A military contractor and a former Army reservist pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of fraud, bribery and money laundering related to an alleged scheme to bilk the U.S. government of millions during the security transfer in Afghanistan.
David Young, 49, of Florida, and Michael Taylor, 51, of Boston, each face multiple charges in the 72-count federal indictment issued in Utah in August, which alleges they conspired to use protected information to land a U.S. Army contract managing supplies and training Afghan commandos that between 2007 and 2010 netted them $20 million in illicit payments. American International Security Corporation of Boston (AISC), Taylor's contracting company, also is named in the indictment.
Young and Taylor each face about 50 counts, which carry prison terms ranging from five to 20 years and fines of $250,000 to $500,000. A third man, Christopher Harris of Utah, pleaded not guilty in August.
Taylor is a former senior operator and counter-terrorism specialist with the U.S. Special Forces who has been interviewed on several occasions by national media about military and security issues. In a 2010 New York Times article, AISC was reported to be part of a secret spy network that produced reports about activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan used by top military officials to, among other things, track and kill suspected militants. The same article said the Times hired Taylor's company to stage a paramilitary operation to find and free Times reporter David Rohde after he was captured by the Taliban in December 2008; Rohde later escaped on his own.
Taylor was arrested Tuesday morning on separate charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to get an unnamed FBI agent based in New York to impede the criminal investigation as it related to himself and his company. Taylor appeared in court in the custody of U.S. Marshals. He was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells, who also conducted a later initial appearance for both Taylor and Young. Wells set a hearing Thursday to decide what pretrial conditions, if any, to set for Young and whether to continue to detain Taylor.
The government alleges that Young, an activated Army reservist who was in Afghanistan, was privy to bid information and shared details of the contract with Harris, Taylor and AISC. Young met Harris, also a former reservist, when they served together in Iraq. Young also was acquainted with Taylor and his company, one of two firms that competed for the "urgent" contract.
AISC won the initial $899,782, six-month contract, which was subsequently extended and expanded numerous times. The military eventually made $54 million in payments to the company, which according to its website provides security-related services to government, corporate and international agency clients.
The government alleges nearly half that sum was distributed to the defendants through a network of shell companies and bank accounts created to conceal and launder the funds.
AISC paid Harris about $17.4 million, and he in turn paid $7.8 million to individuals and entities controlled by Young, according to the indictment. A company set up by Young also received more than $1.6 million directly from AISC.
The alleged scheme came to light in 2010 after Harris made a series of withdrawals from banks in Southern Utah, each in the amount of $9,000, and told a teller he did not want to attract government scrutiny. That triggered a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense Criminal Investigations Services, Department of the Army Criminal Investigative Division and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations that began in February 2010.
Attorneys Steven J. Brooks of Boston and Rebecca Skordas of Salt Lake, who are representing Taylor, declined to comment after the hearing.
Brett Tolman, a former U.S. Attorney for Utah, and Eric Benson are representing Young. Tolman said Tuesday that Young had no ability to decide who received the military contracts or how much they were paid to do the requested and properly completed work.
"The government gets the first word, we get the last word," Tolman said. "It's been my position that the government has a theory and is working backward to prove it."
By the time the contract was expanded, Young was "long gone" from Afghanistan, he said.
Trials for Young and Taylor are set for Nov. 26 and could last up to six weeks given the voluminous number of documents and witnesses the government lists nearly 100 possible witnesses in one court filing in the case. Both men, however, are asking that their cases be transferred to the District of Massachusetts, which the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Utah opposes. A change of venue hearing has been postponed until after the Thursday detention hearing.
In a separate action, the government has initiated forfeiture proceedings to recover money and other items, such as vehicles and homes, it asserts are the result of or were bought with the illicit funds.