PHOENIX — A former special military unit commander and 20 of current and former Air National Guard soldiers have been charged with defrauding the government.
Indictments unveiled Monday contend the soldiers falsified records and used fake addresses to say they were on temporary assignments outside of Arizona when, in fact, they were still living at home in Tucson.
That act is significant because those assignments entitle the soldiers to get extra “temporary duty disbursements.” State Attorney General Tom Horne said, for some of the soldiers, that extra pay over the course of three years amounted to more than $100,000 apiece.
Overall, he said the total amount stolen from taxpayers, was $1.4 million.
But Horne said the soldiers, who pilot predator drones over Iraq and Afghanistan via satellite from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, did not act on their own. He laid much of the blame at the feet of Col. Gregg Davies, the former commander of the 214th Reconnaissance Group.
“The colonel involved abused his position of authority to obtain this temporary duty pay for himself, over $100,000, and also to help the 20 others do that,” Horne said. “And he used his position to circumvent measures designed to prevent this type of fraud.”
Assistant Attorney General Mike Jette said that if convicted, those facing charges ranging from conspiracy and theft to money laundering could get up to 12 1/2 years in prison.
Only Davies' name was made public on Monday. Jette said the remainder of those charged will become public when they are arraigned in Pima County Superior Court next month, as some of the others indicted had not yet been notified.
Jette said arrests are not being made because prosecutors believe that all of those involved will show up for arraignment.
Horne said he knows of no specific weakness in military reimbursement procedures that allow this kind of thing to occur.
“We all have reverence for our military personnel who defend our freedom,” he said.
“But in any group, no matter how good the group is, you're going to have a small percentage that will be dishonest,” Horne continued. “And when that happens, the role that they play, and the reverence for the role they play is no excuse for committing a crime and defrauding the government.”
Less clear is how the case, which involves stolen federal dollars for soldiers on federal active duty status, wound up in Horne's office.
Horne said it began as an FBI investigation three years ago after Air Force officials started questioning some of the payments. He said his office got it about 18 months ago, at the time when there were only two suspects.
He said the FBI apparently brought the case to him after federal prosecutors were not interested in pursuing the case. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix declined to comment.