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Minnesota National Guard 'recruiting assistants' probed in bonus scandal

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Three Minnesota National Guard "recruiting assistants" are being investigated as part of a wider $30 million scandal that's being described by one U.S. senator as the worst in Army history.

The investigation – the largest the Army has ever conducted – involves hundreds of National Guard soldiers and others with ties to the military who are suspected of receiving fraudulent payouts for signing up new recruits.

The Star Tribune confirmed three recruiting assistants with the Minnesota National Guard are under investigation for improperly receiving cash benefits for referring applicants to recruiters.

Both soldiers and civilians are accused of fraudulently reaping bonuses for signing up recruits who had already enlisted.

The Washington Post says the scammers often obtained the names of people who had enlisted from formal recruiters, claimed them as their referrals and then kicked back some of the bonus money to the recruiters, who were barred from collecting the referral bonus.

USA TODAY reports five soldiers appear to have netted nearly $1 million in bogus bonuses.

Reports say the alleged fraud goes up all the way the chain of command to include two 2-star generals and more than a dozen colonels.

The incentives began as part of the Recruiting Assistance Program launched in 2005, when the Pentagon was struggling to meet its recruitment goals amid two wars and a strong economy, according to the Post.

USA TODAY reports more than 150,000 new recruits entered the Army through the program at a cost of $459 million. The program was shut down in 2012 after several cases of suspected fraud were brought to the Army's attention.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told CBS News that the program was "so badly designed that frankly it wouldn't take a lot to figure out that fraud was going to be easy."

Sixteen people have been convicted in the scandal and are serving jail time.

It's expected to take until the fall of 2016 to investigate the thousands of fraud claims.

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