In a Contact 17 News investigation, a Bakersfield woman said she is caught in the middle of a financial scandal involving the California Army National Guard, after an investigation found massive fraud in payments to soldiers.
Wendy Howard spent nine years in the United States Marine Corps. After that, she went to college, became a correctional officer and joined the California Army National Guard.
When she signed up, she was offered $8,000 to pay off her student loans and a $20,000 signing bonus. "Twenty thousand dollars that's a huge boost for my family so I thought okay great," explained Wendy Howard.
Howard said her contract with the National Guard was approved after 24 hours. "It did surprise me but then I thought well with computers and everything, things went more quickly but four years later I understand why," she continued.
An investigation by the Sacramento Bee in 2010 found massive fraud in the California Army National Guard, involving more than $15 million in improper or illegal bonuses and loan payments to hundreds of members.
This led to a federal investigation and prison time for Toni Jaffe, the bonus and incentive manager who processed the claims. "It makes me angry because I wonder how long they knew," explained Howard.
Howard received a letter in the mail from the Army that said she never qualified for the money and has to pay them back. "They're saying you did nothing wrong but we want our money back," she said.
"It's irritating because if I did nothing wrong then why do I owe them money?" she continued.
Howard is still a member of the National Guard but the Army takes part of her pay. "They take $90 from my drill pay every month and if I were to get out then they would just garnish my civilian wages," she said.
"I love my unit and the soldiers I work with, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking I won't do this again," she continued.
Howard is in the process of filling out a waiver, hoping the Army will forgive her payments. 17 News also called Congressman Kevin McCarthy's office and asked for assistance.