Feds Arrest Former Navy Europe Commander Alleging Bribery Scheme that Led to $500,000 Civilian Salary

Admiral Robert Burke in Cincu, Romania
Then Admiral Robert Burke speaks to NATO military members participating in Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 on 1 June, 2021 in Cincu, Romania. (NATO photo by MSgt Malaury Buis)

A now-retired top U.S. admiral was arrested Friday on federal bribery charges for allegedly steering contracts to a company in exchange for future employment while he was the commander of Navy forces in Europe, according to the Justice Department.

Robert Burke allegedly directed the lucrative Navy contracts to the company in 2021 while serving as a four-star admiral, and it later hired him in 2022 for a starting salary of $500,000 per year. Two New York executives with the company were also arrested Friday for alleged roles in the bribery scheme.

If convicted, Burke faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, the Justice Department said. He served as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa from 2020 to 2022, and before that he was the vice chief of naval operations -- the Navy's second highest ranking officer, according to his official Navy biography.

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"As alleged in the indictment, Admiral Burke used his public office and his four-star status for his private gain," U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said in a released statement. "The law does not make exceptions for admirals or CEOs. Those who pay and receive bribes must be held accountable. The urgency is at its greatest when, as here, senior government officials and senior executives are allegedly involved in the corruption."

The two business executives also arrested with Burke were Yongchul "Charlie" Kim and Meghan Messenger, who each face 20-year sentences.

    The indictment lists the pair as leading a company that "provided a workforce training pilot program to a small component of the Navy from August 2018 through July 2019." Although neither the indictment nor the Justice Department named the company, based on publicly available information, it appears to be Next Jump.

    At the time of publication, Next Jump's leadership page featured both Kim and Messenger as co-CEOs, and an October 2022 social media post by Next Jump said the company was "delighted to welcome Bob Burke as a senior partner," noting that he brought with him "a wealth of leadership experience from serving four decades in the U.S. Navy."

    Military.com reached out to Next Jump for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

    The Navy terminated its contract with the company in 2019, while Burke was serving as the vice chief of naval operations, and told the firm -- referred to as "Company A" -- to cease contacting Burke, according to the Justice Department.

    "Despite the Navy's instructions, Kim and Messenger then allegedly met with Burke in Washington, D.C., in July 2021, in an effort to reestablish Company A's business relationship with the Navy," the department said. "At the meeting, the charged defendants allegedly agreed that Burke would use his position as a Navy admiral to steer a sole-source contract to Company A in exchange for future employment at the company."

    The Justice Department alleges that they also agreed Burke would use his official position to push other Navy officers to award another contract to the company to train the Navy -- a contract Kim allegedly estimated to be worth "triple digit millions."

    Burke allegedly helped the company obtain a $355,000 contract in 2021 to train personnel under Burke's command in Italy and Spain. After that, he allegedly attempted to convince another four-star Navy admiral to also award contracts to Kim and Messenger's company.

    "To conceal the scheme, Burke allegedly made several false and misleading statements to the Navy, including by creating the false appearance that Burke played no role in issuing the contract and falsely implying that Company A's employment discussions with Burke only began months after the contract was awarded," the Justice Department said.

    Burke began working at the company in 2022, with a starting salary of $500,000 and a grant of 100,000 stock options.

    The Navy's top spokesman, Rear Adm. Ryan Perry, said that the service "has fully cooperated with this investigation from the onset," in an email to Military.com on Friday afternoon. "We take this matter very seriously and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice."

    Perry referred Military.com to the Justice Department for more information.

    -- Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.

    -- Kelsey Baker is a graduate student at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, and a former active-duty Marine. Reach her on X at @KelsBBaker or bakerkelsey@protonmail.com.

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