Ft. Benning > Army Sergeant Sentenced for taking Bribes in Afghanistan

| May 22, 2015

Ft Benning

FT. BENNING — After six tours of duty in the Middle East, an Army veteran will serve more than four years in federal prison for accepting bribes from Afghans he let divert fuel from a forward operating base.

Sgt. 1st Class James Edward Norris admitted Thursday in U.S. District Court that he shipped some of the illicit cash home stuffed in teddy bears from Forward Operating Base Gardez in Gardez, Afghanistan, where he served as platoon sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 626th Brigade Support Battalion from Fort Campbell, Ky.

A criminal complaint said Norris and others at the base were paid about $2,000 a day to let Afghan truckers take fuel without authorization, and covered up the diversion by falsifying records.

Authorities in court said Norris from January through March 2013 accepted about $100,000 in bribes, and let the Afghan drivers take more than $176,000 in fuel.

An agent with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division testified the Afghans got about 500 gallons daily for five days each week, or 2,500 gallons a week. Each gallon at the time was valued at $5.75 to $6, the agent said.

Norris told the court Thursday that he thought the Afghans were poor and needed the fuel for their own home use. But John Keller, an attorney with the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, said the amounts of fuel being diverted far exceeded what would be needed for personal use.

“It was going for some type of large-operation,” Keller said, adding that operation may have involved enemy forces . Norris and defense attorney Barry Zimmerman said the Afghans were military contractors who approached the soldiers about getting fuel in exchange for cash, as the practice had been common before Norris arrived at the base.

Norris had served 22 years in the Army, and had no prior criminal record. Besides two deployments to Afghanistan, he served three tours in Iraq and one in Kuwait.

His attorney said Norris has “numerous” medals and commendations, and letters of support from family and coworkers were submitted to the court.

The defense attorney asked Judge Clay Land also to consider Norris’ health, saying the sergeant suffers from post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and Huntington Disease, an inherited brain disorder that degrades nerve cells.

Zimmerman also said Norris never denied his guilt and cooperated with investigators. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” Norris told Land.

The Army has not court-martialed him, and he remains on active duty, with his current assignment in California.

Land said he was unwilling to give Norris much credit for his service, because Norris used his position with the Army to divert fuel and take bribes. Land sentenced Norris to four years and three months in prison, followed by three years’ probation.

Land also ordered Norris to repay the government $176,100 for the fuel, and to forfeit two vehicles he bought with bribe money, including a 2014 Hardcore Chopper Lifer 300 motorcycle worth $39,000.

Of undetermined value was a 2008 Cadillac Escalade, which Norris’ ex-wife has. He was to forfeit that vehicle, too, but learned it had been damaged in an accident, and no insurance claim had come through. Authorities agreed any insurance payment would be included in the forfeiture.

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

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1 Comment on "Ft. Benning > Army Sergeant Sentenced for taking Bribes in Afghanistan"

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  1. Frank says:

    For the love of money…