The National Guard’s troubled Recruiting Assistance Program is back in the news today.
Staff Sgt. Evette Merced and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Darryl Harrison, were arrested Wednesday by federal agents — along with five other soldiers affiliated with a recruiting station in the Bronx. Investigators say the couple was behind a nationwide recruiting scandal that cost taxpayers $30 million, and has led to the arrest of more than 100 soldiers.
Five other soldiers arrested:
- Staff Sgt. Siul Celeste, 29.
- Staff Sgt. Jeanette Arizaga, 41.
- Sgt. Yesenia Adames, 43.
- Sgt. Renetta Edwards, 40.
- Sgt. Jefferson Simbanamuzo, 41.
According to WNEP, the couple lives in the Poconos but commuted to NYC where they worked for the NY State Army National Guard. The federal indictment claims that seven soldiers connected to the Bronx station received more than $120,000 in fraudulent bonuses.
Merced and Harrison were both full-time, salaried recruiters for the Army National Guard.
The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, or G-RAP, was launched in 2005 to help boost enlistment numbers, during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Program participants, or recruiter assistants (RAs), could earn up to $2,000 for every new soldier they recruited into the Guard, according to the Army Times.
Prosecutors say recruiters who were not eligible for the bonus, “would give the names of people they have already signed up to new soldiers.” The recruiter and new soldier would then split the money, they said.
From 2007-2011, investigators say Merced and Harrison “abused their positions.. by providing the personal identifying information of potential soldiers.” The couple reportedly gave the information to four other soldiers “in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
G-RAP ended in 2012 after the Army learned of the scam investigation.
Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, an Army spokesman, said in a statement: “The Army is participating in a multi-agency task force to investigate and resolve fraudulent actions associated with the Recruiting Assistance Program and has had a sizable task force investigating other instances of RAP fraud.”
Merced and Harrison face multiple charges including conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation and receipt of bribes, theft of government funds, and aggravated identity theft.
Their arrests come less than three months after 25 current and former soldiers from the Puerto Rico National Guard were charged with similar offenses, the Times reported.
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