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At least 1,200 U.S. Army recruiters and assistants allegedly participated in a scam that awarded bonuses to those who had claimed to refer recruits to the Army, but either did not do so or they were not eligible for the reward. All told, the U.S. Military could have lost $29 million in what Sen. Claire McCaskill called a "discouraging and depressing" incident that has prompted "one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Army," during a hearing on the scandal today. 

The Recruiting Assistance Programs started in 2005 as part of the army's push to flesh out it ranks in the midst of fighting two wars. Basically, it gave National Guard soldiers between $2,000 and $7,500 for signing people up to the Army. The program was limited to retired Guard officers, Guard relatives, some other civilians and Guardsmen not on active duty. According to the Washington Post, the eligible recruiters were considered contractors for the company Docupak, which was in charge of the program. 

Once the simple mechanisms were in place — soldiers could sign up online in a quick, two-step registration — it wasn't difficult to game the system.

In 2007, Docupak suspected that people were abusing the program and reported their concerns to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. In 2011, the Army audited the program and finally shut it down in 2012, when it instructed its investigative arms to probe the program. 

USA Today explains the ways in which soldiers were able to defraud the Army

One scheme involved two recruiters who forced a subordinate into registering as a recruiting assistant, according to a congressional memo on the program. The recruiters gave the assistant all the names of the recruits who walked into their office, and the recruiters split the bonuses with the assistant. Other recruiters registered an unwitting person as a recruiting assistant, then substituted their own bank account for direct deposit of the fraudulent bonuses.

According to USA Today, 3,000 soldiers have received shady bonuses overall. Two two-star generals and 18 colonels have been implicated in the search, and so far 16 people have been convicted for participating in the theft. The investigative team will still have to check out an additional $66 million in bonuses, and the full probe is expected to take until Fall of 2016.

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