Retired four-star admiral charged with accepting bribes for contracts

A former U.S. Navy vice chief of naval operations was arrested Friday on charges that he accepted bribes to steer government contracts to a company in exchange for a future job while still in service, Justice Department (DOJ) officials announced in a statement.

Retired Navy Adm. Robert Burke, 62, of Coconut Creek, Fla., and two business executives, Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger, both of New York, were each charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, according to the unsealed indictment.

In addition, Burke is charged with “performing acts affecting a personal financial interest and concealing material facts from the United States,” the DOJ statement notes.

If convicted, Burke faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, while Kim and Messenger each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Burke, who has served aboard attack and ballistic missile submarines, rose through the ranks to eventually become the 40th vice chief of naval operations in June 2019 before taking command of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command in June 2020.

Kim and Messenger, meanwhile, were co-CEOs of a business, referred to by the Justice Department as “Company A” that provided a workforce training pilot program to a small component of the Navy from August 2018 through July 2019. A website for services firm NextJump lists a Charlie Kim and a Meghan Messenger as co-CEOs.

The Navy ended a contract with Company A in late 2019 and directed it not to contact Burke.

In July 2021, however, while Burke was overseeing thousands of Navy civilians and military personnel in Europe and Africa, Kim and Messenger allegedly met with him in Washington, D.C., in an effort to reestablish Company A’s business relationship with the Navy, according to the statement.

“At the meeting, the charged defendants allegedly agreed that Burke would use his position as a Navy Admiral to steer a sole-source contract to Company A in exchange for future employment at the company,” the Justice Department said. “They allegedly further agreed that Burke would use his official position to influence other Navy officers to award another contract to Company A to train a large portion of the Navy with a value Kim allegedly estimated to be “triple digit millions.’”

Several months later in December 2021, Burke allegedly ordered his Navy staff to award a $355,000 contract to the company to train personnel under Burke’s command in Italy and Spain, according to the statement.

Company A then performed the training in January 2022 and shortly thereafter Burke allegedly promoted the firm in a failed effort to convince a senior Navy Admiral to award another contract to the business.

“To conceal the scheme, Burke allegedly made several false and misleading statements to the Navy, including by creating the false appearance that Burke played no role in issuing the contract and falsely implying that Company A’s employment discussions with Burke only began months after the contract was awarded,” the statement said.

After retirement in summer 2022, Burke began working at Company A in October that year, starting with a salary of $500,000 and a grant of 100,000 stock options.

Navy spokesperson Rear Adm. Ryan Perry said the service has fully cooperated with the investigation since it began.

“We take this matter very seriously and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice. As this is an ongoing legal case we would refer you to the DOJ for any further information regarding this matter,” Perry said in a statement to The Hill.

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