Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicholas W. Pilchak (619) 546-9709 and C. Seth Askins (619) 546-6692
SAN DIEGO – A former major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves was convicted by a federal jury yesterday for participating in a four-year conspiracy to defraud the Marine Corps out of more than $205,000.
Jason H. Wild pretended to rent the home of his fellow officer, former reservist Lieutenant Colonel Michael K. Strom, in order to claim reimbursements from the Marines when called to active duty at Camp Pendleton. Strom, in turn, pretended to rent Wild’s home from Wild’s friend. Both men submitted phony lease agreements and rental receipts to support their false claims. In truth, each man owned his own home next to Camp Pendleton and never paid any of the claimed rent.
Following a three-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia, the jury deliberated for about 35 minutes before finding Wild guilty of wire fraud and making false claims. Strom pleaded guilty on October 28, 2016 before Judge Battaglia, admitting the wire fraud conspiracy and two counts of false claims.
Wild owned his own home in Oceanside, California throughout the time he claimed rental benefits from the Marine Corps. Evidence at trial, including witness testimony, credit card statements, tax returns, and bank records, established that Wild lived in his Oceanside home throughout the period he falsely claimed to pay $38,442 to rent Strom’s home in Laguna Niguel, California.
Five months after Wild’s “rental” concluded, Strom was activated at Camp Pendleton and falsely claimed for two years to rent Wild’s Oceanside home from Wild’s friend. Although Strom told the Marine Corps he paid $98,736 to rent Wild’s home, the evidence at trial demonstrated that Strom lived in his own home in Laguna Niguel throughout the sham “lease” period.
Financial records, including a bank analysis performed by the Naval Audit Service, established at trial that neither defendant had paid a dollar of the claimed rent.
“Military service members who choose to defraud the armed forces deprive our nation—and their fellow soldiers—of the resources they need to complete their difficult mission,” said U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy. “This Office will continue to vigorously pursue fraudsters in or out of uniform who seek to enrich themselves by diverting taxpayer money from the men and women defending this country.”
Duffy commended the close coordination between the investigating agencies—the Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General—during the lengthy investigation of this case. The Internal Revenue Service also provided valuable assistance.
“The successful prosecution in this case was the direct result of collaborative teamwork between the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, its law enforcement partners and the US Attorney’s Office,” said Edward Denion, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the NCIS Southwest Field Office. “Convictions like this should serve as a deterrent to those who would put personal gain above their responsibility to American taxpayers and warfighters.”
“Yesterday’s guilty verdict should send a clear message that we intend to stop these types of fraudulent practices,” stated David Canez, Acting Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General. “This office will be vigilant in seeking prosecution of any cases in which federal officials and their conspirators cross the line into criminal activity. DHS OIG and its law enforcement partners will continue to hold these shameless individuals accountable.”
“The guilty verdict of former U.S. Marine Corps Officer, Major Jason Wild, and related guilty plea of former Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strom demonstrates the Department of Defense’s commitment to fight fraud, waste and abuse. This investigation exemplifies the dedication by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and its law enforcement partners to identify and prosecute those individuals who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer,” said Chris Hendrickson, Special Agent in Charge, Defense Criminal Investigative Service.
Wild was ordered to appear on February 21, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. for sentencing before Judge Battaglia. Strom was previously ordered to appear for his own sentencing on February 13, 2017.
DEFENDANT Case No. 15-cr-2771-AJB
Jason H. Wild 45 years old Oceanside, California
Michael K. Strom 48 years old Laguna Niguel, California
Wire Fraud Conspiracy – 18 U.S.C. § 1349
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
False Claim – 18 U.S.C. § 287
Maximum penalty: 5 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service
Naval Criminal Investigative Service
Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General