Despite pleading guilty and agreeing to forfeit millions of dollars in possessions, a convicted war profiteer is still living the high life and has avoided going to prison. Charlene Corley pleaded guilty in August of last year to conspiracy charges to commit wire fraud and money laundering after she and her sister overcharged the Department of Defense by more than $20 million in excess shipping charges. Corley, however, still has her numerous homes, at least four of them ranging from $600,000 to $900,000, each and part of her collection of cars, which includes at least two Mercedes Benzes.
As owners of C & D Distributors, Corley and her twin sister Darlene Wooten took advantage of the government's need to expedite supplies to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their scam involved attaching large shipping costs to small, inexpensive items including washers, specialty screws and cotter pins all purchased by the Defense Department.
In one instance, they charged the US government nearly a $1 million to ship a pair of 19-cent washers. Prosecutors say their scheme netted the sisters a windfall of $20.5 million.
Despite the nature of the crime and amount of money involved, Corley remains free for the foreseeable future. All of Corley's homes and automobiles are slated for seizure by the South Carolina U.S. Attorney's office, but have yet to be taken from Corley despite her guilty plea last summer.
"It certainly is frustrating that somebody who was caught exploiting the system continues to exploit the system to avoid punishment," said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project.
Corley's attorney recently asked for more time to respond to the pre-sentencing report, a request that was granted. There is no sentencing hearing scheduled in the case so Corley will remain out of prison for the foreseeable future.
"We're not pleased at all with being put into this situation," lead prosecutor Debbie Barbier told ABCNews.com regarding the extension granted to Corley's attorney.
"But we're trying to get as many of these assets identified and forfeited as quickly as possible," said Barbier. "It's a very important case to us."
Barbier noted that the government will not move completely on the seizures until after Corley is sentenced. Because there are so many assets involved, both the IRS and the US Marshal Service are handling the forfeitures. This long process also allows for the possibility of third parties putting in a claim on any assets.
When C & D Distributors entered their guilty plea last year, all possessions resulting from the $20.5 million in excess shipping costs became subject to seizure. This included eight pieces of property, four of which have been confirmed by ABC News to be houses now on sale through realtors. Barbier noted that the government would not necessarily need to accept a sale price if it is deemed too low, as the homes may still be seen at auction.
Meanwhile, Corley's attorney says that Corley herself has begun to sell the items slated for seizure, to ensure that a fair price is received.
"We're not interested in selling it at a fire sale," Corley's lawyer, Greg Harris, told ABCNews.com. "We were concerned that if the government took possession, that was going to occur."
Harris says that Corley has already sold four of her cars including a 2007 Mercedes for $72,000, a 2007 BMW, and a 2006 Lexus. He says that the money from the sales has gone directly to the bank, as the first lienholder, not Corley nor her legal defense. Harris said after the bank receives what it is owed, the government would be next to be paid back.
Harris insisted that Corley was not living in any of the houses that she purchased with her ill-gotten gains, but in a house where she has resided for years, though he did acknowledge that she may have used some of the money to improve that home. That residence is also slated for seizure by the government.
After their actions were discovered, Corley's sister committed suicide, but not before writing the government a check in excess of $4 million to help pay back the shipping costs.
Corley faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of the two counts.
Matthew Zimmerman is a 2008 Carnegie Fellow at ABC News. He is a student at the University of Missouri Graduate School of Journalism.