Criminal Cases

  1. Gallery of Greed
  2. Recent Criminal Cases
Gallery of Greed

 U.S. reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, or any other conflict zone, face the constant threat of criminal conspiracies among personnel who rotate in and out of theater, infecting their successors with the virus of corruption.

 Over the past five years, SIGAR’s Investigations Directorate has uncovered and detailed a classic example of this threat—an extended, widespread, and intricate pattern of criminality involving U.S. military personnel and Afghan contractors at the Humanitarian Assistance Yard (the Yard) at Bagram Airfield near Kabul, Afghanistan.

 In June 2012, SIGAR investigators following leads uncovered an unusual pattern of suspect criminal activity at the Yard. They found traces of criminal activity affecting inventories, accounting, issuance of supplies, payments, and contract oversight at the Yard, which serves as a storage-and-distribution facility for millions of dollars’ worth of clothing, food, school supplies, and other items purchased from local Afghan vendors. U.S. military commanders provided those supplies to displaced Afghans as part of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) to meet urgent humanitarian relief needs for the Afghan people.

 As the SIGAR investigators, conducted interviews, checked records, and scrutinized other evidence, they confirmed that U.S. military personnel, stateside contacts, and local Afghans had conspired in bribery, fraud, kickbacks, and money laundering. Among other improper acts, U.S. personnel took bribes from vendors or from Afghan interpreters who wanted to steer supplypurchase business to favored vendors.

 The conspiracies pervaded activities at the Yard, and persisted for years as new personnel were assigned there and, in some cases, adopted the corrupt practices of their predecessors or their new colleagues. Some of the participants stayed involved remotely after they returning to the United States.

 The SIGAR investigation, whether conducted independently or in cooperation with the International Contract Corruption Task Force, focused on suspect paying agents and project purchasing officers responsible for administering the replenishment contracts and on military members responsible for paying vendors.

 The assembled evidence of corruption from this investigation led to a series of guilty pleas, prison terms, and forfeiture agreements as offenders were held accountable for their deeds and their dereliction of duty. The following gallery presents summaries of cases resolved or in progress as a result of the work performed by SIGAR Investigations Directorate. The stories illustrate the reality that no matter how well designed a procurement system may be, it requires strict oversight and accountability for the people who operate the mechanism.

Timothy H. Albright Timothy H. Albright:

An enlisted specialist with the Pennsylvania National Guard, Albright served at Bagram Airfield between January and October 2008 processing Afghan vendors’ invoices for resupplying goods at the Yard. During that time, according to court documents, Albright accepted several payments, ranging from $200 to $10,000, for accelerating payments on an Afghan vendor’s invoices. Albright’s supervisor and an Afghan interpreter allegedly were also involved in the scheme. About $25,000 from the payments was deposited into Albright’s and his wife’s bank account; they used $18,000 of it to buy a car. Albright pled guilty to conspiracy to receive bribes, and on January 27, 2016, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. He was also ordered to forfeit $16,200 and the car, a 2008 Nissan Maxima. Noting Albright’s previous military service, his post-traumatic stress disorder, and his family’s support, Judge John E. Jones III told Albright during his sentencing, “This case is the proverbial dog’s breakfast. It’s a lousy, lousy deal for everybody involved, but it’s a situation that you caused [by repeatedly taking bribes] and you know it.”

Louis M. Bailly Louis M. Bailly:

Between October 2011 and October 2012, Army Staff Sergeant Bailly served at the Yard, and was a project purchasing officer for part of that time. In 2015, the U.S. government filed charges that Bailly had conspired with two Afghan contractors, accepting about $12,000 in bribes for influencing supply-replenishment contracts. Bailly pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit an offense or to defraud the United States, and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, followed by a year of supervised release, and forfeiture of $10,000.

Donald P. Bunch Donald P. Bunch:

U.S. Navy senior chief, Bunch served from February to August 2009 as yard boss at the Yard, and was responsible for resupplying supplies like rice, beans, and clothing, and overseeing truck loading in support of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. Federal authorities charged that he took some $25,000 in payments from multiple Afghan vendors in return for moving their firms up in the normal rotation of suppliers, and for giving them larger and more lucrative contracts. Bunch pled guilty to one count of bribery, that is, of accepting something of value by a public official to influence the performance of an official act. In March 2016, he was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison and then 24 months of supervised release, fined $5,000, and agreed to forfeit $25,000.

The presiding judge at Bunch’s trial told him, “This is not only a disgrace to the uniform that you wear and a disgrace to the country . . . , but also [serves] to encourage this type of corruption and allow it to become more widespread. . . . It undermines the authority and the position of those in government, it undermines the government itself, and it certainly, in Afghanistan and the Middle East, it undermines our efforts at trying to help those people and promote the causes that we’re trying to defend.”

Jerry W. Dennis Jerry W. Dennis:

Dennis was a resident of Horn Lake, Mississippi, whose son Jimmy was a U.S. Army first sergeant serving as a paying agent at the Yard. The federal criminal information document filed against Jerry Dennis charged that for a period extending up to about January 2010, Dennis conspired with his son and with landscaper friend James C. Pittman to have containers of cash from bribes shipped out of Afghanistan and handled in ways that would disguise their nature, ownership, and location. In July 2014, Jerry Dennis pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was placed on probation for two years, including six months’ home confinement, and forfeited $110,000 per a court-approved agreement.

Jimmy W. Dennis Jimmy W. Dennis:

The son of Jerry Dennis (above), Jimmy W. Dennis was a U.S. Army first sergeant serving as a paying agent at the Yard from March 2008 to March 2009. Federal authorities charged him with conspiring with his father and a Chattanooga, Tennessee, landscaping-company owner, James C. Pittman, to move about $250,000 in bribes from Afghanistan to the United States. Dennis and Pittman knew each other from serving together at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, previous to Dennis’s deployment to Afghanistan. Jimmy Dennis pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. In January 2015, he was sentenced to 41 months’ imprisonment, followed by two years’ supervised release. He also agreed to and has forfeited $115,000 and a Rolex watch.

Ramiro Pena Jr. Ramiro Pena Jr.:

Between January 2008 and September 2009, Army Sergeant First Class Pena served as a project purchasing officer at the Yard, maintaining supply orders and inventory levels. His supervisor was First Sergeant Jimmy Dennis (see above). The men processed more than 200 contracts with Afghan vendors worth about $30.7 million total. The federal charge against Pena said Dennis gave him about $100,000 and a Rolex watch from vendor bribes received, and that Pena had shipped money home to his wife. Pena pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and in December 2015 was sentenced to 24 months in prison, followed by a year’s supervised release. He agreed to forfeit $100,000 and has forfeited a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and Rolex watch.

James C. Pittman James C. Pittman:

Proprietor of a Chattanooga, Tennessee, landscaping company, Pittman was charged with conspiring with Jerry and Jimmy Dennis (see above) to transfer and launder funds received as bribes in Afghanistan. Pittman had left the military before Jimmy Dennis worked at the Yard, but was still in contact. The charge was that “on numerous occasions,” Pittman received containers of cash from Afghanistan via the Dennises, passed it through his business, and returned most of it to Jerry and Jimmy Dennis as checks for “salary.” Having pled guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering, Pittman was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, followed by a year’s supervised release. He also consented to and has forfeited $25,000.

The judge at Pittman’s trial noted that “There’s others out there that find themselves in a similar situation to you that would be tempted . . . to do what you did. That is going to be a large part of the sentence I impose today.”

Pittman marveled that “the Government can track your butt down after five years—”

“It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?” the judge interjected.

Pittman continued. “Old friends and acquaintances from, you know, nearly 14 years in and, you know, text me . . . or whatever and be like, holy crap, you know, they caught you? . . . And I was like . . . they can find you anywhere.”

David A. Turcios David A. Turcios:

David A. Turcios, a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant, began working at the Yard in November 2010 as a paying agent and contracting officer representative, and was involved with nine CERP supply contracts worth more than $2 million. Turcios worked closely with two Afghan interpreters who gave him names of vendors they were proposing for contracts. They gave Turcios gifts, jewelry, and thousands of dollars, some of which was not paid until after Turcios returned to the United States.

On October 23, 2018, in the Eastern District of California, Turcios was sentenced to 12 months’ probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $500 forfeiture, after pleading guilty to receiving and agreeing to receive a bribe.

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Recent Criminal Cases

Subject Action Investigative Activity
Oyetayo Fagbenro Guilty Plea U.S. Contractor Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claims to Steal State Department Funds

On February 12, 2021, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Oyetayo Fagbenro was sentenced to 12 months and one day of imprisonment, 24 months’ supervised release, and was ordered to pay restitution of $775,000. On December 4, 2020, Fagbenro pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging one count of submitting false claims in connection with his role in a scheme to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars in State Department funds to his own use.

Between 2010 and 2015, the State Department awarded three grants for the construction of media centers at Afghan universities to HUDA Development Organization, an Afghan non-governmental organization controlled by Fagbenro. Between September 2010 and August 2012, Fagbenro received approximately $6.9 million for these projects. During that period, Fagbenro admitted he sent approximately $1.38 million from Afghan accounts funded by the State Department to people he knew and by entities he controlled in the United States and other countries. Of the $1.38 million, Fagbenro admitted sending approximately $775,000 to friends, relatives, and corporate entities he controlled that had no connection to the purposes of the grants. In addition, he admitted that in December 2012, he filed a document with the State Department for one of the grants, certifying he had spent the funds properly and that he needed additional funds to complete the project. Both statements were false. As a result of Fagbenro’s fraudulent activities, the financial loss to the State Department was approximately $775,000.

SIGAR and the State Department Office of Inspector General investigated the case.

Keith Woolford and Paul Daigle Criminal Charges Former Company Executive Officers Charged for Scheme to Defraud U.S. Government

On October 27, 2020, in the Northern District of Alabama, a criminal information (a prosecutor’s accusation, as distinct from a grand-jury indictment) was filed against Keith Woolford, charging him with one count of conspiracy.

On November 17, 2020, also in the Northern District of Alabama, a nine-count indictment was filed charging Woolford’s co-conspirator, Paul Daigle, with one count of conspiracy, four counts of wire fraud, and four counts of false claims.

Daigle and Woolford were executives for AAL USA, a Department of Defense subcontractor engaged in the repair and maintenance of aircraft in Afghanistan under contracts issued from Red Stone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. CEO Daigle and CFO Woolford perpetrated a scheme to fill contract labor positions with employees who did not meet the education requirements, and in some cases, with employees who were not actually assigned work on the contract. As part of the fraud, in order to satisfy the requirements of the labor categories contained in the statement of work for a U.S. government contract, they instructed employees to obtain fake college degrees from an online diploma mill.

As result of the scheme, false invoices were created and passed to the prime contractor and then on to the U.S. government for payment. Through prime contractor Lockheed Martin, Woolford submitted to the United States multiple invoices for payment, including one for approximately $1,872,280. Woolford knew the invoice contained materially false information because it incorporated inflated hourly rates for non-qualifying labor, and contained a false certification that the billed services had been performed.

The investigation is being conducted by SIGAR, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division Major Procurement Fraud Unit.

Abdul Aziz Sarwari Arrest Afghan National Arrested in Connection with Money Laundering Conspiracy

On October 13, 2020, SIGAR was informed that on September 7, 2020, the Afghanistan Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) Corruption Investigation Unit Team 1 arrested Abdul Aziz Sarwari (a U.S. Green Card holder) at Hamid Karzai International Airport, pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC). Sarwari is awaiting further adjudication.

The arrest is in connection with the attempted exportation of 41.37 kg of gold involving Sarwari and co-conspirators Bashir Sediqi, Rafi Baha, Mohammad Zarif Baha, and Tamin Sediqi. In August 2017, SIGAR special agents at Bagram Airfield encountered Bashir Sediqi as he was attempting to depart Afghanistan via DFS Airline with the 41.37 kg of gold. After an initial interview, Bashir Sediqi turned the gold over to SIGAR. SIGAR and the MCTF then initiated an investigation that uncovered money-laundering violations. The investigation identified numerous other trips whereby Bashir Sediqi and Sarwari illegally transferred gold out of the country. It was determined that by use of a fraudulent document obtained by Baha, hundreds of millions of dollars in gold were smuggled out of Afghanistan.

As previously reported, Bashir Sediqi and Rafi Baha were prosecuted in October 2019 for violating Afghanistan anti-money-laundering and criminal income law relating to the scheme. The ACJC Primary Court Delegation ordered the gold, worth $1.9 million, to be confiscated, in accordance with Afghanistan criminal code.

Varita V. Quincy and Larry Green Guilty Plea/ Sentencing Former Employees of U.S. Contractor Prosecuted for Theft Conspiracy

On October 13, 2020, Varita V. Quincy pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit theft of property of value to the United States, one count of theft of property of value to the United States, and one count of false statements.

On November 19, 2020, in the Eastern District of Virginia, Quincy’s coconspirator, Larry Green, was sentenced to 41 months’ imprisonment and two years’ supervised probation. He was ordered to pay restitution totaling $179,708 and a forfeiture of $11,480.

During 2015, Green and Quincy participated in an organized theft ring responsible for the theft of equipment, including generators and vehicles, from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. They carried out the theft during the course of their duties while employed by a U.S. government contractor. In furtherance of the scheme, they caused fraudulent official documents to be filed with the U.S. military at Kandahar Airfield.

David Shah Guilty Plea Former Employee of U.S. Government Contractor Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy

On September 14, 2020, in the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, David Shah pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information charging conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

Shah was employed by a U.S. government contractor to recruit candidates for positions as language interpreters working with the U.S. military. He and his coconspirators circumvented procedures designed to ensure candidates met minimum proficiency standards, which resulted in unqualified language interpreters being hired and later deployed alongside U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan. To carry out this scheme, they conspired with others to commit wire fraud and major fraud against the United States. The coconspirators obtained financial bonuses from their employer based on the number of candidates hired through their efforts.

To date, five co-conspirators have pleaded guilty as a result of the SIGAR-led investigation.

Morris Cooper and Beverly Cooper Guilty Plea(s) Purchasing Agent and Spouse Plead Guilty to Conspiracy and Embezzlement

On September 14, 2020, in the Eastern District of North Carolina, Morris Cooper pleaded guilty to stealing government money, conspiracy, and as a public official, receiving bribes.

Morris Cooper’s spouse, Beverly Cooper, pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal government property and aiding and abetting her spouse.

Morris Cooper was a purchasing agent assigned to the Operations and Maintenance Division, Directorate of Public Works (DPW), at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was entrusted to purchase HVAC parts for DPW’s HVAC maintenance section. From 2011 into 2019, Cooper used his position as a purchasing agent to conspire with vendors to steer contracts for supplies to specific vendors in return for cash payments and gifts, and to inflate prices on supplies, increasing both the profits to the vendor and the cash payment made to Cooper and/or his wife.

Morris Cooper faces a maximum penalty of 180 months in prison; Beverley Cooper faces a maximum penalty of 60 months in prison. Both agreed to pay $6,300,000 jointly and severally in restitution.

Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani Sentencing Prominent Afghan Official Sentenced for Theft of Public Money

On August 31, 2020, in the District Court of San Diego, California, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani was sentenced to three years’ probation and six months’ home confinement for theft of public money.

Nuristani received over $100,000 in government benefits by concealing foreign travel and residency between July 2015 and December 2018. He applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration in July 2015. In violation of SSI recipient requirements, he repeatedly lied to the Social Security Administration about his foreign travel and residency. He also received $27,492 in SSI payments causing a loss of $73,090 to the State of California for healthcare payments and services as a result of his fraud.

Nuristani has been a prominent politician in Afghanistan for decades, previously serving as governor of Herat Province and chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan during the last presidential election. In September 2018, President Ashraf Ghani appointed Nuristani to the Meshrano Jirga, the upper body of parliament in Afghanistan. Nuristani served as both the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and as an Afghan senator even as he received supplemental-security income payments from the U.S. Social Security Administration at his claimed address in El Cajon, California.

The investigation was conducted by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, with significant assistance provided by SIGAR.

William Todd Chamberlain Sentencing Former U.S. Special Forces Member Sentenced for Embezzlement Scheme

On July 7, 2020, in the Eastern District of North Carolina, former U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant First Class William Todd Chamberlain was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $80,000.

Chamberlain was part of a conspiracy involving former U.S. Army soldiers Cleo Autry, Jeffrey Cook, Deric Harper, and Barry Walls. Between 2008 and 2012, they were all deployed with a Special Forces Group under the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. During their deployment, they conspired to embezzle funds from the Commander’s Emergency Response Program and from funds used by Special Forces Groups to support counterterrorism operations. Over time, they stole cash, purchased a substantial number of $1,000 money orders, and sent the funds to their spouses, to electronic bank accounts, or to various vendors.

Naim Ismail Arrest Vice President of Investment Firm Arrested for Running Multimillion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme Targeting Afghanistan-Based Bank

On July 22, 2020, based on an outstanding arrest warrant from the Southern District of New York, with assistance from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, and special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Naim Ismail was arrested upon entering the U.S. from Dubai, UAE through Los Angeles International Airport. On July 23, 2020, a U.S. magistrate judge in the Central District of California ordered Ismail to be detained and returned to the charging judicial district.

Ismail, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in connection with various investment schemes. According to the 2018 indictment, from February 2007 through July 2016, Ismail fraudulently induced individual and corporate victims—including the New York-based subsidiary of an Afghanistan-based bank—to loan large sums of money to entities operated by Ismail and others. Ismail did so by claiming these funds would be used in a particular investment strategy as well as several real-estate development projects. Ismail promised investors a generous fixed annual rate of return and promised to return the investors’ principal on a specified timeline.

Ismail and his companies did not invest these funds as promised, nor did Ismail repay many of his victims. Instead, he used investor funds to pay the so-called interest payments due to earlier investors in the Ponzi scheme, as well as for his own personal expenses and investments. During the course of the fraudulent scheme, Ismail deprived the scheme’s victims of over $15 million. Numerous additional victims have been coming forward since the press release of his arrest, so the amount of money defrauded from the victims is expected to increase.

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