WASHINGTON – An Army National Guard soldier pleaded guilty today in the Western District of Texas for her role in a bribery and fraud scheme that caused approximately $54,000 in losses to the Army National Guard Bureau, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Specialist Stephanie Heller, 37, of Wharton, Texas, pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information charging her with one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. The criminal information was filed on Sept. 26, 2012, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
The case against Heller arises from an investigation involving allegations that former and current military recruiters and U.S. soldiers in the San Antonio and Houston areas engaged in a wide-ranging bribery and fraud scheme to illegally obtain fraudulent recruiting bonuses. To date, the investigation has led to charges against nine individuals, all of whom have pleaded guilty, including Heller.
According to court documents, in approximately September 2005, the National Guard Bureau entered into a contract with Document and Packaging Broker Inc., to administer a recruiting program designed to offer monetary incentives to soldiers of the Army National Guard who referred others to join the Army National Guard. Through this program, a participating soldier could receive up to $2,000 in bonus payments for every person whom the participating soldier referred to join the Army 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, soldiers were required to create online recruiting assistant accounts.
According to court documents, Heller enlisted in the Army National Guard in approximately July 2008. Heller admitted that, between approximately August 2009 and April 2011, she agreed to pay two Army National Guard recruiters for the names and Social Security numbers of at least 28 potential Army National Guard soldiers. Heller further admitted that she used the personal identifying information for these potential soldiers to claim that she was responsible for referring these potential soldiers to join the Army National Guard, when in fact she had not referred them.
As a result of these fraudulent representations, Heller collected at least approximately $44,500 in fraudulent recruiting bonus payments, approximately $21,000 of which she gave to the two Army National Guard recruiters who facilitated the fraudulent scheme.
The charge of bribery carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the monetary gain or loss. The charge of conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss.
Heller’s sentencing has been scheduled for March 1, 2013, before Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Edward J. Loya Jr., Brian A. Lichter and Sean F. Mulryne of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. The case is being investigated by agents from the San Antonio Fraud Resident Agency of the Major Procurement Fraud Unit, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.