August 23, 2007 / 11:09 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. soldier charged with taking bribe in Iraq

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. Army captain was charged on Thursday with accepting a $50,000 bribe to steer military contracts in Iraq, prosecutors said.

Austin Key, 27, of Watertown, N.Y., was stationed in Baghdad as a field ordering officer and oversaw the administration of service and supply contracts awarded by the U.S. Army worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Prosecutors accuse Key of demanding $125,000 from the owner of a business in order to protect the company’s ability to win future contracts.

But the unidentified business owner contacted law enforcement authorities and agreed to meet with Key again so that their conversation could be recorded.

“During a subsequent meeting on August 11, 2007, Key told the (business owner) that in exchange for $50,000, he would give the (business owner) advance, confidential information on contracts so that he would be more successful in bidding on U.S. Army contracts,” prosecutors said.

In addition to that, Key — who was brought back to the United States on Wednesday — is accused of demanding 5 percent of any contracts he steered to the company.

He was ordered released on Thursday in Manhattan federal court on $500,000 bail. If convicted Key faces a maximum 15 years in prison for one count of bribery.

In a separate case, a Texas grand jury on Wednesday indicted Army Maj. John Cockerham, his wife, Melissa, and his sister Carolyn Blake, in a suspected scheme to accept millions of dollars in bribes for Defense Department contracts in Iraq and Kuwait.

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