published on February 2, 2016 - 7:00 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

A federal jury found Joaquin Cuenca guilty Monday of three counts of wire fraud in a scheme to obtain bonuses as part of a California National Guard recruiting program.

Cuenca, 38, of San Diego, was a full-time recruiter for the California National Guard in Fresno and defrauded a military recruiting program out of thousands of dollars.

The Guard Recuiting Assistance Program (G-RAP) offered financial incentives to guard members and others who nominated new enlistees. If a nominee ultimately enlisted, the nominator was typically eligible to receive $1,000 on englistment and another $1,000 when the nominee left for basic training.

Actual California National Guard recruiters were not eligible for the bonuses, since it was aimed at other soldiers referring recruits. Ultimately, the G-RAP program was discontinued due to widespread fraud.

Cuenca fed information about new recruits to soldiers who were eligible for G-RAP. These soldiers (or Cuenca himself) would then enter the information about the new soldier online and claim the bonus. Cuenca would often receive a portion of the bonuses.

“Cuenca joins the ranks of others who have been brought to justice for defrauding G‑RAP and the Army National Guard,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner. “Cuenca and his co-schemers discovered a natural flaw in the program and exploited it. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to uncover and prosecute fraud and abuse of taxpayer money.”

Cuenca is the second person to be convicted in this federal court district in the last 10 days in connection with fraud with G-RAP. On January 22, 2016, Richard Sihner, 54, of Elk Grove was convicted by a jury in Sacramento of 18 counts of wire fraud and making false statements.

Cuenca is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd on May 16. Cuenca faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of wire fraud.

Several guard members and recruiters have been charged in similar schemes. Nicholas Huerta, 33, of Fresno pleaded guilty to wire fraud in Sept. 14, 2015 , and charges are pending against Jimmy Maldonado, 35, a recruiter, and his wife Mayra Garcia Maldonado, 29, a recruiting assistant, both of Fresno.

They are allegedly responsible for causing $40,000 in fraudulent bonuses. Trial is scheduled for May 3.

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