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Task force vigilant against contract fraud

by Staff Sgt. Anthony Graham
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

2/14/2011 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Pittsburgh, stepped into a shower in Iraq in January 2008 -- and it was the last action he would take on this earth.

Sergeant Maseth was electrocuted in that shower -- one of many service members killed or injured by allegedly faulty electrical work in thousands of structures maintained in Iraq by a contractor. The contractor denies wrongdoing, and legal action on the matter continues.

Former Army Maj. John Cockerham now sits in a federal penitentiary -- his home for about the next 16 years -- having been found guilty of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from unscrupulous contractors while deployed to Southwest Asia. Master Sgt. Mark Carnes will learn of his punishment in March following a guilty plea to similar, but unrelated, charges.

While faulty wiring and deadly living conditions may seem worlds apart from a relatively white-collar crime like accepting payoffs, the common denominator linking such cases is contract fraud.

A series of such high-profile cases in recent years led to the establishment of the International Contract Corruption Task Force, which seeks to educate and inform government employees aboutcontract fraud and violations. The ICCTF fully investigates suspected wrongdoing for criminal prosecution and is made up of federal agents representing nine different agencies, including the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, stationed throughout SWA, plus a supporting organization in the United States.

The ICCTF has recouped about $161 million and has charged approximately 143 individuals during its existence, said Special Agent Megan Rauch, a fraud agent for the past five years.

"In addition to the money we attempt to save taxpayers through ensuring a fair and marketable contracting process, we actually return taxpayer money to the treasury in the form of funds returned, or through the fines and fees that result from convictions," she said.

"Not only do we recoup and try to save the government's money, but by supporting a proper contracting process we help thwart bribery, illegal gratuities, kick-backs, and defective or counterfeit products and work," SA Rauch said.

A team of seven ICCTF agents recently traveled to Bahrain to discuss their mission, contracting laws, expectations and recent cases and indicators of contract fraud with senior contracting representatives from the Army, Navy and Air Force components of U.S. Central Command.

"It was very rewarding to be there and discuss how to do things right the first time with people who can then train and discuss that topic across the entire (area of responsibility)," Agent Rauch said.

"The bottom line for me is that when I see reports in the news back home about misappropriations, I know that causes public trust to go down," she said. "People trust us to spend tax money the right way, and I'm proud to stand beside our contracting officials with my fellow agents as members of the same team -- representing the government's best interests."

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