Former Vice Chief of Naval Operations Robert Burke Arrested by Feds on Bribery Charges

May 31, 2024 3:03 PM - Updated: May 31, 2024 5:58 PM
Adm. Robert Burke

This post has been updated with comments from Robert Burke’s attorney.

A retired Vice Chief of Naval Operations was arrested Friday on charges of bribery stemming from an alleged government contract scheme between 2020 and 2022.

Robert Burke, a retired four-star admiral, allegedly worked with two chief executive officers to arrange a contract with their company to provide training for the Navy in exchange for a position with the company.

Burke is charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, performing acts to affect a personal financial interest and concealing material facts. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted, according to the Department of Justice. Burke denies the charges, his lawyer Timothy Parlatore told USNI News on Friday.

Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger, the co-CEOs of the company, which was not named in the Department of Justice release, were also arrested.

The two face charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery and each face up to 20 years in prison. The two are listed as the co-chief executives of a training company called Next Jump based out of New York City.

Allegedly, Kim and Messenger secured a government contract to provide training for a group in the Navy from 2018 to 2019, when the Navy ended the contract and ordered Burke to no longer contact the two CEOs.

Kim and Messenger allegedly reached out multiple times to Burke, eventually having a call in which Burke said he wanted to work with the company, which Kim said would need to be attached to a deal, according to the indictment.

Messenger allegedly “felt slimy” following the call, but Kim was calm, reads the indictment.

Instead, the three met in 2021 to set up a situation in which Burke would use his influence as a Navy admiral to get the company a contract with the Navy, the release alleges.

“They allegedly further agreed that Burke would use his official position to influence other Navy officers to award another contract to Company A to train a large portion of the Navy with a value Kim allegedly estimated to be ‘triple digit millions,’” reads the release.

The DoJ alleges that in 2021, while serving as the Navy’s top officer in Europe, Burke ordered his staff to award a contract to Messenger’s and Kim’s company to train naval personnel in Italy and Spain. The contract was worth $355,000, according to the release.

As part of the agreement, Burke also would stay in the Navy for six months in order to convince other naval officers to award Next Jump contracts, according to the indictment. For example, Burke introduced Kim and Messenger to Fleet Forces U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Daryl Caudle via a March 14, 2022 email, reads the indictment. On March 28, 2022, Burke forwarded a proposal from Next Jump to Caudle to provide their services for a foreign military.

In a May 25, 2022 email from Burke to what the DoJ identifies as a “senior foreign military official,” Burke tells the official he had “put together a proposal for wider U.S. Navy implementation.”

“To conceal the scheme, Burke allegedly made several false and misleading statements to the Navy, including by creating the false appearance that Burke played no role in issuing the contract and falsely implying that Company A’s employment discussions with Burke only began months after the contract was awarded,” the release reads.

Burke started working with Next Jump in October 2022. A post on social media announces Burke as a senior partner.

The DoJ release lists Burke’s compensation with Next Jump as $500,000 and 100,000 stock options.

Burke made his first appearance in court in Florida late Friday afternoon and is set to be arraigned in Washington, D.C., shortly, Parlatore said.

“We intend to go to trial and we expect that he will be found not guilty,” Paralotre said.
“The biggest problem with this indictment is the timeline. The DOJ wrongly believes that there was a job offer and job agreement far earlier than there was. There is no quid pro quo, no job for contracts whatsoever … It looks odd he did later go work for them but he did not get into serious contract negotiations until the appropriate time and with the appropriate permissions.”

In a statement, the Navy said the service “cooperated with this investigation from the onset. We take this matter very seriously and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice.”

The service referred USNI News to the DoJ for additional information.

Parlatore confirmed the investigation began while Burke was still on active duty. His final retirement grade as a four-star admiral was under review as a result.

“We’ve known about this investigation for a while,” Parlatore told USNI News.

Burke, a native of Portage, Mich., earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in electrical engineering from Western Michigan University and the University of Central Florida, respectively. He has served on both attack and ballistic missile submarines, including USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632), USS Maryland (SSBN-738) and USS Bremerton (SSN-698). Burke commanded USS Hampton (SSN-767) and was the commodore of Submarine Development Squadron (DEVRON) 12 based in Groton, Conn., according to his Navy biography.

Heather Mongilio and Sam LaGrone

Heather Mongilio and Sam LaGrone are USNI News staff writers

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