Army criminal investigators launched a probe into allegations that National Guard, Army, and Army Reserve recruiters defrauded a recruitment incentives program. Over 1,200 people are under investigation including 800 soldiers, 200 officers, two generals, and 18 colonels.

In 2005, the Army and National Guard launched the Recruiting Assistance Program in order to meet the Armed Forces recruitment demands. That year was around the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the Armed Forces experienced low recruitment because of increased casualties.

“Clearly, we’re talking about one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Army,” said financial oversight committee chair Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

The referral program offered cash incentives from $2,000 to $7,500 to “recruiting assistants,” which were active troops, civilians, and retirees who helped recruit friends and family. Official recruiters were barred from referral bonuses. The Army paid out over $300 million for about 130,000 recruits. Investigators believe that recruiters falsified referrals and then registered them to a website operated by the marketing firm that ran the program.

Recruits’ names were distributed from the assistants to the recruiters, and once the names were filed and money was paid, the assistants kicked back a portion of the money to the original recruiter. High school principals were even involved as they accepted money for claiming as referrals students already planning on joining the military.   

Docupak, the marketing firm overseeing the program, first detected signs of fraud in 2007. Upon the discovery, the firm turned the findings over to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, and Army officials then validated the suspected fraud and conducted a full-scale audit of the program in 2011.

U.S. senators, including Sen. McCaskill, railed against the Army for the fraud scheme, and questioned why the Army took four years to gather enough evidence to launch the audit. Sen. McCaskill has taken on the military before regarding gross misconduct within its ranks, namely military rape. Her main concern is whether or not any justice will be served, being that the military has a reputation of lightly punishing its members for their crimes.

Last year, Air Force Lt. Col James Wilkerson was convicted of sexual assault by a federal court martial, however, the conviction was thrown out by his commanding officer and Wilkerson was reinstated to active duty. This injustice has caught the attention of Sen. McCaskill and she has become a voice that advocates for military justice, and the alleged fraud in the Army’s recruiting program proves to be no different.

“It’s going to break my heart if a lot of people get away with this,” said McCaskill.

The Army suspended the program in 2012 so investigators can measure the scheme’s scope and implicate those involved. The investigation is expected to last until the fall of 2016.

Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.