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Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Going to federal 'pound me in the ass' prison
"Yeah. I worked for the CPA.
Why do you ask?"
Looks like some of the Young Republican whiz kids are going to be visiting a special resort without squash courts:
In what is expected to be the first of a series of criminal charges against officials and contractors overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, an American has been charged with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to American occupation authorities and their spouses to obtain construction contracts, according to a complaint unsealed late yesterday.
The man, Philip H. Bloom, who controlled three companies that did work in Iraq in the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort, was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and interstate transportation of stolen property, all in connection with obtaining up to $3.5 million in reportedly fraudulent contracts.
The complaint, unsealed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, also cites two unnamed co-conspirators who worked in the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administration that governed Iraq when the contracts were awarded in early 2004. These were the officials who, with their spouses, allegedly received the payments.
The complaint says that in order to obtain lucrative reconstruction contracts, Mr. Bloom paid at least $200,000 a month to an unspecified number of coalition authority officials, including the two co-conspirators and their spouses. Neither co-conspirator is named in the complaint, although it indicates that one is cooperating with the prosecution.
The other co-conspirator, the complaint says, held the position of comptroller and financing officer for "C.P.A. South Central Region in Iraq," which included Hillah. This person controlled $82 million "to be used for payment of contract services rendered in Al Hillah, Iraq, including contracts awarded to Bloom," the complaint asserts.
A United States government official said this person was named Robert J. Stein.
The complaint says the contracts Mr. Bloom obtained "were purported to be for the rebuilding and stabilization of Iraq" in Hillah and Karbala, a holy city in the south. The work included "the renovation of the Karbala Public Library; demolition work related to, and construction of, the Al Hillah Police Academy; the upgrading of security of the Al Hillah Police Academy, and the construction of the Regional Tribal Democracy Center."
With the assistance of the alleged co-conspirators and others, the document says, Mr. Bloom submitted multiple bids on the same contracts, using the names of different companies that were either controlled by Mr. Bloom or did not exist. Once there were sufficient bids to satisfy United States government regulations, the co-conspirators, including Mr. Stein, would ensure that the contract went to one of the companies, the complaint says.
"The value of these contracts ranged up to $498,900," the complaint says. "Co-conspirator 1's approval authority for awarding contracts was limited to contracts less than $500,000."
Remember when they were looking for a few good neo-cons?
It was after nightfall when they finally found their offices at Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace -- 11 jet-lagged, sweaty, idealistic volunteers who had come to help Iraq along the road to democracy.
When the U.S. government went looking for people to help rebuild Iraq, they had responded to the call. They supported the war effort and President Bush. Many had strong Republican credentials. They were in their twenties or early thirties and had no foreign service experience. On that first day, Oct. 1, they knew so little about how things worked that they waited hours at the airport for a ride that was never coming. They finally discovered the shuttle bus out of the airport but got off at the wrong stop.
Occupied Iraq was just as Simone Ledeen had imagined -- ornate mosques, soldiers in formation, sand blowing everywhere, "just like on TV." The 28-year-old daughter of neoconservative pundit Michael Ledeen and a recently minted MBA, she had arrived on a military transport plane with the others and was eager to get to work.
They had been hired to perform a low-level task: collecting and organizing statistics, surveys and wish lists from the Iraqi ministries for a report that would be presented to potential donors at the end of the month. But as suicide bombs and rocket attacks became almost daily occurrences, more and more senior staffers defected. In short order, six of the new young hires found themselves managing the country's $13 billion budget, making decisions affecting millions of Iraqis.
Viewed from the outside, their experience illustrates many of the problems that have beset the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), a paucity of experienced applicants, a high turnover rate, bureaucracy, partisanship and turf wars. But within their group, inside the "Green Zone," the four-mile strip surrounded by cement blast walls where Iraq's temporary rulers are based, their seven months at the CPA was the experience of a lifetime. It was defined by long hours, patriotism, friendship, sacrifice and loss.
Well, it doesn't look like it was a total loss.
Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office. The Sept. 16 message informed her that the occupation government in Iraq needed employees to prepare for an international conference. "This is an amazing opportunity to move forward on the global war on terror," the e-mail read.
For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.
Others from across the District responded affirmatively to the same e-mail, for different reasons. Andrew Burns, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who had taught English in rural China, felt going to Iraq would help him pursue a career in humanitarian aid. Todd Baldwin, 28, a legislative aide for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. John Hanley, 24, a Web site editor, wanted to break into the world of international relations. Anita Greco, 25, a former teacher, and Casey Wasson, 23, a recent college graduate in government, just needed jobs.
For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.
Think of it as a Head Start program for legacies and trust fund babies.