Politics

Miami Migrant-Camp Contractor Tied to Iraqi Government Bribery Investigation

Miami Migrant-Camp Contractor Tied to Iraqi Government Bribery Investigation
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Business has been good for Cape Canaveral-based Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), a federal contractor that specializes in providing medical care and other support services to major government projects. The company, for example, holds a $180 million contract to run Miami-Dade's Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, the largest federal detention center for immigrant kids in America. In March 2018, a D.C. investment firm bought CHS and now wants to rake in cash in a stock offering.

But there's one major factor that could complicate business: The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating one of CHS's sister companies, Sallyport Global Services, for allegedly executing a massive government-bribery scheme in Iraq. Both firms are owned by Caliburn International LLC — an investment firm tied to numerous, high-level ex-government employees, including former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The DOJ is studying whether Sallyport arranged bribes to Iraqi officials to gain lucrative contracts at Balad Air Base, according to an independent whistleblower agency working with the Daily Beast.

The whistleblowers reported that Sallyport struck a deal with a company called Afaq Umm Qasr Marine Services (known as Afaq), which then promised Iraqi officials bribes if Sallyport were allowed to continue working at the air base. Afaq is directly tied to multiple high-level Iraqi officials and is controlled by Nouri al-Maliki, who was Iraq's prime minister from 2006 to 2014. The DOJ is reportedly looking into whether Sallyport violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, among other potential charges. Caliburn acknowledged the existence of the government investigation in publicly available stock filings last year. (Sallyport denies knowledge of bribes offered by Afaq.)

If true, the allegations raise further questions about whether Caliburn-related companies should be caring for thousands of migrant kids on behalf of the federal government. (CHS, for example, previously paid a $3 million medical-fraud settlement to the U.S. government.)

One anonymous official who spoke with the watchdog group said al-Maliki's corruption “directly contributed to the rise of ISIS."

The Accountability Project has been whacking Sallyport for months: In a previous report, the group wrote that Sallyport had hired a series of sketchy private militias to patrol Balad Air Base. Sallyport employs more than 1,800 people at Balad, including members of the Bosnian "mafia" and an Iranian "militia" as well as guards who served in apartheid-era regimes in South Africa. The last group was accused of outright racism at the base, posted pro-Nazi propaganda on social media, and ordered nonwhite people around the compound. (The group also reported that Sallyport officials allegedly abused local dogs.)

It appears CHS also benefited from Sallyport's businesses in Iraq. Before the merger to create Caliburn last year, CHS actually worked as Sallyport's subsidiary on the Balad base. According to a 2014 press release reviewed by New Times, Comprehensive Health's "CHS Middle East" wing boasted of winning a "major medical services contract in Iraq" worth "millions" of dollars. It included emergency care, dental work, pharmaceutical services, x-rays, and even surgery.

"The health of overseas personnel is critical to the success of operations in Iraq," Gary G. Palmer, then-president of Comprehensive Health, said in 2014. "CHSi, especially our international support team based in Cape Canaveral, is proud to have been selected to provide critical high-quality, workforce health solutions to support the men and women performing mission-critical work at the Balad Air Base. We are committed to creating healthier and stronger personnel in the U.S. and abroad."

CHS came under a microscope after New Times first reported last year that the Trump administration had re-opened the Obama-era facility in Homestead and placed as many as 1,350 kids there. Now the U.S. government says it plans to add 1,000 more children to the facility. Aid workers who have toured the compound told HuffPost this week that the kids are being crammed into the facility like "sardines" and that the conditions violate child-welfare standards.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.