Bribery allegations in Afghanistan no small worry among big U.S. reconstruction spending

After billions in waste and little progress, oversight efforts should take the spotlight

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

After 15 years and $110 billion, the scorecard of successes for U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan has tallied yet another loss. A second sergeant was recently sentenced in connection with a bribery and money laundering scandal involving over $30 million in contract awards at the Humanitarian Air Yard at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. The story caught just a blip of coverage, but it offers a sense of the troubles that continue to face American efforts.

As ProPublica reported in a sleek December piece, SIGAR has identified roughly $17 billion dollars in squandered U.S. money. John Sopko, the Inspector General, has repeatedly questioned the bookkeeping kept by the departments and allies operating within Afghanistan and under its watch. In addition, SIGAR has suffered friendly fire from its own government in the form of State Department directives to downsize the department.

The most recent pinned-down conspiracy was announced by the Department of Justice last month. U.S. Army sergeant Ramiro Pena Jr. had been sentenced to two years in prison for his role in an affair that also involved Army Master Sergeant Jimmy W. Dennis and James Pittman, a landscaping business owner, who both pled guilty last January.

According to DOJ press releases, from March 2008 through March 2009, Dennis was part of a team at Bagram’s Humanitarian Aid Yard responsible for purchasing supplies from local Afghan vendors; in exchange for bribes, he helped influence the award of humanitarian relief contracts for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. The bribes were then sent to the U.S. in toy trucks and packages, with part of the money laundered through a salary from Pittman’s landscaping outfit.

Dennis was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to forfeit $110,000. Pittman was sentenced to a year and a day and ordered to forfeit $25,000. Another man, Pennsylvania National Guardsman Timothy Albright, was also charged in March in relation to the crime.

Allegations of such abuse are not uncommon. However, the evidence and interest needed to prosecute them are not always available.

Materials related to the sentencings have been requested from the team of departments involved in the investigation, and an earlier SIGAR report has been embedded below. In the meantime, begin filing your own requests related to government fraud and abuse or sign up for SIGAR’s mailing list to help our government help itself stay accountable.


Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Bracken, U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons