A reserve lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army has been arrested on conspiracy charges in a bribery and bid-rigging case in Iraq, NBC News learned Thursday. Two others have been charged in the case but were not arrested.
Lt. Col. Michael Brian Wheeler is charged with stealing funds, helping rig contracts and illegally buying weapons while working for the now-dissolved Coalition Provisional Authority, a U.S.-led agency that ran Iraq for more than a year after the 2003 invasion.
Wheeler was arrested Wednesday in Wisconsin, NBC News reported, for apparently aiding a U.S. businessman who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. occupation authorities in Iraq to get reconstruction contracts worth more than $13 million.
NBC News’ Aram Roston reported that Wheeler allegedly rigged bids with one of the other Americans who has been charged.
A criminal complaint says Wheeler and others stole money from the CPA and used military transport planes to “smuggle hundreds of thousands of dollars of currency, including stolen CPA funds, into the United States.”
The complaint also says a co-conspirator told investigators that Wheeler would use his status “as a high-ranking United States Army officer in order to enter Ft. Bragg and obtain possession of the firearms.”
Two weeks ago, Robert J. Stein Jr., a former CPA official, was charged in the case. Philip H. Bloom, a U.S. citizen who has lived in Romania for many years, was also charged.
Stein and his wife paid for real estate, cars, jewelry and home improvements with money he received from Bloom, according to federal affidavits. Stein, 50, of Fayetteville, N.C., appeared in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville on Tuesday, and his case has been transferred to Washington, according to court records.
Bloom, 65, paid at least $630,000 in kickbacks to Stein, other occupation officials and their spouses, according to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint against him. One person who received payments is a Defense Department employee, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Both men face conspiracy and money-laundering charges. Stein, who was convicted on a federal fraud charge in 1996, also is charged with wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property, according to court records and the affidavits.