MANHATTAN (CN) - After the government rested its case against him, Army Capt. Bryant Williams took the stand Monday, denying that he paid or accepted "a penny" in bribes or kickbacks from military contractors in Iraq. Prosecutors accuse Williams of accepting tens of thousands of dollars to steer more than $500,000 to military contractors in Iraq.
Williams said the alleged "kickbacks" were winnings from card games he played while stationed in Iraq, and said he hid the cash because gambling is against military regulations.
"I was a little worried about the Army finding out," Williams said.
Born in 1971, Williams says he enlisted in the army in 1992 as a reservist through its "World Class Athlete" program, which allows recruits to train for the Olympics.
Williams said he attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge on a track and field scholarship before enlisting during the Gulf War.
He said he transferred out of the athletic program into a more traditional army service in 1996, starting as a private and rising in the ranks as he re-enlisted "at least" four times.
Williams said that he was deployed to Iraq just before Hurricane Katrina, in late summer 2006. He said he remembered the date because he had to leave wife behind during the storm while they were living in Baton Rouge.
His wife was also a track and field star, inducted into her college's Hall of Fame, and they married during the summer of his deployment, Williams said.
Prosecutors claim that Williams pressured contractors into buying a diamond ring for his wife; Williams denied that allegation on the stand.
Within days of arriving in Iraq, Williams said, he began working with contractors as a Resource Management Officer.
"You meet the vendors. They kind of come around. They're everywhere," he said, adding that there were "more contractors than actual military" on many bases.
He testified at length about contractor "villages," which, unlike military barracks and tents, often have pool tables, DJs, private rooms, fitness equipment, swimming pools and even a golf driving range.
"You're in a combat zone. You rarely see things like that [outside contractor villages]," Williams said.
Defense attorney David Greenfield projected photos of soldiers and contractors drinking, gambling, golfing and swimming, and Williams said that many of these activities were prohibited or "frowned upon" by the Army.
Although he said he does not drink, he said that the contractors with whom he played cards often "got sloppy," which he said increased his odds.
When asked if he won, Williams' eyes widened as he said, "Oh, yeah." He said he won tens of thousands of dollars playing the card game Tonka, and kept his winnings in a locked duffel bag.
When asked by Greenfield how he planned to get the winnings home, Williams replied, "I didn't really have a plan, actually."
He said that he eventually decided to transport the duffel bags himself while going home twice on leave, wired and mailed money to friends in need and sought a favor from a contractor named "Mike."
The full identities and corporate affiliations of the contractors were not identified in the indictment.
Williams said that Mike agreed to transport $6,000, but later tried to "misuse" the time they spent together by trying to get more fuel through him.
No contractor could have received such a favor from him because he had "no say-so in who got what job," Williams said.
The amount of the winnings showed he got the money by gambling and not kickbacks, Williams said, stating that his "lucky 50 cents" at the end of one of his transfers came from two quarters he won at cards.
Contractor Harith Aljabawi, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2009, said that Williams pulled a gun from his shoulder holster and threatened him when he found out that he had been awarded contracts from other units.
Williams denies this ever happened, and said he wore a paddle holster on his rear hip.
During cross-examination, prosecutor Loyaan Egal entered a stipulation showing the people to whom Williams sent money, and grilled the captain on the money he said he won by gambling.
Williams acknowledged that he never declared his winnings on taxes, and said he did not remember how much he won in total.
Williams' estimate on the witness stand was lower than the total amounts he wired and carried, Egal said.
Williams said that he worked with "Mike" and with Harith Aljabawi because they were the only contractors willing to operate "off the FOB [Forward Operating Base]" in the section of Iraq known as the "Triangle of Death." None of the other contractors were "willing to put themselves in harm's way," he added.
His cross-examination continues today, and closing arguments are expected to follow.
If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
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