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Thursday, February 02, 2006

They Shoot Looters, Don't They? 

The bad news (via Zemblan patriot M.F.): the Bush administration, needing an experienced money manager to administrate some $82 million in Iraq reconstruction funds, naturally settled on Robert J. Stein, Jr., whose resume included a prior conviction for felony fraud:
In United States District Court in Washington, court papers indicate, Mr. Stein will plead guilty today to conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, possession of a machine gun and being a felon in possession of firearms, for essentially giving millions of that money to Mr. [Philip J.] Bloom, and taking millions more for himself. Mr. Stein used some of his stolen money, the papers say, to buy items as wildly diverse as grenade launchers, machine guns, a Lexus, "an interest in one Porsche," a Cessna airplane, two plots of real estate in Hope Mills, N.C., a Toshiba personal computer, 18 Breitling watches, a 6-carat diamond ring and a collection of silver dollars. The papers say that the ring of corruption was much wider than previously known, drawing at least seven Americans, including Mr. Stein, Mr. Bloom and five Army reserve officers, into what is portrayed as a maelstrom of greed, sex and gun-running at the heart of the American occupation of a conservative Muslim country.

As part of their bribery scheme, Mr. Stein and his co-conspirators dispensed and received a wide range of other items like cigars, alcohol, first-class plane tickets and "money laundering services," according to the papers. And if all of that were not enough reason for Mr. Stein to love giving money to his partner, the papers say, there was another: Mr. Bloom kept a villa in Baghdad where he provided women who gave sexual favors to officials he hoped to influence, including Mr. Stein . . . .

Over all, Mr. Stein is accused of stealing at least $2 million of American taxpayer money and Iraqi funds, which came from Iraqi oil proceeds and money seized from Saddam Hussein's government, accepting at least $1 million in money and goods in direct bribes and grabbing another $600,000 in cash and goods that belonged to the Coalition Provisional Authority. In return, Mr. Stein and his cronies used rigged bids to steer at least $8.6 million in contracts for buildings like the police academy, a library and a center meant to promote democracy, the papers say.

The good news (via Zemblan patriot K.Z.): although Mr. Stein's swiftly expanding rap sheet may, in future, limit his access to reconstruction funds, he should still have the opportunity to serve his country in Iraq -- by joining the Dirty Division:
It was about 10 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2002, when a drug deal was arranged in the parking lot of a mini-mall in Newark, Del. The car with the drugs, driven by a man who would become a recruit for the Delaware Air National Guard, pulled up next to a parked car that was waiting for the exchange. Everything was going smoothly until the cops arrived . . . .

Air National Guard recruits, like other members of the military, cannot have drug convictions on their record. But on Feb. 2, 2005, the applicant who had been arrested in the mini-mall was admitted into the Delaware Air National Guard. How? Through the use of a little-known, but increasingly important, escape clause known as a waiver. Waivers, which are generally approved at the Pentagon, allow recruiters to sign up men and women who otherwise would be ineligible for service because of legal convictions, medical problems or other reasons preventing them from meeting minimum standards . . . .

This is where waivers come in. According to statistics provided to Salon by the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the Army said that 17 percent (21,880 new soldiers) of its 2005 recruits were admitted under waivers. Put another way, more soldiers than are in an entire infantry division entered the Army in 2005 without meeting normal standards. This use of waivers represents a 42 percent increase since the pre-Iraq year of 2000 . . . .

One Pentagon official, whom Salon asked to inspect the Army's official waiver figure, said the Army's claim that it has issued waivers to 17 percent of recruits "is not a correct number." In fact, the percentage should be higher. The Army has made the number appear lower by combining data from Army Reserve forces, including the Army National Guard -- even though the Guard has its own separate recruiting program and (based on information provided to Salon under the FOIA) used waivers in only 6 percent of all cases in 2005.

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