Twenty-five current and former soldiers are the latest to face federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for their alleged actions relating to the National Guard's troubled and now-defunct Recruiting Assistance Program.
The 25 people were charged in 14 separate indictments, the U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico announced Thursday. They are accused of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and the National Guard Bureau of money and property, according to the announcement.
A federal grand jury returned the indictments Wednesday; the documents were unsealed after the defendants were arrested.
At least 15 of the defendants are still members of the Puerto Rico National Guard, government officials said. The others are either retired or no longer affiliated with the Guard.
The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, also known as G-RAP, was launched in late 2005 as a way to boost sagging recruiting numbers during the height of the war in Iraq.
Program participants, or recruiter assistants (RAs), could earn up to $2,000 for every new soldier they recruited into the Guard. The RA would receive the first $1,000 when the recruit enlisted and the rest of the money once the new soldier shipped to basic training.
The program was highly successful, bringing in thousands of new soldiers into the Guard. It later came under scrutiny for widespread fraud and abuse, even drawing a hearing on Capitol Hill.
The Guard has since acknowledged "that fraudulent activity took place with this program and [we] continue to work with law enforcement agencies to identify the accountable individuals and take appropriate action," the component said in a statement to Army Times. This announcement is only the latest in a series of indictments that have spanned the country.
The G-RAP program was suspended in January 2012. Army Secretary John McHugh terminated all recruiting assistance programs a month later.
The Guard referred questions about Thursday's charges to the Army and Justice Department.
"This is a criminal matter under investigation, and therefore we cannot discuss specific details of this or any other case associated with potential RAP fraud," said Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, an Army spokesman, in a statement. "The Army is participating in a multi-agency task force to investigate and resolve fraudulent actions associated with the Recruiting Assistance Program and has had a sizable task force investigating other instances of RAP fraud for more than three years."
The Army is cooperating with state, local and federal authorities in the Puerto Rico investigation, Buccino said, but, citing, the ongoing criminal investigation, he referred all further queries to the Justice Department.
The investigation in Puerto Rico was led by the U.S. Secret Service, with help from Army Criminal Investigation Command, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, the Defense Department's Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Puerto Rico Police Department.
Among those arrested were recruiters and recruiter assistants, according to the U.S. district attorney.
• Cristobal Colón-Colón
• Ángel D. Rivera-Rodríguez
• Enrique Costas-Torres
• Gregorio Quiñones-Pacheco
• Guillermo Cruz-García
• Edwin Izquierdo-Montañez
• Luis De Jesús-Negrón
• Gabriel González-Franco
• Gilberto Rivera-Quiñones
• Juan Rivera-Rivera
• Héctor Rodríguez-Colón
• Axel Aponte-García
• Gilberto Gierbolini-Emanuelli
• Freddie García-Ruiz
• Félix González-Rodríguez
• Radamés Robles-Meléndez
• Emilio Rivera-Maldonado
• Carlos Meléndez-González
• Natalio Soto-Rivera
• José Rivera-Pereles
• Félix Lasen-Nieves
• Ángel Perales-Muñoz
• Alexis Betancourt-Jiménez
• José Velázquez-Lugo
• Garby Ruiz-Rosado
The charges against the defendants stem from a scheme that ran from 2007 through 2011, according to the U.S. district attorney's office.
Under the G-RAP program, only RAs were eligible to receive referral bonuses for bringing in new recruits.
The program required RAs to establish an online account in their name to record their referral and recruitment efforts, according to a statement from the U.S. district attorney. The RA would then input personal identifying information for each recruit into that account.
The goal of the conspiracy was for the recruiters to "enrich themselves unlawfully," according to the statement. As part of the scheme, the defendants would transfer and use recruits' personal information without lawful authority. That would then allow them to generate a "fraudulent referral bonus," the statement said.
For example, recruiters would gain potential soldiers' personal information through their jobs at the recruiting office. The recruiters, who don't qualify for G-RAP bonuses, would then use a Recruiter Assistant's account to enter in that same recruit's information and apply for a bonus, according to the statement. After the money was paid to the RA, he or she would then withdraw the cash to either split with or hand off to the recruiter.
"These charges clearly demonstrate that we will take firm action against those who choose to exploit our military system for personal and criminal gain," said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez in a statement. "We remain committed to investigating and apprehending those who cheat the system for personal gain, and will continue to work towards the eradication of this type of fraud in Puerto Rico."
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for the conspiracy, 20 years for the wire fraud and a mandatory two-year consecutive term for aggravated identity theft.