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Contractor gets prison for smuggling cash

Feb. 12, 2013 - 06:00PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 12, 2013 - 06:00PM  |  
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TOPEKA, Kan. — A private contractor from Kansas received a 2 1/2-year prison sentence Tuesday for trying to smuggle $150,000 from Afghanistan to his ex-wife in the U.S. in what the government says was part of a larger kickback scheme.

Donald Gene Garst, 51, was also fined $52,117 at his sentencing in federal court in Topeka, the U.S. attorney's office said. Garst pleaded guilty in November to one count of bulk cash smuggling for trying to ship the undeclared cash in a DHL box from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The box was intercepted in Bahrain, and DHL officials contacted U.S. authorities.

Garst recanted an earlier statement that the money came from a kickback scheme to steer subcontracts to an Afghan company. Instead, Garst claimed he won the money gambling at Bagram Air Base, where he worked from 2009 to 2011 as a manager for U.S. private contracting firm AC First. Garst's job involved evaluating and monitoring subcontracts awarded to Afghan companies.

The government contends in court filings that Garst used his position to steer government subcontracts to Afghan company Somo Logistics, which gave him a cut of the proceeds. The illegal agreement promised to net him at least $610,000, of which he obtained more than $200,000, according to prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson rejected a defense plea for probation, sentencing Garst at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines in the case.

Prosecutors argued that Garst used the war in Afghanistan to enrich himself with disregard to the ways the crimes damaged the integrity of government contracting, disrespected those serving in Afghanistan and undercut the mission of reconstruction.

Garst's defense attorney, Christopher Joseph, disputed the government's account of the source of the money. He also contended that his client's judgment was clouded by post-traumatic stress disorder from earlier deployments in Iraq and Kosovo. Garst served in the Army from 1982 to 1986 and the Army National Guard from 1986 to 2009.

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