JUNE 25, 2008
A United States Army major indicted last year for taking millions of dollars in bribes from companies seeking lucrative government contracts in Iraq has pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy and money laundering.
As the Army official assigned to the contracting office, Major John Cockerham wielded tremendous power because he was responsible for soliciting and reviewing bids for Department of Defense contracts in the Middle East. Companies seeking the lucrative government deals to provide U.S. troops with services and goods had to go through him and several secured their contracts with hefty cash bribes.
The disgraced military official took nearly $10 million in bribes from military contractors and he expected $5.4 million more from deals he had rigged. Cockerham had the contractors deliver his money to his wife Melissa, who also pleaded guilty in the scheme, to hide the illegal transactions. She lived at Fort Sam Houston Army Post in Texas, but traveled to the Middle East to help her corrupt husband.
In her guilty plea, Melissa Cockerham admitted that she accepted more than $1 million in illegal bribes for her husband and that she stored the cash in safe deposit boxes at banks in Kuwait and Dubai. From 2004 to 2007 the couple raked in a lot of cash because Cockerham worked on blanket purchase agreements, which feature indefinite delivery and indefinite quantities of goods such as bottled water.
U.S. government contracts in Iraq have long been plagued with fraud, corruption and waste that have cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars since the war began. Various government probes have detailed the problems, including a recently published Department of Defense Inspector General report that revealed the government failed to comply with federal regulations created to prevent fraud when it paid out nearly $8 billion worth of Iraq contracts in the last five years alone.
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