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POLITICS: PennAve

Second IRS official pleads Fifth in Congressional probe, this time over tainted contracts

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Beltway Confidential,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Corruption,IRS,PennAve,Government Contractors

Another top Internal Revenue Service official has refused to testify before an investigative House committee, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination during questioning over tainted agency contracts.

Gregory Roseman, a deputy director in the agency’s procurement office, would not answer questions Wednesday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing held to examine the questionable awarding of contracts the panel said are worth $500 million to a man with whom Roseman had a personal relationship.

Roseman is the second IRS official ducking questions before Congress.

Last month, Lois Lerner, the former head of the agency’s tax exempt division, pleaded the Fifth during a hearing about the tax agency’s targeting of conservative organizations seeking tax exempt status. The IRS is also under scrutiny for spending tens of millions of dollars on employee conferences.

“The American people are wanting answers,” Rep. Scott DesJarlaise, R-Tenn., said. “What’s going on with the IRS? We’ve got targeting of conservatives. We have got excess of spending. We’ve got situations like this. I mean, I understand you want to be proud of who you work for, and you should be. But how are we going to get justice? Do you think that the IRS needs to bring people to justice?”

Roseman allegedly helped Leesburg-based Strong Castle Inc. receive a $266 million purchasing contract, the largest contract issued by the IRS in the last 15 years, based in part on Roseman’s friendship with company owner Braulio Castillo.

“On the advice of counsel I respectfully decline to answer any questions, and invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent,” Roseman told committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Castillo, who agreed to testify, received scathing criticism from lawmakers who questioned how he secured a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business designation even though he never served in combat.

Castillo applied for the status based on an ankle injury he received in 1984 while playing football at a military prep school. Decades later, a doctor performed surgery on the foot based on the old injury, Castillo said, but he is still able to play sports.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs and severely injured her arm in combat, angrily mocked Castillo for using his injury to help his business in a riveting exchange during the hearing.

“My feet hurt too,” Duckworth, a former assistant secretary for Veterans Affairs, told Castillo. “In fact, the balls of my feet burn continuously and I feel like there’s a nail being hammered into my right heel right now. So I can understand pain and suffering and how service connection can actually cause long-term, unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain.”

Duckworth criticized Castillo for using his school injury to win federal contracts, recounting not only her own grave injuries, but those of others who served in Iraq with her, including a Navy corpsman “who had his leg knocked off with an RPG. He put a tourniquet on himself and crawled forward. He is who played through the pain, Mr. Castillo. You did not.”

But Castillo argued the injury occurred during active duty in military prep school and that he obtained his disability status legally.

“Shame on you,” Duckworth told him. “You may not have broken any laws, but you certainly broke the trust of this great nation. You broke the trust of veterans.”

Congressional investigators are primarily focused on more than 350 text messages exchanged by Roseman and Castillo leading up to and including the time when the IRS contracts were awarded. The two were friends and often spoke by phone.

Roseman sent anti-gay slurs in some of the messages as well as “offensive jokes about the physical appearance of other IRS employees,” according to the committee’s written report.

Roseman was able to help Castillo contracts because he’s a voting member of the IRS contract review board. Records show Roseman and Castillo spoke by phone for more than 20 minutes the night before Castillo requested a quote for an $80 million computer contract.

Roseman was reassigned rather than fired and faced no disciplinary action so he’s still being paid, Beth Tucker, an IRS deputy commissioner, told the panel.

Initially, the IRS said it could not cancel the contract with Strong Castle because it would be disruptive, but Tucker reversed that position Wednesday, saying “it is our intention” to end the contract and that the IRS is now “exploring options.”

Tucker said most of the $500 million contract would be paid not to Strong Castle, but to its technology provider, IBM. Much of the money has yet to be paid out, she said.

“Strong Castle has not received anywhere near that amount of money from the software teaming arrangement,” Tucker said. “In fact, 98 percent of the value of that contract, if it was awarded, would go direct to IBM.”

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