S. Ellis III of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., ultimately made two rulings that would have freed the company from paying any damages.
Custer Battles left "an astonishing spreadsheet" that detailed billing at grossly inflated prices at a meeting in October of 2003. Big oops.

Court Revives Suit Over Iraq Work
By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, April 11, 2009
The ruling noted that after an October 2003 meeting between Custer Battles's co-owners, Scott Custer and Michael Battles, and representatives of the CPA and the U.S. military, Battles accidentally left behind "an astonishing spreadsheet" that listed amounts invoiced and actual costs. For instance, the firm provided two flatbed trucks to carry new money that cost $18,000, while billing the authority $80,000, the ruling said.