Retired 4-Star Admiral Arrested and Charged in Bribery Scheme

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
June 3, 2024Courts
Retired 4-Star Admiral Arrested and Charged in Bribery Scheme
Adm. Robert P. Burke (R) relinquishes command of Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples at a change of command ceremony in Naples, Italy on June 27, 2022. (Master Sgt. Scott McAdam/Allied Joint Force Command Naples)

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged a retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral with agreeing to help steer a military contract to a private firm in exchange for a $500,000-a-year job after retiring from the Navy.

The DOJ arrested retired Adml. Robert Burke, 62, of Coconut Creek, Florida, on Friday, along with business executives Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger, on bribery charges.

Mr. Burke served as the vice chief of naval operations—the second highest ranking officer in the U.S. Navy—from June 2019 to May 2020 and as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF)—a command whose area of responsibility includes Europe, Russia, and most of Africa—from July 2020 to June 2022.

Federal authorities identified Mr. Kim and Ms. Messenger as co-chief executive officers of a company identified in court records only as “Company A,” which provides workforce training. While the charging documents don’t identify the company, a website for the workforce development firm NextJump lists a Charlie Kim and a Meghan Messenger as co-CEOs.

All three defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery. Burke is also charged with performing acts affecting a personal financial interest and concealing material facts from the United States. The two business executives face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the retired Navy admiral faces up to 30 years.

Bribery Allegations

According to an indictment, Company A had won a contract for a Navy pilot program for workforce training. That pilot contract lasted from August 2018 through July 2019 and was terminated in November of 2019.

While serving as the vice chief of naval operations, Adml. Burke advocated for the pilot workforce development program.

The indictment states Mr. Kim and Ms. Messenger contacted then-Vice CNO Burke in a Nov. 8, 2019 email, to reestablish Company A’s ties with the Navy. A Navy aide responded to this email stating that “Given Admiral Burke’s role and the upcoming contracting actions” Company A was not to contact the Navy admiral until further notice.

Despite the prior warning, Mr. Kim and Ms. Messenger allegedly reached out again in September 2020, to Adml. Burke—then the commander of NAVEUR-NAVAF—asking for “insights or guidance” on future Navy contracts. The three continued their communications through 2021.

In May of 2021, Adml. Burke directed a Navy civilian NAVEUR-NAVAF employee—identified in the indictment as “Person 2″—to find money for a future contract between the Navy and Company A.

Adml. Burke, Mr. Kim, and Ms. Messenger allegedly met in person in Washington, D.C., in July 2021. During that meeting, they proposed that the admiral steer a workforce training contract their way in exchange for a $500,000-a-year job, along with stock options and other compensations upon retiring from the Navy, according to prosecutors.

By December 2021, Adml. Burke allegedly ordered Person 2 to extend a $355,000 contract offer to Company A to train personnel under Adml. Burke’s command in Italy and Spain. Prosecutors allege Adml. Burke continued to use his status to try to connect Company A with new contracts, including work with another four-star Navy admiral overseeing the service’s recruit “pipeline schools” and with a senior foreign military official.

Coverup Allegations

Along with laying out the alleged scheme to help Company A win contracts, prosecutors have alleged Adml. Burke crafted a scheme to cover his tracks.

In August 2021, after he had already met to discuss post-retirement employment with Company A, Adml. Burke sent newly-confirmed Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro a memo indicating his plans to voluntarily retire in May of 2022. In this memo, Adml. Burke reaffirmed his understanding of pre- and post-retirement standards of conduct and employment activities.

In March 2022, Adml. Burke allegedly emailed a Navy ethics counselor and falsely communicated he had no specific employment plans after his retirement from the Navy. Prosecutors allege Adml. Burke reached out to the Navy ethics counselor again on May 6, 2022, indicating Company A had only just approached him for post-Navy employment discussions. Adml. Burke allegedly claimed to the Navy ethics counselor that he had held off on further discussions with Company A until he could clear up his ethical obligations. Adml. Burke proceeded to tell the ethics counselor that NAVEUR-NAVAF had contracted in the past with Company A but that Person 2 had handled that contract decision.

Adml. Burke formally notified the Navy of his plans to work with Company A in a memo on May 9, 2022, and then in a financial disclosure report on July 18, 2022. He officially began employment with Company A as a senior partner in October 2022.

According to court filings, Adml. Burke, Mr. Kim, or Ms. Messenger have yet to name legal representatives in the case. NTD News was, therefore, unable to reach these defendants for comment on the criminal charges.

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