Dark cloud clears for isle Guard lieutenant
His commanders believed in his innocence involving a cash theft in Iraq
It was confidence in his commander that kept Hawaii Army National Guard 1st Lt. Charles Neumann sane during a year-long investigation into the theft of $50,000 in Baghdad.
Neumann, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard since 1991, was accused of stealing the cash from an Iraqi interpreter who had been operating a shop at Camp Victory, where Neumann's Army Guard unit had been stationed in 2005.
When Army criminal investigators began looking at him for the theft of the nearly $50,000 in cash, Neumann, 33, thought, "What the hell is going on here?"
"I had crossed all the t's, dotted all the i's. So I thought, why is this happening to me?"
Although never officially charged, Neumann said his personnel folder had been flagged.
"It meant that there was an open investigation on me. I could never get a new security clearance. My career as an Army officer was over."
But his boss -- Lt. Col. Kenneth Hara -- and Hara's boss -- Col. Richard Hooker, who led Task Force Dragon with the 18th Airborne Corps in Baghdad -- stood by him.
Hara said he remembers Hooker calling him and asking him: "Is this lieutenant clean?"
"I guarantee it," said Hara, who commands the 29th Brigade Combat Team's 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry. Since returning from Iraq in January, the unit has been redesigned as 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry.
"If you feel that he's clean," Hooker told Hara, "we will fight it all the way."
After the Department of the Army Provost Marshal's Office was called into the investigation, a Criminal Investigation Division internal affairs team was dispatched to Baghdad in December 2005, just before Neumann's unit returned to Hawaii.
In May, Hara said Hooker sent him an e-mail saying the CID agent who had initially been tasked to work Neumann's unit had been caught with $48,000 and charged with six felony counts.
His CID boss -- an Army lieutenant colonel -- was forced to retire with a letter of reprimand in his personnel jacket, Hara said.
The flag on Neumann's folder has been "untitled" and he is now being considered for promotion to captain.
Hara said besides trusting Neumann he had spent at least three days planning the operation, which included rehearsals and several days of observing the Iraqi national who had been selling cell phones, satellite dish TVs, watches and pirated DVDs.
Hara had received orders to escort the Iraqi off the base since he had been fired as an interpreter and to take away his base pass.
"It was a very detailed operation," Hara said. "I didn't want our soldiers to be tempted with all the contraband that he was selling, so I impressed upon them on what we were going to do."
Five Army CID agents were included in the raid. Three accompanied Neumann's team while two others were sent to another trailer the Iraqi had at nearby forward operating base.
During the raid, Neumann said his team recovered more than $643,000 in U.S. cash and another $100,000 in Iraq dinars.
"The money was all over the place," Neumann said, "in bags, in a safe, in backpacks."
Hara said his soldiers carefully counted the money and even videotaped the process.
At one point the lead CID agent seem agitated, Hara said, and tried to rush the Hawaii soldiers who were counting the money. He even took a blue backpack to a truck.
What had tripped up the CID agent was the fact the Iraqi, who was later released, had earlier requested sequentially numbered $100 bills and had recorded all of its numbers on a receipt.
When the Army released him, Hara said, the detained Iraqi claimed that $100,000 was missing and wanted every soldier who had taken part in the investigation to be searched.