Seven New York Army National Guard members were arrested on Wednesday on charges they schemed to fraudulently obtain thousands of dollars in referral bonuses for recruiting dozens of new soldiers.
Married recruiters Darryl Harrison and Evette Merced provided potential soldiers’ personal information to four National Guard members who then falsely claimed referral bonuses on the recruits, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
Staff Sergeants Siul Celeste and Jeanette Arizaga and Sergeants Yesenia Adames and Renetta Edwards then kicked back thousands of dollars to Harrison and Merced, who as recruiters were not allowed to seek the bonuses, the complaint said.
Celeste, Arizaga, Adames and Edwards received bonuses totaling $111,000 for recruiting 60 soldiers, 47 of whom said they were not referred to the National Guard by them, the complaint said.
Another sergeant, Jefferson Simbanamuzo, who was also a member of the New York City Police Department, likewise fraudulently received $10,500 in referral bonuses for claiming to have recruited six soldiers, the complaint said.
Simbanamuzo told investigators he obtained information on potential soldiers from recruiters who he had previously assisted in the National Guard’s Bronx office, the complaint said.
“Those who join the National Guard nobly serve their fellow citizens,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “But as alleged, these defendants used their positions in the National Guard to steal.”
Merced, a 45-year-old staff sergeant, and Harrison, a 51-year-old sergeant first class, were arrested on Wednesday in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where they live, prosecutors said.
Adames, 43, was arrested in Virginia, while Celeste, 29, Arizaga, 41, Edwards, 40, and Simbanamuzo, 41, were arrested in New York.
Colonel Richard Goldenberg, a New York National Guard spokesman, said the investigation stemmed from allegations discovered during a routine U.S. Army audit. The New York National Guard cooperated in the probe, he said.
Merced and Harrison face four counts each of conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation and receipt of bribes, theft of government funds and aggravated identity theft.
Celeste, Arizaga, Adames and Edwards face two counts each of conspiracy to commit bribery and theft of government funds. Simbanamuzo faces one count of theft of government funds.
Lawyers for the defendants declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment. All of the defendants were released on bail on Wednesday except Adames, who will appear in court in Virginia on Thursday.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Andrew Hay)