- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A former Louisiana Army National Guardsman who admitted to conspiring with another soldier to steal $20,000 from a recruiting bonus program has been sentenced to three years of probation.

Nola.com/The Times-Picayune reports (https://bit.ly/1HnaTns ) that Ramon Madrid, 30, of Kenner must pay $20,000 in restitution to the U.S. Defense Department. He was a staff sergeant when he was indicted by a federal grand jury last year.

Madrid, who worked in public affairs, and Pablo E. Paz, 46, a former National Guard recruiter in New Orleans, were charged in October with stealing bonuses that the Army Guard offered its soldiers through the now-defunct Guard Recruiter Assistance Program.

In February Madrid pleaded guilty to conspiring with Paz to steal the money. He was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Jay Zainey.

Paz entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in March. His sentencing is set June 2, court record show. A Louisiana National Guard spokesman declined to comment Saturday.

Through the bonus program, designed to bolster recruiting efforts during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Defense Department gave as much as $2,000 extra to soldiers who referred enlistees to the Army National Guard.

The Defense Department ended the program in 2012, amid an investigation of widespread fraud and kickbacks between soldiers and recruiters.

Authorities have said that at least $29 million in fraudulent payments were made during the programs’ seven years. Recruiters were not allowed to participate in the program, but soldiers who completed a “recruiter assistant” training program could do so.

Madrid set himself up as a recruiter assistant on Jan. 31, 2007. Although the program’s rules forbade it, Paz gave Madrid the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of potential enlistees who expressed interest in joining the Army Guard.

Madrid used the information in a way to suggest that he referred the enlistees to the Army Guard, even though he never met with them, prosecutors said. They did not say how many enlistment prospects Madrid referred to Paz. But most of them said they never met Madrid or gave him their personal information, according to Paz’ plea agreement.

In this way, Madrid obtained $20,000 in bonuses, and he then gave Paz his cut of the ill-gotten money, prosecutors said. It’s not clear from court records how much Paz received, but prosecutors said Madrid used personal checks totaling $6,500 to give Paz his cut. To hide the reason for the payments, Madrid described them in check memos as “loan repayment,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Madrid and Paz hatched the conspiracy in April 2007, and continued it through October 2011. As part of Madrid’s plea, prosecutors dismissed identity theft and wire fraud charges. He must pay at least $150 in monthly restitution installments, beginning July 15, record show.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com


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