Having established ongoing relationships with local suppliers as well as the Stratex/TFI partners — and as tensions mounted between several of the employees of Ultra Services and John Dawkins — Charles Phillips proposed creating a new venture: with newly renamed TFI International LLC, Geoff Nordloh, and two of Ultra Services’ Turkish managers, Bora Tuncay and Egemen Çakmak.
Charles Phillips suggested bringing in Michael Finkelstein, a third Stanford Business School classmate, as a shareholder in Irex Ltd. Finkelstein was to look into financing for Irex Ltd but would never travel to Turkey. While little came of Finkelstein’s participation, by February of 2004 a message would be posted on the www.irex-services.com website that identified Charles Phillips, Michael Finkelstein, and Bora Tuncay in hostile terms.14 By the end of March 2004, Tuncay’s name would be removed from the hostile message leaving just the names of Phillips and Finkelstein.
It was in this environment, that on the afternoon of October 9, 2003, one week after the website for Irex Ltd had been registered, and as the clash of personalities was rapidly giving way to open hostility among several of those at Ultra Services, Kirk von Ackermann mysteriously disappeared.
It was in this area that I’ve heard John describe to me. This area where there's a rise: you go up a hill or up a long slope and, there’s some rock out-croppings at the top. Where the car was found was just past this area. It was an area that when John and Kirk had driven past it a number of times before, Kirk had remarked was dangerous. ‘If somebody’s gonna make trouble for you on this road, this is the most dangerous spot.’ I had this image that you’re coming up this hill, and then these rock out-croppings, and you can hide a thousand people in the rocks and you would never see them until it's too late.
And that’s exactly where Kirk ended up going missing from. – Geoff Nordloh
After his disappearance, von Ackermann’s previous contacts with Russians in Istanbul would later lead some of his colleagues to wonder if he had left voluntarily or perhaps been “picked up” by Russian agents. Since von Ackermann was licensed to carry a pistol, Ryan Manelick had told Colin Freeman, “[Kirk] would usually have shot the hell out of anybody who tried to harm him.”15 There were no signs of struggle or a gunfight where his car had been found.
Back when John Dawkins had first arrived in the region, he and an Iraqi employee, Omar, had given a ride to British journalist Colin Freeman then traveling into Baghdad from Jordan.
A local part time Iraqi assistant to Freeman eventually became Manelick’s full time assistant. On the day Manelick was killed, his assistant was elsewhere. As a result, the assistant’s lucky timing also caused some at Ultra Services to suspect him as having had a hand in Manelick’s death.
Freeman would later write the two most extensive articles to date on the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann and the murder of Ryan Manelick.
Colin Freeman reported that according to Ryan’s father, Greg Manelick, his son maintained that the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann was connected to corruption: that large sums of money were being paid in kickbacks to a US Army officer in Iraq in return for contracts to another business associate at Ultra Services.16 However, the allegations of corruption would not immediately surface with von Ackermann’s disappearance.
It was not until Freeman's second article17 and a simultaneous article by Doug Waller in Time magazine,18 both published in February of 2005, that corruption allegations would surface in public in connection to the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann.
Having expressed similar fears to his family19 and an Army investigator by email,20 Ryan Manelick told a reporter the night before he died that he was in fear for his life.21 In less than 24 hours, his fears were realized.
There were two cars, Charles [Phillips] and Bora [Tuncay] were in one car and Ryan [Manelick] was in another with two Iraqi guys.
What Charles told me was, ‘We both left the base at the same time. We got out to the main road, and we went north to go back to Turkey, and Ryan’s car turned south to go back to Baghdad."
Charles said that maybe five to ten minutes after they split up and went their separate ways, his satellite phone rang, and all he heard was somebody screaming and yelling in Arabic.
He said he knew something was the matter.
Charles said he talked to the military to get them to do something, but he didn’t really stick around. He claimed he was afraid that John [Dawkins] had been involved in it somehow. So Charles and Bora raced back to Turkey as fast as they could.
When Charles called me he was, what’s the word?
A basket case. – Geoff Nordloh
Ryan Manelick is said to have told colleagues that if anything happened to him that John Dawkins would be responsible. John Dawkins would later maintain that the allegations of corruption originated with Charles Phillips as a means to discredit him in Iraq. Dawkins also believed that close to a quarter of a million dollars of Ultra Services’ funds were never properly accounted for, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars per month he believed were being “skimmed” from the company’s Baghdad office.
Toward the end of the year there’s open warfare between Charles and John.
Charles drew a bunch of money out of a joint account he had with John into an account that only he had access to. Charles’ claim was that he did it because he was worried that John might run off with the money he made and he wouldn’t be able to pay the suppliers, and that he would get virtually kneecapped by the Turkish suppliers. That’s the scenario he was painting. Geoff Nordloh
By January of 2004, relations had completely soured at Ultra Services resulting in a confrontation between Dawkins and Phillips. Dawkins threatened Phillips with arrest, resulting in Phillips staying at the American Embassy until he could leave for the US. Phillips’ and Nordloh’s business venture, Irex Ltd, would exist only as a legal entity having never received a single contract. Still, after his death, Irex Ltd. mistakenly identified as Irex Corp would be listed along side of Ultra Services as one of Ryan Manelick’s employers in his obituary.22
But according to Geoff Nordloh, within a year, the Turkish partners were sent packing back to Turkey after having been perceived as "back stabbers." They were believed to have been concurrently accepting payment from a Turkish construction company, Metag, active in Afghanistan, and were thought to have been paid to interfere with Mesopotamia Group LLC's business operations. Bora Tuncay, however, was adamant that they left Mesopotamia Group LLC voluntarily and that Nordloh mischaracterized their abrupt departure.
Also, within that first year, Mesopotamia Group LLC partnered with TFI International LLC and landed a subcontract with defense giant, Perini, for the Afghan National Army brigade facilities contracts. Currently in dispute, it is estimated that Perini owes the group upwards of $1.2 million.
By the end of 2004, in part due to the problems surrounding Ultra Services, CEO Glen Lockwood and TFI International LLC essentially "fired" Geoff Nordloh from the company. While Nordloh is still a 22% owner in TFI International LLC, the board without notice, would add a new partner, Mike Mertz, who had replaced Nordloh as Chief Financial Officer.
To further complicate matters, the website domain for Mesopotamia Group LLC, www.mesopotamiagroup.com, was hijacked in the summer of 2005.
Despite these difficulties, Mesopotamia Group LLC remains in operation today in Central Asia, with John Dawkins and Geoff Nordloh having established a successful working relationship.
In 2004, eight months after the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann and six months after the death of Ryan Manelick, it appeared that the US Army had finally begun an aggressive investigation into what had happened to the two men. Initially the investigation was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, based in Tikrit, Iraq. By May, the case had moved to the Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU) of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (HQCID) in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.23 The general assumption is that the Army’s renewed interest was the result of Greg Manelick’s tireless efforts to uncover the truth of who killed his son.
In August of 2005, Geoff Nordloh met with agents of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division for a second time. The investigation into the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann and the murder of Ryan Manelick was said to be close to “wrapping up.“
Editor's Note: Due to the insurgency in Iraq, ePluribus Media editors have chosen to use only first names for Iraqis mentioned in this article.
Susie Dow is the Editor of the weblog, The Missing Man, which follows articles on Kirk von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick. She is a volunteer researcher and editor at ePluribus Media. http://missingman.blogspot.com
Geoff Nordloh received his bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) from Princeton University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He received a full fellowship to study Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and completed his master’s degree there in 1993 followed by an MBA from its Graduate School of Business in June 1999.
From 1993 to 1997 he served as an officer in the United States Air Force, responsible for the launch, deployment, and operations of several communications satellite programs. Nordloh co-founded Mesopotamia Group LLC and now serves as the company’s CFO traveling between the United States and Afghanistan.
Steven Reich is a writer living in Los Angeles, California.
Transcription: Willkie Stevens
Contributors: wanderindiana, cho, standingup, vivian, rba, roxy317
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