2008 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Mark Pletcher

Leading efforts to stop bid-rigging, fraud and corruption involving U.S. officials and defense contractors in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, much of which has been awarded to contractors to provide valuable supplies and services to our soldiers. While the vast majority of men and women overseas are serving our country with great skill and honor, some military and government contracting personnel have accepted millions of dollars in bribes from corrupt businesses seeking to gain illegal favor. Fortunately, these officials are being brought to justice, along with the greedy businessmen who offer the bribes, by Mark Pletcher, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

For the past two and a half years, Pletcher has been a driving force behind ferreting out greed and corruption in the defense contracting process, during which time he has worked on the ground in Baghdad, Kuwait City, Manama, Doha and across the United States. Within the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, Pletcher leads a team of six attorneys and works with a coalition of federal law enforcement organizations, including the FBI, Defense Criminal Investigative Services, the Army Criminal Investigations Command, the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction and others. Despite the novel legal, territorial and diplomatic challenges of working in the Middle East, this coalition has successfully secured evidence at home and abroad by systematically identifying and exploiting the conspiracies’ weaknesses.

Pletcher has helped investigate and prosecute cases against 18 individuals and companies to date. He has charged government employees and contractors for profiteering from U.S. military contracts for drinking water, life support services, armor, fuel and other necessities.

In his most high-profile case, Pletcher and others prosecuted a U.S. Army major who accepted more than $9 million in bribes in just one year in Kuwait. The officer set up an elaborate network of offshore bank accounts to hide millions in payoffs from companies seeking military contracts. In scenes that almost defy belief, businessmen delivered garbage bags filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to the major’s wife or sister, who would transfer it to a safe deposit box. Today, the major and his wife are in a federal prison in Texas.

Pletcher’s prosecutions have served as a powerful deterrent for future fraud and a driver of reform. There are multiple reports that the culture within Army contracting has changed dramatically, with a heightened emphasis on making sure contracting officials are behaving ethically.

His cases also prompted a major report, commissioned by the Secretary of the Army. This investigation identified structural weaknesses with the Army’s acquisition and procurement activities used to support large-scale expeditions like the war in Iraq. In particular, the report exposed an insufficient number of personnel on the ground with the skills to manage high-dollar contracts. Not only were there not enough skilled contract managers in the field, the people who were administering these contracts were not receiving the training and tools they needed. This review has led to an overhaul of the war-zone procurement system for the entire Department of Defense.

Traditionally, U.S. efforts to crack down on corruption have started and ended with the prosecution of U.S. officials, but Pletcher hasn’t stopped there. He has also aggressively tracked down the individuals and companies that are paying the bribes.

Pletcher is currently working on many more cases that are likely to end in prosecution, and because of his work, the U.S. government has taken steps to increase oversight and end contracting abuses.

“Mark says his goal is to put himself out of work,” said fellow DOJ trial attorney Emily Allen, who has worked closely with Pletcher on these cases. “It looks like he’s on his way there.”

This medalist was the recipient of the Justice and Law Enforcement Medal. This medal was combined with the Homeland Security category in 2013, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.