Retired Navy admiral arrested in bribery case linked to government contract

WASHINGTON (AP) — A retired four-star admiral who was once the Navy's second highest ranking officer was arrested Friday on charges that he helped a company secure a government contract for a training program in exchange for a lucrative job with the firm.

Robert Burke, who served as vice chief of naval operations, faces federal charges including bribery and conspiracy for what prosecutors allege was a corrupt scheme that led to the company hiring him after his retirement in 2022 with a starting annual salary of $500,000. He oversaw naval operations in Europe, Russia, and most of Africa.

Also charged in the case are Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger, who are co-chief executive officers of the company. The company is not named in court papers, but Kim and Messenger are named as the CEOs on the website for a company called NextJump, which provides training programs.

“The law does not make exceptions for admirals or CEOs. Those who pay and receive bribes must be held accountable,” said Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. “The urgency is at its greatest when, as here, senior government officials and senior executives are allegedly involved in the corruption.”

Burke, 62, of Coconut Creek, Florida, made his initial appearance in Miami on Friday but didn’t enter a plea during the hearing, according to defense attorney Timothy Parlatore. The lawyer said Burke will plead not guilty and intends to clear his name at trial.

“I think a jury will see through this,” Parlatore said.

Burke conditionally retired from the Navy on July 31, 2022. Senior officers will often conditionally retire if there are administrative matters pending.

Rear Adm. Ryan Perry said the Department of the Navy has fully cooperated with the investigation.

“We take this matter very seriously and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice,” Perry said in a statement.

Kim and Messenger’s company provided a workforce training pilot program to a component of the Navy from August 2018 through July 2019. The Navy terminated the pilot program in late 2019 and directed the company not to contact Burke.

But the two company executives arranged to meet with Burke in Washington, D.C., in July 2021. During the meeting, Kim and Messenger proposed that Burke use his Navy position to steer them a contract in exchange for future employment at the company, the indictment alleges.

In December 2021, Burke ordered his staff to award a $355,000 contract to train personnel under Burke’s command in Italy and Spain, according to the indictment. Burke began working at the company in October 2022.

Parlatore noted that the value of that contract was smaller than Burke's starting salary.

“There was no connection between this contract and his employment.” Parlatore said. “The math just doesn’t make sense that he would give them this relatively small contract for that type of a job offer."


Associated Press writer Lolita C, Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.