Retired 4-star Navy admiral arrested for awarding government contract in exchange for job

A retired four-star Navy admiral who commanded thousands of officers across Europe, Russia and Africa was arrested Friday on bribery charges involving a government contract.

Robert Burke is accused of awarding a contract to two New York business executives, Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger, in exchange for future employment at their company, the Justice Department said. Kim and Messenger were also arrested Friday for their role in the alleged scheme.

The Justice Department did not name the firm, but Kim and Messenger are named as co-CEOs on the website of New York-based company NextJump.

The company provided a workforce training pilot program to a small group in the Navy starting in August 2018, according to federal officials. The Navy terminated the contract the following year and directed the company not to contact Burke.

But in July 2021, he allegedly met with the two co-CEOs in Washington D.C. and agreed that Burke would use his high-ranking position to “steer a sole-source contract” to the company in exchange for future employment, court documents said.

Burke, 62, of Coconut Creek, Florida, agreed that he would try to convince other officers to award another contract to the company to train a “large portion” of the Navy with a value that Kim allegedly estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Justice Department.

The former Navy executive is also accused of covering up the alleged scheme by implying he played no role in issuing the contract and only began discussing employment opportunities with the company months after it was awarded. An attorney for Burke denied the alleged bribery scheme and told USA TODAY he intended to go to trial.

DOJ: Burke secured contract for company in exchange for future job

Five months after the meeting in Washington D.C., Burke allegedly ordered his staff to award a $355,000 contract to the company to train officers under his command in Italy and Spain. The firm provided the training in January 2022, according to federal officials.

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In October 2022, federal officials allege Burke started working at the company with a starting salary of $500,000.

Burke, Kim, and Messenger are charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. Burke is also charged with performing acts affecting a personal financial interest and concealing material facts from the U.S. If convicted, Burke faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, and Kim and Messenger each face up to 20 years.

‘No quid pro quo here’

Attorney Timothy Parlatore said Burke denies the accusations and alleged the Justice Department’s information was incorrect. Parlatore told USA TODAY that Burke didn’t deny meeting with the company’s executives in July 2021 but said the nature of the conversation was described incorrectly.

“I think the information they’re relying upon is inaccurate because there is no quid pro quo here,” he said.

There was no connection between the job offer and contract awarded on behalf of the Navy, Parlatore said, except that Burke believed in the product they were providing and eventually accepted an offer with them. And Burke was allegedly still updating his resume and speaking with other prospective employers after the meeting in Washington D.C., indicating he had not already accepted a position through the alleged bribery scheme.

“We look forward to putting this case in front of a jury and having Admiral Burke exonerated of these false claims,” Parlatore said.

NextJump did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s requests for comment Friday.

Bribery charges involving public officials

The charges announced Friday are the latest in a series of alleged bribery scheme busts involving public officials.

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Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced charges against Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and his wife for bribery and money laundering. The couple is accused of taking roughly $600,000 from an oil and gas company tied to the Azerbaijan government and a bank headquartered in Mexico City. The indictment accuses Cuellar of corruptly trying to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan and using his legislative clout to benefit the bank.

In January, two current and two former Massachusetts state troopers were charged in an alleged scheme to give passing scores for commercial driver’s licenses in exchange for bribes. Prosecutors accused the troopers of falsifying records and conspiring to give preferential treatment to at least 17 CDL applicants. The troopers even passed drivers who failed their skills tests and used the code word “golden” to identify such applicants, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged a U.S. Army soldier from Fort Campbell in March on charges of selling national defense secrets to China. Korbein Schultz allegedly received $42,000 over 14 payments.

According to a fiscal year 2020 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, bribery offenses decreased by 48% since fiscal 2016. Out of the times that penalties were increased, nearly half were because the convicted person was a public official, the report said, and 75% of increased sentences involved multiple bribes.

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