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La. man sentenced in Afghanistan kickback scheme

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A Louisiana businessman whom a U.S. senator fought to have released from captivity overseas was sentenced Thursday to 10 months in federal prison for a kickback scheme in a military construction project in Afghanistan.

Elton McCabe III, 53, of Slidell, worked in Afghanistan for an American company that provided construction services to the U.S. military. He awarded a $3.2 million subcontract to a co-conspirator’s company in 2009 in exchange for $60,000 in kickbacks, prosecutors said.

McCabe had faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty in May to a conspiracy charge.

Before he was charged in the scheme, McCabe was detained in South Sudan on charges he kidnapped an Indian businessman. The charges were dropped after U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., campaigned for McCabe’s release last year, threatening foreign aid to the country.

U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown alluded to McCabe’s overseas detention during the sentencing hearing, saying he let his supporters down after “we all rallied behind you as a country.”

“I did make a mistake,” McCabe said. “I apologize to the court, to your honor and to my family.”

McCabe had asked for probation instead of a prison term, but Jolivette Brown said he didn’t deserve leniency after committing the “serious offense” of taking kickbacks in a warzone.

“Mr. McCabe, you chose to live out a stereotype of selfishness and greed,” she said.

The judge also ordered McCabe to forfeit $60,000 to the federal government. He must report to prison by Oct. 15.

Valerie Jusselin, McCabe’s attorney, said her client was a military veteran who didn’t have a criminal record before this case.

“He has always been about trying to provide for his family,” she said. “In this case, he did it in the wrong way.”

Justice Department prosecutor Daniel Butler had recommended a sentence that fell within the sentencing guidelines of 10 to 16 months in prison. Corrupting the government contracting process is a “serious matter that requires punishment, that requires deterrence of others,” Butler said.

In 2009, the U.S. Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment awarded a contract for work at an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The company that employed McCabe was a subcontractor on the project. McCabe gave some of the work to the unidentified company owner who paid him $7,000 in cash and wired an additional $53,000 to McCabe’s wife’s bank account.

McCabe initially claimed the money was a loan, but prosecutors said there weren’t any repayment conditions or terms of interest and his family used it for personal expenses.

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