Marines

Marine Reserve Officers Sentenced in Rental Fraud Scheme

Two former field-grade officers in the Marine Corps Reserve were sentenced to custody followed by time in a halfway house after being convicted of participating in a scheme to bilk the Marine Corps out of more than $205,000 over the course of four years.

Lt. Col. Michael Strom and Maj. Jason Wild were convicted last fall on charges of wire fraud conspiracy and false claims. The two officers pretended to rent each other's homes so they could claim reimbursement from the Corps when called to active duty at Camp Pendleton, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California.

"Both men submitted phony lease agreements and rental receipts to support their false claims," according to the release. "In truth, each man owned his own home next to Camp Pendleton and never paid any of the claimed rent."

Strom, 48, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia to three months in custody followed by six months' community confinement in a halfway house, and ordered to pay restitution. Wild, 45, was sentenced Feb. 21 to nine months in custody followed by six months in a halfway house and the same $205,628 restitution order as Strom.

The restitution is joint and several, assistant U.S. Attorney C. Seth Askins told Military.com, meaning Strom and Wild will share the responsibility of returning more than $205,000 to the government, though the debt may not be equally divided if one is determined more able to pay.

Askins said the officers had a board of inquiry hearing in January 2016 but did not know their discharge date.

According to the release, Wild's guilt was established using witness testimony, credit card statements, tax returns and bank records to show both men had lived in their own homes when they were claiming to rent from each other. He was convicted in November.

"Financial records, including a bank analysis performed by the Naval Audit Service, established that neither defendant had paid a dollar of the claimed rent," the release states.

Strom pleaded guilty to the charges in October.

During Strom's sentencing hearing, Battaglia told him, "Those that are so key to our country's safety, our way of life -- when they cross the line, it's serious."

In a statement, acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said the two officers had stolen from their fellow Marines, not just the government.

"Members of the armed forces who defraud the military out of its funds don't just steal from taxpayers; they rob their comrades in arms of the resources they need to defend each other and our country," she said. "This office will continue to investigate and prosecute those who put their own financial gain before the public trust they are sworn to uphold."

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General all collaborated to convict Wild and Strom, according to the release.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.