Procurement Fraud and Grant Fraud enforcement programs are likely to be revitalized by the Trump Administration.

It’s no shock that a political change in the Executive Branch leads to an increase in grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement. The reason? There is low risk in scrutinizing grants and contracts awarded by the outgoing administration. Whatever shenanigans are discovered by a new Administration will have occurred during the term of the previous administration and any negative economic impacts from pulling a grant or imposing a fine, will only impact the grant recipient and, potentially, its subcontractors, who are often presumed by an incoming Administration to have stronger ties to its predecessor.

Imagine you are a high-level Department of Justice official in a new administration positioned to deploy resources toward matters you believe most merit investigation and possible prosecution.  You will need to work on accomplishing the new Administrations mission as well as continue to satisfy your existing management chain with positive results.  What is the best way to move forward in this environment.

The most obvious way is to go after the low-hanging fruit: to aim the enforcement initiative at situations in which there is a high risk/reward ratio. Nowhere in white collar enforcement, is this ratio more favorable than in the realm of grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement (GFPFE). Contributing to the richness of this area from an enforcement standpoint is that since 2009 the enforcement apparatus adopted a rigid prevention model, decreased the number of federal agents developing cases, increased barriers between the investigations and audit components of the Office of Inspector Generals (OIG’s) and made it more difficult to engage in aggressive or effective GFPFE.[1] This shift away from effective GFPFE in 2009 coincided with the largest spending increase in government history so it stands to reason there will be plenty of cases worth developing.

* * * Click Here for the Rest of the #GFPFE Analysis * * *


Investment Company Executives Indicted for $1.5 Billion Ponzi Scheme

The president and chief executive officer and two former Asia-based executives of a Las Vegas investment company were indicted today for their roles in an alleged $1.5 billion Ponzi scheme.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden of the District of Nevada and Special Agent in Charge Laura A. Bucheit of the FBI’s Las Vegas Division made the announcement.

“The defendants allegedly preyed on thousands of unsuspecting Japanese victims to enrich themselves by operating a billion-plus dollar Ponzi scheme,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “This prosecution shows that the Criminal Division will pursue not only those who victimize American citizens, but also those who use the U.S. as a home base to defraud victims abroad.”

“Investment fraud and other financial fraud cases are a high priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada,” said U.S. Attorney Bogden.  “These defendants are accused of using a Nevada corporation to conduct their $1.5 billion fraud scheme and falsely telling thousands of overseas victims that their investments would be safely held and managed by an independent, third-party escrow agent in Nevada.  Fraudulent ruses and schemes perpetrated by Nevadans using Nevada corporations and entities will continue to be addressed by this office.”

“These indictments are a reminder of the FBI’s determination to identify, investigate and bring to justice those who are committing financial crimes against innocent consumers,” said Special Agent in Charge Bucheit.  “We are appreciative of the continued support we receive from our international, federal, state and local law enforcement partners.”

Edwin Fujinaga, 68, of Las Vegas; Junzo Suzuki, 66, of Tokyo; and Paul Suzuki, 36, of Tokyo, were charged in an indictment with eight counts of mail fraud and nine counts of wire fraud.  Fujinaga also is charged with three counts of money laundering.  The indictment seeks from all three defendants forfeiture of the proceeds from the alleged crimes.

Fujinaga was the president and CEO of Las Vegas-based MRI International Inc. (MRI).  Junzo Suzuki previously was MRI’s executive vice president for Asia Pacific, and Paul Suzuki previously was the company’s general manager for Japan operations.  MRI purportedly specialized in “factoring,” whereby the company purchased accounts receivable from medical providers at a discount, and then attempted to recover the entire amount, or at least more than the discounted amount, from the debtor.

According to allegations in the indictment, from at least 2009 to 2013, Fujinaga and the Suzukis fraudulently solicited investments from thousands of Japanese residents, and MRI currently owes investors over $1.5 billion.  Specifically, the indictment alleges that Fujinaga and the Suzukis promised investors a series of interest payments that would accrue over the life of the investment and that would be paid out along with the face value of the investment at the conclusion of the investments’ duration.  The defendants allegedly solicited investments by, among other things, promising investors that their investments would be used only for the purchase of medical accounts receivable (MARS) and by representing that investors funds would be managed and safeguarded by an independent third-party escrow company.

The indictment further alleges that MRI operated as a Ponzi scheme, wherein the defendants used new investors’ money to pay prior investors’ maturing investments.  According to the indictment, the defendants also allegedly used investors’ funds for purposes other than the purchase of MARS, including paying themselves sales commissions, subsidizing gambling habits, funding personal travel by private jet, and other personal expenses.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely accusations.  A defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Las Vegas Division.  Significant assistance was provided by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Japanese authorities.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Albert B. Stieglitz Jr. and Trial Attorney Melissa Aoyagi of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre of the District of Nevada.

If you believe you are a victim of this offense, please click on the following link for more information:


Antitrust Division Increasing Procurement Fraud Footprint Once Again

The Antitrust Division announced that a former owner and operator of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company was sentenced today to serve 50 months in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud Illinois-based Ryan International Airlines, the Department of Justice announced.

This is a legacy case reassigned from the shuttered Atlanta Field Office suggesting a successful and a smooth transition of its assignment to the Washington 1 Criminal Office (formerly the National Criminal Enforcement Section).    For any tea leaf readers, AAG Bill Baer’s comments in this press release (reprinted below) suggest renewed focus by the Antitrust Division into procurement fraud and an increasing willingness to open, investigate and charge matters that involve non Title 15 U.S.C Section 1 offenses in all types of procurements.  The “tell” here is subtle, but it is very significant.

 Baer’s quote today:

 “Awarding government contracts in exchange for payoffs is a crime the Antitrust Division takes seriously,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentence reaffirms the division’s commitment to vigorously prosecute individuals who engage in this behavior.”

If you know the history of Title 18 procurement prosecutions, Baer’s commitment to bringing future procurement fraud cases is significant.  The Antitrust Division was a significant player during the Bush years’ National Procurement Fraud Task Force.  Besides domestic kickback and other Title 18 cases, the Division brought many overseas contingency operations (then “WarZone”) prosecutions for bidding corruption and grant fraud.  In fact, the Division had wide berth to investigate and prosecute cases that involved “corruption of the bidding or award process.”  This was a wider mandate than simply bringing cases of horizontal collusion among competitors.  The National Procurement Fraud Task Force was incorporated into the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force early in the Obama administration and resources were reallocated to new enforcement priorities in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008.  As everyone viewed their new enforcement mission through a financial crimes prism, the focus of the Antitrust Division returned to a more restrictive view of its mission, i.e., bringing Sherman Act cases under 15 U.S.C. Section 1.  At the height of this limitation, for an investigation to receive authority to be opened, it had to include evidence that on its face could be construed classic horizontal bid rigging conduct. 

It is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but there is much that goes into the press release process that provides insights into enforcement agency gestalt, resource allocation, drive to open cases, and willingness to keep cases open and to charge cases, particularly marginal ones.  A press release also can provide insight into the AAG’s mindset and, sometimes, even more importantly from an agency effectiveness perspective, what people reporting to the AAG think his mindset is.

Today’s quote from AAG Baer is instructive.  It is in an active, broad and forceful voice. In a sweeping statement it links “kickbacks” and “the Antitrust Division” in the same sentence and suggests direct Antitrust Division intervention.  Most importantly, it suggests an interest in crimes involving the payment of kickbacks to award contracts (a Title 18 offense where a Section 1 agreement between competitors is usually not present).  It then states that when offenses like these are committed they will be “tak[en] seriously…[and will be vigorously prosecut[ed]” by the Antitrust Division.

Contrast this with Baer’s statement in September 2013 regarding another case on the same investigation:

“Today’s sentence should serve as a stiff deterrent to executives who might be tempted to solicit a kickback from their supplies in exchange for their honest services,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division. “The Antitrust Division is committed to ensuring that contracts are won based on competition and not collusion.”

The 2013 AAG quote literally suggests that deterrence is provided by the length of this sentence rather than by any threat of immediate action by the Antitrust Division.  It then links to a general principle that references the blanket requirement imposed earlier in the Administration that a horizontal agreement between competitors had to be present to justify resources.  It also should be recognized that “collusion” is a primarily a term of art within the Antitrust Division directed at collusion among competitors rather than collusion with a contract officer. 

Baer’s current statement is forward-looking and reaffirms that procurement fraud as a Division priority.   For all intents and purposes, AAG Baer has indicated to line attorneys and the outside world (most importantly, investigative agencies) that the Antitrust Division is again open for cases of “corruption of the bidding or award process.”   This strongly suggests a move away from an exclusive focus on Invitation for Bids (IFB) contracting to the massively larger pie of “everything else” including cost plus contracts, prime vendor contracts, sole source contracts and even the issuance of grants.

To advise clients regarding risk analysis, GeyerGorey LLP has been tracking this progression because in many hidden, but key areas, the Antitrust Division provides disproportionate value to the government’s procurement fraud mission by supporting the agency mission, helping resource investigations and by providing continuity to long investigations and program management.  This message has been received loud and clear by Antitrust Division rank and file and it is in the process of being received by the FBI, IRS-CID and 38 Inspectors General who immediately recognize that they can bring cases to Antitrust that require extensive resourcing or which have been declined.   With history as a guide, we expect procurement fraud investigation openings to increase substantially and we expect current investigations to be prolonged or rekindled as resources are reallocated with Antitrust Division resources.  



Former airline fuel owner sentenced in fraud scheme

Executive Sentenced to Serve 50 Months in Prison

A former owner and operator of a Florida-based airline fuel supply service company was sentenced today to serve 50 months in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud Illinois-based Ryan International Airlines, the Department of Justice announced.

Sean E. Wagner, the former owner and operator of Aviation Fuel International Inc. (AFI), was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach to serve 50 months in prison and to pay $202,856 in restitution.  On Aug. 13, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment against Wagner and AFI, charging them for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud Ryan. On March 6, 2014, Wagner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.   According to court documents, from at least as early as December 2005 through at least August 2009, Wagner and others at AFI made kickback payments to Wayne Kepple, a former vice president of ground operations for Ryan, totaling more than $200,000 in the form of checks, wire transfers, cash and gift cards in exchange for awarding business to AFI.  The charges against AFI were dismissed on Feb. 21, 2014.

Ryan provided air passenger and cargo services for corporations, private individuals and the U.S. government – including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Awarding government contracts in exchange for payoffs is a crime the Antitrust Division takes seriously,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentence reaffirms the division’s commitment to vigorously prosecute individuals who engage in this behavior.”

“This sentencing highlights the continuing commitment of the DCIS to thoroughly investigate and bring to justice any companies or individuals who engage in fraudulent and corrupt practices that undermine the integrity of Department of Defense procurement programs,” said John F. Khin, Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service Southeast Field Office.

As a result of the ongoing investigation, five individuals, including Wagner, have pleaded guilty and have been ordered to serve sentences ranging from 16 to 87 months in prison and to pay more than $780,000 in restitution.  An additional individual has pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation and is currently awaiting sentencing.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I office and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

DLA Piper’s Robert Connolly pens MLEX article regarding “The DOJ Antitrust Division’s policy on independent compliance monitors: is it misguided?”

Friend of the Firm, Robert Connolly, former Chief of the Philadelphia Field Office of the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice, now resident in DLA Piper’s Philadelphia Office last week penned an important contribution for MLEX regarding DOJ’s evolving policy regarding compliance monitors:  “The DOJ Antitrust Divsion’s policy on independent compliance monitors: is it misguided?”


U.S. Army Master Sergeant Pleads Guilty to Defrauding U.S. Government

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
U.S. Army Master Sergeant Pleads Guilty to Defrauding U.S. Government

WASHINGTON – A U.S. Army master sergeant pleaded guilty today to accepting thousands of dollars in gratuities from contractors during his deployment to Iraq as a field ordering officer at a forward operating base in Iraq, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina William N. Nettles.

Julio Soto Jr., 52, of Columbus, Ga., pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Chief Judge Margaret B. Seymour in the District of South Carolina to a criminal information charging him with one count of conspiracy to accept illegal gratuities.

According to court documents, Soto was a master sergeant in the U.S. Army, deployed to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer in Iraq, as a field ordering officer (FOO), a public official.  FOO funds are used to purchase miscellaneous items and supplies such as paint, lumber and plywood from local vendors.  It is a violation of federal law for field ordering officers to accept gratuities from contractors dependent upon them for contracts.

In or about March 2007 through October 2008, Soto, along with an alleged U.S. Army co-conspirator, was involved with the construction of a government building at FOB Hammer by local Iraqi contractors.  Soto and his alleged co-conspirator unlawfully sought, received and accepted illegal gratuities for helping Iraqi contractors gain U.S. government contracts, and then purchased U.S. Postal money orders with the illegal proceeds and mailed them back to the United States.

At sentencing, Soto faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss, and up to three years of supervised release.  As part of his plea agreement, Soto agreed to pay $62,542 plus interest in restitution to the United States.

This case is being prosecuted by Special Trial Attorney Mark Grider of the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, on detail from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean A. Eichelberger of the District of South Carolina.  The case is being investigated by SIGIR, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Major Procurement Fraud Unit of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.