“Arlington Cemetery’s mishandling of remains prompts FBI criminal probe
“The Justice Department is investigating the mishandling of remains at
Arlington National Cemetery in a broad criminal inquiry that is also
seeking evidence of possible contracting fraud and falsification of records, people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.
“A federal grand jury in Alexandria has been subpoenaing witnesses and
records relating to the scandal at the nation’s most venerated
military burial ground, sources said. The investigation, conducted by the FBI and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, has been
underway for at least six months, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
“The Justice Department’s investigation significantly escalates the level
of scrutiny faced by the cemetery, and the probe joins several
ongoing inquiries by Congress, which last year passed a law mandating that the cemetery verify that remains are properly accounted for at
every one of its 330,000 graves. The law also requires the Government Accountability Office to look into the cemetery’s contract
management procedures, and whether the Army-run cemetery should be turned over to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees
131 national cemeteries.
“In a report released last June, the Army inspector general found widespread problems at the cemetery: a dysfunctional management system; millions wasted on information technology contracts that produced useless results; misplaced and misidentified remains; and at least four cases in which crematory urns had been dug up and dumped in a dirt pile.
“As a result, the cemetery’s top officials — Superintendent John C. Metzler
Jr. and Deputy Superintendent Thurman Higginbotham — were
forced out, though they remained eligible for full retirement benefits. The cemetery has been under new management for a year, but officials have continued to discover burial problems, including a mass grave that held eight sets of cremated remains.
“Peter Carr, a spokesman for Neil H. MacBride, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria,
declined to comment on the probe, as did an FBI
spokeswoman. No charges are imminent, according to people familiar with the investigation, and it is unclear whether any will be filed.
“Investigators are said to be seeking information about who knew about the cemetery’s burial problems and whether fraud or falsification of records was involved.
“The Army inspector general’s report found that cemetery officials with virtually no contracting experience and little supervision improperly paid companies in a failed attempt to digitize the cemetery’s paper records. As a result, the cemetery for years used an antiquated paper record system that it is only now beginning to upgrade to computers.
“Officials estimated that at least $8 million was wasted in the effort. At a Senate hearing last year, an Army procurement official testified that more than half of the 30 information technology contracts could not be located.
“During that hearing, Higginbotham asserted his Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination and refused to answer senators’
questions about his role in awarding the contracts. He has denied wrongdoing, and his attorney said recently that Higginbotham has not
been contacted by federal investigators. Metzler also has denied any wrongdoing.”
27 June 2011
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