American Grocers: Joins A Stellar List Of Companies Ripping Off Troops

This week's cover story in the Houston Press details the case of Houston-based American Grocers and its owner Samir Itani, charged with shipping expired food to troops stationed in the Middle East and ripping off the government with bogus shipping costs.

As noted in the story, "the case stretched far past Itani, unraveling to include food wholesalers in rural Texas, a Saudi sheik living in California, the largest commercial "merchant family" in Kuwait and some of the most prominent food companies in the United States." That's a whole lot of people ripping off the troops.

Which we think is bad. But it happens a whole bunch, and here are three other examples of American companies giving our troops the short end of the stick.

3. The Shoddy Millionaires. During the War Between the States, the enemy from the North awarded New York's Brooks Brothers a contract to supply Union soldiers with uniforms. According to the Encyclopedia of White Collar and Corporate Crime, the contract was won with a gift to a state treasurer's wife, and then, "The clothier used lighter weight and, in some cases, rotting cloth."

The uniforms didn't fit well and some "lacked buttons or buttonholes." Brooks Brothers replaced the shoddy uniforms.

2. GM and Standard Oil played both sides. General Motors produced a bunch of tanks and trucks for American troops during World War II, and Standard Oil (now Exxon, of course) provided the fuel to run them. Trouble was, the bosses at GM were a bunch of Nazis.

The company continued to produce equipment for the German military and did such a good job that Hitler himself awarded the GM president with the Order of Merit or the Golden Eagle for "his services to Nazi Germany."

Standard Oil was playing the same game, determined to keep a foothold in whichever nation won the war.

The company was accused of treason, denying it by saying the relationship with the Nazis was actually an attempt to learn Hitler's secrets.

1. KBR. Enough said. Houston's own KBR has got to love war. It makes so much damn money off it. But allegations from recent years about the company in Iraq and Afghanistan are simply disgusting.

Apparently, the company disposes of toxic waste at military bases by way of burn pits. They burn things like "mangled bits of metal, paint, solvent, medical waste, even dead animals."

Military personnel living on the bases have, in the worst cases, gotten cancer and died. Others have trouble breathing. KBR blames the Army for the burn pits.

Then there are the electrocutions in the showers. According to the New York Times, a KBR electrician wrote in his resignation letter to the company that "unsafe electrical work was 'a disaster waiting to happen.'"

Apparently, KBR did nothing, and the disasters happened. In 2008, a "highly decorated Green Beret...died a painful death in Iraq..." when he turned on his shower and was electrocuted. There had been similar deaths, and the Army even had to issue to its soldiers "Electrocution: the Unexpected Killer."

KBR says it is not responsible for the deaths.

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Paul Knight
Contact: Paul Knight