21 members of Tucson Air Guard unit indicted on fraud charges

2013-10-22T00:00:00Z 2013-10-22T13:23:20Z 21 members of Tucson Air Guard unit indicted on fraud chargesBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A colonel and 20 other members of an Arizona Air National Guard unit based in Tucson have been indicted on charges they defrauded the government of $1.4 million intended for deployed military members.

Attorney General Tom Horne announced that the Guard members — current or former members of the 214th Reconnaissance Group — will face charges stemming from an 18-month investigation that concluded eight officers and 13 enlisted personnel falsified records.

The 214th operates Predator drones in Iraq and Afghanistan from Tucson.

The only defendant identified so far is the former commander of the 214th, who is alleged to have overseen the fraud, Horne said.

Horne said Col. Gregg Davies provided assistance by using his position “to circumvent” the measures intended to prevent unauthorized temporary duty entitlements when military members are neither deployed nor away for training from their home.

Davies was fired in November 2009 for his alleged involvement in the forged documents.

The rank and names of the others indicted won’t be released until their arraignment in Pima County Superior Court on Friday. None of the accused have been arrested.

Brig. Gen. Michael McGuire, director of the Arizona Department of Emergency Affairs, said he could not provide specifics because there is an ongoing investigation.

He did confirm eight of those indicted are currently with the Arizona Air National Guard. He said he doesn’t know the status of the others.

The indictments come four years after an Air Force audit revealed the guardsmen provided phony addresses to receive additional benefits.

Many of those accused are alleged to have received more than $100,000 by claiming they lived outside the Tucson area while on federal active-duty status at various times between November 2007 and September 2010, officials said.

“Some of these men and women received benefits in excess of four and five-times their salaries in temporary duty entitlements,” Horne said in a news release. “Conversely, our brave men and women overseas were making pennies on the dollar compared to what this group was receiving while still going home to their families each night.”

An attorney representing Davies said the colonel has served his country with dignity for more than 31 years, and Davies believes he will be exonerated.

“In light of his history of distinguished service, this indictment is both disappointing and bewildering,” said Lee Stein, the attorney representing Davies.

“We have not had an opportunity to review the indictment yet, so we are unable to comment on the substance, but Col. Davies believes in this country and has confidence that justice will prevail,” Stein said.

In addition to the Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, Air Force, Arizona National Guard and Air National Guard participated in the investigation.

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

Horne said his office got involved in the probe after the FBI asked him to intervene when the case only involved two guardsmen, and the federal prosecutor’s office declined to pursue charges.

Assistant Attorney General Mike Jette said the state investigation uncovered a much larger problem.

“It began with two suspects who were involved with some … shenanigans,” Jette said. “When the investigation came to our office, I asked the (FBI) agent to dig further into it and interview some people. All of a sudden it ballooned into a 21-defendant indictment.”

Jette would not say if more guardsmen could be facing charges.

The guardsmen face charges ranging from conspiracy and conducting an illegal enterprise to money laundering and fraud, Jette said.

The charges carry sentences of up to 12½ years in prison.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on twitter @DarrenDaRonco

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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