By Tom Ramstack
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Six people have been charged in a bribery scheme to grant National Guard contracts improperly, prosecutors said on Wednesday, and three of them have pleaded guilty in federal court in Virginia.
Executives from two businesses bribed National Guard officials with thousands of dollars to award them marketing and advertising contracts worth a total of $14.6 million, according to the federal indictments.
"As captured by its motto, the Army National Guard is 'always ready, always there' for the American people," Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a Justice Department statement. "Unfortunately, today's charges expose National Guard officials who were 'always ready' to pocket bribes and 'always there' to take kickbacks."
The Arlington, Virginia-based National Guard Bureau distributes federal funding to the Army National Guard and its state units. Normally, contracts require competitive bidding, but the bureau can avoid the requirement by giving the contracts to minority-owned businesses.
Wesley Russell, 48, a retired Indiana Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, and Jason Rappoccio, 39, an active-duty National Guard sergeant, were charged with conspiracy and solicitation of bribes in awarding the contracts to minority-owned businesses.
Corporate executives mentioned in the indictment came from Mil-Team Consulting and Solutions LLC of Forest Lake, Minnesota, and Financial Solutions Inc. of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
In one example mentioned in the indictments, prosecutors said Mil-Team officials paid Rappoccio $30,000 in exchange for a $3.7 million contract.
National Guard advertising has included sponsorships of sporting events, such as American Motorcycle Association Supercross events, where recruiters hand out promotional material.
Sentencing hearings for the three contractors who pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia are scheduled for January.
The charges were filed after an investigation by the FBI's Washington field office.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)