Tuesday, July 24, 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A former US army reserve major pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from US government contractors while deployed in Iraq, the US Department of Justice said Monday.

Separately, federal agents arrested an active-duty army major on charges of taking millions of dollars in bribes while working as a contracting officer stationed in Kuwait.

John Allen Rivard, 48, faces up to 30 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering at federal court in Austin, Texas, a statement by the department said.

Between April 2004 and August 2005 Rivard steered US government contracts worth 21 million dollars to a private contractor in exchange for bribes of more than 220,000 dollars.

At the time Rivard was stationed at LSA Anaconda, one of the largest US military bases in Iraq located outside the town of Balad.

Rivard also admitted to conspiring with accomplices in the United States to launder the bribery proceeds.

When he is sentenced Rivard will also likely have to pay a fine of up to 1.16 million dollars, the statement read.

In a similar case, federal agents arrested US Army Major John Cockerham, 41, at a Texas army base late Sunday on charges of bribery, money laundering and conspiracy linked to his role as a contracting officer in Kuwait in 2004 and 2005.

Federal agents also arrested Cockerham's wife Melissa, 40, on charges of money laundering and conspiracy, the Justice Department said Monday in a separate statement.

"Records obtained in the case indicate that Cockerham may have received up to 9.6 million dollars in bribe payments from at least eight contractors, and he anticipated receiving as much as 5.4 million dollars more," read the DOJ statement.

Cockerham took the bribes starting in 2005 from companies that had US military contracts in Iraq and Kuwait that he either awarded or controlled, according to the affidavit in the case.

Under his direction, Cockerham's wife Melissa allegedly received millions in US and foreign currency from the contractors, then deposited the money in bank accounts and safe deposit boxes in Kuwait and Dubai.

Both defendants face up to 20 years in prison and a half-million dollar fine for money laundering. The bribery carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a 250,000 dollar fine, while the conspiracy charge carries a maximum five year prison sentence and a 250,000 fine.

A detention hearing is set for the couple for Wednesday at federal court in San Antonio, Texas, according to the statement.