Founder of military salvage group ordered to reimburse government for military equipment sold on eBay
BANGOR, Maine (Tribune News Service) – A man from Maine who founded two organizations dedicated to the location and recovery of missing US military personnel must pay the US government $ 40,585 for the equipment he has sold on eBay.
The settlement between the government, North South Polar Inc., and founder Luciano A. Sapienza – who also co-founded the Fallen American Veterans Foundation – was announced by the U.S. prosecutor’s office on Friday.
Across both organizations, Sapienza has worked to investigate numerous instances in which U.S. servicemen have gone missing in action since World War II. Through searches and expeditions to places like Greenland, Sapienza hopes to find the remains of the missing men and work with the US government to return them to their families.
In 2013, while president of North South Polar, Sapienza entered into a contract with the US Coast Guard “to provide support services for the recovery of a WWII aircraft at a suspected crash site. in Greenland ”, according to a press. release from the United States Attorney’s Office.
As part of this contract, Sapienza purchased and received reimbursement from the federal government for four unspecified equipment. When the contract was made, instead of returning the equipment to the U.S. Coast Guard, Sapienza sold the items on eBay, the statement said.
This sale violated “the False Claims Act, which prohibits a party from having control of government property and knowingly returning less than all of that property to the government,” according to the US attorney’s office.
Sapienza said it sold the equipment after the federal government allegedly failed to pay North South Polar Inc. for a bill of $ 90,000.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do this stuff, and if the government had paid their bill, they would have got their equipment back,” Sapienza said on Friday. “But you can’t do it that way because the law is the law. I was run dry by the federal government for, we speak, a few hundred thousand dollars in total.
It was not clear how the federal government owed Sapienza this amount of money.
The issue is ultimately a “contractual dispute,” according to Sapienza’s lawyer Tom Marjerisen. “It would cost more to litigate than what was really in dispute.”
According to the group’s Facebook page, North South Polar Inc. was founded in 2010.
In 2008, Sapienza co-founded the Fallen American Veterans Foundation with the families of U.S. servicemen missing in action.
North South Polar Inc. was established as an independent company for the purpose of the Greenland recovery mission, Marjerisen said. He said he wasn’t sure if the organization’s corporate status was still active, but if so, it was doing no business.
Owen Casas, who recently assumed the role of executive director of the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, pointed out that the two organizations are separate entities.
“I was not part of this organization, I was not part of the North-South missions, I was not part of the activity,” Casas said. “It’s a [court] deposit related to a member of the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, it is also related to an organization that is not the Fallen American Veterans Foundation. “
Through the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, Sapienza works as an investigative expert to help the US Department of Defense locate the remains of military personnel missing in action. About 83,000 soldiers have disappeared in action since World War II, according to Sapienza.
The Fallen American Veterans Foundation is currently working on about six recovery missions, according to Sapeinza, including in Greenland as well as the Gulf of Alaska. However, these efforts have not yet resulted in the discovery of any missing military personnel.
Casas attributes the duration of these recovery missions to their remote locations, complicated logistics and high costs.
In the past, the Fallen American Veterans Foundation has worked with the US Department of Defense, through its accounting agency POW / MIA, to secure funding. However, the group is pivoting to focus more on fundraising efforts.
When asked if the case against Sapienza had an impact on the organization’s ability to work with the federal government to secure funding, Casas replied, “That wouldn’t surprise me.”
Casas said that in the future the foundation will focus on transparency.
“We don’t want anyone to question what we do, why we do it, our motives or anything like that,” Casas said. “He and I, for the foundation in the future, said that financial transparency and access to information was the premium [standard]. “
(c) 2021 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)
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A wooden hammer and block are seen inside the Senate Hart Building in Washington, DC on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. (Carlos Bongioanni / Stars and Stri)