Washington, DC A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia has indicted 6 recruiters for their role in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a U.S. government contract to recruit and deploy qualified linguists to Afghanistan as part of a USD 750 million contract with the US government. This follows an initial indictment of one of the defendants in November, 2018.
The recruiters were employed by an Arlington, VA-based sub-contractor hired to provide expert translators fluent in Dari and/ or Pashto for the US military in Afghanistan, where they would provide language services to the U.S. military, including interacting with Afghan civilians and military forces.
According to court documents, ringleader Mezghan N. Anwari, 41, of Centerville, Virginia, Abdul Q. Latifi, 45, of Irvine, California, Mahjoba Raofi, 47, of San Diego, California, Laila Anwari, 54, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Rafi M. Anwari, 54, of Centerville, Virginia, and Zarghona Alizai, 48, of Annandale, Virginia, were employed as linguist recruiters for the Arlington, Virginia office of a Florida-based subcontractor.
The primary contractor, Columbus, Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) had retained the subcontractor to provide candidates who met a certain baseline of proficiency, who would then be screened by a separate subcontractor for their language skills. The screenings were done by phone. MEP has been under investigation for some time, with one 2016 audit of the contract finding USD 54 million in unsubstantiated costs, many of them allegedly related to recruiting costs across the company.
The way this scam was structured, the defendants would supply “candidates” with sub-par language skills, and then use a small pool of talented linguists to pretend they were the candidates during the phone screens. The recruiters were paid bonuses based on how far candidates moved through the process, and moving them past the language screen was a significant bonus stage. In so doing, the defendants sought to make it appear that the linguist candidates possessed stronger language skills than was the case and to ensure that their unqualified linguist candidates would receive passing scores. At times, the defendants themselves fraudulently impersonated candidates during interviews.
The indictment says the defendants would have received a variable recruiting bonus of between USD 250 and USD 2,500 per candidate depending on how far in the process a candidate progressed.
Besides the recruiter bonus, their employer ran a generous referral scheme for people outside of the company. The defendants are also accused of duping the company into giving them sums of money for candidates that they pretended had been referred by friends or family. And they would allegedly pocket cash to the tune of USD 7,000 per faked candidate referral.
“As alleged in the indictment, the defendants exploited the trust placed in them by the U.S. military and recruited unqualified linguists to be deployed to Afghanistan,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We are committed to holding accountable those who undermine the integrity of the procurement process and potentially jeopardize the United States’ mission overseas.”
“This indictment alleges serious crimes that threatened to put American troops at greater risk in a combat zone,” said John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
“The Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) is committed to ensuring the integrity of the Department of Defense's procurement system” said Special Agent in Charge Stanley A. Newell of the Transnational Operations Field Office for DCIS.
The defendants are scheduled for initial court appearances on May 5, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. If convicted, each of the defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison per count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
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