An area man who worked for the U.S. government in Iraq, and was a decorated soldier before that, has admitted to taking at least $3.7 million in bribes and kickbacks -- money he used for the construction of a custom-built home in worth more than $1.1 million.
John Alfy Salama Markus, 40, of the 400 block of Jacob Court pleaded guilty Friday before a federal judge in Newark, N.J., to taking the money in connection with more than $50 million in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracts in Iraq. He was an Army corps employee at the time.
As part of the plea, Salama Markus -- a U.S. citizen born in Egypt -- agreed to forfeit at least $3.7 million. Part of that will be satisfied by forfeiting the Jacob Court house as well as five vehicles and two motorcycles.
Northampton County property records list the owners of the Jacob Court house as “John Salama” and a woman.
The sale price, recorded Feb. 6, 2009, was $1,093,933.
A previous news story described Salama Markus as being a soldier in Iraq before going to work for the Army corps. An attorney for Salama Markus said in the story Salama Markus was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Salama Markus pleaded guilty to three counts of a 54-count indictment returned in July 2011 that charged him with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and to defraud the U.S. government, money laundering and tax offenses. Two other Army corps employees and two foreign contractors also were charged in the indictment.
Information from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark says Salama Markus used foreign bank accounts to transfer bribe and kickback payments to at least 11 bank accounts he controlled in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The U.S. Attorney’s information does not specify which banks were involved.
The U.S. Attorney’s information says Salama Markus admitted that on Oct. 16, 2008 -- the date of settlement on his Jacob Court home -- he obtained a cashier’s check of "approximately" $850,807.54 made out to a title company in connection with the home’s construction. The check was drawn on a Bank of America account.
Salama Markus’ sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2013, and he is facing a possible lengthy jail term. The wire fraud count to which he pleaded guilty carries a term of 20 years in prison. The money laundering count carries up to 10 years, and a count for failing to file a report on his foreign bank accounts --in Jordan and Egypt -- carries up to five years in prison.
Each count also calls for substantial fines. After his indictment, Salama Markus was released on $500,000 bail secured by property. He was also ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device.
According to the U.S. Attorney, Salama Markus was assigned to Tikrit, Iraq, as a project engineer from September 2005 to July 2008. He was involved in the review and award process for contractors seeking “lucrative” Army corps contracts in Gulf Region North, Iraq, as well as the administration, oversight and modification of the contracts after they were awarded.
From July 2007 to June 2008, Salama Markus accepted at least $3.7 million in bribe and kickback payments in connection with contracts awarded to multiple companies associated with two foreign contractors named in the indictment. One is a citizen of Great Britain residing in Greece and Iraq and the other is an Iraqi citizen.
Salama Markus admitted to providing confidential bid and Army corps pricing information to the contractors. He also e-mailed spreadsheets that included payments he demanded. A July 2008 e-mail includes his demand and acceptance of bribes totaling $1.95 million -- 10 percent of the contract value -- from one of the contractors.
According to the indictment, the contracts were for such things as the construction of a landfill and five healthcare centers, protection for a national oil pipeline, rehabilitating an electrical network, and security for an oil refinery and power station.
”Salama Markus treated projects to secure safe access to fuel, electricity, education and medical treatment as prizes to be won by whoever was willing to pay for them,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said Friday.
”Bribery, whether at home or abroad, violates our laws and tarnishes all who serve our country with honor,” he continued. “It should never be viewed as part of the cost of doing business with the United States."
Also participating in Salama Markus’ prosecution was the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, an arm of the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General, and IRS-Criminal Investigation.
”Mr. Salama Markus solicited millions in bribe and kickback payments, which he used to line his own pockets for personal financial gain,” Victor W. Lessoff, special agent in charge of the IRS-Criminal Investigation’s Newark Field Office, said Friday.
A call to one of Salama Markus’ attorneys -- Michael Rogers of Somerville, N.J. -- was not returned Monday.