The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
June 26th, 2008 - Fort Sam Major Admits to Bribery
From San Antonio Express-News
June 26, 2008
A Fort Sam Houston-based Army major involved in the largest bribery case to come out of the Iraq war pleaded guilty to corruption charges and has been cooperating with the government for at least five months, according to court documents made public Tuesday.
During a secret hearing in January, Maj. John L. Cockerham, 43, pleaded guilty to bribery, money laundering and conspiracy to commit bribery.
The former contracting officer admitted that, while he was stationed in Kuwait from 2004 to 2005, he steered lucrative contracts for bottled water and other supplies to companies that agreed to kick back $9.6 million to him. Prosecutors contended Cockerham expected more than $5 million more. At least eight companies were involved.
At the same hearing, his wife, Melissa Cockerham, 41, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
She admitted she accepted at least $1.4 million in bribes on Cockerham's behalf and stored the money in safety deposit boxes at banks in Kuwait and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“Maj. Cockerham's job was to provide supplies to our troops serving in Iraq,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas O. Barnett said in a statement released late Tuesday by the Justice Department. “Instead of acting in the best interest of his fellow soldiers, he steered contracts to those willing to pay him bribes. Our men and women in uniform deserve better, and those who violate the public's trust in exchange for personal enrichment can expect to be prosecuted.”
As part of the deals, the Cockerhams agreed to help the government recover the money. In its statement, the Justice Department said it's seeking the help of the Kuwaiti and Emirati governments to return it to the United States.
Since the plea, John Cockerham has been secretly meeting with investigators, turning over the names of others involved in the Middle East corruption and details that have helped uncover other cases of contracting fraud and graft.
His lawyer, Jimmy Parks Jr., wouldn't comment on those meetings, but said: “John has been very forthcoming and very honest with the federal government.”
Parks wants to make certain that the government goes after those with higher authority who might be involved in the corruption.
“I didn't want Cockerham and his wife to be the scapegoats,” he said. “Part of the reason for keeping it secret was to push it far along enough to ensure that (the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction) would go after these individuals and see that Iraq was truly cleaned up.”
“I don't want the coffin nailed down on them and having anyone saying that the corruption has been solved. This is actually the beginning chapter. This isn't the end of the book.”
Parks had previously refused to comment when asked whether he had worked out a deal for his client and only relented after learning that the Justice Department had asked a judge to unseal the plea agreements Tuesday.
Melissa Cockerham's lawyer, Brent De La Paz, said she was doing what she was told.
“The government's charge is for following her husband,” De La Paz said. “She followed her husband's lead. She did what he asked her to do.”
Even before the Cockerhams' pleas and cooperation, much of the corruption was traced to the post where John Cockerham served, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. That military base served thousands of U.S. troops, helping provide necessities like food, bottled water, other supplies and the warehouses to store the items.
Two Army officers once stationed at Camp Arifjan took their own lives, Army records state, as probes alleging they were involved in bribery emerged.
One was Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez, whom the military claims committed suicide after being confronted over $3,500 in an alleged bribe he got from an executive of Public Warehousing Co., which court records show now is its own criminal investigation over contracting disparities. Gutierrez's family disavows the allegation and the finding of suicide.
The other is Maj. Gloria D. Davis, who took her own life in December 2006 after telling investigators about Cockerham and others suspected of taking bribes.
Davis also admitted accepting $225,000 in bribes for steering lucrative contracts to a company called Lee Dynamics of Huntsville, Ala. That company is under criminal investigation, but no one has been charged, court records show.
Because of the massive corruption, the Army since has moved the contracting functions from Camp Arifjan to a military installation at Rock Island, Ill.
John Cockerham's sister, Carolyn Blake, of suburban Dallas, remains the only defendant in the case awaiting a trial this October. Blake is accused of helping her brother collect about $3.1 million of the bribes.
John Cockerham faces up to 15 years in prison for bribery and up to five years for conspiracy. The Cockerhams each face up to 20 years for money laundering.