Defense contractor employee pleads guilty to bribery

A senior employee of a Defense Department contractor pleaded guilty this week to playing a role in a bribery and bid-rigging conspiracy at a U.S. Army base in Kuwait -- an investigation that has led to the arrest of 15 public and private sector officials.

Dorothy Ellis, 53, of Texas City, Texas, admitted in U.S. District Court that she helped bribe a pair of Army procurement officials to win lucrative contracts for her boss' companies. In exchange, Ellis received a $100,000 bonus, Justice Department officials said.

Ellis pleaded guilty to one count of bribery conspiracy and agreed to forfeit $360,000 --the total amount of the payoffs -- to the government. She also faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced on Dec. 1.

According to court documents, Ellis worked for ex-Defense contractor Terry Hall at two of his companies, Freedom Consulting and Catering Co. and Total Government Allegiance. As the businesses' most senior employee, Ellis served as the liaison between Hall and Army contracting officials stationed at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

Between 2004 and 2007, Hall's companies held a blanket purchase agreement -- essentially a charge card set up with certain vendors with which agencies purchase supplies on as-needed basis -- with the Army to deliver bottled water to Camp Arifjan.

Prosecutors said Hall won purchases off the BPA by paying bribes to two Army contracting officers. Maj. James Momon was paid approximately $330,000 while Maj. Christopher Murray received roughly $30,000, according to court documents.

In exchange for the payments, Momon allegedly arranged for the Army to pay Hall's companies more than $6.4 million through the bottled water BPA. Murray, meanwhile, helped Total Government Allegiance win a contract to build a security fence at the Army base, court documents indicated.

Ellis admitted to providing Momon and Murray with information, including personal identification numbers and online passwords that allowed them to access secret bank accounts established on their behalf in the Philippines, prosecutors said. The accounts served as a conduit for Hall and others to transfer bribe payments to the contracting officers.

Prosecutors said Ellis also obtained confidential Army contract pricing information from Momon designed to give Hall an unfair advantage in the bidding process for an ice contract from the Army.

The Kuwait contracting office has been a focal point of investigations of procurement violations in recent years. To date, 15 individuals have been charged and 13, including Hall, Momon and Murray, have pleaded guilty. Hall and Momon are awaiting sentencing while Murray was sentenced in December 2009 to five years and nine months in prison.

The alleged ringleader of the operation, former Army Maj. John Cockerham, was sentenced last December to more than 17 years in prison and ordered to pay $9.6 million in restitution.

Hall's co-defendants, former Army Maj. Eddie Pressley and his wife, Eurica, are scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 24, 2011, in Decatur, Ala. Another former Defense contractor employee, Wajdi Birjas, pleaded guilty last month to bribing Army contracting officials and money laundering, and is scheduled to face sentencing on Jan. 7, 2011.

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