WASHINGTON — A recruitment campaign to boost the Army National Guard and Reserve at a difficult time in Iraq and Afghanistan is now the focus of a Pentagon fraud investigation, including allegations of kickback schemes involving military personnel, internal documents show.
The alleged fraud involves programs that paid $2,000 bounties to soldiers or civilians who signed up as "recruiting assistants" and brought in new enlistees. Investigators have found evidence that recruiters for the Guard and Reserve who were not eligible for the bounties worked with some recruiting assistants to secretly secure and split up the money.
More than 1,700 recruiters and hundreds of recruiting assistants are under scrutiny for $91 million in potentially fraudulent transactions — more than a quarter of all the bounty money paid, according to an internal Army Audit Agency document. Investigators have found that dozens of the recruiters apparently shared bank accounts with individuals who received bounties.
Faced with a report on the abuses, Army Secretary John McHugh canceled the programs and ordered an inquiry of "systemic weaknesses and shortfalls, some of a potentially criminal nature," according to an internal memo he signed on Feb. 9.
In response to questions, an Army spokesman said the investigation is ongoing. "If additional allegations of criminal conduct are found, the Army will take appropriate action," George Wright said. "Because of the sensitivity of the criminal investigation, providing any further details or comment would be inappropriate."
Launched in 2005, the Recruiting Assistance Programs were billed as an innovative way to supplement active-duty units strained by the demands of the two wars. At the time, tens of thousands of service members were required to serve extended tours of duty because of the shortfall of troops to relieve them.
The campaign offered bounties of up to $2,000 per recruit to soldiers or civilians who referred enlistees to the Guard or Reserve. Pentagon investigators started hearing allegations that some recruiters for the Guard and Reserve were taking advantage of the program. Over the last several years, investigators have opened at least 17 criminal cases and have called for a broader audit.
A subsequent Army Audit Agency investigation showed that more than a quarter of the $339 million in bounties paid over the past six years "were at risk for fraud," according to an audit briefing given to McHugh on Feb. 2.