By Steve Beynon
The Army has found “100 to 200” cases in which troops were wrongfully entered into a federal criminal database, triggering the reopening of 1,900 cases related to a sprawling recruiting fraud investigation, service officials said Thursday.
Army officials have no clear plan yet on how to compensate those impacted by the probe, with service members potentially failing criminal background checks or having their promotions stalled, despite never being arrested or charged, all because of an internal snafu investigators described as a “mistake” they said they hope to figure out by early next year.
“In terms of what the longer-term impacts are, at this point in time, we’re just trying to do the right thing,” Brig. Gen. David Mendelson, U.S. Army assistant judge advocate general for military law and operations, told reporters Thursday at a press conference on the matter. “This is about dignity and respect. For those who have been maybe wrongly noted in the FBI index, it’s correcting the record, and then providing a forum and an opportunity for those individuals to seek the remedy they need.”
Troops who were entangled in the federal database sometimes were wrongfully listed as having been arrested, potentially leading to the loss of job opportunities and security clearances, or having their promotions held up.
“This has ended military careers in almost all cases, brands them as a criminal, and [they] carry with them a sense of shame that is not easily jettisoned,” said Doug O’Connell, a Texas-based attorney who represents multiple clients impacted by the database issue.
Army officials would not commit to providing financial compensation to those impacted by the snafu. Instead, they request individuals who think they’re wrongfully in criminal databases to email the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
“After years of denying they were wrong, they now created a website and expect people to contact CID and now trust them,” O’Connell said. “We’re going to insist the Army pay damages. We expect to be litigating this in court within the next year.”
The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, or G-RAP, was a staple of National Guard recruiting between 2005 and 2012, when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were at their peak and Guardsmen made up a significant portion of U.S. combat power. They also represented 11% of fatalities, according to federal data.
The Army Reserve had a smaller version of this program, which is also part of the probe. Part-time troops would receive payments of $2,000 for every applicant they referred to a recruiter.
That G-RAP program was overseen by Docupak, a Defense Department contractor. In 2007, Docupak discovered instances of potential fraud. The Pentagon launched an audit, which discovered up to $29 million in fraudulent payments.
One example included an Air National Guard recruiter. In 2014, Max Andolsek pleaded guilty to a $9,000 scheme embezzling money through the G-RAP program by uploading fraudulent entries on recruits shipping to basic training, earning him a $1,000 payment each time, according to court records. He served three years in prison. In total, there were 137 prosecutions related to G-RAP scams and 286 adverse administrative actions, which could include a number of disciplinary actions including reduction in rank or being removed from service.
Somehow, in addition to those hundreds of troops being added to the federal criminal database, hundreds of others who were never charged or reprimanded were as well.
Thus far, officials have identified “100 to 200” individuals who were incorrectly added to the system, and continue to try to find others, Gregory Ford, director of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, told reporters.
The Army National Guard is in the midst of a major recruiting crisis, and is far deeper in the hole for filling its ranks than the rest of the military. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the Guard Bureau, told reporters in September that the troubled G-RAP program could be resurrected.
“By putting the right checks and balances in place, we could really help make every single Guardsman a recruiter by paying them a bonus for anybody that they bring into the organization,” he said.