Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Seven New York National Guard Soldiers Charged In Fraudulent Recruitment Bonus Scheme
NYPD Officer Among Those Charged
Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today the arrest of EVETTE MERCED, DARRYL HARRISON, SIUL CELESTE, JEANETTE ARIZAGA, YESENIA ADAMES, RENETTA EDWARDS, and JEFFERSON SIMBANAMUZO, all current members of the New York Army National Guard, in connection with a scheme to obtain fraudulent recruiting bonuses. Defendant YESENIA ADAMES was arrested today and will be presented in the Eastern District of Virginia. The remaining defendants were arrested today and will be presented in Manhattan federal court before Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Those who join the National Guard nobly serve their fellow citizens. But as alleged, these defendants used their positions in the National Guard to steal. I would like to thank our partners at the FBI, Army CID, and NYPD for their work in uncovering this fraud.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said: “Those charged today, in one form or another, took advantage of an Army National Guard incentive program established to encourage soldiers to recruit civilians into the service. While some of the defendants blatantly lied about signing up new recruits, others, already serving as recruiters, we’re altogether ineligible for payment by the program. This scheme resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses to the government. While the majority of our respected military personnel remain committed to serving and protecting our great country, this select few served only to protect their own interests. As we are reminded today, there will be no reward for this type of behavior.”
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “The NYPD has no tolerance for any member of the service who violates the law. We will hold them fully responsible for their actions.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
In September 2005, the Army National Guard established a recruiting bonus program, referred to as the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (“G-RAP”), and administered by a private company, Document and Packaging Broker, Inc. (“Docupak”). The G-RAP was designed to offer referral bonus payments to Army National Guard soldiers who were not otherwise involved in Army National Guard recruitment efforts for civilians whom the soldiers successfully convinced to serve in the Army National Guard. A participating soldier, also known as a Recruiting Assistant (“RA”), could receive up to $2,000 in bonus payments for referring another individual to join. To participate in the program, soldiers were required to establish an online account in their name to record their referral and recruitment efforts. The RA would input the personal identifying information of each recruit into the account. Based on certain milestones achieved by the referred soldier, a participating soldier could then receive payment through direct deposit into the participating soldier’s designated bank account. Soldiers who were themselves serving as paid recruiters for the Army National Guard as part of the National Guard’s standard recruitment program were not eligible to participate in the G-RAP or to receive a referral bonus payment, as the G-RAP was intended to be a supplement to the National Guard’s standard recruiting program.
Beginning in 2007, MERCED and HARRISON, who then served as full-time salaried recruiters for the Army National Guard, abused their positions as officers by providing the personal identifying information of potential soldiers to CELESTE, ARIZAGA, ADAMES, and EDWARDS, in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks. CELESTE, ARIZAGA, ADAMES, and EDWARDS then used their respective online RA accounts to falsely claim that they were responsible for referring those soldiers to the New York Army National Guard. After making those false claims, CELESTE, ARIZAGA, ADAMES, and EDWARDS received referral bonus payments totaling over $62,000 from the G-RAP and kicked back a significant portion of those payments to MERCED and HARRISON.
In a similar but separate scheme, SIMBANAMUZO, a current NYPD police officer, used his online RA account to falsely claim that he was responsible for referring soldiers to the New York Army National Guard whose information he had obtained from various paid recruiters.
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MERCED, 45, of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, currently a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of solicitation and receipt of bribes, and one count of theft of government funds, which carry maximum sentences of five years, 10 years, and 10 years in prison, respectively. MERCED is also charged with one count of aggravated identity theft which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
HARRISON, 51, of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, currently a Sergeant First Class in the National Guard, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of solicitation and receipt of bribes, and one count of theft of government funds, which carry maximum sentences of five years, 10 years, and 10 years in prison, respectively. HARRISON is also charged with one count of aggravated identity theft which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
The following defendants were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of theft of government funds, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison:
CELESTE, 29, Bronx, New York, currently a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard
ARIZAGA, 41, Bronx, New York, currently a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard
ADAMES, 43, Bronx, New York, currently a Sergeant in the National Guard
EDWARDS, 40, Brooklyn, New York, currently a Sergeant in the National Guard
SIMBANAMUZO, 41, of the Bronx, New York, currently a NYPD police officer and a Sergeant in the National Guard, is charged with one count of theft of government funds, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants will be determined by a judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI, the Army CID, and the NYPD.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Robert L. Boone is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaints are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.