- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Eight current or former members of the California National Guard have been indicted on federal charges alleging that they fraudulently obtained tens of thousands of dollars in recruiting referral bonuses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento said Thursday.

They are charged with collecting between $16,000 and $95,000 each in bonuses by falsely claiming to have referred eligible recruits to enlistment offices. Each is charged with wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

“Ripping off a program intended to enhance our armed services is not just illegal, it is reprehensible,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said in a statement. He said the investigation is continuing.

Indictments handed down by grand juries in Sacramento and Fresno on Thursday say the Army contracted with a private Alabama-based company, Document and Packaging Broker Inc., to administer the recruiting and bonus program. A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors said the company was not part of the fraud.

Some of the recruiters claimed credit for the enlistment of some individuals they had never met, Monica Miller, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento office, said in a statement.

The California National Guard said in a statement that the guard had no control over the program but is cooperating with prosecutors and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

All eight were recruiters or recruiting assistants at the time. Investigators said the suspects each collected some of the recruiting compensation themselves, while some also diverted portions of the payments to others:

The eight and the amount of alleged fraudulent bonuses attributed to each, are:

- Joaquin Cuenca, 36, of San Diego, $30,000.

- Nicholas Huerta, 32, of Fresno, $25,000.

- Brian M. Kaps, 40, of Chico, $16,000.

- Jimmy Maldonado, 33, and his wife, Mayra Garcia Maldonado, 27, both of Fresno, $40,000.

- Sarah N. Nattress, 26, of Paradise, $28,000.

- Leonardo Pesta, 46, of Mountain View, $20,000.

- Richard C. Sihner, 52, of Elk Grove, $95,000. Sihner is also charged with one count of making false statements to a federal agent.

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