Former Reserve officer cops plea

A former U.S. Army Reserve officer has agreed to plead guilty to playing a key role in a kickback scheme that steered millions of dollars in Iraq-reconstruction contracts to one businessman.

Bruce D. Hopfengardner served as a special adviser to the U.S.-led occupation forces, recommending funding for projects on law enforcement facilities in Iraq.

Documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court said that Hopfengardner will plead guilty to conspiring with Philip H. Bloom, a U.S. citizen with businesses in Romania, Robert J. Stein, a former Defense Department contract official, and others to create a corrupt bidding process that included the theft of $2 million in reconstruction money.

Bloom and Stein already have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the scheme that paid more than $2 million in bribes to officials. No hearing has been set for Hopfengardner’s guilty plea in U.S. District Court.

Hopfengardner’s role in the scheme was to use his job to recommend that the Coalition Provisional Authority fund projects to demolish the Ba’ath Party headquarters, rebuild a police academy and construct various other facilities.

Bloom, who controlled companies in Iraq and Romania, used a series of dummy corporations to bid on projects, and Stein then made sure that one of the firms was awarded the contract, the court papers said.

The businessman allegedly showered Hopfengardner and Stein with cash, cars, premium airline seats, jewelry, alcohol and even sexual favors from women at his villa in Baghdad.

According to court filings, Bloom offered Hopfengardner and Stein “$100,000 up front” and $10,000 a month for their help in steering contracts to his companies.

Hopfengardner also allegedly stole $120,000 in cash from Iraq and smuggled it into the United States aboard a commercial airliner.

The court papers said Hopfengardner demanded that Bloom pay for a white 2004 GMC Yukon Denali with a sandstone interior. At Hopfengardner’s request, Bloom also allegedly paid the air fare for Hopfengardner and his wife to travel from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while he was on leave in January 2004.

As part of his agreement to plead guilty, Hopfengardner will turn over to the government the Denali, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, as well a home in Fredericksburg, Va., cash in various bank accounts and numerous pieces of camera equipment.

E-mails that prosecutors made public in April show that Bloom told his employees to spare no expense in satisfying the officials who controlled contracts in the CPA’s regional office in Hillah, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

As part of the scheme, Bloom submitted several bids for companies he controlled and others that did not exist. Some of the bids were high, while others were low.

All the bids came in under $500,000 each because that was the limit of Stein’s authority to award a contract.

© 2006 The Associated Press