By M.B. Pell
(Reuters) - A former manager for one of the U.S. military’s largest private landlords whose disclosures helped unearth widespread fraud was sentenced to two years probation for helping the company secure millions in bonuses while covering up poor housing conditions at a Texas Air Force base.
Last year Stacy Cabrera, a former Balfour Beatty Communities manager at Lackland Air Force Base, pleaded guilty to fraud after describing to Reuters in 2019 how she was pressured by her superiors to fake maintenance records at the base. Her sentence was handed down last week in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The Reuters’ stories prompted an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service and led to Balfour Beatty Communities and regional manager Rick Cunefare also pleading guilty to major fraud last year.
Cabrera and Cunefare were low and mid-level employees who did not financially benefit from the scheme, other than by keeping their jobs, the United States Department of Justice said in a sentencing document. They were acting at the direction of others and the scheme was underway when the defendants’ joined the company and continued after they left, according to the document.
The Justice Department's investigation implicated dozens of other employees, from low-level maintenance personnel to senior executives.
The prosecution of whistleblower Cabrera without similar consequences for high-level Balfour Beatty executives or Air Force personnel frustrates many military families and advocates of military housing reform, said Sarah Lynne Kline, a military spouse and advocate for safer base housing.
“For me it raises troubling questions about who were the real ring leaders, where are they and will they ever be held accountable,” Kline said. “This isn’t a cheering moment for military spouses.”
The scrutiny of Balfour Beatty is not over. A Senate investigation released earlier this year found that the landlord continued unsafe housing practices and maintenance records irregularities including at an Army base even after the company paid $65 million in penalties to settle the fraud case.
"The Department of Justice conducted a thorough investigation of Balfour Beatty Communities and found no evidence of fraud by any members of senior management," a BBC spokesperson said. "The resolution reached with the DOJ in December 2021 brought the matter to a close."
The Air Force and Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.
A Reuters investigative series, Ambushed at Home, in 2018 and 2019 documented how thousands of U.S. military families living on bases across the country had been subjected to serious health and safety hazards in their homes, from lead poisoning to rampant mold, asbestos and other toxins. The Reuters coverage prompted a series of military and legislative reforms to improve privatized base housing.
(Reporting by M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Michael Williams and Grant McCool)