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FBI probes shooting of contractor in Iraq

| Friday, Jan. 21, 2005

The FBI is investigating the fatal shooting in Iraq of a U.S. contractor from Washington County who had accused Iraqi military officials of corruption days before his death.

Dale Stoffel, 43, of Monongahela, was shot to death Dec. 8 in a roadside ambush while returning to Baghdad after discussing the corruption claims with coalition military officials at a northern Iraqi military base. Stoffel's business associate, Joseph Wemple, 49, of Orlando, Fla., also was killed.

The killings came after Stoffel alerted senior U.S. officials in Washington that Iraqi Defense Ministry officials were part of a kickback scheme involving a multimillion-dollar contract awarded to his company, Wye Oak Technology, to refurbish old Iraqi military equipment, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

A group called the Brigades of the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the killings about a week later and posted photographs and identity documents on an Internet site frequently used by Iraqi insurgents.

The FBI investigates all killings of U.S. citizens overseas, spokesman Joe Parris said Thursday. He declined to comment on the Stoffel investigation.

Another federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the continuing probe, said one aspect of the investigation concerns whether Stoffel was killed because of his accusations of corruption.

The official, however, said no evidence has yet emerged to support or disprove the theory. Americans in Iraq are obvious targets for anti-American insurgents, and the strong possibility remains that Stoffel and Wemple simply were victims of the insurgency.

Investigators in Iraq are hampered by the difficult security situation, with FBI personnel usually traveling with military escorts to interview people and collect evidence.

Stoffel made his allegations in a Dec. 3 letter to a senior Pentagon official and in a meeting with aides to Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn Hills.

Soon after, Stoffel was summoned to the Taji military base in Iraq by coalition military officials to discuss his concerns about his contract. He complained about payment problems with a mysterious Lebanese businessman designated by the Iraqis as a middleman, the Times reported, quoting anonymous sources.

Stoffel's brother, David, who founded Wye Oak Technology, declined comment last night when reached at his home in Moundsville, W.Va.

Stoffel's mother, Carol Stoffel of Monongahela, said the family had no comment.

"Dale didn't talk about it. We won't talk about it," she said.

Stoffel, who also was the executive vice president of international development for Canonsburg-based CLI Corp., knew he was risking his life but believed his plan to rehabilitate Iraqi military vehicles was worth the risk because it would help bring U.S. troops home sooner, a colleague said yesterday.

CLI President William Stein said Stoffel was in Iraq because he believed in what he was doing.

"Dale had conceived a very good plan to help the Iraqis help themselves," he said.

Iraq has "acres and acres" of military vehicles that can be rehabilitated so the country can re-establish its military forces, Stein said. The sooner Iraq does that, the sooner the United States can pull its troops out of the country.

"To the extent we can bring our troops home sooner, that's worthwhile," Stein said.

Stoffel had been even more concerned about his safety after making the allegations.

"He was always cognizant of the position he was in," Stein said.

As Stoffel, Wemple and an Iraqi interpreter left the Taji base Dec. 8, another vehicle rammed their car head-on. Two masked men jumped out and executed the two Americans in a fusillade of bullets, according to news accounts at the time.

Stoffel's death has prompted new worries about the integrity of the reconstruction effort in Iraq, which has been plagued by accusations of corruption and cronyism almost from the start.

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