PHOENIX - Nearly two dozen current and former members of the Arizona Air National Guard have been indicted on charges including theft and money laundering in a $1.4 million scam to defraud the federal government, authorities announced Monday.
The eight officers and 13 enlisted men and women, including the colonel and former commander of the 214 Reconnaissance Group, falsified their records and used fake home addresses in order to receive money meant for those traveling outside of their home regions for duty assignments, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said.
Between November 2007 and September 2010, authorities said some of the defendants took home salaries that were up to five times the amount they should have been receiving.
Some of the suspects defrauded the government of more than $100,000 each, Horne said.
"In this case, all of these people lived in Tucson and put down fraudulent homes of record in other states" to qualify for the extra pay, Horne added. Authorities said at least one of them listed an address as far away as West Virginia.
Horne says in most cases, the suspects robbed the federal government of about $100,000 each.
"In most cases, someone being deployed to Afghanistan gets a little over $3.00 a day, which is about $1,000 a year," Horne said.
"And in this case, you have people who lived in Tucson and collected over $100,000 even though they went home to their families every night. They actually lived in Tucson."
The indictment announced Monday comes after an 18-month investigation by state and federal agencies.
Only eight of those charged remain members of the National Guard, said Brig. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard.
"I assure you we take these allegations very seriously," McGuire said. "The Arizona Air National Guard remains ready and capable."
He declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
The suspects haven't been arrested, but instead were sent summons to appear in court for arraignment Friday in Tucson. The indictment will be unsealed then.
The suspects worked out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson and were part of an elite military unit tasked with remotely flying drones over Iraq and Afghanistan aimed at providing vital information to troops on the ground.
The charges include conspiracy, conducting an illegal enterprise, fraud, theft and money laundering. Authorities said, if convicted, some of the defendants could be sentenced to up to 12.5 years in prison with the commander facing more serious charges for using his position of power to help facilitate the scam.
The criminal indictment announced Monday comes about five months after the Arizona National Guard unveiled reforms it planned to put in place following unrelated allegations of sexual abuse, drug trafficking and abuse of power.
Gov. Jan Brewer had asked for an investigation by the National Guard Bureau. The bureau report in May found that Arizona Guard suffered from unethical leadership, lax discipline, rogue conduct and a failure to protect abuse victims.