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IRAQ: Second Army Reserve officer arrested in contract bribe conspiracy

by Mark ShermanAssociated Press
December 15th, 2005

An Army Reserve lieutenant colonel was arrested Thursday on charges she was part of a conspiracy to steer Iraqi reconstruction contracts to a businessman in exchange for money and gifts, including a Cadillac SUV.

Debra Harrison, 47, of Trenton, N.J., is the second Army Reserve officer facing charges of conspiracy, money laundering and weapons violations, according to the criminal complaint against her that was made public in Washington by the Justice Department.

Harrison served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, assigned to Coalition Provisional Authority office in Hillah that awarded reconstruction contracts. A second Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, Michael Brian Wheeler of Amherst Junction, Wis., and a former occupation official, Robert J. Stein Jr., 50, of Fayetteville, N.C., were arrested last month.

Also arrested in November was Philip H. Bloom, a U.S. businessman who has lived in Romania for many years. Prosecutors say Bloom paid the kickbacks in return for more than $13 million in CPA contracts for companies that Bloom controls.

Harrison allegedly stole $80,000 to $100,000 from the CPA to add a deck and hot tub to her home in New Jersey, according to the complaint.

In 2004, she acquired a Cadillac Escalade, worth $50,000 to $60,000, after money was wired from accounts controlled or used by Bloom directly to a dealership, the complaint said.

Harrison thanked Bloom for the vehicle in an e-mail sent from a personal account, the complaint said.

Stein, Wheeler and Harrison also conspired to buy dozens of military-grade weapons for personal use on the pretext that they were to be used to protect CPA offices in Hillah, the complaint said.

Harrison took two .45-caliber pistols home with her, while the rest was kept by Stein and Wheeler, the complaint said.

Harrison admitted to getting the Cadillac, but denied she stole money or guns, the complaint said.

It was not immediately known who was defending Harrison. The government has not indicted any of those arrested in the case.

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