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Sidharth Handa, Former Army Reserve Captain Sentenced to Prison for Soliciting $1.3M in Bribes and Conspiring to Traffic Heroin

October 8, 2011

A former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve stationed in Afghanistan was sentenced today to 120 months in prison for soliciting $1.3 million in bribes from contractors involved in U.S.-funded reconstruction efforts and participating in a conspiracy to traffic heroin from Southeast Asia.

Sidharth Handa, 32, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga in the Eastern District of Virginia. Handa was also ordered to pay $315,000 in restitution. Handa, of Charlotte, N.C., pleaded guilty on June 21, 2011, to soliciting and accepting bribes while serving as a public official and to conspiring to distribute a kilogram of heroin.

“Mr. Handa used his official position assisting the United States’ reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to line his pockets,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “He promised multi-million dollar contracts to Afghan businessmen in exchange for cash. He was so meticulous about collecting his bribes that he kept track of them on a spreadsheet. We will not tolerate this kind of fraud and abuse. Today’s sentence reflects the disgracefulness of Mr. Handa’s conduct.”

“This case is the largest bribery prosecution to date from our mission in Afghanistan,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him. His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted.”

According to court records, Handa was stationed in Afghanistan from March through November 2008 and served as the liaison to the local governor and engineers on the Kunar Province Reconstruction Team (PRT). In that position, Handa assisted in awarding reconstruction project contracts funded by the U.S. government to local contractors through a competitive bidding process. Handa admitted that almost immediately upon his arrival in Afghanistan, he became engaged in a scheme to secure bribes from contractors who sought to secure large PRT construction projects. With the help of an Afghan interpreter, Handa typically solicited bribes equal to 10 percent of the overall contract value, though the actual bribe payment was negotiated based on the contractor’s ability to pay. The total value of bribes contractors agreed to pay amounted to $1,323,000, and Handa and the interpreter collected $315,000, which they split evenly.

Handa admitted that after leaving Afghanistan, he tried to collect over $1 million in bribe money that contractors had pledged to pay. A cooperating witness (CW) offered to help Handa collect the money, and through 2010 and early 2011 Handa provided the CW with details of outstanding bribes and other relevant facts to help secure the promised bribes. During the course of these conversations with the CW, Handa indicated that he knew people in the drug business and he and the CW developed plans to sell kilogram quantities of Southeast Asian heroin to Handa’s drug contacts.

According to court documents, on April 7, 2011, Handa met with the CW and an undercover officer in a northern Virginia hotel, where Handa received what he believed was $500,000 in collected bribe payments and acknowledged that he knew the right people to receive the kilogram of heroin the undercover officer showed him. Law enforcement arrested Handa as he was leaving the hotel with the bribe money, a loaded handgun and a spreadsheet detailing specific bribe amounts paid and outstanding.

This case was investigated jointly by member agencies of the International Contract Corruption Task Force, including the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and also by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The case is being prosecuted by Senor Trial Attorney David Bybee of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kosta Stojilkovic and Dennis Fitzpatrick of the Eastern District of Virginia.

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