Robert St. Clair needed money, and his friend, Col. Gerard Mangis, had the means to get him a modest paycheck without much, if any, work involved, a federal prosecutor said Monday as the former sergeant became the first to plead guilty in an Air National Guard favor-trading conspiracy.
Mr. St. Clair, 50, of Bel Air, Md., admitted his role in a scheme centered around the 171st Air Refueling Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport that prosecutors have said cost the government as much as $300,000, including Col. Mangis' gains.
"Between 2002 and 2011, both individuals benefited each other with an exchange of official acts," said assistant U.S. attorney Gregory Melucci at Mr. St. Clair's plea hearing.
Mr. Melucci told U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab that in 1999, Mr. St. Clair was a civilian logistics financial analyst at the National Guard Bureau at Andrew Air Force Base in Maryland when he became friends with Col. Mangis of Shaler.
Mr. St. Clair filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and that threatened the security clearance on which his job depended, Mr. Melucci said.
"Col. Mangis offered Robert St. Clair a no-show position" at the 171st, Mr. Melucci said. "He would be excused from attending required active and inactive duties," but would accrue pay, benefits and credit toward retirement pay, the prosecutor said.
In May 2002, Mr. St. Clair became enlisted and assigned as a tech sergeant to the 171st, and remained so for around nine years, during which he performed almost no duties, Mr. Melucci said.
The prosecutor said that Col. Mangis falsified records to reflect Mr. St. Clair's fitness for duty and attendance, or had others fill in the fraudulent reports.
One of Mr. St. Clair's duties was to approve "work days" for which guardsmen would be paid. Mr. St. Clair awarded unearned "work days" to Col. Mangis, boosting the comptroller's pay, the prosecutor said.
Asked by Judge Schwab whether he agreed with Mr. Melucci's summary, Mr. St. Clair said, "Yes, sir." Asked how he pleaded to the charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, he said, "Guilty."
Neither Mr. St. Clair nor defense attorney Tina Miller had any comment after the hearing.
In April 2011, Col. Mangis resigned, followed shortly by Mr. St. Clair, Mr. Melucci said.
Mr. Melucci said that Mr. St. Clair received a total of nearly $300,000 in pay over his nine years of enlistment.
Based on that loss to the government, sentencing guidelines suggest that Mr. St. Clair could be imprisoned for 18 months to two years, though judges often sentence below the guidelines when defendants are cooperative.
Mr. St. Clair was freed on bond pending sentencing Dec. 12.
Col. Mangis is under indictment on 110 criminal counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, false claims and theft of government property related to his activities as comptroller of the 171st, located at Pittsburgh International Airport. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney, Charles Porter Jr., could not be reached Monday.
U.S. attorney David Hickton has said that the probe has widened and continues.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. First Published April 14, 2014 9:37 AM