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U.S. Says Kuwaitis Bribed Army Officers

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - An Army officer took millions of dollars in kickbacks to award inflated contracts to a family-owned group of Kuwaiti companies, federal prosecutors say. Major John Cockerham pleaded guilty to taking the bribes while he worked at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait; now Uncle Sam is going after the Kuwaiti companies.

Cockerham developed a relationship with defendant Saud Al Tawash, whose family owns the defendant companies Green Valley, Palm Springs General Trading and Contracting Establishment and Jireh Springs General Trading and Contracting, according to the complaint.

Cockerham is accused of taking bribes to award the Tawash companies contracts to supply troops with bottled water, wastewater removal services, tents, latrines, Dumpsters, generators and lights.

Tawash hired Cockerham's sister, (nonparty) Carolyn Blake, and moved her to Kuwait to "work" for his company Gulf Telecom and assist her brother in collecting bribe payments, according to the complaint.

"Gulf Telecom purported to hire ... Blake, and paid for her housing, transportation, and children's education, vacations, and gave her money to pay her debts in the United States," the government says.

Cockerham took $6.2 million from his co-conspirators from June 2004 until December 2006, prosecutors say. In February 2008 he pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

Three months before leaving Kuwait, Cockerham allegedly began mentoring a new arrival, Army Major James Momon, to take over his scheme with Al-Tawash.

"Cockerham intended that Momon should split any bribes [he] received with Cockerham after the latter deployed back to the United States," according to the complaint.

Momon allegedly helped his mentor strike a deal with Green Valley Co. to pay them 3 cents per gallon of wastewater removed, an inflated rate, and received $400,000 for his efforts.

Prosecutors seek treble damages for violations of the False Claims Act, breach of fiduciary, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

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