A decorated former Army captain was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for taking more than $300,000 in bribes from Afghan contractors, a scheme the government called the largest bribery case to be prosecuted related to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
Sidharth "Tony" Handa, 32, of Charlotte, N.C., who received the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan, was arrested earlier this year. He had been targeted in an undercover sting in which Handa agreed to help a purported heroin dealer who had promised to help Handa collect additional bribe payments he believed were owed to him.
According to federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., Handa was assigned to help coordinate reconstruction projects in Afghanistan's Kunar province. He solicited $1.3 million in bribes and received $315,000, which he split with an interpreter.
"From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case was prosecuted. "His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted."
Handa's defense lawyers said their client foolishly agreed to a scheme suggested by the interpreter, who insisted kickbacks were common practice.
At Friday's sentencing hearing, defense lawyers Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro disputed the government's assertion that Handa's case was the biggest bribe scheme connected to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Ultimately, they said, Handa received only $157,000 from his scheme. The amount is a pittance compared to the billions lost in contracting fraud over the course of the war, they said. Last month, the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting said as much as $60 billion has been lost to waste and fraud over the past decade in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 10-year sentence was the minimum that U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga could impose. Prosecutors had sought a term of more than 11 years.