Conflicts of interest: When is it permissible to influence the actions of others?

Chapter 8 Case Study: Corrupting Foreigners?

In 2018, Mark E. Miller of Springfield, Illinois pled guilty to taking bribes while he was an employee of the Army Corp of Engineers working in Afghanistan. He was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison by a Federal judge. Miller worked for the ACOE for approximately ten years between 2005 and 2015. For a period of three years between 2009-2012, Miller was a site manager at a base in Eastern Afghanistan that had many construction projects. While at Camp Clark, Miller went out asked for $280,000 in bribes, which he received, from the local company that ultimately received the contract. At the same time, the contract increased from $2.9 million to $8 million. Miller later received another $40,000 from the company to help secure future contracts. (The increase in cost of project indicates that the Afghan company who paid the bribe got a nice return on their investment.)

Miller had to work out a complicated system in order to receive the cash. Afghans visiting Camp Clark were thoroughly search and so the Afghans could not pay the bribe to him on base. And yet, wire transfers to him would arouse immediate suspicion. Miller’s solution was to enlist the help of another supervisor at another camp who could bring the cash to Camp Clark unchecked and with whom Miller split the proceeds. Miller mailed the cash home to family in 50 envelopes of $3,000 each. Miller tackled his student debt, bought a motorcycle, paid down a loan on a truck, and did some home renovation.

The Federal attorney who prosecuted Miller reflected that although he had prosecuted many bribery cases, “I’ve never had a case of a federal officer shaking down private citizens, an Afghan company in this case.” During sentencing, the judge said, “I don’t care if that’s the culture over there, that’s not this culture, that’s not the United States of America.” In addition to the prison sentence, Miller had to give up his motorcycle and pay $180,000 in restitution, though American taxpayers likely lost millions in the contract due to Miller’s corrupt activity.

How does this case of bribery overseas differ from the sorts of paradigm corruption cases that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is meant to govern?

Case study by Robert Reed

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