Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Arrested in Alleged Bribery Scheme

US Admiral
Admiral Robert Burke assumed Allied Joint Force Command in Italy in 2020 (US Navy photo)

Published May 31, 2024 3:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

A decorated four-star U.S. Admiral now retired, who held senior command positions, was arrested today, May 31, along with two business associates on charges related to their alleged roles in a bribery scheme that involved a U.S. government contract. The U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Columbia is alleging that retired Navy Admiral Robert Burke, age 62 and living in Florida, accepted future employment at the executives’ company in exchange for awarding them a government contract and attempting to steer other government work to the company which the Navy had previously terminated.

Robert Burke was a four-star admiral who oversaw Naval operations in Europe, Russia, and most of Africa from 2020 to 2022 and commanded thousands of civilian and military personnel. In 2019, he was named Vice Chief of Naval Operations. During his career, he served on attack and ballistic missile submarines and held numerous high-ranking positions. His awards included the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (five awards), and various campaign and unit awards.

Yongchul “Charlie” Kim and Meghan Messenger were the co-CEOs of the leadership development company. While it is not named in the announcement, online they are identified as co-founders of Nextjump. The indictment states that their company provided a workforce training pilot program to a small component of the Navy from August 2018 through July 2019, but the Navy terminated a contract in late 2019. It also states that the company was directed not to contact Burke.

The indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves along with a broad team from the Justice Department, the Navy, and the FBI, with Burke, Kim, and Messenger each charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery. Burke is also charged with performing acts affecting a personal financial interest and concealing material facts from the United States. If convicted, Burke faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, and Kim and Messenger each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Announcing the case, they allegedly the two executives met with Burke in Washington, D.C., in July 2021, in an effort to reestablish a business relationship with the Navy. At the meeting, the defendants allegedly agreed that Burke would use his position as a Navy admiral to steer a sole-source contract to the company in exchange for future employment. They allegedly further agreed that Burke would use his official position to influence other Navy officers to award another contract to the company to train a large portion of the Navy with a value Kim allegedly estimated to be “triple digit millions.” 

Burke in December 2021, allegedly ordered his staff to award a $355,000 contract to the company to train personnel under Burke’s command in Italy and Spain. The company performed the training in January 2022 and Burke then allegedly promoted the company in a failed effort to convince a senior Navy admiral to award another contract to the company. 

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 the company’s employment discussions with Burke only began months after the contract was awarded. The indictment however alleges that Burke began working at the company in October 2022, at a yearly starting salary of $500,000 and with a grant of 100,000 stock options. 

This case is being investigated by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office.