Weeks after he was taken into custody and imprisoned in South Sudan on charges of trying to kidnap an Indian businessman, Elton “Mark” McCabe returned home in December to a hero’s welcome.
Days later, however, the Slidell businessman found himself facing criminal charges again — this time in the United States.
Federal prosecutors said that in 2009, McCabe, then working for a military construction contractor, gave a $3.2 million contract to an unnamed co-conspirator’s business for a project at the Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. In exchange, McCabe received $60,000.
He pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, and on Thursday, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison. The crime carries a maximum possible sentence of five years.
“I did make a mistake,” McCabe said moments before U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown handed down the sentence. “I apologize to the court, to Your Honor and my family.”
McCabe did not speak to reporters as he left the courthouse.
In deciding on a sentence, Brown said, she examined letters from family and former colleagues that displayed “strikingly different pictures.”
“The character of my father is that of a Christian man who loves his family and his friends, his kids and wife ...,” McCabe’s son, Christian, wrote to the judge. “As long as they are taken care of that’s all he needs.”
A former colleague, however, wrote that McCabe’s actions “devastated” his life, career and family.
“The company was doing well until he decided to conspire with subcontractors and steal money from others,” wrote Ameen Abdelnour, president of K5 Global. “What Elton McCabe did was abusive, destructive and painful to all K5 staff and the family and he should be indicted, tried and jailed.”
Sarah Lee, the CEO and owner of K5, said McCabe is “a narcissist and has lost his humanity.
“He betrayed the human code of decency, the US DOD anti-kickback statutes, proprietary laws, trust between friends and ultimately his own family and himself by his greed and selfishness,” Lee wrote. “... Know that you have a choice — to sentence him to federal prison time or to set his sentencing as probation. I implore you, as a good citizen of this great nation, to ... reach deep into your legal conscience and knowledge of the magnitude of this crime and simply do what’s just and do what any prudent person would do.”
McCabe’s attorney, federal public defender Valerie Jusselin, asked for probation rather than time in prison
But Brown said taking kickbacks in a war zone is a serious crime, and she added that McCabe, an educated man and former Marine, knew better.
“Mr. McCabe, the country came to your defense. ... We all rallied behind you as a country,” Brown told him. “Justice will prevail today.”
According to court documents, the president of a company in Dearborn, Mich., said that after his company was awarded a subcontract on the project in Afghanistan, McCabe asked for a “loan” of $60,000 for start-up costs associated with the project.
That person, identified as Contractor No. 1, “loaned” McCabe $7,000 in cash and $53,000 through a wire transfer to the personal bank account of his wife, Anne McCabe, in Slidell.
A memorandum dated July 18, 2009, awarded Contractor No. 1 a $3.2 million subcontract for the project at the airfield, the complaint said, noting that was the same date on which Mark McCabe acknowledged receiving $60,000 from the company.
He never paid back the money.
Anne McCabe told investigators it was not uncommon for her to receive wire transfers from overseas.
The money in question, she said, was used to pay for her daughter’s wedding and other bills. She also indicated to agents that the family was having financial difficulties at the time.
In the years after that project, McCabe had trouble finding work in the United States. He left for South Sudan on Aug. 8. South Sudan’s National Security Services took him into custody on Oct. 14.
His family said the South Sudanese security agency demanded money from him and falsely accused him of trying to kidnap an Indian businessman.
The U.S. Embassy called McCabe’s family in Slidell in early November to tell them he was being released from jail.
Hours later, though, another call came from the embassy, notifying the family that the NSS had pulled up to McCabe as he was being released from jail and again took him into custody.
The offices of Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, became involved with the efforts to win McCabe’s release.
Of concern were health issues, including one that stemmed from a heart attack. McCabe has a stent and must take several medications to keep the stent open, his wife has said.
Anne McCabe also had said that her husband lost a job in Kuwait and had not found new work in the United States. Then he went to South Sudan to work as a business developer working on projects including health clinics and Internet infrastructure.
In addition to the 10-month sentence, Brown ordered Mark McCabe to pay the $60,000 back to the government.
He must report to prison on Oct. 15, one year and a day after he was taken into custody in South Sudan.
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