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Ex-U.S. Official in Iraq to Plead Guilty in Bribery

February 02, 2006|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A former U.S. contracting official in Iraq has admitted that he conspired to steal more than $2 million in reconstruction money and to award contracts to a businessman in exchange for more than $1 million in cars, jewelry and cash.

Robert J. Stein Jr., 50, of Fayetteville, N.C., was expected to enter his guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Washington today. His would be the first conviction in a federal investigation that so far has implicated at least seven people.

Stein, a former contracting official for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, acknowledged his role in the conspiracy in a signed statement filed with the court.

The businessman, Philip H. Bloom, faces federal conspiracy and money-laundering charges. Bloom is not named in Stein's statement but has been identified elsewhere by prosecutors and is in federal custody in Washington.

Five U.S. Army Reserve officers who worked in Iraq also were part of the conspiracy, according to court papers.

Rita Bosworth, a federal public defender in Washington who is representing Stein, had no comment Wednesday. John Nassikas, Bloom's lawyer, declined to comment.

Stein, who has an earlier federal fraud conviction, used the money -- stolen or paid by Bloom -- to buy a single-engine Cessna airplane, a top-of-the-line Porsche and other cars, grenade launchers, machine guns, diamond rings, other jewelry and property in North Carolina, he said in his signed statement.

Stein said he helped steer more than $8.6 million in contracts to companies controlled by Bloom, a U.S. citizen who lived in Romania for many years. The contracts were for less than $500,000 each, the limit of Stein's authority as the top contracting official in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Projects won by Bloom's companies included a new police academy for Hillah and renovation of the public library in nearby Karbala. Bloom's Romanian-based companies are Global Business Group, GBG Holdings and GBG-Logistics Division, prosecutors have said.

The statement cites frank e-mails between Stein and Bloom about payments and phony bids for contracts. "I love to give you money," Stein wrote after approving a $200,000 contract for the police academy in January 2004.

In another exchange, Stein apologized for being "businesslike" and cautioned Bloom to avoid using the same company name on all contract bids, which could arouse suspicion. Bloom agreed, adding, "Since we are paid in cash it really doesn't matter tax wise."

The U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq from shortly after the March 2003 invasion until June 2004.

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