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Horne: ‘No excuse’ for Air Guard members accused of expense fraud

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PHOENIX – Twenty-one Tucson-based Arizona Air National Guard members have been indicted for fraud after using fake addresses to collect federal stipends meant for those who are traveling or on short-term orders, Attorney General Tom Horne said on Monday.

Eight officers and 13 enlisted members are alleged to have taken home a total of $1.4 million in Temporary Duty Disbursements between November 2007 and September 2010. Horne said “the majority” of the defendants received more than $100,000.

“Somebody deployed to Afghanistan gets a little over $3 a day, which is about a $1,000 a year, and you have people in this case who live in Tucson and have collected over $100,000 even though they went home to their families every night,” he said at a news conference.

The guardsmen served in the 214th Reconnaissance Group, which remotely operated Predator drones over Iraq and Afghanistan from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The unit’s former commander, Col. Gregg Davies, was removed from his position in 2009 in connection with the case, Horne said.

“The colonel in charge used his position of authority to obtain this temporary duty payment himself for over $100,000 and also to help the 20 others do that, and he used to that position to circumvent measures put in place to prevent this type of fraud,” he said.

Horne said that while living in Tucson, some of those indicted listed addresses outside of the state as their homes of record in order to collect Temporary Duty Disbursements.

Other than Davies, Horne declined to provide names of the others accused, saying that officials were in the process of serving them with summonses.

If convicted, the defendants could face up to 12.5 years in prison, Horne said.

Cronkite News Service was unable to locate Davies for comment.

The FBI assisted in the investigation but turned the case over to the state Attorney General’s Office 18 months ago, Horne said, adding that investigators started out with two suspects.

Eight of the 21 indicted are still members of the Arizona Air National Guard, said Brig. Gen. Michael R. McGuire, director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.

“I welcome the efforts of these agencies to provide an accurate view of the facts and circumstances that have led to these indictments,” McGuire said at the news conference. “We fully support the legal process.”

Assistant Attorney General Mike Jette, who is prosecuting the case, said the defendants would face charges including conspiracy, conducting an illegal enterprise, fraud, theft and money laundering.

The indictment will be made public following an arraignment set for Friday, Oct. 25, in Tucson, he said.

Horne said that a small percentage of any group, even those responsible for defending the country, will be dishonest.

“When that happens, the role that they play and the reverence we have for the role they play is no excuse for committing a crime and defrauding the government,” he said.

In September 2012, The Arizona Republic reported Davies’ 2009 ouster over an audit of payments for housing and other temporary-duty expenses, noting that it wasn’t revealed at the time by military officials.

Late last week, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk announced that Horne illegally coordinated with a supposedly independent political committee during his 2010 campaign for attorney general.

Asked whether the timing of Monday’s news conference was intended to deflect attention from Polk’s announcement, Horne said that wasn’t the case and that his office would release documentation proving Polk incorrect.