Two Soldiers Convicted in Fuel-Selling Scam in Afghanistan

A OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter takes off from the airfield on Forward Operating Base Gardez, Paktia province, Afghanistan, on Aug. 24, 2012. (Kimberly Trumbull/Courtesy of the U.S. Army)

Two American soldiers in Afghanistan have been convicted on federal charges of bribery and fraud in connection with a scheme to sell fuel on the black market in the eastern part of the country.

Sgt. James Edward Norris, 41, of Fort Irwin, Calif, and Sgt. Seneca Darnell Hampton, 31, of Fort Benning, Ga., pleaded guilty last week to charges of money laundering and conspiring to bribe a public official, the Justice Department said in statement. Both soldiers will be sentenced in May.

While stationed at Forward Operating Base Gardez in eastern Afghanistan, both soldiers allowed Afghan civilians to steal fuel from the base's reserves on a routine basis, the Justice Department said. Norris and Hampton were given $2,000 a day in exchange for allowing Afghan truckers access to the base's fuel depots.

The co-conspirators were able to keep the scheme under wraps by blaming Afghanistan's harsh winter conditions as the cause for the steadily declining fuel reserves, Norris said in a statement to the court.

Federal court officials did not disclose how much cash Norris and Hampton pocketed during the scheme. But the Justice Department statement said that upon return stateside, the soldiers had paid $60,000 in cash for a Cadillac Escalade and a GMC Sierra.

As part of their plea agreements, Norris and Hampton will be required forfeit proceeds from the bribery scheme, forfeit the vehicles, and pay restitution, Justice Department officials say.

The case is one small piece of a larger effort by Washington and Kabul to root out corruption within Afghanistan. A report released in December by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction claimed government corruption remains one of the top threats to the country's political and economic stability.

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