Contractor Fraud May Have Put Soldiers at Risk

The Special Operations Command is investigating whether soldiers received inferior equipment because of a contractor who took bribes from defense companies.

The command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, said it would review all contracts handled by William Burke, who was in charge of determining what equipment is tested and used by special forces like Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

Burke, 49, pleaded guilty Friday to bribery and agreed to identify associates in the scheme. He could face up to 15 years in prison. He and his attorney wouldn’t comment after the plea hearing.

Federal prosecutors say Burke gave preferential treatment to defense companies represented by an unindicted co-conspirator in exchange for a $3,000 bribe in January. He also accepted another $9,000 for providing market research, prosecutors said.

Command spokesman Col. Sam Taylor told The St. Petersburg Times that Burke “worked on what can best be described as soldier systems, which includes things like lightweight communications systems, ammunition, small arms, etc.”

“SOCom takes all allegations of wrongdoing seriously and will, as it did in this case, ensure they are thoroughly investigated and the appropriate action is taken,” Taylor said.

Investigators are trying to determine whether companies given preferential treatment were aware they were paying a bribe and which companies were involved, said Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa.

Cole said the command initiated the investigation _ which also involves the Pentagon inspector general, the command’s criminal investigators and the FBI _ but declined to say when it began or what prompted it.

Burke worked for Virginia-based Sentel Corp. and started at the command in 1999. Sentel president James Garrett said Burke acted without the company’s knowledge.

“Sentel has a long, successful history of working with the federal government and we do not tolerate unethical or illegal behavior from our employees,” he said.