Staff Sergeant Jermaine Britt, 39, a Texas Army National Guard recruiter from Richmond, Texas, pleaded guilty last week to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud, and obstruction of justice. According to the Justice Department, the fraud scheme cost taxpayers nearly $100,000.
Here’s how the scheme worked:
The Texas Army National Guard ran an incentive program to encourage Guard members to refer friends and associates to enlist. For every referral who eventually enlisted, the Guard member would receive a bonus of $2,000.
Britt enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in 2005, and became a recruiter in 2006. Since then, he had approached a number of associates within the Guard, offering them the names of people considering enlisting in the Guard. Guard members would then claim credit for the recruiting bonus, even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with bringing in the recruit. The other Guard members would kick part of their $2,000 bonus back to Britt, in exchange for the tip.
The kickback scheme was in operation from 2008 to 2011. During that time, Britt admitted that he had personally received more than $23,000 in illegal kickbacks.
Stephanie Heller, another Texas Army National Guard member involved in the kickback scheme pleaded guilty to several related counts last month. She admitted to defrauding the Guard of about $44,500. According to prosecutors, Heller lied to federal investigators to cover up the kickback scheme. Prosecutors say that Britt coached her on how to explain away email evidence and large cash withdrawals from her personal bank account.
The FBI states that the investigation has thus far resulted in 10 individuals pleading guilty to charges related to the Texas recruiting kickback scheme.
If convicted, the charge of bribery could cause these soldiers to spend 5 years in prison, while the obstruction of justice charges carry a possible 20-year sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for February 8th.
In a similar case in Georgia in 2010, another recruiter, Thomas Nolan Kascaz II, was sentenced to 20 months in prison, without possibility of parole.
A Larger Problem
The kickback recruiting scheme in Texas is not an isolated incident. It is, indeed, part of a larger pattern of abuse that seems to have occurred nationwide. The Texas Recruiting Assistant Program that provided the bonuses these soldiers used to defraud the government was not unique. A wide-ranging Pentagon investigation suspects as many as 1,706 recruiters nationwide were involved in similar kickback schemes, along with hundreds of recruiting assistants. The total amount of fraudulent bonuses issued may have been as high as $92 million. If each enlistee generated the full bonus, that amounts to some $46,000 enlistments. All told, about $336 million was paid out in the program. More than a quarter of the bonuses may have been fraudulently.