We are all familiar with the “revolving door” between the public and private sector – government employees will often leave their posts and cross over to the private sector to capitalize on their experience in the government. However, when government employees make that transition, it is imperative that they consider the federal conflict of interest laws, which may prohibit them from taking certain private sector positions and, at minimum, require them to be screened from particular types of work on a go forward basis. Failure to consider these laws could lead to severe consequences. A recent plea agreement highlights the importance of remaining mindful of these rules when negotiating post-government employment.
On Tuesday, March 11, 2015, former U.S. Air Force Captain Adam J. J. Pudenz pleaded guilty in Iowa federal court to violating restrictions on post-government employment and making a false statement to law enforcement agents. In 2010, Pudenz served as a U.S. military contracting officer in Afghanistan and worked on several U.S. government contracts related to the purchase of clothing and boots from an Afghan trading company. Pudenz admitted that before leaving his position as a contracting officer in Afghanistan, he negotiated future employment with the same Afghan company. Pudenz ultimately began working for the trading company and lobbied the U.S. government on matters related to the contracts he had previously managed.
In his plea agreement, Pudenz admitted to willfully violating the federal post-employment restrictions pursuant to 18 USC §207(a)(1). That section restricts former government employees from attempting to influence the federal government (including its department, agencies and courts) in connection with a particular matter in which the person participated personally and substantially as a government employee. Pudenz clearly violated this rule when he “switched sides” and represented the Afghan company before the U.S. government on matters directly related to the same contracts he had served on as contracting officer in 2010. Pudenz also admitted to willfully and knowingly making false statements to the Defense Criminal Investigative Services regarding when he began negotiating the terms of his employment with the company.
In a somewhat unusual plea agreement, Pudenz agreed to surrender his residence in Iowa and three native Afghan rugs, both of which were a product of his illegal employment with the Afghan company. Pudenz could face up to five years in prison or fines of $250,000 for each count; however, as part of his plea agreement, the government agreed not to advocate for a prison sentence or fine.