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Woman admits to taking fake jobs as part of defense contractor bribery scheme

Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command on w:Pacific Coastal Highway in San Diego, California (SusanLesch/WikiCommons)

A San Diego woman has admitted to being part of a defense contractor bribery scheme allegedly orchestrated by a former employee of the Naval Information Warfare Center, according to a federal plea agreement Tuesday.

Liberty Gutierrez, 61, pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder the proceeds of the operation, including admitting to receiving $593,000 in salary from government contracts that she didn’t legitimately earn.

At the center of the scheme is an unnamed former government official who, according to court records, was certified as a Contracting Officer Representative as part of his job at Naval Information Warfare Center, the San Diego-based information technology and engineering hub formerly known by the acronym SPAWAR. In Gutierrez’s plea agreement, he is referred to merely as “Individual 1.”

Authorities say he used his position to steer millions of dollars of contracts to his favored contractors, including three specific contractors who also remain unnamed. The naval employee allegedly accepted bribes such as tickets to sporting events, lavish dinners and jobs for friends and families.

Among them was Gutierrez, identified by prosecutors as a “close family friend,” who was offered employment at all three contractors during various periods from 2015 to 2019 that often overlapped. She admitted in her plea agreement to putting in minimal effort at the jobs then fraudulently billing her hours as working full time on a government contract. All the while, she was also employed full-time at a real estate and mortgage company in San Diego, according to prosecutors.

The contractors then passed along her salary to the government for payment. Half of her earnings from one contractor — more than $60,000 — were kicked back to the naval employee, who hid some of it in a golf bag, according to authorities.

Prosecutors described quid pro quo in the charging documents: While lining up Gutierrez’s employment with an executive vice president at one contracting company, the government official made sure that the company was awarded a $300 million contract.

The official also secured a job for his wife with another contractor in 2017, authorities said.

The scheme is the latest in a string of contracting fraud cases at San Diego-area military installations. They pale in comparison to the one perpetrated by “Fat” Leonard Francis in Southeast Asia, which cost the U.S. Navy at least $35 million in padded contracts and resulted in criminal prosecutions against more than 30 people in San Diego federal court.


(c) 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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