Strip clubs, cash, trips: Defense contractor accused of bribing officials at military bases
(TNS) — There were trips to strip clubs, meals and drinks at Hooters, a $7,500 bass boat, cruise tickets, money for a wedding ring and routine payments of cash.
Those are among the bribes identified by a federal grand jury during an investigation of an Oklahoma City-based defense contractor, Aerochem Inc.
The founder and president of Aerochem has been indicted by the grand jury as a result of the investigation.
Christopher Houston Hensley, 56, of Yukon, is facing three counts of paying a bribe to a public official, one count of conspiring to pay a bribe to a public official and two counts of making false statements to the government about a product.
He could be sentenced to up to 15 years in federal prison on each bribery count and five years on each of the other counts, if convicted. He also could be fined up to $250,000 on each count.
“We intend to enter a plea of not guilty and vigorously fight this thing,” his defense attorney, Mack Martin, said Thursday after the indictment became public.
Aerochem manufactures paint remover products that have been used by the military for years. It started selling paint remover to Tinker Air Force Base in 2004.
The grand jury alleges Hensley and another Aerochem executive bribed an official at Tinker Air Force Base and an official at an Army depot in Corpus Christi, Texas, in exchange for favorable treatment.
According to the indictment, the bribes worked. The Tinker official “with his considerable influence ... directed nearly all of Tinker’s depaint product purchases to Aerochem,” the grand jury found.
The other Aerochem executive, Soney E. Beesley, 40, of Oklahoma City already has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge. Beesley is awaiting sentencing.
Also awaiting sentencing are Shelvie Raymond Tabb, the former depaint section chief of the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, and Richard Balderas Jr., the former supervisor of a division that stripped paint off engines and helicopter parts at the Corpus Christi Army Depot.
Tabb, 50, pleaded guilty last year to accepting a bribe. He has agreed to forfeit $5,500 to the government. At the time of his indictment, he was living in a house in Yukon but has since sold the residence, records show.
“I engaged in a course of conduct where I received cash payments and/or benefits from Aerochem agents ... in exchange for favorable treatment and/or recommendations of Aerochem products,” Tabb stated in court papers.
Balderas, 46, of Ingleside, Texas, pleaded guilty in June to accepting a bribe. “I accepted bribes in return for being influenced in the performance of my official duties,” he stated in court papers.
Beesley, Tabb and Balderas are now cooperating with prosecutors, court records show.
Hensley, a chemist, is accused in the indictment of providing “several items of value” to Tabb, beginning in 2005.
Content of alleged bribes
Grand jurors allege in the indictment that he spent $800 in uniforms for a girls’ softball team coached by Tabb. They allege he provided $1,200 in cash toward the purchase of a wedding ring for Tabb in 2007.
They allege he gave $3,500 to Tabb in 2007 for a bass boat.
They allege he and the other Aerochem executive paid for meals and alcohol for Tabb “at various Oklahoma City restaurants, including several meals and drinks at Hooters” restaurant and entertained Tabb “at local gentlemen’s clubs on several occasions.”
The grand jurors allege in the indictment the two Aerochem executives in 2009 “corruptly caused the purchase” of $1,103 in Carnival cruise tickets so that Tabb could give the tickets to his son as a wedding gift. They allege the men in March 2010 caused Aerochem to purchase a $7,500 bass boat for Tabb’s personal use.
They allege Beesley — with Hensley’s knowledge — gave Tabb $1,000 in 2010 to pay taxes and made routine cash payments of $300 to $500 to Tabb in 2011 and 2012.
Grand jurors also allege both men took Balderas, the Corpus Christi Army Depot official, to gentlemen’s clubs at least twice in 2010.
They allege Beesley — again with Hensley’s knowledge — spent $800 to rent a condominium in Florida for Balderas, wired $5,000 to his wife’s bank account and spent $2,612 on an inflatable helmet for his son’s football team.
At least twice, Balderas was paid cash bribes of up to $1,800 based on the size of the order from Aerochem, according to the indictment.
“The public is reminded that the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” federal prosecutors stated in a news release Thursday announcing the indictment.