Army Major, Family Nabbed In Bribe Scandal

U.S. Army Maj. John L. Cockerham, 41, a contracting and procurement officer assigned to Fort Sam Houston, is escorted to a van outside the federal courthouse, Wednesday, July 25, 2007, in San Antonio. Cockerham, along with his wife, Melissa, 40, and sister, Carolyn Blake, a former schoolteacher, have been arrested as a result of an investigation into an Army contract-rigging and bribery case that was described by a federal official as the largest to emerge from the Iraq reconstruction effort. AP/J. Davenport, S.A. Express-News

A U.S. Army major and two of his family members, accused of taking bribes from Defense Department contractors in 2004 and 2005, have been indicted in federal court.

Maj. John Cockerham, a contract officer, and his wife, Melissa Cockerham, are accused of taking at least $9.6 million in bribes while Cockerham was stationed in Kuwait and responsible for contracts for Defense Department services, including bottled water for soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq.

The Cockerhams were arrested last month at Fort Sam Houston, where the major had been reassigned. His sister, Carolyn Blake, of Sunnyvale, Tex., was arrested at her home on suspicion of helping the couple accept and deposit money in offshore accounts.

Maj. Cockerham is accused of guaranteeing that contractors would receive lucrative contracts in exchange for cash deposited in bank accounts and safe deposit boxes by his wife and sister in Kuwait and Dubai.

The charges include bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction. The Cockerhams are being held without bond; Blake was released on bail by a federal court in Dallas last month.

Four unnamed co-conspirators include a personal friend of Cockerham and three contractors doing business with the Department of Defense in the Middle East.

The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of three properties in San Antonio purportedly paid for with proceeds from the conspiracy.

In addition to placing orders for goods and services, Cockerham is alleged to have made modifications to existing orders in order to generate revenue for the companies, in return to cash. Such payments were calculated either as a flat fee or a residual per unit item.

Earlier this year, Melissa Cockerham allegedly created false documents suggesting that some of the monies received as bribes were loan payments. Blake denied to investigators that she had received cash and, according to the indictment, stated that the money in accounts represented donations to a ministry she planned to establish.

A telephone message left after hours at the office of Jimmy Parks Jr., who represents Maj. Cockerham, was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Parks had said that the couple would probably be indicted but that the case was not as straightforward as prosecutors were presenting. He noted that Defense Department contracts have checks and balances requiring officers and lawyers above John Cockerham's rank to check and approve contracts.
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