ATLANTA — A high-ranking Department of Defense employee pleaded guilty on Wednesday to taking a bribe from an Afghanistan-based contractor, saying he was “wrong in so many ways” for taking a backpack stuffed with $95,000 in cash to influence a lucrative contract.
Desi Deandre Wade offered his apologies to the judge after pleading guilty to taking the bribe from the contractor during the Fire-Rescue International Conference in Atlanta. He could face up to 15 years in prison when he’s sentenced on Feb. 29 but he’ll likely receive far less time.
“I just accept responsibility. I made a mistake. There was a lot of things weighing on me but I was wrong,” said Wade. “I didn’t want to play games. I wanted to take responsibility from day one.”
Wade, a U.S. Army veteran and a longtime firefighter, was the department’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services in Afghanistan when he was arrested. Authorities said they began to monitor him in July when Afghanistan-based investigators got a tip from an Afghan-based contractor.
Wade received a $4,000 bribe in Afghanistan to award a maintenance contract to the firm, prosecutors said, and later proposed steering a $4.5 million contract to the same company in exchange for a payoff. Wade told the contractor that he would feed him quotes from rivals to ensure that the firm would be the lowest bidder, said Robert McBurney, an assistant U.S. attorney.
“The defendant was seeking bribes in exchange for influencing how bribes are awarded,” McBurney said.
The contractor and Wade arranged to meet at a hotel room in Atlanta during the conference, and after some bartering Wade agreed to take a $95,000 payment in exchange for his help, McBurney said. Wade took about two steps outside the hotel room when he was swarmed by federal agents, the prosecutor said.
Wade, who is 40, was suspended from his government job pending the outcome of the case. He suggested after the hearing that personal problems led him to seek the bribe, but he and his lawyer declined to discuss specifics.
“I’m a career firefighter, and it took me away from my family,” said Wade, who has five children and one grandchild. “It took me away from my family for years.”
Defense attorney Ebony Ameen said her client has accepted responsibility and cooperated with authorities.
“He’s a good guy who made a bad decision,” she said.