2nd Officer Accused in Iraq Bid-Rigging Case

By Charles R. Babcock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005

An Army Reserve lieutenant colonel was arrested yesterday for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to rig bids on Iraq reconstruction contracts, becoming the fourth person implicated in an ongoing criminal investigation of the rebuilding effort.

Debra Harrison, of Trenton, N.J., accepted a Cadillac Escalade and two .45-caliber pistols, and used more than $80,000 in Coalition Provisional Authority funds for a deck, hot tub and other home improvements, according to an affidavit by an agent for the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction.

A contractor based in Romania, a civilian comptroller with the CPA, and another reserve lieutenant colonel, Michael Brian Wheeler, already have been arrested in the case, the first criminal matter growing out of the effort to rebuild Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

A message left yesterday at the home of a Debra Harrison in Trenton was not returned.

The affidavit supporting a criminal complaint against Harrison claimed she violated federal conspiracy, money laundering and firearms laws while working in Hillah, Iraq, south of Baghdad, with Wheeler and the civilian comptroller, Robert J. Stein Jr. They were all part of an alleged scheme in which contractor Philip Bloom received more than $3.5 million in bogus contracts, sometimes for work that was never completed, the filing said. The Justice Department noted in a press release accompanying the affidavit that the criminal complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.

Harrison, 47, returned to the United States at the end of her tour last year with more than $80,000 in undeclared cash, the affidavit alleged, and when it was discovered, she presented a letter on official letterhead claiming that it was for the payment of a government contract. Stein told authorities that Harrison used some of the money for the home improvements, the affidavit said.

The government found e-mail exchanges in which Harrison thanked Bloom for the Cadillac, the filing said. It said that when confronted by agents on Nov. 30, Harrison said she received the car and was aware that the contractor paid for it. She "stated that she believed she was entitled to the vehicle because of her work as a military officer in Iraq," the affidavit said.

The investigation grew out of an audit by the special inspector general's office and was conducted with the help of Internal Revenue Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

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