Retired U.S. Navy admiral charged in bribery scheme with tech CEOs

Retired Navy Admiral Robert Burke.

Courtesy: U.S. Navy

A retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral, who was once the military branch’s second-highest-ranking officer, was arrested on Friday for a bribery scheme with two tech CEOs, the Department of Justice announced.

From 2020 to 2022, Robert Burke, a 62-year-old resident of Coconut Creek, Fla., allegedly used his high-ranking status in the Navy to help Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger, the co-CEOs of New York-based workplace tech platform Next Jump, win military contracts, according to the DOJ.

In 2021, Burke allegedly told his staff to award Kim and Messenger a $355,000 military contract. In exchange, Kim and Messenger allegedly promised Burke employment at their company in the future.

In 2022, Burke started working as a senior partner at Next Jump with a starting annual salary of $500,000 and 100,000 stock options, the DOJ said.

“Admiral Burke disputes these charges,” Burke’s attorney Timothy Parlatore told CNBC on Saturday. “We will be demanding a trial where we expect that he will be found not guilty.”

Parlatore confirmed that Next Jump was awarded a $355,000 military contract and that Burke later went on to work for Next Jump for $500,000 a year. But whether one alleged was a bribe for the other, he said, “Absolutely not.”

Burke faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, while Kim and Messenger each face 20 years.

According to Parlatore, Burke only worked at Next Jump for a couple of months and left the organization in part due to “personality conflicts.”

Lawyers for Messenger and Kim did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside business hours.

Burke’s arraignment will be coordinated on Monday, Parlatore said, and over the next several weeks, he will appear in Washington D.C. court to plead not guilty.

The DOJ’s charges against Burke come weeks after a federal judge dismissed felony convictions against five military officers involved in what a senior administration official previously called “one of the most brazen bribery conspiracies in the U.S. Navy’s history.”

That bribery scheme centered around former defense contractor Leonard Francis, also known asĀ “Fat Leonard,” who allegedly gave military officers luxury gifts like Cuban cigars and Kobe beef in exchange for confidential military information.

Five officers had pleaded guilty to accepting Francis’ bribes, but on May 21, their felony convictions were dropped due to DOJ prosecutorial errors.

The dismissals stained a long saga of the DOJ’s effort to hold those involved in Francis’ scheme to account.

Though the Fat Leonard scheme is not directly connected to Burke’s case, Parlatore side-eyed the DOJ’s timing in bringing Burke’s bribery charges.

“In the immediate wake of the Fat Leonard convictions being thrown out due to DOJ misconduct, the timing does seem a bit curious,” he said. “It does strike me as somebody at DOJ saying, ‘Hey, hold my beer.'”