Calif. Marine reservists charged in travel scam

Nov 4, 2013, 11:02 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) – More than two dozen Marine Corps reservists stationed in Southern California have been charged in connection with a scheme of submitting fake travel vouchers that totaled more than $870,000, authorities said Monday.

Seven reservists assigned to the 3rd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company at Terminal Island in Los Angeles County were indicted in September on charges of conspiring to defraud the government, the Internal Revenue Service said in a statement. Each faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Authorities said the scam’s main facilitator was military administrative officer Bladimir Flores, who they said prepared and submitted phony travel vouchers for those who were on active duty. The expense forms were sent to the government for travel not actually taken or for which the reservists weren’t qualified.

Flores often submitted fake hotel receipts and listed bogus home addresses to make it look like the reservists lived beyond a reasonable commuting distance from Terminal Island, about 26 miles south of Los Angeles, so they would be eligible for mileage reimbursement, investigators said.

Authorities said the reservists would pay Flores a portion of their government reimbursements. Authorities said many of those charged used the code word “sandwich” to refer to payments made to Flores.

Between late 2007 and 2009, Flores frequently received payments from those who took part in the scheme, each ranging from a few hundred dollars to as much as $6,000, prosecutors said.

In all, Flores is accused of sharing nearly $225,000 in kickbacks with a co-conspirator, who was only identified by initials in the indictment.

Flores is currently a fugitive, officials say.

Twenty-one reservists have pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty to either filing a false tax return or failure to pay tax.

In a similar scam, two former Marine Corps reservists are scheduled to be sentenced in San Diego on Friday.

Manuel Ramos Padilla pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy, while Luis Gilbert Menchaca was found guilty in July of conspiracy and three counts of making false claims.

Prosecutors said the pair turned in thousands of dollars in false travel and lodging claims at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Calif. Marine reservists charged in travel scam