Federal authorities were investigating the suspected mismanagement of as much as $100 million in California Army National Guard funds intended for recruitment of new and returning soldiers, a newspaper reported.
Auditors suspect Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe processed loan repayments and cash bonuses to entice recruits, even though some did not qualify, according to interviews and internal documents reviewed by the Sacramento Bee in an article published Sunday.
In some cases, student loan repayments designated for combat veterans were given to Guard members _ including captains and majors _ who never went to war, the Bee reported.
In addition, tens of thousands of dollars more than allowed by the program were allocated, the newspaper said.
Jaffe, 51, who retired last year after working as a program manager at Mather Air Force Base since 1986, denied the allegations and insisted she followed all regulations.
"They are still trying to blame me for (expletive) I didn't do," Jaffe said in a phone interview with the Bee. "I wish I never joined the Guard. I regret it, and I hate the Guard."
Federal officials launched the investigation in August after Capt. Ronald S. Clark, a federal auditor who oversees funds spent by state Guard organizations, realized the scope of the problem and reported it to the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, the newspaper said.
Clark estimated that $100 million had been misspent since 2001, and the Guard had managed to stop another $43 million in improper payments, the Bee said.
A spot check by Clark's office of 62 individuals who received $1.2 million over the past few years found 52 problem cases, including some with falsified documents.
Jaffe's work often went unchecked by superiors, Clark said.
Spokesmen for the U.S. Department of Justice, which is leading the probe, and the California Guard declined comment.
Federal investigators have taken over the audit from Clark, who said he decided to blow the whistle because he was concerned that officers who were recipients of the improper benefits might have tried to interfere with his audit.
Information from: The Sacramento Bee, http://www.sacbee.com