- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2017

Second of two parts

The Army’s recruitment fraud case against Sgt. 1st Class Trevor Antoine, an 18-year soldier with a spotless record, rests on a series of sometimes confusing rules that were created, replaced and created again during a dash to sign up thousands of National Guard members for two hot wars.

Guidance for the National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, or G-RAP, changed so often that the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) in 2013 created a 20-page investigative report that spelled out the changes chronologically for agents to follow.

“The government has never presented any defining evidence that anybody saw those rules,” said Liz Ullman, a Denver business owner who became so upset with how the Army was prosecuting soldiers that she founded the nonprofit Defend Our Protectors. She follows cases and posts documents, such as trial testimony and internal memos.

Sgt. Antoine is one of hundreds of National Guard recruiters accused of defrauding the government of millions of dollars in G-RAP. Launched in 2005, the program created a cadre of “recruiting assistants” working as private contractors and received $2,000 for each recruit they referred to full-time recruiters. The easy flow of cash, susceptibility to fraud and constantly changing rules sank the program in 2012.

Today Sgt. Antoine is awaiting word on whether the command will let him stay on full-time status at his duty station at the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas.

The CID investigative report against him contains no evidence that he took kickbacks from recruiting assistants. Investigators accused him of identify theft for sharing potential candidates’ personally identifiable information with a recruiting assistant, namely retired Sgt. 1st Class Milton Turnbull.

A Washington Times examination shows that G-RAP lacked any required comprehensive training. Recruiting assistants were supposed to keep abreast of new information via online training modules posted by the program’s prime contractor — Document and Packaging Brokers Inc., also known as Docupak.

In consultation with the National Guard Bureau in 2005, Docupak issued guidelines that specifically told recruiting assistants to acquire individuals’ personal data from a recruiter, such as Sgt. Antoine. That is the guideline Mr. Turnbull and Sgt. Antoine began working under.

In late 2007 Docupak suddenly changed the rules to nix that practice, apparently prompted by reports of fraud. What Sgt. Antoine did in 2007 with recruits’ personal data was OK — until 2008.

In criminal prosecutions, the Justice Department has handed to defense attorneys what is supposed to be the updated regulations, sometimes referred to as Version 2.0. The document is stamped “For official use only law enforcement sensitive,” and is directed at recruiting assistants, not full-time recruiters such as Sgt. Antoine.

Ms. Ullman and attorneys who have viewed the document say it is confusing, and they question whether any recruiting assistants were actually shown Version 2.0.

Under the heading of what type of conduct can result in a referral to CID, it says: “Receiving information from a recruiting office with the consent and/or director from someone in the recruiting office.”

Apparently, the close working relationship first encouraged for recruiters and recruiting assistants subsequently was forbidden.

Ms. Ullman said Version 2.0 was contradicted by other publications. For example, it said recruiting assistants may not do recruiting work while on a weekend drill. But the official Guard magazine had told recruiting assistants, “Put [candidates] in the atmosphere of a drill.”

Version 2.0 appeared to cut off recruiting assistants from obtaining information from recruiters. But Roughrider Recruiting, the official publication of North Dakota National Guard, told recruiters to “have monthly meetings with your RAs. Bring them in and go over prospecting techniques, closing techniques, benefits, etc.”

‘Picking on recruiters’

Defense attorney Doug O’Connell is a colonel in the Texas National Guard and a Green Beret who has represented 42 soldiers targeted by CID.

CID agents often draw conclusions based on false assumptions,” the Austin, Texas-based lawyer told The Times. “Nowhere is this more prevalent than cases involving recruiters. The G-RAP rules were murky to begin with and seemed to change constantly. Unfortunately, it’s almost always the lower-ranking soldiers caught up in this dragnet.”

Something interesting happened during the program’s fifth year in 2010. The Army National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia, which had left guidance distribution to recruiting assistants up to Docupak, sent a memo to recruiting offices. The Guard expressly forbid recruiters to give personally identifiable information (PII) to recruiting assistants.

“Obtaining this information from any one other than the recruit (with or without consent) is considered fraudulent,” it said.

Sgt. Antoine said he had ceased working with Mr. Turnbull by 2010.

The Guard Bureau public affairs office told The Times it would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a complete set guidances on G-RAP.

Docupak closed in 2014. Its president, Philip Crane, today runs WEPA, which provides college students with internet access to mobile printing stations. He did not return messages seeking comment.

In 2005 the National Guard faced a troop shortfall of 20,000 soldiers for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Alarmed by this, Guard generals created G-RAP and contracted with Docupak to hire and pay recruiting assistants. In the frenzy to sign up recruits and collect bonuses, hundreds of recruiters and recruiting assistants broke the law. The Army abruptly shut down G-RAP in 2012.

Ms. Ullman said that CID capitalized on the 2007 rule change when it began its G-RAP investigation in 2012 with more than 200 agents. Investigators charge Guardsmen with aggravated identity theft — which carries a two-year mandatory prison sentence — for sharing personally identifiable information (PII).

“All it is, in my opinion, is a lack of understanding of the rules or having never been apprised of the rules,” she said. “They are picking on recruiters now. They picked on recruiting assistants for the past five years. Now they are picking on recruiters for the exact same thing: PII.”

It appears that CID itself became confused on what rules applied to whom.

Jeffrey Addicott, who directs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University, is representing Sgt. Antoine and has filed a rebuttal to the CID report with Maj. Nina A. Clarke Brewley, the sergeant’s commander.

CID provided Maj. Brewley with a one-page scanned copy of a compact disc labeled “G-RAP,” but not the disc itself.

Mr. Addicott said he asked the Virgin Islands command for the actual disc, which CID provided. He said it contained no G-RAP rules. The guidance was for recruiting assistants, not recruiters such as Sgt. Antoine. And the guidance was not for G-RAP but for how the Army and Army Reserve should operate their separate programs. Those rules did not explicitly bar recruiters from sharing PII with recruiting assistants, he said.

“It is an intentional bait-and-switch tactic to create metrics that is meant to find Sgt. Antoine guilty of misconduct,” Mr. Addicott said.

Weaponized rules

Docupak shut down shortly after its nearly $400 million G-RAP contract ended. But its executives continued to serve as prosecution witnesses. Docupak not only paid out millions of dollars in commissions but also set up a store selling recruiting assistants hats, T-shirts and sporting equipment to help advertise the program.

The executives’ testimony shows that recruiting assistants learned the rules via online training modules. The recruiting assistants would click through pages, take a quiz and quickly win certification.

At the trial of a recruiting assistant in Guam, Bill Stewart, a retired Marine Corps officer who was Docupak’s G-RAP manager, explained the program under cross-examination:

Question: Were you aware of any books or anything else other than the modules?

Answer: No, sir.

Question: OK. Were there any seminars or anything that an individual was required to attend, anything like that?

Answer: Required, no, sir.

On the recruiter end, Sgt. Antoine told investigations much the same thing.

“I don’t think any recruiters really understood all of the program guidelines thoroughly, especially as it related to sharing of PII,” he said.

In January 2014, Sgt. Antoine, without a lawyer, sat down with CID agents. The transcripts of the interrogation show how agents used rules on sharing personal data to create criminal charges.

Thinking he had done nothing wrong, the sergeant freely admitted he shared PII with a recruiting assistant.

“Yes, it was a regular practice with me, if a RA referred someone to me then called me later to ask for the PII, if I knew the referred [recruit], I would provide them the PII so they could enter it in the system,” he said.

Two days later, Jan. 24, 2014, Sgt. Antoine met a second time with the CID agents and provided his bank account numbers with permission to inspect them.

The agents again accused Sgt. Antoine of breaking the law by sharing personal data with a recruiting assistant.

“Why did you give out PII for new enlistees to [the recruiting assistant] when you knew it goes against your training?” an agent said.

The agent told him that “sharing PII with others is a form of identify theft, and if used in the commission of a crime, there are other laws such as wire fraud, larceny of government money and conspiracy that you may be guilty of.”

Sgt. Antoine said that, since the recruiting assistant had referred the person, “I thought he had the right to know.”

At this point, the agent had convinced him that he did not follow the law, Sgt. Antoine told The Times.

“I’m truly sorry for what I did and I wish I had gotten more training about the G-RAP program, and I will never do it again,” he told the agent.

There is no evidence in the CID report that he received any G-RAP money.

“No, absolutely not,” he told CID.

His case is pending before Maj. Brewley, who suspended him from recruiting duties and says she plans to kick him off full-time status two years short of retirement.

Today, he realizes he followed the regulations as first issued in 2007.

Asked why he apologized, Sgt. Antoine said: “Because of the CID aggression on the topic and by them quoting Bible verses made me feel inferior to them, as if my knowledge and understanding of the program was executed wrongly, which confused me and made me question how we executed G-RAP in the Virgin Islands.”

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