The California National Guard misspent as much as $100 million from a fund that was meant to attract new recruits and encourage Guard members to re-enlist. The Sacramento Bee has the details.
Capt. Ronald Clark, a federal auditor-turned-whistleblower, told the Bee that the money was instead doled out to hundreds of soldiers who didn’t qualify for the incentives. Some of the individuals who are believed to have benefited from the improper bonuses and repayments of student loans included high-ranking officers, recruiters, and their staff.
While each state has National Guard members at the command of the state governors, most of the funding comes from federal taxpayers.
In California, the fraud traced back to Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, who from 1986 until her retirement in 2009, was in charge of doling out these incentives, according to the Bee. Jaffe, as manager of the incentive programs in California, was supposed to verify an applicant’s claims of eligibility before authorizing loan repayments or cash bonuses for soldiers. That didn’t always happen, the Bee reported:
Instead, contracts that certify eligibility, required by Defense Department regulations, were often absent – as were tracking data in systems designed to catch errors. Processing forms show that payments sometimes were boosted in sloppy handwritten notes.
At California National Guard headquarters, Jaffe became known for blurring the lines of the law, according to the Bee, and her work went virtually unsupervised. It’s unclear what motivated her to commit the alleged fraud, but one anecdote suggests that she sometimes authorized these payments as favors:
In one instance, on June 18, 2008, the wife of Guard captain and chiropractor Corum sent Jaffe an e-mail seeking help for Corum’s student loans. Jaffe authorized $63,000 that very day, no contract required, Guard documents show.
Jaffe routinely would backdate payment records, assigning payments to long-passed loan due dates, Clark said, “to make it appear as if the service member was owed the funds and that she was merely catching up on her work.”
The Bee noted after a 2005 examination found $2.5 million in overpayments from the incentive programs, Jaffe still received a promotion the following year. In 2008, Jaffe was again accused of wrongdoing, but no record of an investigation could be found in her personnel file. Her most recent evaluations, which were obtained by the Bee, praised her for “100% accountability.”
Jaffe acknowledged that payments were processed without the required contracts, but insisted she had followed regulations. She told the Bee that officials higher up in the chain of command “would always tell me that I was doing a good job, then stab me in the back,” and “they are still trying to blame me for s— I didn’t do.”
The Justice Department, FBI, IRS, and federal Army Criminal Investigation Division began a criminal investigation into the abuses in late August, according to the Bee.
Marian Wang is ProPublica’s first reporter-blogger. She previously worked for Mother Jones, where she spearheaded the magazine’s social media strategy. Since graduating with honors from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2007, she worked in Chicago as a freelance investigative reporter and blogger for The Chicago Reporter, Chi-Town Daily News, and ChicagoNow. She now lives in New York. She likes it a lot. Find Marian on Twitter: @mariancw
Reposted with permission from Pro Publica.