Monday, October 13, 2008

Chronicle of a Welfare King

IOKIYADCL--it's ok if you're a defense contractor/lobbyist:

There were easy ways to cheat. The prototype missile nose cone and heat shields that the Army had paid the Maine company to design for the Alaska tests. Why not hire the business to pretend to design them again? Mr. Cantrell asked.

The ballute -- an odd cross between a balloon and a parachute -- had been rejected by experts as a tool to strike an enemy missile. But why not pay the Maine company to develop them anyway? Mr. Cantrell suggested.

He could pull off such shenanigans because, by then, he had an extraordinary degree of independence. Mr. Cantrell’s experimental missile program, which had cost nearly $250 million, was about to be canceled. No working missile system had been built -- and almost none of the components had ended up being tested in real launchings as planned. The effort had produced some benefits for the players involved: Congress sent an annual allotment of extra money to the Alaska launching site now totaling more than $40 million, and one of the contractors that had worked with Mr. Cantrell initially to pitch the space port, Aero Thermo Technology, had secured a no-bid federal contract to provide launching services.

Now Mr. Cantrell was on to another assignment overseeing missile defense research in Huntsville, and through his friends on the Hill, he was once again getting money for projects that the Pentagon did not want.

Mr. Cantrell, who by now was helping to oversee 160 or so contractors and managing a $120 million a year contracting budget, said he knew that if he only requested a few million dollars at a time for his scheme, there would be little scrutiny of his requests or demands that he prove that the work was actually done.

For example, the missile nose cones and other parts now made round trips from Huntsville to Maine with little or no change. Mr. Cantrell or his deputy simply marked off the work as complete, and that was the end of it.

For nearly six years, from 2001 to 2007, the men collected kickbacks from contractors. During one visit to the US Airways Club, Mr. Ennis picked up a briefcase stuffed with $75,000 in cash, according to federal court records. Mr. Cantrell also got checks, ranging from $5,000 to $60,000, once or twice a month, court records show.

The Maine contractor, Maurice H. Subilia, is under investigation; his lawyer, Toby Dilworth, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment. Dennis A. Darling, a Florida contractor who got government research grants and then divvied them up with Mr. Cantrell, was indicted last month on a charge of paying Mr. Cantrell $400,000 in bribes from 2005 to 2007.

Cantrell got caught, but, c'mon, does anyone really think he's the one bad apple in the Pentagon rot? If so, I've got a bridge in Alaska I'd like to see you...

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