Army Corps worker accused in Iraq contract bribes

/ Source: The Associated Press

An employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a construction company seeking contracts for projects in Iraq worth millions of dollars, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday.

John Alfy Salama Markus, also known as John Salama, made an initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon, where U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk ordered him released on $500,000 bond secured by property. He did not enter a plea.

Markus faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and money laundering. The money laundering count carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.

Also charged in the alleged scheme was Ahmed Nouri, also known as Ahmed Bahjat, vice president of a construction and engineering company seeking work in Iraq. Nouri was still at large Wednesday.

Markus' attorney, Stacy Biancamano, said he was a soldier in Iraq before working for the Army Corps of Engineers and had earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

According to the criminal complaint, Markus, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen who lived in central New Jersey, monitored contracts as a project engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

The complaint alleges Markus took bribes from Nouri in exchange for providing confidential information to Nouri's company, Iraqi Consultants & Construction Bureau, about bidding negotiations on certain projects.

Markus also allegedly steered Army Corps of Engineers projects to Nouri, including a $6.25 million project to enhance security at the Bayji Oil Refinery in central Iraq for which Markus allegedly received at least $200,000 in bribes.

Citing Army Corps of Engineers records, the complaint alleges four more contracts were awarded to ICCB in the summer of 2007 totaling approximately $6.3 million. For those projects, Markus allegedly sought $550,000 in bribes.

The U.S. attorney's office alleges Markus deposited the bribes in bank accounts in the Middle East and in the U.S. and used the money to build a $1.1 million house for himself and his wife in Nazareth, Pa. They had previously lived in Belle Mead, N.J.

In a November 2007 e-mail, Markus wrote to Nouri, "I saved a lot of money for you guys and I need at least 400K form ICCB for all the work I done for you I made you a lot of profit," the complaint alleges.