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.
“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.
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.
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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.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday that Iraq will sue Blackwater Worldwide, following a federal judge’s decision to dismiss charges against five former security guards accused of killing Iraqi civilians.
Maliki’s office said in a statement that lawsuits against the private security firm, which changed its name to Xe Services last year, would be filed in the United States and in Iraq, Reuters reported.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia threw out the indictment last week, finding that federal prosecutors violated the defendants’ constitutional rights by building the case with compelled testimony given by the guards to the State Department under a grant of immunity.
The indictment stemmed from a 2007 shooting in a crowded Baghdad square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. Prosecutors allege that the guards opened fire without provocation while they where escorting U.S. personnel. The guards say they fired in self-defense.
An agreement with the Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq after the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion rendered Xe and its employees immune from prosecution in Iraq. That immunity was lifted last year, but it’s not clear how an Iraqi case against the guards or the security firm would circumvent the agreement in place in 2007.