The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
August 1st, 2007 - Fort Sam Officer Tied to Millions in Bribes
By Gary Contreras
San Antonio Express-News
August 1, 2007
A U.S. Army major stationed at Fort Sam Houston is under investigation over allegations that he took more than $7 million in bribes in exchange for steering contracts to certain military contractors.
No charges have been filed against Maj. John Cockerham, 41, who most recently was with the Army Contracting Agency's Southern Hemisphere Mission Support. A search of national federal court databases also turned up no charges against others named in the probe.
But court records detail a series of kickback schemes and maintain that Cockerham admitted accepting the bribes after he was confronted with his own ledger documenting some of the activity.
"John Cockerham admitted to receiving in excess of $7,000,000 in bribe payments from different military contractors in Kuwait in exchange for military contracts," the court filings said. "Cockerham also acknowledged that the hand-written ledger was his, and that he used the ledger to keep track of the money received and the money anticipated from various contractors."
Civil records the government filed in federal court in Detroit outline two schemes. In one, Cockerham admitted to investigators with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Army that he agreed to $800,000 in kickbacks for fixing contracts for bottled water for American troops in Kuwait and Iraq.
The records - civil court documents the government filed in order to keep $172,109 that was in a bank account linked to another person in the $800,000 scheme - said investigators served a search warrant at Cockerham's home on Fort Sam Houston on Dec. 21.
Cockerham cooperated with investigators after they found and seized from his home corporate and financial documents and a hand-written ledger showing some of the activity, according to the filings.
Attempts to reach Cockerham on Thursday were unsuccessful.
The Army Contracting Agency's headquarters in Falls Church, Va., said Thursday that no one was available to respond to requests for comment until today.
The civil filings detail only a piece of the overall case, which is based in Detroit because the bank account in question is linked to an address in that area.
"At this particular point, it's an ongoing investigation and there's nothing I can comment about," said Greg Palmore, spokesman for ICE in Detroit.
Cockerham, a commissioned officer since 1993, has held various acquisition and contracting positions with the military, the documents said.
While arranging contracts for the military in Kuwait, the documents said, he dealt with a company called TransOrient. The civil filings said the company is operated by a man named Falah Al Ajmi and that the businessman offered Cockerham a bribe in return for the award of a lucrative bottled-water blanket purchase agreement.
The transfer of money was structured as an initial "good faith" payment followed by additional payments, totaling 10 percent of the value of the contract, the court records said.
The money, which included an initial payment of $300,000 in June 2005, was channeled through a conduit named Megde "Mike" Ayesh Ismail, an American citizen who has worked intermittently for various contractors in Kuwait, the records said.
Ismail later offered Cockerham a separate bribery scheme to steer another bottled-water contract to Ismail's then-employer, a company called Green Valley, the court papers said. Cockerham expected to take $800,000 in kickbacks from Green Valley, the records said.
In July 2005, a member of Green Valley and Ismail met Cockerham in the parking lot of Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and showed him a briefcase containing $300,000 that Ismail was to deposit in the United States, the documents said.
Ismail came to San Antonio, telling Cockerham he had deposited the money in an account in Ismail's name, minus a commission, and gave Cockerham an ATM card and told him to withdraw $2,000 each day, the records said.
Cockerham told investigators he never withdrew any money and destroyed the card because he feared that video surveillance at the automated teller machines would link him to the account, the documents said.
Cockerham's case isn't the first of graft alleged in contracting for the military.
In May, federal authorities in San Antonio obtained indictments against six people on charges that they participated in a scheme to fix $87 million in contracts that originated from the U.S. Army Medical Command, and one of its divisions, at Fort Sam Houston.
The two investigations are unrelated.