A years-long probeÂ into a bribery schemeÂ at the Veterans Affairs offices in Palo Alto and Sacramento resultedÂ inÂ probation and prison time for seven people.
Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2011 in response to a âculture of corruptionâ at the Palo Alto VA, according to indictments handed down a few years later.
The FBI found that the agencyâs former contracting officer, Tracy Marasco, accepted cash, trips and gifts from companies in exchange for expensive contracts. She was sentenced to six months in prison and another six under house arrest.
Colleagues Xerxes âIkeâ Zapata and Russell Allgire also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes. Zapata, sentenced to 16 months in prison and a $25,000 fine, confessed to taking cash, plane tickets and credit card payments from contractors for construction and maintenance work. Allgireâsentenced to three years probation, a year of home detention and a $7,500 fineâsaid he took money and car payments in exchange for putting a good word in for construction jobs.
Conrad Alfaro admitted to allowing the same contractor installing a new MRI scanner at Palo Altoâs VA hospital to re-roof his house. A federal judge gave him five years probation, a year of house arrest and a $25,000 fine.
Jack Stringer, aÂ construction contractor, came away withÂ three years of probation, eight months of home detention and a $27,500 fine. Stringer copped toÂ giving cash and gifts to several VA insiders, including entertainment tickets, gift cards, vacations andÂ credit card payments.
According to court records,Â Stringer paid off Marasco, Zapata and Allgire so that they would give more contracts to his familyÂ companies, Aero Drywall Construction and HUM/V Construction.
Stringer paid up to $8,300 to Marasco, ZapataâsÂ $1,159 airline tickets and a $2,533 credit card bill;Â and a grand total of $21,000 to Allgire.
Another contractor, Jacobo Herrera, admitted to giving cash, Disneyland tickets, and hotel staysÂ to VA officials. His sentence was lighter than Stringerâs.
Justin Tolentino, aÂ third contractor, gotÂ sentenced to three years probation and a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to providing a gratuity to a public official. Tolentino said that he gaveÂ flight and hotel accommodations to a VA official on three separate occasions.
Nationally, the VA has been ensnaredÂ in scandalÂ since 2014, whenÂ it was found that dozens ofÂ veterans in Phoenix died while waiting for medical care. This spring, a new issue arose as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) decried a VA policyÂ that preventedÂ a quarter-million veteransÂ whoÂ are on a âmentally defectiveâ rosterÂ from owning firearms.
Weeks before Memorial Day, Grassley proposed an amendment that would have required the VA to prove a veteran is a danger to himself or othersÂ before reportingÂ names to the National Criminal Instant Background Check System.Â Consideration of the amendment was blocked by Senate Democrats.
The VA construction bribery scandal, announced last week, came justÂ before House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller requested information as to why VA legal settlements have more than tripled over the past five years.
Annual paymentsÂ jumped from $98 million in 2011 to $338 million in 2015, according to Treasury Department data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. These documents also revealed that many of the legal settlements were caused by medical wrongdoing and mismanaged construction cases similar to the one in Palo Alto and Sacramento.Â
Rep. Miller (R-Florida) told the VA that he wants âcopies of any disciplinary actions imposed on any of the VA employees entrusted with the care of these veterans.â
Since all defendants were prosecuted, the U.S. Department of VA, the Palo Alto VA and the Sacramento VA Medical Center have not released anyÂ statements.
UPDATE: A press release sent out Tuesday afternoon announced thatÂ VA Palo Alto Health Care System employees will picket outside of the office Wednesday to raise awareness of potential VA hospital closings proposed by the controversial VA Commission on Care.