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Justice Department charges VA official with taking $40,000 in gifts

In this June 9, 2014, photo, David and Marianne Trujillo exit the Vetaran Affairs facility in El Paso, Texas. Some Veterans Affairs facilities in Texas have among the longest wait-times in the nation for those trying to see a doctor for the first time, according to federal data. It’s not just veterans who sometimes have to wait for health care. Depending on where you live and what kind of care you want, in parts of the country it’s not always easy for new patients to get a quick appointment. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca) AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca\n

A Department of Veterans Affairs official is being changed with taking $40,000 worth of gifts, including meals and golf outings, from a telecommunications company that had a contract with the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, said Kenneth Czumak was arrested Monday and presented before a federal court in Manhattan. Bharara didn't name the telecom firm, but said Czumak is a information technology specialist who was the primary point of contact for the company at VAMC Northport.

The Justice Department is charging one VA officials with taking $40,000 in gifts from a telecommunications contractor. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)

"[B]etween January 2008 and June 2013, Czumak accepted a total of more than $40,000 in goods and services paid for by the telecommunications firm," Bharara's office said. "Among other things, Czumak received meals, golf outings, hotel rooms, car services, and other benefits."

"In an interview with law enforcement agents in March of this year, Czumak acknowledged that he was aware from training he had received from VAMC Northport that, as a government employee, he could not accept gifts worth more than $15 from an outside source," Bharara's office added.

The company had a $6 million subcontract for the VAMC during the time when Czumak was receiving these gifts.

Bharara's office said Czumak is charged with one count of "illegal salary supplementation" and faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The VA is under intense pressure to manage itself more effectively after the scandal involving long wait times for veterans seeking healthcare services at VA clinics. That scandal has prompted the House and Senate to pass legislation making it easier for the VA secretary to fire officials involved in the scandal, and many have called on the VA not to hand out any bonuses until those issues are resolved.

Last week, however, Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the drumbeat to fire VA officials and strip their bonuses away is a "bunch of crap," and defended VA officials by saying most of them "work really hard to do the right thing."

One last thing…
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