After nearly 10 months as interim U.S. attorney for an unexpired term in the Western District Court of Oklahoma, Robert Troester has received an additional 120-day appointment to the post, which will eventually be filled by presidential appointment.
“It is an honor to serve the great citizens of the Western District of Oklahoma and work every day to keep our communities safe,” Troester said in a press release today. “I am privileged to work with an incredibly talented team of professionals in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and exceptional state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners, who are all dedicated to the mission of justice.”
President Joe Biden and his administration have had nearly 10 full months to consider a permanent U.S. attorney appointee for the Western District Court of Oklahoma after former state Rep. Tim Downing vacated the post Feb. 28 to join the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. Downing’s term expired Dec. 25, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Troester to the additional 120-day term Dec. 26, according to the press release.
It is unclear why the Biden administration has yet to select a nominee for a full term. Assistant U.S. Attorney Travis D. Smith told NonDoc on Tuesday that he could not speak to the administration’s pending decision or whether the administration has indicated to Troester that a nominee will be decided within 120 days.
“I wouldn’t be in a position to know whether they have or haven’t,” Smith said.
Smith said he also did not know whether Troester is interested in receiving full nomination to the powerful prosecutorial post.
“I don’t know what, frankly, his intentions are or are not,” Smith said. “Typically, the way it works is once a president comes into office, he or she has the ability to kind of bring in whomever they would like to bring in and presidentially appoint someone. I can’t speak to his intent or interest, but it’s really up to the administration and the presidential administration and typically working with the local senators on who they determine they want to put forth for presidential appointment candidacy.”
Troester has been serving in his fifth stint as acting U.S. attorney. An Oklahoma City University School of Law graduate, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1995 and has held a variety of positions within the Department of Justice, including a stint in 2017 and 2018 as associate deputy attorney general.
Troester’s official biography outlines his duties as U.S. attorney:
As United States attorney, Mr. Troester is the chief federal law enforcement officer responsible for all federal criminal prosecutions and civil litigation involving the United States in the Western District of Oklahoma, an area covering 40 counties and including 21 federally recognized Indian tribes. He leads a staff of more than 90 attorneys, support personnel, and contractors to accomplish this mission.
The state of Oklahoma features two other federal court districts, the northern district and the eastern district, which also saw their U.S. attorneys resign Feb. 28. Since March 1, Clinton Johnson served as interim attorney for the northern district and Christopher Wilson served as interim U.S. attorney for the eastern district. Like Troester, both men subsequently received 120-day appointments by Garland on Dec. 26.
Several U.S. attorneys around the United States have been serving on an interim basis in 2021 following the change in presidential administrations.
Balfour Beatty Communities pleads guilty
On Dec. 23, Troester’s office issued a press release regarding the Department of Justice’s “global resolution” to the criminal and civil investigations related to the actions of Balfour Beatty Communities LLC as contractors for privatized military housing complexes in dozens of states, including Oklahoma.
One of the nation’s largest owners and manager of residential real estate, Balfour Beatty Communities pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy and agreed to pay more than $65 million in criminal fines and restitution. The company agreed to a three-year probationary period and separately agreed to settle its civil liability with the United States for $35.2 million.
The case was filed in the District of Columbia, but Troester’s office — specifically Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Gallegos — worked with other Department of Justice prosecutors and U.S. attorneys in Texas and Georgia.
“The defendants’ greed undermined a program designed to protect service members’ homes while they courageously fight to protect our homeland,” Troester said in the Dec. 23 press release. “Service members and their families deserve better. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect our military community from fraudulent conduct of all kinds, particularly the integrity of [Department of Defense] housing programs.”
According to court documents, BBC was a diversified real estate services company, headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania, that operated privatized military housing communities at 21 U.S. Air Force, 18 U.S. Navy, and 16 U.S. Army bases across the United States, in which tens of thousands of service members and their families lived. BBC earned fees for the various phases of development and management of each housing community, from design and construction to ongoing community management and maintenance, and service members paid their living allowance, known as Basic Allowance for Housing, to BBC to live in these communities.
BBC’s fees for the ongoing property management and maintenance of its military housing communities generally consisted of a base fee, paid to BBC monthly, and performance incentive fees, paid to BBC quarterly or semi-annually. Performance incentive fees were only payable upon the approval of the relevant service branch. To obtain the incentive fees, BBC was required to submit to the service branches proof that it had satisfied performance objectives related to, among other things, maintenance of the housing communities and resident satisfaction. The service branches relied on BBC’s submissions in deciding whether to approve the payment of relevant performance incentive fees.
According to court documents, from around 2013 to around 2019, BBC employees, including former community manager Stacy Cabrera (who pleaded guilty to related charges on April 21) and former regional manager Rick Cunefare (who pleaded guilty to related charges on June 9), and others, falsified information so that BBC’s incentive fee requests falsely reflected that BBC had met performance objectives. In reality, BBC did not meet those objectives in many of the quarters during that time. These objectives primarily related to maintenance and resident satisfaction at various military housing projects. Specifically, BBC employees altered or manipulated data in property management software and destroyed and falsified resident comment cards to falsely inflate these metrics and, ultimately, to fraudulently induce the service branches to pay performance incentive fees which BBC had not earned.
As a result, according to court documents, there were lengthy and unnecessary delays in the resolution of maintenance issues to the detriment of service members and their families. In addition, the military service branches were provided an inaccurate assessment of the state of BBC’s military housing communities and were unable to assess, and potentially correct, BBC’s performance.
A related Balfour Beatty company — Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions — was the original manager of the controversial Cross Village student housing complex at the University of Oklahoma. Balfour Beatty was replaced by another firm in October 2018 following a change of presidential administration at OU.
(Update: This article was updated at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 29, to include additional details about the northern and eastern districts of Oklahoma.)