A boy sells jerrycans at a market area in the Liberian capital of Monrovia
A boy sells jerrycans at a market area in the Liberian capital of Monrovia Reuters

Two former Liberian humanitarian aid workers have been convicted for defrauding the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of $1.9 million, which was intended to help rebuild civil war-torn Liberia, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said.

Morris B. Fahnbulleh, 40, and Joe O. Bondo, 39, both hailing from Monrovia, Liberia, were found guilty on Tuesday on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, four counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and four false claims counts.

While Fahnbulleh was also convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud; Bondo was additionally convicted of two counts of witness tampering.

According to the DOJ, the defendants, who have been in custody since their arrests in 2009, could face up to 20 years in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie b. Walton is will deliver the sentence on February 3, 2011.

After Liberia’s 14-year civil war ended, USAID in 2005 awarded a grant, a two-year humanitarian project in Liberia for community reconstruction projects, to World Vision, an international non-profit Christian humanitarian foundation, through Catholic Relief Services.

Under the agreement, Fahnbulleh and Bondo were supposed to supervise World Vision employees as they assisted Liberian communities with infrastructure projects, including road, latrine and water well construction.

In return for their labor, USAID, through World Vision, was supposed to then distribute food to the residents of these communities.

However, instead of distributing the food, Fahnbulleh and Bondo sold the food and pocketed the proceeds. They also instructed World Vision employees to falsify the documents used to track food distributions.

According to the evidence produced during the trial, Fahnbulleh and Bondo also directed USAID-salaried employees to work for them.

Their misdeeds went unnoticed by World Vision headquarters, Catholic Relief Services and USAID for long because they concealed their activities by intimidating World Vision employees with job loss and also paying some subordinates hush money to buy their silence.

But their criminal scheme was uncovered, due in large part to the cooperation provided by World Vision, and today they have been held accountable, Assistant Attorney General Breuer said. In 2008, an internal audit conducted by World Vision revealed that up to 91 percent of the food never reached its intended beneficiaries.

Fraud involving taxpayer funds, whether in the United States or abroad, will not go unpunished, he added.