Posts Tagged ‘Blackwater’
Friday, April 16th, 2010

The former president of defense contractor Blackwater Worldwide, three other former employees and one current employee were indicted Friday on charges related to the company’s improper registration and storage of automatic machine guns.

Blackwater Worldwide changed its name to Xe Services last year.

According to the Justice Department, a federal grand jury unsealed a 15-count indictment against Gary Jackson, the company’s former president; William Wheeler Mathews, an attorney and former executive vice president; Andrew Howell, general counsel; Ana Bundy, former vice president of logistics and procurement; and Ronald Slezak, a former armorer.

The charges include to violate a series of federal statutes resulting in the acquisitions and dispositions of firearms; filing falsified forms with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; unlawful possession of automatic firearms; possession of unregistered firearms; and obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment, the purchased more than 200 short barrels to install into long-barreled rifles for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The defendants also allegedly gave several guns to Jordanian officials in the hopes of landing a lucrative contract with the Kingdom of Jordan and later falsified the records on those guns. The indictment does not suggest wrongdoing on the part of the Kingdom of Jordan, and the department said in a news release that it is grateful for the assistance Jordan provided in the case.

Jackson left the company last year, the Associated Press reported.

UPDATE:

“The company is aware of the charges against former executives,” said spokesman Mark Corallo. “As we’ve stated before, the company has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice investigation.   Given the pending criminal charges, the company will not comment further.”

The indictment is embedded below, this story has been updated.

Jackson (BW) Indictment

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has urged the Justice Department to look into whether Blackwater Worldwide made false statements in order to obtain a Department of Defense contract.

Carl Levin (Gov)

In a letter dated Feb. 25 to Attorney General Eric Holder, Levin wrote that his committee uncovered  information that Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, lied about its capabilities and didn’t face thorough government oversight. The letter was released Thursday by the senator’s office and first reported by The Hill.

Blackwater has been under fire for its handling of security in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, Blackwater guards allegedly killed or injured more than 30 Iraqis in a shooting.

For eight months, the Senate panel has been probing government contractors in the region, according to The Hill. The committee learned that Blackwater was using a shell company it set up called Paravant to avoid the “baggage” that came with Blackwater and to help win a government contract, according to committee chairman.

“The deception is troubling,” Levin wrote in the letter.

Raytheon Technical Services Co., a Defense contractor, employed Paravant in 2008 to handle a $25 million Defense Department sub-contract. Paravant said in a proposal that it had thousands of overseas employees and had several years of experience. But Paravant did not have any employees and was started in 2008, the committee found.

The contract was given to Paravant only months after the State Department said it lost “confidence in [Blackwater's] credibility and management ability,” according to Levin. An Army contracting officer, who approved the sub-contract, told the panel that he was unaware that Paravant was run by Blackwater.

“That makes the deceptive representation a serious matter,” Levin said.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates also sent Feb. 25, the panel chairman urged the secretary to “carefully review” a Blackwater proposal to train Afghan police. The contract could be worth up to $1 billion, according to Levin.

Leah Nylen contributed to this report.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

A selection of the transcripts from the Department of Justice’s failed case against Blackwater contractors are below.

Blackwater Transcript Five

Blackwater Transcript Six

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Blackwater prosecutors Kenneth Kohl (left) and Jonathan Malis met in Baghdad in December 2008 with families of victims of the shooting. (Getty Images)

The Washington Post’s Del Quentin Wilber has a nice take-out on the saga of the government’s case against five former Blackwater guards, with an emphasis on the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl.

The case stems from a shooting in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle in 2007 that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. The incident inflamed anti-U.S sentiment in Iraq and fueled a debate here over the oversight of the private security firms in war zones. The former guards, who were escorting a convoy of U.S. diplomats, say they took fire and responded with appropriate force. Prosecutors say the guards fired without provocation.

Wilber pieces together the scene in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, as others have, and presents a fine summary of a federal judge’s ruling dismissing the indictment on the grounds that prosecutors used tainted evidence to build the case. (We’ve written about the opinion and the government’s subsequent appeal here and here.)

But much of the new material focuses on Kohl, a prosecutor in the National Security Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. The judge, Ricardo Urbina, scolded Kohl for disregarding the advice of a “taint” attorney, who was tapped to determine whether certain statements the guards gave to State Department investigators after the shootings could be used against them.

Kohl declined comment for Wilber’s story but wrote in an e-mailed statement, ”All of us who were involved in this case felt an obligation to the 34 victims who were killed or wounded at Nisour Square to do everything we could, within the bounds of the law, to bring this case to trial in an American courtroom.

“We don’t want federal prosecutors to flinch at taking on tough cases involving complex legal issues, and I worry that some of the reaction to the court’s ruling will have that effect.”

Kohl, 50, joined the department in 1985, after graduating from the Northern Illinois University College of Law. (He grew up in the Chicago area.) According to Wilber, the prosecutor was a fast riser who earned a reputation as an “aggressive and zealous advocate for victims.”

When Kohl was working homicides, he never lost a case, several of his colleagues told Wilber. His colleagues appeared equally impressed with his more recent work. Wilber reports:

In more recent years, he was assigned national security cases, including the years-long investigation into the anthrax attacks. In 2007, Kohl won a conviction against a Colombian rebel leader who took three Americans hostage. The man was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Alex Barbeito, an FBI agent who worked on that case, said Kohl was meticulous and brave. “He came down to Bogota several times, despite death threats to U.S. prosecutors,” Barbeito said. “To me, he’s exactly the type of prosecutor an agent wants to handle complex international criminal cases.”

Kohl visited Baghdad three times during his investigation of the Blackwater guards. On one trip, Wilber reports, he had to dive under the bunk of his trailer, located in the Green Zone, when the compound was hit by rockets and mortar shells.

“And yet he still went back,” a fellow prosecutor wrote in an e-mail. “It would take a lot for me to go back there” after that.

It’s also worth noting that while Urbina used strong language to criticize the prosecutors, in a separate ruling the judge said their conduct did not warrant cutting off the government’s ability to bring new charges.

“The court is not persuaded that the additional, extreme sanction of dismissal with prejudice is justified under these circumstances,” Urbina wrote.

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Two former Blackwater Worldwide employees have filed a lawsuit against the private security company, alleging multiple violations of the False Claims Act, including filing false receipts, double-billing and charging the government for strippers and prostitutes, The New York Times reports.

The complaint, which was filed in December 2008 and describes a pattern of alleged conduct over several years, was unsealed this week when the Justice Department declined to intervene in the case.

The suit also alleges that the company ignored the use of excessive force against Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards. The Justice Department is pursuing a case against five former guards involved in a deadly shooting in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. A federal judge dismissed the indictment against the men late last year, finding the government based its case on tainted evidence. The Justice Department has appealed the ruling.

Last week, The Times reported that Justice Department has launched an investigation into whether Blackwater bribed Iraqi officials after the shooting to keep their contracts in the country.

A married couple — Brad and Melan Davis – filed the FCA suit. Brad Davis is a former Marine who performed a number of jobs for the company, including working as a private security guard in Iraq, according to The Times. Melan Davis handled accounts for the company’s contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

She was fired from the company and is challenging her dismissal. Her husband resigned.

Melan Davis said in the complaint that she raised concerns with her bosses about the company’s bookkeeping but was told to “back off” and that she “would never win any medals for saving the government money.” She also alleges that a Filipino prostitute in Afghanistan was placed on the company payroll under “Morale Welfare Recreation,” and that Blackwater used a subsidiary company, Greystone Ltd., to double-bill the U.S. government for plane tickets between the U.S. and Amman, Jordan, a staging point for employees entering and leaving Iraq.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe Services last year, declined to comment to The Times.

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Friday, January 29th, 2010

The Justice Department on Friday appealed a court decision dismissing charges against five former Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

Vice President Joe Biden announced the government’s intention to file an appeal last weekend, after a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Prosecutors say the guards opened fire in a crowded Baghdad intersection without provocation, killing or wounding more than 30 Iraqis, including women and children. Attorneys for the guards say their clients, who were protecting U.S. diplomats, took fire from insurgents and responded in kind.

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington dismissed manslaughter charges against the guards in a harshly worded Dec. 31 ruling, in which he faulted Justice Department prosecutors for using tainted evidence to build their case and for abusing the grand jury process.

Many Iraqis were outraged by the decision, viewing it as evidence that the U.S. was not accountable for bloodshed in their country. Iraqi leaders have been collecting signatures for a class action against the security contractor, which changed its name to Xe Services last year.

Urbina’s December ruling invited comparisons to the the botched prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), whose conviction was erased last year because of government missteps.

In that case, Judge Emmet Sullivan, who sits on same court as Urbina, criticized the government for failing to disclose materials that could have aided in Stevens’ defense. Sullivan dismissed the case at Attorney General Eric Holder’s request, and then appointed a counsel to investigate prosecutors for possible criminal contempt.

Urbina, however, made no formal finding of misconduct, and in a ruling earlier this month, he said the Justice Department could seek a new indictment against the men. Urbina said prosecutors acted with “disregard” but concluded that dismissing the case — without prejudice — was punishment enough.

The government has not yet filed a brief explaining the grounds for appeal. In pretrial hearings, prosecutors argued that interviews the guards gave to the State Department after the shooting were part of the normal course of their job and could be used against them. Urbina ruled that interviews were compelled, which immunized the guards.

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder and Vice President Joe Biden (photo Ryan J. Reilly).

Vice President Joseph Biden said the United States would appeal the dismissal of manslaughter charges against five Blackwater guards at a meeting in Baghdad with Iraqi leaders Saturday.

The New York Times reported that Biden expressed his “personal regret” for the Blackwater shooting in 2007, in which Blackwater guards fired their guns on a crowded Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 people, including women and children. The incident has continued to create unwanted tension between the Iraqi and American governments as the U.S. plans to withdraw thousands of combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.

“A dismissal is not an acquittal,” said Biden after a full day of meetings with Iraqi leaders to discuss the nation’s election crisis.

“The United States is determined to hold to account anyone who commits crimes against Iraqi people,” the vice president added.

“While we fully respect the independence and the integrity of the U.S. judicial system, we were disappointed with the judge’s decision to dismiss the indictment, which was based on the way some evidence had been acquired.”

Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia threw out manslaughter and gun charges against five former guards late last month, finding that prosecutors used immunized statements to build their case. The dismissal sparked widespread anger in Iraq.

The defendants had accused prosecutors of holding back evidence from a grand jury, misrepresenting their case to the court and making public comments about the case that prejudiced the guards.

While Urbina agreed that prosecutors acted with “disregard,” he also said the misconduct was not so severe as to bar the government from investigating the men in the future, essentially leaving the door open for a new trial.

“This is great news,” Abdel-Amir Jihan, who was wounded in the Blackwater shooting, told the Times after Biden’s announcement. “The court was not fair to us. We felt great injustice when we heard the verdict. It was not right to drop the charges against them.”

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Prosecutors can seek a new indictment against former Blackwater guards accused in a 2007 shooting that left more than 30 Iraqis injured or dead, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia threw out manslaughter and gun charges against five former guards late last month, finding that prosecutors used immunized statements to build their case.

Before Urbina jettisoned the charges, the government filed a motion to dismiss its case against Nicholas Slatten, conceding it had used tainted evidence against him but reserving the right to pursue new charges.

He and another former guard, Donald Ball, subsequently asked Urbina to dismiss the indictment with prejudice, arguing that prosecutors engaged in misconduct and that the government would be unable to build another case without resorting, again, to tainted evidence

The men accused prosecutors of holding back evidence from a grand jury, misrepresenting their case to the court and making public comments about the case that prejudiced the guards.

In a 12-page opinion, Urbina said it was not his place to opine on whether the government had enough evidence to seek a new indictment. And while the judge agreed that prosecutors acted with “disregard,” the misconduct was not so severe as to bar the government from investigating the men in the future, he said.

“The court is not persuaded that the additional, extreme sanction of dismissal with prejudice is justified under these circumstances,” Urbina wrote.

The charges against the Blackwater guards arose from an incident in Baghdad’s crowded Nisur Square, in which more than 30 Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded. The Blackwater guards, who were contracted to provide security for U.S. government employees in Iraq, claimed they had fired in self defense after an attack by insurgents. But the government said the guards fired without provocation.

The Justice Department has not said whether it will appeal Urbina’s Dec. 31 ruling dismissing the indictment.

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Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Two men who worked for the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater have been charged in the May 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan men at the scene of a traffic accident, the Justice Department said.

In an indictment unsealed Thursday, Justin Cannon, 27, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Christopher Drotleff, 29, of Virginia Beach, Va., were charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, six counts of using and discharging a firearm during a violent crime and four counts of murder resulting from the use of a firearm during a violent crime.

The men, who were providing the Afghan army and government with weapons training, were working for Paravant LLC,  a subsidiary of Blackwater Worldwide, which changed its names to Xe last year. Paravant, in turn, had been subcontracted by a subsidiary of Raytheon Co., Raytheon Technical Services Company LLC.

The shootings occured at an intersection in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The victims were identified as Romal Mohammad Naiem and Rahib Mirza Mohammad. A third man, Fareed Haji Ahmad, was wounded.

Cannon and Drotleff, both military veterans, said in recent interviews with The Associated Press that they opened fire on a car that wrecked in front of their vehicle, then turned and sped toward them after they got out to help. Both men were fired after the shootings.

“My conscience is clear about it, but that doesn’t really matter,” Cannon told The AP. ”If someone’s got an agenda, then there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Cannon and Drotleff were arrested Thursday and remain in custody. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy Stoker and Alan Salsbury from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, as well as Trial Attorney Robert McGovern of the Criminal Division’s Domestic Security Section.

The arrests came on the same day Xe announced a settlement in seven federal lawsuits brought by Iraqis who accused the company of encouraging a culture of recklessness that led to the deaths of several Iraqi civilians. In a highly-publicized case, the company was sued for its role in the 2007 shootings in Nasoor Square in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

Five former guards were charged in the shootings, but a federal judge dismissed the indictment last week, saying federal prosecutors used off-limits State Department interviews to build their case. The Justice Department has not said whether it will appeal the ruling.

Monday, January 4th, 2010

The Associated Press’s Matt Apuzzo spotted an interesting footnote in federal Judge Ricardo Urbina’s New Year’s Eve opinion dismissing an indictment against former Blackwater guards who were accused of killing Iraqi civilians.

On page 26 of the 90-page ruling, Urbina wrote that he is considering two motions to dismiss the indictment based, in part, on prosecutorial misconduct. The judge has already jettisoned the charges, citing what he called “reckless” government missteps in connection with off-limits interviews the guards gave to the State Department under a grant of immunity.

So what’s left to consider? Apuzzo reports that Urbina, of the District of Columbia federal court, is weighing a formal misconduct finding, which would trigger an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and possibly lead to sanctions against the government or individual prosecutors.

In the footnote, Urbina said he would issue a separate opinion addressing the two motions, which are under seal. No hearings have been scheduled.