Saturday, May 31, 2014
Friday, May 30, 2014
In the summer of “98″ Stephen, at just 18yrs. of age, decided on his own to turn his life around and join the United States Navy. I, his mother, at his request, bought him a book to help him study for the ASVAB test as he was bound and determined to make it. He worked out every day, started to jog and studied hard every night. He took the test and passed with flying colors telling me that an instructor at the testing site told him that he did better than most of the seniors that graduated from high school. Stephen only had a GED and was thrilled that he had done so well. He graduated bootcamp and then went on to San Antonio, Tx. for his Aschool where he would be studying for Mess Specialist.
Stephen had big plans of opening up his own “Sports Bar/Restaurant” when he got out of the service. Stephen did well in Aschool and graduated at the top of his class and that is why he got first pick at where he wanted stationed. He chose Nas Oceana, Va. as it was closest to home and would make it easier to travel back and forth when he was on leave. He was home for 2 weeks before heading off to Virginia and he told everyone all of his stories about bootcamp and San Antonio and how happy he was that he joined the Navy.
On April 17th 1999 his father and I drove him to the airport where he would be headed for his first duty station at Nas Oceana, Va. This would be the last time we saw our son alive!!
Stephen called once a week at first but then started making friends and stretched it out to calling every 2 weeks. He was getting along fine, excited about going on his first cruise and had just bought himself a tv and got his cable hooked up, a Sony Playstation with a couple video games, a clock radio and a telephone so family wouldn’t have to pay long distant phone bills. Stephen lived on base and had no problems of any kind that we his family were aware of. Then on May 30, 1999 I received the horrible and shocking news that Stephen was found hanging in a hotel room in Las Vegas, NV.
The LVMPD never conducted any type of investigation and the Navy stated that because his death occurred off base, while he was off duty, and had nothing to do with the Navy (I wonder how they knew this?) that the NCIS would not be conducting any type of investigation as well. Only after my constant nagging did his base command conduct a “tiny” investigation which didn’t amount to anything and only went along with the reports from the LVMPD. No matter how many letters I sent, phone calls I made and numerous attempts at getting different people to help no investigation ever got done and his death remains a complete shock and mystery to our whole entire family and everyone who knew Stephen.
Two of Stephen’s friends from the base came to Pa. and attended his funeral. At the cemetery, we were told by the one young man that he knew that Stephen wasn’t traveling by himself or taking money out of the ATM machines by himself!! I pressured his base command to have this boy questioned after telling them what we were told at the cemetery, and a year later I get a report, or should I say an email conversation on legal paper, and the only question they asked him was, “How well did you know Stephen Killian and what was his attitude towards the Navy?”?!! They totally disregarded my concerns that this young man knew something about what happened to my son!!! I just don’t understand how such a happy young man who could get along in any type of situation can suddenly just become suicidal!! Of course, It may be able to happen given certain circumstances but the point is nothing was ever proven that pointed to depression or suicidal thoughts of any kind!! It seems that my son just vanished off base without anyone knowing and took a greyhound bus from Virginia Beach to Las Vegas and ended up hanging in a hotel room.
When I received his belongings from Las Vegas the only things we got were a pair of what appearred to be neatly ironed “baggy levi’s”, a neatly ironed cotton button up shirt, a clean t-shirt, his wallet with no money and his Nike shoes which also looked spotless. These clothes seemed a bit “too neat and clean” for a person who was traveling by bus for 2 days plus 19hrs. The Administrator’s office in Las Vegas assurred me that they do not launder the clothes before they are returned home. Also, in his jean’s pocket was a phone number written on the hotel stationery without an area code so our family
assumed it was either a Vegas number or a Virginia Beach number. The police assured us (yeah right) that this number didn’t check out and when we called it ourselves with a Virginia Beach area code it was a cell phone number that had just been disconnected?! I called his base to ask if there was any way they could check out this number as it may be someone on base or someone who lived off base but I was told that they have no means of checking out a phone number!!! Wow…. since when can’t the military, government, etc. not be able to check out a simple phone number????
I also believe that if my son was actually taking off, going AWOL whatever, that he would have definitely packed a bag and called one of his friends at home here, but he had nothing with him except the clothes on his back!!
Additionally, the funeral the funeral director told Stephen’s grandfather that the ligature mark didn’t course up behind his ears, as the autopsy report stated, but went horizontal around his neck. He also stated that he noted bruises to the torso of the body, another important fact left out of the autopsy
I just get so frustrated that I trusted the military with my only son and thought he would be safe!! It seems that the military’s only concern is keeping “their own” from getting into any trouble as they surely wouldn’t want their command to look bad?! I thought that because my son was a member of the United States Navy that everything in their power would be done to investigate and prove that he either committed suicide or was murdered and that we our family would get a thorough report of the events leading up to his untimely death and a report that would tell us why and how our only son died!! But instead we got nothing, we got a report that was to say the least, inadequet and could fit into a large white letter envelope!! It is very difficult to go on when you lose a child but when you honestly don’t know what happened it is just maddening!!!
I still keep in touch with the young man from the base who talked to our family at the cemetary, and although he never addresses my questions or comments. I continue to write him in hopes that one day he will tell me what happened to my son….. Until then I continue to pray that God will let me find out the truth someday so my son can have the justice and dignity that he deserves and our family can have the peace of mind and closure that we deserve.
Proud Mother of Mssr Stephen J Killian, Jr. USN
7-14-80 to 5-30-99
Who Died Under Questionable Circumstances and Was Denied A Proper and Thorough Investigation
Painfully Loved and Missed By Family and His Many Many Friends
If you have any information about this case, contact Sonya Killian through this website.
Monday, May 19, 2014
My younger brother, LTC Rocky Baragona was killed on May 19 2003, on his way home, in Safwat Iraq, by Kuwait Gulf Link Transport. One of their flatbed tractor trailers, driven by a driver with improper papers and a truck with missing license plates, suddenly jackknifed and landed on his Humvee, crushing him instantly. Rocky, a decorated career soldier, with a flawless military record who had been in the top 5% of his West Point Class, proudly served his country with honor as the Commander of the 19th Maintenance Battalion out of Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Our family received a miserable AR15-6 report eight months later: two days before Xmas. The report gave no information about the company or the driver that killed him. The accident scene photos later showed KGL’s name 20 inches high written across the front of the vehicle with other KGL trucks and 18 people at the scene that day. Some inaccuracies surrounding the crash smeared his good honor with insinuations that his death was his own fault. The officer who accompanied the report said in all of his years, he had never seen anything quite this bad. It was a dark day.
No family should ever have to do their own investigation into the death of their loved one. In shock and grief, following this report, we did just that.
Distraught and with disbelief toward the military, who appeared to now have abandoned and betrayed us, we looked for legal recourse. After 700 attempts failed to find an attorney who would consider our case, we found Steve Perles’ Law Firm, experts at plaintiff claims in international laws and Middle Eastern affairs. Their skills were the cutting stone for what appeared to be an impossible set of circumstances and we relied heavily on their skills and expertise. Mr. Perles himself taught us, in spite of our grief, how to reach out to the military, Congress, and even the White House to get results.
By 2005, with his guidance and the support of Sen. DeWine we received, 2 years later from Brig. Gen. Wright, a second, still faulty revised AR15-6 official report stating Kuwait Gulf Link Transport indeed was responsible for the death of my brother. It was a huge victory that allowed us to let go, for the moment, of a missing criminal investigation, required but never done at the time by the Army. It now appeared impossible to do a criminal investigation, as the evidence seemed all but lost. With KGL now officially in an Army report found responsible for his death we could move forward for the first time. It was our first piece of legal evidence it meant Justice for Rocky could now be found civilly in a US court of law.
Oblivious to all of this was the company that killed him. You see KGL, during this time, was enjoying and reaping the benefits of being a DOD multimillion dollar foreign contractor. Through US taxpayers they were growing from a mid size company to a major player in the contracting world. Quickly learning the contracting game, they chalked up military subcontract victories from other USG Prime Vendors like Agility, CSA, KBR.
KGL’s success in USG contracting soon lead to major changes in their business structure, I watched the forming of the KGL holding company, with 7 plus subsidiaries. It was a $30 million investment into Circle Oil, KGL Petroleum and the KGL Port Development and KGL Shipping lines with all of the money going back into the middle east. Then there was the development of the RAK area near Iran. Diamond trading, a private investment company in the Cayman Islands, the investment in the Philippines with Clark Air Force Base and on and on.
Did this get your attention? It sure started to get mine!
The US taxpayer was not getting a dime back except a trade for goods and services in the Iraq War — KGL was getting a lot.
At the same time I watched KGL also begin launching a major campaign to court the US Military with their website, bragging of their becoming a prime vendor for the Army.
However, all this growth did nothing to help KGL’s military victims. In our case, when approached to work towards a resolution in the death of LTC Baragona, they turned a deaf ear over and over again.
At first, we simply wanted an answer to what happened on May 19 2003, but as time went on and the silent arrogance grew, we began to question, “Why didn’t this company want to communicate?” It was concerning to us, that a military contractor who had the obvious skill to win millions in US military contracts could not file an insurance claim. Or maybe they had something to hide? We asked ourselves, “Why did a potential Prime Vendor want to take these kind of risks when millions of future contracts could be at stake? Was it cultural difference, arrogance?”
It seemed stupid on their part. Maybe it was bad advice from lawyers who wanted their own financial gain? Or did this contractor really have something to hide? KGL’s silence wore on us and it raised all of our suspicions about the secret world of contracting, leading us deeper into the investigation of their business practices.
During these years, we learned through newspaper accounts that KGL truck drivers had complained of being trafficked against their will in order to deliver goods to US troops in Iraq. Some were kidnapped and other’s were arrested for smuggling grains on the black market. An ex employee spoke of insurance fraud and falsification of documents to win Army contracts, but was too afraid to do anything about it. KGL was banned in India for false recruiting scams which tricked much-needed truck drivers to deliver goods to Army bases in Iraq.
The truth began to change, and we learned all too well how quickly the US Army looked the other way when a contractor like KGL used questionable practices. There simply was no oversight. I was appalled at the acceptance of our military to do nothing about any of it. Isn’t this what we asked our soldiers to fight and die for: democracy and a free life for those persecuted? Yet we allowed our defense contractors to perform government contracts using human trafficking? It was clear that forced labor in contracting was an acceptable way of doing business. The Army’s position was to Protect and supply the troops . But at what and at whose cost did we do this?
Undeterred, we stayed focused on our case and worked towards creating communication solutions with KGL through the Kuwaiti Ambassador and their Prime Minister, using the Army and many members in Congress as our messenger.
With no response from KGL on all fronts, we felt compelled to file a wrongful death suit in the courts as our only hope for accountability.
So it began: the horrible task of going through Rocky’s last days. We had to painfully recount each moment of his dying, spending hours at researching the FARS, gathering evidence by reconstructing the accident scene, finally dividing his life into dollar values to determine a means for restitution (a system of debilitating humiliation).
All of this was done so that we could sit across a table to look into somebody’s eyes from KGL to ask “Why?” “Why the silence? And what are you/KGL willing to do since your company, your driver, killed him?“ We wondered aloud among ourselves.
Could we keep our promise to get justice for Rocky with a company who could not see how their silence looked to everyone in America, well, except the Army? …….and the big question… did this really even serve justice? A lot of doubt came over us, And still we continued: this time to the White House. Through a chance encounter, I was fortunate enough to get a moment to speak with President Bush who promised to help us fight for answers. The President assigned our case to the White House military liaison, Terry Chauncey, who we loved at first sight. He facilitated a Presidential inquiry to the DOD debarment office asking for KGL’s participation. Otherwise, they would face suspension and possible debarment. It was a good moment and we quietly celebrated.
We thought, “This is the end, it will be over soon…you cannot get much higher than the President of the United States of America. Commander in Chief…right!!!! Now, thank God. Finally some peace: we can get some real answers and hold KGL accountable.
Not so fast…
The Army sent out an official request for KGL’s response from their office.
KGL then hired an ex-debarment official, retired Gen. Bednar, of Crowell and Moring, as their counsel. He quickly went into the DOD debarment office and had off record discussions about our case. Ahhh — the good ole boy club. Something we should have seen coming, but it seemed incredible that a retired General would defend a foreign contractor on a case from the President of the United States against an Army family. Rocky was a Commander who had served in Iraq and died for his country!
Well, believe it — it happened.
The debarment office quickly ended our relationship, except for one last off the record conversation my father had with the Army Debarment official, who told him, “ Hey Dominic, what can I do? This guy used to be my boss.” The Army official said that there was nothing more he or we could do unless we won the case.
How is that for pressure?
And how, may I ask, is it possible for KGL, a foreign contractor serving the interest of the United States, to be able to trump the debarment inquiry from the President ,Commander in Chief?
Well they did, and the debarment inquiry very quietly went on hold –indefinitely. The White House Liaison was fired and sent to Japan. We never saw another person from the White House.
We learned in that moment, that we had no idea what we were dealing with.
The game of High Stakes Poker just went up.
They showed us who was boss, KGL continued their position of silence a lot more confidently, even ignoring service to participate in the current court proceeding by the US Federal Court’s Judge Duffy. Finally, in response to their arrogance, the Georgia Courts would agree to our argument for jurisdiction and awarded our family the default judgment of $4.9 million dollars.
Seems incredible doesn’t it?
This victory, however as we were warned, would be short-lived.
Personam Jurisdiction — which meant the US could rule against the settlement if KGL could prove they had no business ties with the United States. (Which to us seemed impossible given the millions and millions in payments KGL had received as a government contractor from the Army and the Air Force, and KBR, Bechtel…it’s impossible to name them all.
And as you guessed it: KGL would appeal using this law “personam jurisdiction”. I call it a “get out of court free card.” gift wrapped from the FARS.
We knew we were going to lose, but we didn’t care…The battle went forward.
KGL used all means available to fight the jurisdiction with an entire team of lawyers who scheduled a Sept 11th deposition with KGL officers finally coming to America.
The silence was broken. We had waited a long time for this.
My first and only meeting with them, began with a handshake and an apology, asking me not to take any of this personally. OMG….OMG….Who says that? I was locked into a gag order by my lawyer or I would have come out with every*7%%# I could think of .
Instead I sat there seething while in the deposition…listening to their testimony about how small and helpless they were. Didn’t we know it was a war? Their limited employees lost records; there was no help to be able to find them; and on and on… I couldn’t believe this. Did they not know their website was public domain? It currently stated they had over 6,000 employees! This approach could not work in court!
Well, I was wrong.
The court date came up and KGL with their team of lawyers, swept into the courtroom to fight the personam jurisdiction On the stand their witnesses gave the impression KGL was the size of a shoe department behind the bowling alley.
It made me want to puke. The worst part was watching my father and mother’s heads sink into their laps in utter despair. They were humiliated by the experience.
Did this affect KGL?
Oh yeah. Right!
– So much so, that each time someone got off the stand from their side, I would see the smile and knowing looks between them and the slight side high five — like “Good Job…!!!!!”
The judge watched too. It didn’t really matter. The Judge’s hands were tied by the law. This was America, where the law actually meant something.
It seemed that although the Judge would have liked to award justice to us, this would have required a path toward new law he was unwilling or unable to take. Once awarded a $4.9 million default judgment, Judge Duffy would be forced to overturn the decision based upon KGL’s claim of Personam Jurisdiction.
Disbelief and shock does not come close to expressing how discouraged we were by the process at that time!
Our Advice for future cases: Do not try for your day in court until the law can be changed for military families. It was too much — like going through his death twice.
After digging out of our depression, we shook off the pain, and looked again for justice. This time we would work to influence Congress by using our personal experience to improve future legislation.
We poured our hearts and souls into learning about personam jurisdiction for foreign contractors and the fight in us really got stronger Washington saw us , monthly, as we spoke with every legislative staffer that would listen to us as we raised problem after problem we had faced. Our fight became a National Issue, moving from our own personal battle to one that could be used as a model to change military and public policy.
Our message was clear: lack of personal jurisdiction rights for military families meant that if you served your country, and were harmed or died at the hands of a foreign contractor, or a domestic contractor using a foreign subcontractor, the company never could be held accountable in a US court. They have the protection of US law and the support of the US Army. The conflict of interest was glaring. The Army could not be unbiased in an investigation of their own when it had to choose between their soldiers or their contractors
Soon a second soldier would die in another crash with a KGL vehicle in 2008 with still more TCN’s victims’ complaints hidden in Middle East newspapers.
At the urging of our lawyers, Washington served as a second home. We found ourselves bringing brownies, the only allowed thank you, to the many Senate and Congressional staffers who listened to and learned from our first-hand experiences.
Our case moved from one of personal to one of national significance, turning into a model study of foreign contracting policy loopholes in the FARS. We showed a history of the military’s overdependence with other military contractors whenever media attention towards bad contracting gained a national spotlight in cases such as Blackwater, the electrocution of Ryan Maseth lawsuit, and the Jamie Leigh Jones rape case. On and on we complained for ourselves and all of the other victims that no one knew about.
It was during this process that the LTC Rocky Baragona Act was born.
Lunchroom conversations between staffers brought our family’s plight to the attention of Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chaired the Contracting Oversight Committee. The first inkling of legislation came to her from a West Point military staffer on her team, Stephen Hedger. Hedger shared same birthday as Rocky, June 14th Flag Day, the Army’s Birthday and he was also a West Point Graduate.. Steve called us in on one of our visits to tell us about the legislation, and we jumped at the opportunity to help move it forward.
The LTC Baragona Act we learned, in simple terms, will stop foreign contractors from evading responsibility in civil actions and require them to participate in the US court system or face debarment.
No longer could companies like KGL put military families through the emotional turmoil we had been through. A sister bill sponsored by Congressman Tim Ryan (who had attended the same high school as my brother) would soon follow. The bill was now gaining support on a bipartisan basis from both sides of the aisle with Senators Collins, Bennett, Brown and Martinez signed on.
Dominic Baragona, my father, testified at a homeland security hearing on the bill to ask for the Wild West of Contracting used by KGL to end. He pleaded to have what happened to us never happen again. It was an emotional hearing. Sen. Claire McCaskill stood up and spoke words of dismay in an open forum about how a military family would be forced to do their own investigation. It was a small moment of triumph in Rocky’s name.
The hearing was followed with a letter from Representatives Tim Ryan and Steve Driehaus to the Department of Justice with a request for a criminal investigation of KGL’s unethical business practices in both our case and that of others.
In the case of KGL’s bad practices, our family continued to dig further and found new evidence of their subsidiary company, “Combined Shipping Company”. This company is in a joint business venture with the Iranian Government in partnership with a company banned on the US treasury SDN list as a proliferator of WMD’s IRISL’s Val Fajr. We turned all of this over to DODIG with further evidence from a newspaper article showing that the company wanted to increase their presence in the port and shipping industries while IRAN was snubbing their nose at the US/Iranian Sanctions.
Our discovery helped to lay the groundwork for section 102 in the Iran’s Sanction’s Act, with the support of a consultant on our case, Andy Cochran, from the Perles Law Firm. A letter to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, from Congressmen Brad Sherman and Ron Klein has now asked that KGL not be considered for future procurement contracts. Again, along with Congress, we have personally asked for KGL’s debarment. Currently KGL is bidding on over 2 billion in US military contracts.
The curtain is starting to be pulled back on bad contracting players. Foreign and Domestic Contractors have been blatantly abusing their immunity, hiding behind jurisdiction, with little oversight for far too long.
The danger of our US Military’s overdependence on contractors allows for minimal oversight and is a minefield for corruption on both sides.
The Baragona case vs. KGL represents most of what is wrong with foreign contracting companies who use taxpayer dollars to further a war for their own profits; putting in harm’s way all of our brave soldiers who have relied on them as their base for support.
American citizens must demand from our policy makers the courage to change these laws with clear lines on how to enforce them. Families like ours need solutions in jurisdictional laws, so companies like KGL do not go unnoticed. We applaud Sen. McCaskill and Rep. Sherman for their efforts to level the playing field between domestic and foreign contractors.
With the passage of the Iran’s Sanction Amendments and the potential for the “LTC Rocky Baragona Act” to become law, we can balance contracting performance in our favor. This will allow for due process against bad players to take place, which in turn, forces other foreign companies to realign their policies with US principles if they want to do business with us.
Our fight for justice is far from over. We went to Washington yet again for the Weekend of Remembrance, honoring all our soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We visited Arlington to talk to Rocky and we updated him on our criminal investigation hopes.
We also visited our staffers and lobbied on behalf of the bill. All of it has been worth it.
Rocky would say “The Truth has Changed” and we would agree.
“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst but tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” It was a model for my brother’s life.
I hope we are carrying on Rocky’s legacy by doing the same.
Contact Pam Baragona through this website.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Stephen Serrano was a wonderful child. He was always laughing. His laugh was infectiousand his smile was ear to ear and showed every feature. I loved seeing him smile.
He loved music and children. He left behind a wife, Sophia and 5 children, four of them step children. His youngest son turned a year old on May 18th, 2008, five days after he was killed, three days after his body was found. He was a star athlete in football, baseball and wrestling. He played football for the Orangevale Huskies, baseball for Sunrise Little League in Orangevale, CA. and wrestled for Marina Jr High in El Dorado Hills, CA.. He loved the outdoors. He was a wonderful son. He made me laugh. He had a great sense of humor. He had many friends. He was a brother to Shaleen Serrano, Jyoti Serrano, Savannah Rahman, Michael Serrano, Sean McKenney and Jordan Serrano. He joined the Marines in March 2007. He was with the 1st Marine Division, 2d Battalion, and 5th Marines and was a Private First Class. He was born in Bronx, NY on December 17th, 1987.
I remember May 15th 2008 as if it were yesterday, probably because it plays in my mind at least three times a day since then. The sky was blue and the air was warm; warmest it had been all year so far. I had felt ill a couple days before and today I just felt anxious like I forgot something. I headed to work thinking it will pass, but as the hours crawled by I felt a strong urge to speak to my son, Stephen.
After hours of calling and getting his voice mail I finally headed home and called the barracks. I asked them to check and see if Stephen’s toothbrush was in his room. The Major came back on the phone and said it was. I blurted out “What if he has been murdered!?” Stephen never left overnight without his toothbrush and although his comrades stated they had seen him that morning I had a sinking feeling they didn’t. I called Stephen’s phone carrier and asked when the last call was made, they said 10:30 am on May 13th. I called his wife and she hadn’t heard from him since that morning of May 13th.
The last time I spoke to him was that Sunday, Mother’s Day when he called to say have a great day and I love you momma. I frantically called the barracks again and as soon as I hung up I received a call from my daughter in law. They had found Stephen. She identified him by his tattoo. I screamed and dropped the phone and begged God to help me.
Was he reaching for me? In some kind of way, the only way he could? Did he just realize what had happened to him? All I could see is him lying there. Wanting me to save him, as I always did before. Him begging me to wake him up from this nightmare. He probably was wondering why he was wandering for a day or two. Then, did he see himself from above? Broken on the grass? In a ditch left there to be found by a stranger? Who could have done such a thing? He was just a kid trying to grow up and fit in.
That was the beginning of the end for me.
Proud Mother of Pfc. Stephen C. Serrano – Christl McKenney
I created a Facebook page RIP Stephen Serrano http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/RIP-Stephen-Serrano/108437562534397