CORRUPT ARMY OFFICER
As if President George Bush didn't have enough trouble selling a war that, like Vietnam, is turning into political quicksand, the latest bad news out of Iraq is that an Army lt. colonel has been nailed for war profiteering. Maybe he should have been a stockholder in Halliburton. Then he could have amassed his wealth with no exposure to jail time.
As it is, Army Reserve LTC Michael Wheeler is in a world of trouble. According to charges brought in Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, the 47 year-old field-grade officer, who helped supervise millions of dollars in reconstruction projects in Iraq during the past couple years, is a low-down crook.
According to court papers, the colonel from Amherst Junction, Wis., conspired with others in an "extensive bribery, kickback and smuggling scheme" run out of the Coalition Provisional Authority office in Hilla, near Baghdad. That organization was tasked with running occupied Iraq right after the 2003 invasion.
Sources say Wheeler succeeded in smuggling out the cash by using his military passes to avoid custom searches. Then he allegedly went on an arms spending spree.
More than 30 machine guns, 4 grenade launchers, high-caliber pistols and silencers were found at the location in Fayetteville, N.C. According to the affidavit, Wheeler had originally shipped the weapons to Fort Bragg before moving them to a hotel room where a pal, Robert Stein, picked them up.
Stein allegedly has a shady past himself, charged with hauling down up to $200,000 a month in "bribes" from an American contractor named Philip Bloom. The payoffs were in exhange for steering construction contracts to companies under the control of Bloom.
Investigators say Stein apparently had a thing for weaponry, as he eagerly picked up the small arsenal from the Fayetteville hotel room and transported the arms cache to his garage nearby. The court papers claim Stein "paid off" alleged co-conspirator Wheeler with two .45 caliber pistols and two submachine guns as well as the colonel's original $100,000 cash cut from the deal.
Boston-area defense attorney Bruce Rosen told reporters his client, LTC Wheeler, would likely plead "not guilty" to the charges.