A former high-ranking Air Force official pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting bribes and conspiring to defraud the government in the Operation Ill Wind investigation of Pentagon procurement fraud.
Acting Atty. Gen. William P. Barr said the guilty plea by Victor D. Cohen was the 50th conviction obtained under the Ill Wind probe, which has been handled by the Naval Investigative Service, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va.
Cohen, who was deputy assistant Air Force secretary, faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000. He will be sentenced on Dec. 6 by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton. His plea agreement with the government requires Cohen to “cooperate fully” with authorities in prosecuting others.
Cohen, 55, is the second-highest former Pentagon official to plead guilty in the scandal. He was outranked only by Melvin R. Paisley, a former assistant secretary of the Navy, who pleaded guilty to similar charges in June.
Court papers stated that Cohen, in return for favors, payments and the promise of additional funds, “improperly influenced procurement decisions” and provided “sensitive information” to selected companies to help them obtain Pentagon contracts.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Aronica said he could not estimate the dollar value of Cohen’s bribe-taking because it included all-expense-paid overseas trips financed by defense contractors and the promise of additional funds that never were received. At one point, Cohen opened a Swiss bank account to receive illicit payments, but no funds ever reached it, Aronica said.
Documents filed by Aronica showed that Cohen dealt mainly with William M. Galvin, a private consultant who pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption charges last year. Working on behalf of Loral Electronics Corp. of Yonkers, N.Y., one of Galvin’s clients, the two men “agreed that Galvin would make a financial arrangement with Loral for Cohen’s assistance from which they would both benefit,” court papers said.
Loral has paid $5.7 million in fines and civil penalties for its role in the scandal.
Cohen also received bribes from Charles F. Gardner, an employee of Sperry and its successor, Unisys Corp., the papers said. Unisys is expected to enter a guilty plea in the next few weeks and pay heavy fines, according to sources familiar with the case.
Describing one episode, court papers said, Gardner had called Galvin in May, 1987, and reported that Cohen “told him that Unisys had been awarded a $482,000 contract.”
“Gardner joked that it had cost the company one and a half million dollars to win a half-million dollar contract, but he then stated that it was the start of $9 million,” the papers said.
Among the favors received by Cohen were London theater tickets, payment of a $1,166 Paris hotel bill and the purchase of his 1979 Mercedes Benz for $17,800, a car that a Unisys executive later repaired and resold for only $4,225.
So far, 45 individuals and five corporations have been convicted in Ill Wind, an investigation that became public in June, 1988, when federal agents served four dozen search warrants at homes and offices across the nation. Officials said the probe actually had begun secretly in 1986 with a tip from a former Marine Corps official.