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)
Trump has committed 6 impeachable offenses: Harvard Law’s Laurence Tribe says ‘the evidence is all there’
Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe broke down the six impeachable offenses President Donald Trump has committed during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC's "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell.
Tribe has argued 36 cases before the United States Supreme Court and taught at Harvard Law for 50 years. He co-authored the 2018 book To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment with Joshua Matz.
"Everyone was in the loop, it was no secret. That was the testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland yesterday as he implicated the president, Secretary of State, White House chief of staff, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton and other administration officials in the plot to bribe the president of Ukraine to publicly launch an investigation into Joe Biden in exchange for U.S. military aid to Ukraine that was authorized by Congress and that the president was withholding," O'Donnell reported.
Rachel Maddow breaks down how public opinion is catching up with the facts of Trump’s impeachment
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Thursday broke down how the details from the televised impeachment hearings are being reported in local newspapers.
The host read the headlines from multiple newspapers following the damning testimony by Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
The Los Angels Times headlined, "Sonland implicates president." "Envoy says Trump directed effort," was The Wall Street Journal headline.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined, "'Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret': Defiant Sondland says he followed Trump's orders."
"Trump directed pressure on Ukraine, ambassador says," headlined The Kansas City Star.
Shep Smith blasts autocrats in first public remarks since leaving Fox News — and donates $500,000 to protect journalists
On Thursday, for the first time since exiting Fox News, reporter Shepard Smith gave public comments at the International Press Freedom Awards — and used the occasion to blast autocratic leaders who use their power to suppress journalism.
"Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon. We don’t have to look far for evidence of that,” said Smith. "Our belief a decade ago that the online revolution would liberate us now seems a bit premature, doesn’t it? Autocrats have learned how to use those same online tools to shore up their power. They flood the world of information with garbage and lies, masquerading as news. There’s a phrase for that."