State Department’s Chevy Suburbans Diverted in Resale Scheme

  • U.S. prosecutor says department official took kickbacks
  • Repair shop manager pleads guilty of stealing from government

Convoys of hulking black Chevy Suburbans are an everyday sight around U.S. embassies worldwide, ferrying about officials and dignitaries. Now a State Department official has been accused of diverting 12 of them to a car-repair shop for resale and pocketing some of the profits.

A dozen of the sport utility vehicles, a Hummer and two tractor-trailer loads of tires and wheels were illegally provided to the manager of the Virginia repair shop over two years in return for kickbacks by the official, who’s identified only as “Person B” by federal prosecutors in a criminal filing against the manager in U.S. District Court in Washington.

The car-shop manager pleaded guilty on Thursday to a charge of committing theft of government property and wire fraud and awaits sentencing, according to a Justice Department statement. It said he agreed to pay $416,020 in restitution and an equal amount in forfeiture money judgment. He could be sentenced to as long as five years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines suggest a term of 24 months or less.

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security owns about 4,500 vehicles dispersed worldwide and to U.S. offices, with the largest fleet in the Near East. The department has spent about $1 billion since 1998 buying vehicles, according to its records.

The department’s Office of Inspector General developed the case of the stolen SUVs with help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The office issued an audit this month finding that the department lacks safety standards for old armored vehicles that are destroyed at the end of their useful lives. It cited contractors using blow torches at a U.S. embassy warehouse in Nairobi without eye protection.

The case is U.S. v. Ratcliffe, 17-cr-00008, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

— With assistance by Andrew M Harris

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