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Manufacturing Speculation About A Company’s Involvement In A Government Contracting Bribery Investigation

Apparently, a Kuwait company is suspected of getting millions of dollars of improper contracts after an Army office plead guilty to bribery.

The article above is an odd bit of journalism. The headline says that a Kuwaiti firm is “tied” to a scandal, but it isn’t clear who “ties” the two together. As I read it, there is a bribery case in federal court that may involve, very tangentially, a Kuwaiti company. That company, in an unrelated matter, had a problem with a government contract that was treated a little strangely.

This is a nice example of how journalists have even fewer checks on their power than prosecutors. That this stuff gets published to make a company look bad is disappointing.

Here’s the background:

An Army Major named Cockerham has entered a plea to taking about $9.6 million in bribes from a ledger that he maintained that said there were $15 million in bribes. [Note – if you’re planning on taking bribes, do not keep them in a ledger.]

On the ledger, the Kuwaiti company, KMS Co., has an entry for $40,000, suggesting that the company gave the Major $40,000 in bribe money.

The company has other problems not related to the Major; it billed the government for gasoline that was reported stolen, and the reporter doubts that’s an accurate description of why the gasoline didn’t make it to the Army. The sanction for this missing gasoline is not what a source for the reporter says it should be.

The Major is cooperating with prosecutors, hoping to get more time off his sentence. The government isn’t saying anything. The Major’s defense lawyer says he doesn’t know if they’re going to talk about the $40,000 at sentencing.

I don’t see any link in this story between the bribery investigation and the gasoline issue. Which makes me wonder who is feeding this story to the reporter.

If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.

Here’s what I think is significant and what isn’t:

That the government isn’t saying anything means nothing. They can’t talk about things that happen in a grand jury, and they won’t talk about anything interesting from a pending investigation. This isn’t useful information.

The Major is cooperating. The big thing to know, if you represent the Kuwaiti company, or if you are interested in the case for other reasons, is whether the Major is testifying about the Kuwaiti company.

I think he’s not cooperating against the Kuwaiti company. The way cooperation in a federal investigation works, is that the person who is cooperating meets with government agents and prosecutors, with his lawyer, and provides information. Often this happens in informal proffer sessions. Sometimes the person cooperating has to take affirmative action to help law enforcement by calling other people, or collecting information. Regardless, the person’s attorney is closely involved in the process.

The Major’s lawyer didn’t know what the status of the $40,000 was for the purposes of the Major’s federal sentencing guidelines calculation. That tells me that he’s not thinking about that issue. If he’s not thinking about the issue, it’s likely because he hasn’t been confronted with it. If he hasn’t been confronted with it, that tells me that it hasn’t come up in the cooperation.

What I find more interesting, though, is how the reporter got this information. He cites sources in Kuwait, and he mentions what military investigators have found in their work. My strong bet is that he got his information from military investigators in Kuwait, or his source, Scot Amey from POGO, is trying to get some legs on a story to spread some innuendo about the Kuwaiti company.

Regardless, it shows what is so problematic about the coverage of criminal cases in the media. This story strongly suggests to the reader that the Kuwaiti company is very very bad. Maybe it is, but the evidence just isn’t presented in this article.

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