Army Major Faces Prison on Bribery Charges

An Army major is in jail, awaiting a hearing Wednesday in San Antonio on charges that he accepted up to $10 million in bribes from Defense Department contractors seeking to do business in Iraq and Kuwait. Maj. John Cockerham and his wife, Melissa, face up to 40 years in prison.

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An Army major is in jail today. He's awaiting a federal court hearing tomorrow in San Antonio on charges that he accepted up to $10 million in bribes from defense contractors. The companies who were trying to do business in Iraq and Kuwait. If convicted, Major John Cockerham and his wife, Melissa, face up to 40 years in prison.

NPR's defense correspondent, Guy Raz, has more on the story.

GUY RAZ: No one involved in the investigation could speak on the record. So to put it in simple language, one senior official familiar with the case says if the allegations prove true, it amounts to, quote, "the biggest bribery scandal in the history of the Department of Defense." The story is as compelling as it is sinister. According to court records, Major Cockerham served as a contracting and procurement agent for the U.S. Army. In 2005, he was stationed in Kuwait. Now, Cockerham's job was to approve or deny certain types of contracts for work worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq and Kuwait.

Now, over the course of at least 18 months, Cockerham allegedly received bribes totaling nearly $10 million from at least eight different companies. None of those companies are named in the criminal complaint filed overnight in San Antonio. But in a separate court filing, this time one filed in Detroit, a Kuwaiti company, Green Valley, is identified as one of the contractors that allegedly paid off Cockerham and his wife, Melissa. In an interview, the spokesman for the company, Muhammad Haluji(ph), denied making any payments to Cockerham in exchange for contracts.

Investigators who are looking into the case would not specify which companies are under investigation, only to say that some are U.S.-based. In 2005, while Cockerham was stationed in Kuwait, his wife, Melissa, briefly went to Dubai, where, according to court records, an interlocutor helped her set up a shell company called World Wide Trading. The court documents alleged that through World Wide Trading, Melissa Cockerham was able to distribute cash to several bank accounts throughout the Persian Gulf and the Grand Cayman Islands.

According to one investigator, this is only, quote, "the beginning of the story." In the coming two weeks, more criminal complaints are expected to come down on others who were involved. The Cockerhams have requested a court-appointed lawyer, who is expected to be named tomorrow. Repeated calls to their listed telephone number went unanswered. One official close to the investigation said, quote, "Cockerham shouldn't get too comfortable in his jail cell. It may soon get crowded.

Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.

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