Over the past several years, the Department of Defense has reported examples of hundreds of Army National Guard and Army Reserve (Army Guard and Reserve) soldiers who received inaccurate and untimely payroll payments due to problems with the DOD payroll system.
The Government Accounting Office, on the other hand, reported several cases for which mobilized Army Reserve soldiers never reported for active duty and improperly received pay that they did not earn. If a soldier remains absent, without authority, from his or her unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away permanently, a soldier is guilty of desertion.
Desertion from the military is still a serious offense. The civilian law enforcement community sometimes assists the Army on desertion cases. For example, the U.S. Army Deserter Information Point (USADIP) enters data about soldiers in deserter status into the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Crime Information Center's (NCIC) Wanted Person File that is used by civilian law enforcement officers.
Whenever a civilian law enforcement officer has reason to question someone about any apparent unlawful activity, standard practice for the law enforcement officer is to determine whether there are any outstanding warrants for the arrest of that person. If the person is a soldier with an outstanding arrest warrant for desertion, the civilian law enforcement officer is to arrest and hold the soldier until the soldier can be transferred to military custody for subsequent legal proceedings to determine innocence or guilt.
During their investigation, the GAO confirmed that at least seven Army Reserve soldiers assigned to the 1004th Quartermaster Company, located in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, did not report for active duty in December 2003 in accordance with their orders. During the following 8-month period, they improperly accepted a total $195,000 of military pay. The Army Reserve did not stop improper military pay to these soldiers until the GAO notified Reserve officials in August 2004 during a prior assignment.
Even after the notification, one of the seven soldiers continued to be paid for an additional 8 months and accepted a total of about $58,000 in improper payments, including about $28,000 for the later 8-month period.
In addition, they found no evidence that arrest warrants had been filed against any of the seven soldiers as of May 2006. The limited investigation showed that at least 68 additional soldiers, 38 with the Army Guard and 30 with the Army Reserve, received improper and potentially fraudulent pay, estimated at $684,000, while in a deserter status.
This number and amount likely significantly understates the number and amount the Department of Defense paid to Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status. Army, Army Guard, and Reserve officials acknowledged that they were unaware of the extent to which Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status improperly received potentially fraudulent military pay.
They explained that determining the extent to which soldiers charged with desertion continue to receive improper payments is difficult for several reasons. First, initiating and processing desertion cases depend upon unit commanders preparing timely paperwork.
Second, there is no central database that electronically stores this paperwork. Without these data, military leaders do not have readily available aggregate data affording visibility over the number of desertion cases initiated.
Additionally, they do not have a readily available tool to match against pay data to ensure that soldiers in deserter status have not been paid. Knowingly keeping unearned military pay is considered fraud. Many of the 75 cases (7 cases from the 1004th Quartermaster Company and the 68 other cases) of Army Guard and Reserve soldiers in deserter status that we identified as having received unearned pay may have willfully converted the pay to their own use, which is punishable by a maximum confinement of 10 years.
For example, six of the seven Reserve soldiers who were assigned to the 1004th Quartermaster Company admitted that they received unearned military pay when then were initially interviewed in late 2004. Of these six, five told investigators that they had spent the money and one said she had put the money in a separate bank account.
Although investigators from the GAO confirmed that the seventh soldier also received unearned military pay, she claimed that she thought that the money she had received was an educational benefit. Subsequently, between April 2005 and September 2005, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) sent the first debt collection letter to each soldier asking for repayment of the unearned pay. Little has been repaid thus far.
DFAS information shows that about 9 percent of the estimated $195,000 in improper payments had been repaid as of May 2006. Two of the seven soldiers had not yet made any repayments. Arrest warrants had been issued for 51 of the 75 soldiers. Regarding the soldiers from the 1004th Quartermaster Company, USADIP had no record of arrest warrants.
However, 1 of the 7 soldiers voluntarily surrendered to military authorities and received an other than honorable discharge from the military in December 2005 in lieu of a court-martial. Thus, all 51 arrest warrants applied to the 68 other deserter cases identified. As of May 11, 2006, 18 of the 51 had been apprehended by civilian authorities, 2 soldiers had voluntarily surrendered to military authorities, and 31 soldiers remained at large.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.