Major procurement fraud unit.
With six subordinate field offices and more than 27 resident agencies, the civilian special agents of MPFU conduct investigations into allegations of fraud associated with the Army's major acquisitions programs, such as weapons systems, support systems and civil/military construction contracts awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers. Many of the MPFU's offices are located within major contracting hubs, such as Atlanta and Detroit.
Over the past 10 years, MPFU has recovered more than $1.5 billion dollars, of which $411.2 million has been returned directly to the Army. Since 2005, MPFU has conducted investigations resulting in more than 225 indictments and 342 convictions, 240 suspensions and 288 debarments of contractors.
With such substantial sums of money at stake comes a large responsibility, one that all MPFU agents hold in the highest regard. However, money is not the only thing at stake; the lives of Soldiers can also hang in the balance due to fraud and greed.
MPFU agents investigate all types of fraud, kickback schemes, double-billing plots and bribery. Their investigations run the gamut from defective personal protective gear and ammunition to defective tank and aircraft parts. Some manufacturers have faked test results or substituted materials with cheaper, less effective ones, creating deadly situations for Soldiers.
In one case, a manufacturer who had a contract worth more than $6 million provided defective nuclear, biological and chemical filters for the M1A1 tank, resulting in fires inside several tanks. During one such ire a Soldier was killed. After countless hours of investigative work by the MPFU, the contractor pled guilty to major fraud against the U.S. government, false claims and false statements. The contractor was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $9.2 million.
In another case, a contractor failed to properly heat-treat main rotor blade pins used on the UH60 Black Hawk helicopter, causing corroding and cracking and eventual failure in the main rotor blade pins. The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command issued a safety of flight alert and mandated the grounding of all UH60s while the proper repairs were made. The contractor was sentenced to pay restitution in the amount of $1 million plus interest, and placed on probation for five years.
"MPFU agents are highly motivated federal law enforcement officers, well versed in the investigation of fraud and corruption cases," said James Podolak, director of the MPFU. "They are trained to conduct their investigations with a view toward realizing the best possible remedy as a result of their investigations, whether they are in CONUS or in a contingency contracting environment.
"Many of MPFU's agents are recruited from the active-duty CID, who are then trained and mentored by senior MPFU agents, as well as educated in contracting, and in the investigation of fraud and corruption crimes."
To accomplish their mission, MPFU rarely uses any "CSI"-type equipment in their investigations--most of the time it's just good old-fashioned detective work and the tenacious spirit of the CID special agents that close cases. Special agents live for scouring documents and scanning files for that one piece of evidence that can break a case.
"We are dealing with sophisticated people who know how to keep their fraud hidden, or at least they try to," said Special Agent Mark Mansfield, assigned to the Atlanta Fraud Field Office. "Some of the cases consist of pretty sophisticated schemes, while others are crimes of opportunity.. .either way it's straight-out theft and once we get involved, they have nowhere to run."
Mansfield, who has a degree in finance, added that the complex nature of government contracting lends itself to making MPFU agents experts in the contracting field.
"You have to understand the product," said Mansfield. "The business of the Army has to go forward, and investigating these crimes not only serves as a deterrent, but it also keeps the Army whole."
MPFU conducts undercover operations and uses several forms of surveillance techniques during some of its investigations, according to Special Agent Wes Kilgore, special-agent-in-charge at the Pacific Fraud Field Office.
"We are a small organization with a critical mission," said Kilgore. "As long as there are large-dollar contracts, there will always be people who succumb to temptation, and we will be there to go after them with every resource we have available."
Being an MPFU special agent takes patience, since many of the cases do not produce immediate results. Some cases languish for years under mountains of documents and legal wrangling. That is why CID decided a number of years ago to assign civilian special agents to these unique investigations. Because the cases can take a long time to investigate and bring to trial, having the same case agents working them from start to finish is a big plus, according to CID officials.
"On average, each case takes about two years," said Kilgore. "We keep our investigations open past the investigative findings and support the prosecutors through sentencing and fining."
Podolak said some of the toughest challenges facing the MPFU special agents today are the highly complex fraud and corruption investigations, combined with an ever-increasing caseload.
"MPFU agents deploy alongside our Soldiers as combat multipliers to combat and prevent fraud and corruption on the battlefield, as well as responding to humanitarian relief efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world," he said.
There are CID MPFU special agents on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were CID special agents on the ground when troops were sent into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and there will be special agents deployed wherever there is an Army presence.
Podolak offered some advice to those who think they can get away with ripping off the Army:
"If you think you can succeed in committing fraud crimes, remember that MPFU exists to protect the Army's interests and to preserve the integrity of our contracting process," he said. "We will follow all leads to obtain all possible remedies ... our agents will work to not only put you in jail for fraud or corruption, but they will also seek to take all those 'spoils' of your crime--your house, cars, other property and illicit bank accounts--and you will be debarred from doing business with the U.S. government."
Jeffrey Castro works for USACIDC Public Affairs.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2010|
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