By Debbie Gregory.
Norbert Vergez graduated in 1987 from Norwich University, a private military school in Vermont, and earned a master’s degree from the Florida Institute of Technology. In the Army, Vergez flew Apache and Cobra attack helicopters. He deployed to Albania in 1999 and later served a tour in Iraq, his service record states. In 2001, Vergez was assigned to the Army command in Huntsville, Alabama, that manages the service’s aviation budget.
From early 2010 until he retired from the military in 2012, Vergez ran an office that acquired helicopters not in the Defense Department’s regular inventory. These “non-standard” choppers, such as the Russian Mi-17s, were provided to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries battling al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Vergez has now pleaded guilty to negotiating his post-military employment with a helicopter company that did business with the Defense Department office he ran while still in uniform, according to court records filed by U.S. government attorneys.
The documents say Vergez caused the terms of a contract to be adjusted so that the company would be paid faster. Vergez also failed to disclose on his ethics form that he had received a $30,000 check from a second company for relocation expenses. Officers of Vergez’s seniority are typically allowed to be reimbursed by Defense Department for their final moving expenses.
The companies, which are not named in the records filed in Alabama, describe MD Helicopters in Mesa, Arizona, and Patriarch Partners, a private equity firm in New York. Wall Street executive Lynn Tilton owns both Companies.
Vergez worked for Tilton three months after his retirement, and it was reported that him and Tilton were in unusually close contact for a more than a year before he retired.
During Vergez’s tenure, MD Helicopters won U.S. military contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to supply helicopters to the governments of Afghanistan, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia.
Vergez also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the Defense Department’s inspector general about his contacts with a Lithuanian company that overhauled Russian Mi-17 helicopters, according to the plea agreement. A wife of a representative of the Lithuanian company, AviaBaltika Aviation, gave Vergez’s wife a Rolex wristwatch valued at about $4,000, the court records said. Vergez did not disclose the gift on his ethics form.
However, this isn’t Vergez’s first court appearance. Two former employees of MD Helicopters filed a civil suit last year against Vergez, Tilton, and Tilton’s companies under the Federal False Claims Act. The former employees, Philip Marsteller and Robert Swisher said they told their superiors that hiring Vergez would be illegal, but were ignored. The two grew increasingly concerned over the “level of Col. Vergez’ subservience to Tilton and his continuing involvement in MD’s Army contracts” while he awaited a high-paying job with the company that Tilton promised him once he retired from the Army.
Vergez will face up to five years in prison on each of three counts of making false statements and felony conflict of interest.