Liberians convicted in humanitarian aid theft

A federal court jury convicted two Liberian workers with a Christian charity on Tuesday of a conspiracy to steal more than $1.4 million in U.S. aid intended to rebuild their worn-torn country.

Joe Bondo, 39, and Morris Fahnbulleh, 40, former supervisors with World Vision's Liberia branch, were found guilty of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and making false claims.

World Vision administered a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and designed to deliver commodities like surplus U.S. wheat and oil to Liberians. In exchange, residents were to rebuild their communities after 14 years of civil war that killed more than 250,000 people, displaced millions, demolished the country's infrastructure and nearly collapsed its economy.

Instead, prosecutors said that beginning in 2005, the men had the food sold at market for their own profit and used construction materials and U.S.-funded aid workers to build multiple personal homes.

They also were accused of forcing subordinates to falsify reports of food deliveries, warning them that they could lose their jobs if they didn't cooperate and paying some workers hush money for their silence.

In early 2007, World Vision got an anonymous tip that its food deliveries were being diverted. It sent auditors to 258 Liberian towns that supposedly benefited from the program. The auditors found 91 percent of the food was not delivered and 34 of the towns didn't even exist.

A third World Vision supervisor charged in the scheme, Thomas Parker, 46, was arrested in Liberia this summer and is fighting extradition to the United States.

Prosecutors said the three men built three to four houses each in the area around the capital, Monrovia, and bought new vehicles every few months. Outside Bondo's house was a water pump that prosecutors say was intended for a World Vision project.