Congress is ‘afraid’ to stand up for soldiers slapped with false arrest record, Rep. Gohmert says
Rep. Louie Gohmert said Congress should help clear the records of soldiers targeted by an overzealous Army investigation and look into how service members were slapped with a false arrest record in the first place. But the Texas Republican said his colleagues have been “afraid” to touch the issue in the past.
“What we have run into in Congress is people that are a little uneasy about fixing this situation,” he said. “All it takes is somebody vindictive … to say something about, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to cover up for criminals.’ And then people back off and they’re afraid to touch it.”
More than 2,400 soldiers and veterans who were never charged with wrongdoing likely have a misleading entry on their background check after participating in a now-defunct National Guard recruiting program known as G-RAP. The program paid recruiting assistants up to $2,000 for each person they successfully referred to the National Guard.
G-RAP ended in 2012 amid accusations of fraud and mismanagement, after bringing in around 150,000 new recruits. The Army created Task Force Raptor to investigate more than 106,000 people who received payments through the program. Lawyers and soldiers say the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) accused recruiting assistants of stealing recruits’ personal information and using it to illegally collect referral bonuses.
Only 137 soldiers were charged with a crime, according to the Army, but CID “titled” at least 2,580 soldiers in connection with the recruiting programs, creating a permanent record showing they were the subject of an investigation. That “title” shows up on a background check as an arrest, listing serious charges such as wire fraud and identity theft, according to some soldiers and veterans who were not aware they had been under investigation until years later.
That false arrest record “has ruined thousands of careers” of innocent soldiers and veterans, Gohmert said. Soldiers and veterans say they have lost jobs, been denied weapons permits and suffered numerous other consequences because it looks like they are charged with a serious felony.
“We don’t know who had been putting the provisions in records to say that a service member was arrested when they were not arrested,” Gohmert said. “They should be investigated for falsifying military records.”
Gohmert and the Congressional Justice for Warriors Caucus, which he chairs, have tried for several years to work language into the yearly defense spending bill that would amend the titling system. So far, the amendments have failed to advance in the House.
“One of the things that I would like to see is people talk to their members of Congress in the Senate about unfairness that’s happening to our military members,” said Gohmert, who is retiring from the House in January after 18 years. “As I’ve said since I was in the Army, any country that does not honor those that have honored it with their service in the military won’t stay a free country very long.”
Army leadership told Congress in 2014 that Task Force Raptor could uncover up to $100 million in fraud. Within three years, the Army revised that estimate to $6 million after already spending around $28 million on the investigation. To date, $478,002 has been repaid to the U.S. Treasury plus $58,403 in fines and fees, according to the Army.
David Safavian, who serves as general counsel for the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC), told Fox News that Task Force Raptor is “exactly the problem with government run amok.”
“We empower these people to be the grand inquisitors and we don’t conduct enough oversight to make sure that they’re actually doing things right,” Safavian said.
Safavian said CPAC is working with soldiers and guardsmen affected by Task Force Raptor, connecting them with their representatives and pushing for legislation that would require the Pentagon to notify people who have been titled that there is a mark on their record.
The next step, Safavian said, is clearing soldiers’ records.
“Our view is that if there hasn’t been a criminal prosecution, those titles shouldn’t exist,” he said.
Despite setbacks in years past, Gohmert and Safavian say they’re optimistic action could be taken as soon as January.
“We’re really focusing on Republican offices with the expectation that we’re going to have both chambers of Congress after November,” Safavian said. “Right at the beginning of Congress, let’s have a hearing on this issue. A public hearing where people can testify as to the impact of this malfeasance.”
He said CPAC is going to be “very aggressive” in pushing for hearings.
“This is a righteous fight,” he said. “We’ve got warfighters and veterans who every day they are suffering economic consequences, emotional consequences.”
The renewed focus on G-RAP comes as the National Guard Bureau appears to be considering establishing a similar recruiting referral program.
Late last month, Gen. Dan Hokanson told reporters the service could “make every single Guardsman a recruiter by paying them a bonus for anybody that they bring into the organization,” Army Times reported. Hokanson said the previous program worked well and could be one way for the Guard to address its current recruiting problems, but “the right checks and balances” would have to be in place.
The National Guard Bureau declined Fox News’ request for an interview about the proposal.
Gohmert is open to the idea “so long as there is appropriate supervision.” He added that G-RAP was very successful in increasing the number of people in the Army National Guard.
“I think it’s a good program, but the military has got to do a better job of overseeing,” he said.