A retired Air Force officer faces up to 60 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines for conspiring to defraud the military of $5.4 million in contracts while working as an Air Force contractor and civilian employee.
John Norman Sims, 52, pleaded guilty July 7 in U.S. District Court in Northern Florida to conspiracy, bribery, theft of government property, disclosing contractor bid information and possession of information relating to national defense, according to a six-page plea agreement.
In exchange for pleading guilty to the five charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the remaining 29 counts Sims had faced when he was indicted in August by a federal grand jury.
The agreement also calls for Sims, who was living in Southern Pines, North Carolina, at the time of his arrest, “to make full restitution to the United States Air Force.”
Sims was a command pilot for the Air Force, retiring from Hurlburt Field, Florida, in 2004 as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years of service, according to the Air Force Personnel Center. He last served as deputy director of operations.
His attorney did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
After retirement, Sims worked as a contractor for the service from 2004 to 2007 in Florida; he worked as a government civilian supervisory intelligence specialist from 2007 to 2010. In those roles, according to a statement of facts in the case, Sims used his insider knowledge to steer valuable contracts to two unnamed companies he was associated with. In turn, the companies gave Sims a cut from those contracts.
The creators of the companies, Ronald Benton Powers and George Guyton Cannady, were charged as co-defendants. Cannady pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy, bribery and theft of government property, which carry a maximum penalty of 45 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. Powers’ case is still pending.
The three co-defendants allegedly agreed that Sims would provide information about specific upcoming contracts, including acquisition and proposal information, so that Cannady and Powers would be ready to provide those services to the Air Force. Cannady paid Sims money from contracts both he and Powers obtained using Sims’ knowledge, court documents allege. One such contract required Cannady to renovate and lease an aircraft hangar. The airport authority agreed to pay the Air Force $50,000 a year in rebates for eight years to help offset the costs of the renovations. Cannady pocketed the rebates for five years, collecting for himself $250,000 that belonged to the Air Force; Sims received a $90,000 kickback.
Cannady made 35 payments to Sims totaling nearly $194,000 between 2005 and 2009. Cannady would transfer contract fees and profits from his company to his personal bank account and then write checks or wire Sims.
Sims moved to North Carolina in late 2008 and left his civilian job with the Air Force in 2010, at which time he signed a statement that he did not have any classified documents in his possession, court documents show. A federal search warrant at his home in March 2012 turned up 634 pages of classified documents in a briefcase, on a thumb drive and in a folder inside his nightstand.