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Contractor Grifted Taxpayers for Diamond Engagement Ring, Trampoline

December 13, 2021Carl Prine
Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories is famous for some of the world’s most important technological advances, like optical sensors that can see through fog. But the labs also fund other research for military and law enforcement agencies, some of it overseen by outside contractors. Sandia Labs photo by Randy Montoya.

A 1.57-carat princess-cut designer four-prong round diamond engagement ring? $3.461.59.

Don’t forget the 1.4-carat 14-karat white gold princess and round diamond lady’s anniversary wedding band: $944.

Four professional reclining barber chairs? $2,199.

What about a Skywalker 15-foot rectangular trampoline, with enclosure? $571.

Some things to Joshua B. Cordova might’ve been priceless, but for everything else there was his SNL procurement card.

diamond engagement ring Sandia Labs
Sandia National Laboratories is famous for cutting-edge technology, like the Z machine here, the world’s most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source. But the labs also fund other research for military and law enforcement agencies. Sandia Labs photo by Randy Montoya.

On Thursday, Dec. 9, Cordova was sentenced in federal court to 21 months in prison for mail fraud and theft of taxpayer funds earmarked for classified anti-terrorism projects at Sandia National Laboratories, or SNL, capping a case that was 2 years old.

Cordova, 39, also must forfeit multiple items recovered by federal agents, spend three years on supervised release after he leaves prison, and reimburse taxpayers $136,107.

He pleaded guilty on May 5 to four of the 63 counts against him, according to his agreement with prosecutors. He had faced 20 years in prison for the embezzlement of what federal investigators initially estimated was at least $173,000 in taxpayer funds.

Cordova’s attorney didn’t return messages from Coffee or Die Magazine seeking comment.

diamond engagement ring Sandia embezzlement scheme
Albuquerque’s Sandia Science & Technology Park, adjacent to New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, employs more than 2,300 people, mostly in scientific and technical service fields. Sandia Labs photo.

Unsealed in 2019 in New Mexico, the grand jury indictment against Cordova alleged more than four years of rampant thievery by Cordova, an employee of government contractor National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, tied to three procurement cards issued by the US Department of Energy.

The cards were supposed to buy equipment used by Cordova when training law enforcement and military members. Instead, he purchased jewelry, clothing, shoes, sunglasses, men’s and women’s golf clubs, exercise equipment, watches, toys, tires, dog food, barber chairs and a barber pole, hair salon supplies, espresso makers, cellphones, computer tablets, home theater sets, and luxury appliances.

He got away with it because of two flaws in the procurement system. First, Sandia National Laboratories initially didn’t require procurement card holders to submit receipts or purchases, instead relying on descriptions of what was bought.  Second, no one checked to make sure that purchases were what Cordova claimed them to be.

diamond engagement ring
Security Police Officer Robert Ulibarri patrols at sunset on May 13, 2019, near the water impact facility at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia Labs photo by Randy Montoya.

For example, he represented the 1.57-carat engagement ring delivered to his home in southwest Albuquerque as being “grid aim kit, 3-grid boards, 1 tri-pod, 1-wep mount, 1-XRS adapt, 1-fiducial, 1-tool set, 1-aim finder etc.,” according to his indictment.

The Samsung curved 55-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED television became “1 full kit 0 12 items – Bosch power tools.” The wedding band morphed into “2 carbon fiber Manfredo 510 tripods.” The tripod purchase was submitted as a type of tool case with Velcro packs, court filings state.

Cordova’s plea deal indicates he made many purchases at the online retail giant Amazon and had the parcels shipped to his home, not the office.

Sandia National Laboratories Thermal Test Complex
Sandia National Laboratories’ Thermal Test Complex in Albuquerque, New Mexico, provides a controlled environment in which to demonstrate the performance of components and assemblies under a variety of abnormal thermal environments. Sandia Labs photo by Randy Montoya.

His employer, National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International.

According to motions filed by federal prosecutors, Cordova was supposed to be working on “highly sensitive security and anti-terrorism work with other government agencies” inside a small team supporting the development of “cutting edge technology and equipment.”

The federal government gets to keep a long list of items seized from Cordova’s home, including all the items listed above and a 26.2 cubic foot stainless-steel French-door refrigerator, an Uppababy Vista baby stroller, and a Steve Silver Co. Tournament Dining & Game Table.

Read Next: Hunt for Bighorn Sheep Triggers Steep Federal Fine

Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

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