Former U.S. Army Colonel pleads guilty to federal charges associated with helicopter contracts at Redstone Arsenal
TUSCALOOSA –A former U.S. Army colonel pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to charges of criminal misconduct arising from his duties associated with various helicopter procurement contracts at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
Norbert Vergez, 49, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler to two counts charging false statements and one count of conflict of interest. These were listed in a government information document filed last week by the U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance’s office.
Vergez, formerly of Mesa, Arizona, served from 2010 to 2012 as the program manager for “Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft” (NSRWA), a component of the Army located at Redstone Arsenal, which was responsible for contracts involving certain “non-standard” helicopters, including the Russian-made Mi-17.
“Colonel Vergez placed his own financial ambitions and personal loyalties above his duties as a member of the armed forces,” Vance said. “In doing so, he betrayed the U.S. Army values of honesty, integrity and selfless service, which are hallmarks of military service. This prosecution highlights our commitment to hold responsible those who, by word and deed, corrupt the government contracting process.”
Vergez pleaded guilty to three instances of making false statements and using false writings in communicating with the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DODIG) in connection with a DODIG audit of a Mi-17 overhaul contract administered in part by NSRWA. One aspect of the audit had to do with the role NSRWA played in certain contract disputes that involved various contractors and subcontractors in the contracting chain, including a third-tier subcontractor known as Avia Baltika Aviation Ltd. (AVB). Vergez admitted in his plea agreement that on two occasions he made or caused his office to make false representations to DODIG that his office had no direct contact with AVB concerning its subcontract on the Northrop Grumman contract, when, as Vergez then knew, he and his direct subordinates at NSRWA had significant direct contacts with AVB related to its subcontract.
In one incident, he directed a subordinate to backdate a document. Vergez admitted that on Feb. 1, 2012, he directed a subordinate official to create and sign a document bearing the typed date Dec. 5, 2011, representing that a $3.67 million claim by AVB under the contract was reasonable. As a result of this backdating, it falsely appeared that the subordinate official had approved the $3.67 million payment before directions were given to Northrop to make that payment. That document was then provided to DODIG in response to its requests for supporting documentation surrounding this attempt to have Northrop pay AVB.
According to the plea agreement, Vergez admitted that he engaged in a criminal conflict of interest by taking official acts as a government official to assist a helicopter manufacturing company in negotiating a “foreign military sale” and adjusting a contract so that the company received payment faster than originally agreed upon at a time when Vergez was negotiating future employment with that company.
Vergez further admitted that he made false statements in his “Confidential Financial Disclosure Report,” a government ethics form, for the year 2012, by not disclosing that his wife had received a Rolex wristwatch from the wife of a representative of AVB; that he had accepted an offer of employment with a private company; and that he had received a $30,000 check from that company.
No sentencing date has been set for Vergez yet.