Criminal Justice News

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thirteen U.S. Soldiers Sentenced for Roles in Fraudulent Military Recruiting Bonus Scheme



Thirteen members of the National Guard Bureau have received their sentences for their roles in wide-ranging bribery and fraud schemes that caused more than $170,000 in losses to the United States.  Seven of those members were sentenced this past week in Houston.  

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas made the announcement.  

Jammie Martin, 38, of Katy, Texas, and Michelle Davis, 34, of Houston, were convicted in February of this year after a five-day trial of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Martin was sentenced to serve 102 months in prison and Davis was sentenced to serve 57 months in prison.  

Vanessa Phillips, 37, of Houston, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery and was sentenced to three years probation.

Zaunmine “Orlando” Duncan, 39, of Douglasville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery and one count of aggravated identity theft.  He was sentenced to serve 70 months in prison.

Annika Chambers, 29, of Houston, and Lashae Hawkins, 29, of San Antonio, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery.  Chambers was sentenced to serve six months in prison.  Hawkins received one year and one day in prison.
    Christopher Renfro, 27, of Houston, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, one count of aggravated identity theft and two counts of wire fraud.  He was sentenced to serve 36 months in prison.

In June, six other members of the National Guard were sentenced for their roles in the scheme.  

Michael Rambaran, 52, of Pearland, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery and one count of aggravated identity theft.  He was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison.  

Edia Antoine, 29, and Ernest A. Millien III, 51, both of Houston, and Melanie Moraida, 35, of Pearland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery.  Each received 12 months and one day in prison.  

Elisha Ceja, 28, of Barboursville, West Virginia, and Kimberly Hartgraves, 30, of League City, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery.  Ceja was sentenced to serve nine months in prison and Hartgraves received probation.

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in the Southern District of Texas imposed the prison terms and also ordered all 13 defendants to pay restitution.  One remaining defendant, Danielle Applin 29, of Harker Heights, Texas, who previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 2, 2015, in Houston.

In approximately September 2005, the National Guard Bureau entered into a contract with Document and Packaging Broker Inc. to administer the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP).  Through this program, a participating soldier, known as a recruiting assistant, could receive bonus payments for referring another individual to join the National Guard.  Based on certain milestones achieved by the referred soldier, a participating soldier would receive payment through direct deposit into the participating soldier’s designated bank account.  To participate in the program, recruiting assistants were required to create online accounts.

According to the evidence presented at trial and in connection with various guilty pleas, Phillips and Davis, both of whom participated in the G-RAP as recruiting assistants, conspired with Martin, a recruiter, to defraud the program by falsely claiming that they were responsible for referring potential soldiers to join the National Guard.  The trial evidence showed that Martin used his position to obtain the names and Social Security numbers of potential soldiers which he provided to recruiting assistants so that they could use the information to obtain fraudulent recruiting referral bonuses.  The evidence at trial showed that, in exchange for the information, Martin, who organized and led the scheme, personally received approximately $15,000 in payments from the recruiting assistants.  This scheme resulted in more than $30,000 in losses to the National Guard Bureau.

In a separate scheme that resulted in an additional $70,000 in losses, recruiting assistants Antoine, Millien, Moraida and Renfro admitted to paying Rambaran, a recruiter who organized and led the scheme, for the personal information of potential soldiers.  They then used that information to obtain fraudulent bonuses by falsely claiming they referred those individuals to join the National Guard.  Rambaran admitted that, in exchange for the recruit information, he personally received a total of approximately $29,000 in payments from the recruiting assistants.

In connection with his guilty plea in a scheme he organized and led, Duncan, a recruiter, admitted he personally received approximately $24,000 in payments from recruiting assistants in exchange for personal information of potential soldiers.  Those recruiting assistants – Ceja, Chambers, Hartgraves and Hawkins – admitted to paying Duncan for the information and using it to obtain fraudulent bonuses by falsely claiming they referred those individuals to join the National Guard.  This scheme resulted in another $70,000 in losses to the National Guard Bureau.

The cases were investigated by the San Antonio Fraud Resident Agency of Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Sean F. Mulryne, Heidi Boutros Gesch and Mark J. Cipolletti of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pearson of the Southern District of Texas.

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