U.S. Businessman Sentenced In Iraq Contract Scheme

Friday, February 16th 2007, 2:16 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. businessman whose companies made more than $8 million in Iraq reconstruction money through a gifts-for-contracts scheme was sentenced Friday to nearly four years in prison.

Philip H. Bloom, who has lived in Romania for many years, pleaded guilty last year to bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He admitted that he bribed military personnel with jewelry, computers, cigars and sexual favors.

He was sentenced to 46 months in prison Friday, a sentence that his attorney said was reduced because he has cooperated in a federal investigation. Bloom, who controlled companies in Iraq and Romania, bid on projects using dummy corporations. Contractors and military officials made sure Bloom received the contracts and, in exchange, received gifts such as cash, premium airline seats, jewelry and sexual favors from women at his Baghdad villa.

Three U.S. Army Reserve officers were indicted last week as part of the case. Col. Curtis G. Whiteford of Utah, Lt. Col. Debra M. Harrison of New Jersey and Lt. Col. Michael B. Wheeler of Wisconsin were accused of steering contracts to Bloom between 2003 and 2005.

In return, prosecutors said, they and their accomplices shared an estimated $1 million in cash, and were showered with gifts.

Harrison's husband, William Driver, was charged with helping smuggle over $300,000 into the U.S., part of which was used for home improvements, prosecutors said.

Attorney John Nassikas said he hopes to ask for a further reduction in Bloom's sentence as the case unfolds.

``He's very much an important witness,'' Nassikas said Friday. ``We hope to get back to court in the near future.''

Also Friday, a former Pentagon employee pleaded guilty to accepting illegal gratuities as part of the scheme. Steven Merkes, who served as a logistics planner in Germany, admitted taking steps to benefit Bloom. In exchange, he received a job offer and $24,000.