Western New York Contractors and Two Owners to Pay More Than $3 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Alden, New York-based contractors, Zoladz Construction Company Inc. (ZCCI), Arsenal Contracting LLC (Arsenal), and Alliance Contracting LLC (Alliance), along with two owners, John Zoladz of Darien, New York, and David Lyons of Grand Island, New York, have agreed to pay the United States more than $3 million to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by improperly obtaining federal set-aside contracts designated for service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVO) small businesses, the Justice Department announced today.    

“Contracts are set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses so to afford veterans with service-connected disabilities the opportunity to participate in federal contracting and gain valuable experience to help them compete for future economic opportunities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Every time an ineligible contractor knowingly pursues and obtains such set-aside contracts, they are cheating American taxpayers at the expense of service-disabled veterans.”

To qualify as a SDVO small business, a service-disabled veteran must own and control the company.  The United States alleged that Zoladz recruited a service-disabled veteran to serve as a figurehead for Arsenal, which purported to be a legitimate SDVO small business but which was, in fact, managed and controlled by Zoladz and Lyons, neither of whom is a service-disabled veteran.  The United States alleged that Arsenal was a sham company that had scant employees of its own and instead relied on Alliance and ZCCI employees to function.  After receiving numerous SDVO small business contracts, Arsenal is alleged to have subcontracted nearly all of the work under the contracts to Alliance, which was owned by Zoladz and Lyons, and ZCCI, which was owned by Zoladz.  Neither Alliance nor ZCCI were eligible to participate in SDVO small business contracting programs.  Zoladz and Lyons are alleged to have carried out their scheme by, among other things, making or causing false statements to be made to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) regarding Arsenal’s eligibility to participate in the SDVO small business contracting program and the company’s compliance with SDVO small business requirements.

“Detecting and discontinuing fraud, waste, and abuse committed by those who do business with the government remains a core function performed in this Office,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. for the Western District of New York. “That function, however, takes on additional significance when the target of the fraud is a program designed for the benefit of the heroes among us—our disabled veterans.  Although this investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to establish criminal liability by these entities and individuals, the multi-million dollar civil judgment ensures that those involved pay a heavy price for their decision to divert to themselves resources intended for the benefit of those who have made supreme sacrifices on behalf of all.”

“This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice, and other law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue individuals and companies that misrepresent themselves as service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and deny legitimate disabled veterans the opportunity to obtain VA set-aside contracts,” said Inspector General, Michael J. Missal of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (OIG).  “The VA OIG will continue to work diligently to protect the integrity of this important program, which is designed to aid disabled veterans.  I also want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners in this effort.”

“The contracting companies and principals allowed greed to corrupt a federal process intended to benefit service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses,” said Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen of FBI Buffalo Field Office. “The FBI and our partners will continue to identify and investigate companies and individuals who target these types of programs for personal gain.”

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The civil lawsuit was filed in the Western District of New York and is captioned United States ex rel. Western New York Foundation for Fair Contracting, Inc. v. Arsenal Contracting, LLC, et al., Case No. 11-CV-0821(S) (W.D.N.Y.).  As part of today’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive $450,000.

“This case is yet another example of the tremendous results achieved through the joint efforts of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Justice, and partner agencies to uncover and forcefully respond to fraud in Federal Government contracting programs, such as the Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Program in this case,” said Christopher M. Pilkerton, General Counsel of the SBA.  “Identifying and aggressively pursuing instances of civil fraud by participants in these procurement programs is one of SBA’s top priorities.”

“Providing false statements to gain access to federal contracts set aside for service-disabled veterans denies the government opportunities to meet its abiding commitment to our nation’s veterans,” said Acting SBA Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware.  “The SBA’s Office of the Inspector General is committed to bringing those that lie to gain access to SBA’s preferential contracting programs to justice.  I want to thank the Department of Justice for its leadership and dedication to serving justice.”

“There is an obvious need and reason for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses in the government contracting process,” said Director Frank Robey of the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  “Special Agents from Army CID will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to make every contribution possible to bring persons to justice who violate that process.”

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, the FBI, the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the SBA’s Office of Inspector General, and Army CID.

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

North Florida Shipyards to Pay $1 Million to Resolve False Claims Allegations

North Florida Shipyards and its president, Matt Self, will pay the United States $1 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by creating a front company, Ind-Mar Services Inc., in order to be awarded Coast Guard contracts that were designated for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs), the Justice Department announced today.  North Florida Shipyards has facilities in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Those who expect to do business with the government must do so fairly and honestly,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “We will not tolerate contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our veterans and taxpayers.”

To qualify as a SDVOSB on Coast Guard ship repair contracts, a company must be operated and managed by service disabled veterans and must perform at least 51 percent of the labor.  The government alleged that North Florida created Ind-Mar merely as a contracting vehicle and that North Florida performed all the work and received all the profits.  The government further alleged that if the Coast Guard and the Small Business Administration (SBA) had known that Ind-Mar was nothing but a front company, the Coast Guard would not have awarded it contracts to repair five ships.

In December 2013, the SBA suspended North Florida, Matt Self, Ind-Mar and three others from all government contracting.  In April 2014, North Florida and Matt Self entered into an administrative agreement with the SBA in which they admitted to having created and operated Ind-Mar in violation of its Coast Guard contracts and SBA statutes and regulations.

“Special programs to assist service disabled veterans are an important part of the SBA’s business development initiative,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III for the Middle District of Florida.  “False claims such as this undermine the integrity of this vital program and, where found, will be vigorously pursued by our Office.”

“This settlement sends a strong message to those driven by greed to fraudulently obtain access to contracting opportunities set-aside for deserving small businesses owned and operated by service disabled veterans,” said Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson for the SBA.  “We are committed to helping ensure that only eligible service disabled veteran owned small businesses benefit from that SBA program.”

The settlement resolves allegations originally filed in a lawsuit by Robert Hallstein and Earle Yerger under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case.  Hallstein and Yerger will receive $180,000.

The investigation was a coordinated effort by the Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, the Department of Homeland Security’s-Office of Inspector General and the SBA Office of Inspector General.

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, except to the extent that North Florida and Matt Self have admitted to the conduct in their agreement with the SBA.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Yerger, et al, v. North Florida Shipyards, et al., Case No. 3:11-cv-464J-32 MCR (M.D. Fla.).

Five Army National Guard Officials and One Civilian Charged with Bribery

Four retired and one active-duty Army National Guard officials and one civilian have been charged for their alleged participation in bribery schemes related to the awarding of millions of dollars of Army National Guard marketing, retention and recruitment contracts.  Two of the retired Army National Guard officials and the civilian pleaded guilty for their roles in the schemes.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge Andrew McCabe of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig Jr. of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office and Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (Army-CID) made the announcement.

“As captured by its motto, the Army National Guard is ‘always ready, always there’ for the American people,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Unfortunately, today’s charges expose National Guard officials who were ‘always ready’ to pocket bribes and ‘always there’ to take kickbacks.  In return, the charged officials allegedly subverted the open bidding process and illegally steered millions of taxpayer dollars to the bribe-payers through marketing and advertising contracts.  Corruption should know no place in American government, but least of all in the military that so honorably serves our country.  The Criminal Division is committed to rooting out corruption wherever we find it, including in the military, so that we can ensure that no one is putting the public’s trust up for sale.”

“These criminal charges and guilty pleas reflect our continued commitment to rooting out public corruption wherever it occurs,” said U.S. Attorney Boente.  “The public contracting process should be one of integrity and fairness, and these cases should send a strong message that public corruption will be vigorously prosecuted in the military as well as other areas of government.”

“This investigation has sadly reminded us that even some members of our military are willing to trade on the trust their country placed in them to line their pockets with the profits of corrupt activities,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch.  “We and our law enforcement partners will constantly guard against and root out such corruption wherever we find it.”

Charles Sines, 56, of Stafford, Virginia, a retired colonel from the United States Army National Guard; Wesley Russell, 48, of Albany, Indiana, a retired lieutenant colonel from the Indiana Army National Guard; and Jason Rappoccio, 39, of Hampton, South Carolina, an active-duty sergeant first class from the Army National Guard are charged with conspiracy to solicit bribes and the solicitation of bribes.  Russell and Rappoccio allegedly asked for and received bribes, and Sines allegedly provided bribes.

Robert Porter, 50 of Columbia, Maryland, a retired colonel from the Army National Guard, and Timothy Bebus, 44, of Forest Lake, Minnesota, a retired sergeant major of the Minnesota Army National Guard and owner of Mil-Team Consulting and Solutions LLC, each pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia in September 2014 to conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery of a public official.  Julianne Hubbell, 45, of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a civilian who partnered with her brother, Bebus, as the vice president of operations of Mil-Team, also pleaded guilty in September 2014 to conspiracy to commit bribery.  Sentencing hearings for Bebus and Hubbell are scheduled for Jan. 23, 2015, and for Porter on Jan. 30, 2015.

“The alleged steering of large government contracts is offensive to active duty, reserve and retired members of the National Guard Bureau who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McCabe.  “It is also offensive to average American citizens who trust their government and its contractors to use taxpayer money wisely.  We urge anyone who has knowledge of corruption and abuse in federal government contracting to contact the FBI.”

“The Department of Defense places special trust and confidence in its service members, particularly those in positions to influence the expenditure of taxpayer dollars,” said DCIS Special Agent in Charge Craig.  “Guardsmen hold a unique position in our society, representing both their state and military service.  The alleged behavior uncovered in this investigation was a disservice to both, but in no way typical of those honorable women and men that serve in our Army and Air National Guard.  Identifying and investigating fraud and public corruption remains the highest of priorities for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.  Alongside our law enforcement partners, we will continue to aggressively pursue allegations of fraud impacting Department of Defense resources.”

“We have highly-trained, Army CID special agents who are extremely talented and very capable of rooting out this type of corruption within our ranks,” said Army-CID Director Robey.   “People must realize, both in and out of uniform, that fraud will not be tolerated within the Army and Department of Defense, and greed cannot and will not trump duty and honor.”

As set forth in the indictments and other publicly-filed documents, the National Guard Bureau is a joint activity of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), state Army National Guard units and the Departments of the Army and Air Force.  The National Guard Bureau, located in Arlington, Virginia, oversees the distribution of federal funding provided to the Army National Guard and its state units.

The DOD provides millions of dollars of federal funds to the Army National Guard for, among other things, advertising, marketing and sponsorships in order to recruit new members.  The National Guard Bureau uses these funds to promote the Army National Guard by entering into advertising, marketing and sponsorship contracts.  For example, through advertising, marketing and sponsorship contracts, the National Guard was an official sponsor of Dew Tour, Warrior Dash, and American Motorcycle Association Supercross’s events, where recruiters handed out promotional items and recruited new members.  The National Guard also had a contract to sponsor Michael Jordan’s AMA Superbike team.

The National Guard Bureau can avoid a competitive bid process by awarding these federally-funded marketing contracts to Small Business Administration (SBA) certified 8(a) companies, which are minority-owned businesses.  The National Guard Bureau also provides a portion of the federal funds to the state units to allocate.

The indictments allege that Sines and Rappoccio evaded the competitive bid process by using 8(a) companies to award contracts in exchange for bribes.

According to allegations in the indictment against him, Sines founded a company, Financial Solutions, after retiring from the Army National Guard as a colonel.  Sines allegedly paid Porter, a then-active-duty colonel in the Army National Guard, a percentage of all contracts that Porter steered to Financial Solutions through 8(a) companies.  As the director of the National Guard Bureau’s Guard Strength Directorate, Porter had substantial influence over the awarding of National Guard Bureau contracts, and allegedly steered approximately $4.5 million worth of contracts to Sines and Financial Solutions.

The indictment against Russell alleges that, while on active duty as a lieutenant colonel in the Indiana Army National Guard, Russell demanded 15 percent of all profits that a private marketing company would receive from state Army National Guard units.  In return for his 15 percent cut of the profits, Russell allegedly promoted and encouraged state Army National Guard units to purchase the marketing company’s products.

The indictment against Rappoccio, an active-duty sergeant first class in the Army National Guard, alleges that Bebus and Hubbell paid Rappoccio a $30,000 bribe for steering a contract worth approximately $3.7 million to an 8(a) company chosen by Bebus.  In pleading guilty, Bebus and Hubbell admitted to paying this bribe.  In an effort to conceal the bribe payment, Bebus, Hubbell and others allegedly arranged for the payment of $6,000 in cash to Rappoccio, and the remaining $24,000 was allegedly routed from a business account controlled by Hubbell to an account controlled by Bebus and Hubbell’s brother-in-law, and then provided to Rappoccio in the form of a cashier’s check to Rappoccio’s wife.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance from DCIS’s Mid-Atlantic Field Office and Army-CID’s Expeditionary Fraud Resident Agency’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Alison L. Anderson of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Fahey of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marisa Seifan and Martin Coffey of the Eastern District of New York.

Allegations of bribery or corruption within the National Guard Bureau’s retention and recruitment contracting can be reported to the FBI’s Washington Field Office at (202) 278-2000 or the FBI’s Northern Virginia Public Corruption Hotline at (703) 686-6225.

Defense Department Employee and Two Prime Contractors Plead Guilty in Widening Bribery / Kickback Case



US Files Suit Against Canton, Ohio-based Tab Construction and Its Owner for Allegedly Defrauding the Historically Underutilized Business Zone Program

The government has filed a complaint against Canton, Ohio-based TAB Construction Co. Inc. (TAB) and its owner, William E. Richardson III, for allegedly making false statements to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to obtain certification as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) company, the Justice Department announced today.

 “The HUBZone program is intended to create jobs in areas that historically have had trouble attracting business,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery.  “The Justice Department will take strong enforcement action when companies obtain contracts to which they are not entitled.”

The government alleges that TAB used its fraudulently procured HUBZone certification to obtain four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction contracts worth millions of dollars.  Each of those contracts had been set aside for qualified HUBZone companies.  The government’s complaint asserts claims against TAB and Richardson under the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989.

Allegedly, Richardson originally applied to the HUBZone program in 2000 by claiming that TAB’s principal office was located in a designated HUBZone when no TAB employees worked out of the HUBZone office, and TAB actually was located in a non-HUBZone.  Even though Richardson told the SBA that TAB was located in a HUBZone, Richardson consistently used his non-HUBZone address in conducting TAB’s other business affairs, at one point even stating under oath in private litigation that TAB’s office was located in a non-HUBZone.  In 2006, Richardson allegedly applied for re-certification to the HUBZone program, again falsely stating that eight employees worked in the designated HUBZone.  The government alleges that just six weeks after Richardson re-certified its eligibility with the SBA, TAB completed an affidavit in an unrelated matter, which stated that TAB’s principal office was located in a non-HUBZone.

Under the HUBZone program, companies that maintain their principal office in a designated HUBZone, and meet certain other requirements, can apply to the SBA for certification as a HUBZone small business company.  HUBZone companies can then use this certification when bidding on government contracts.  In certain cases, government agencies will restrict competition for a contract to HUBZone-certified companies.

“We will not tolerate fraud in the HUBZone or any other SBA program,” said SBA Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson.  “With our interagency partners, this office will continue to pursue those who defraud the government by lying to gain access to federal set-aside contracts.”

“SBA’s contracting programs, including the HUBZone program, provide small businesses with the opportunity to grow and create jobs,” said SBA General Counsel Sara D. Lipscomb.  “SBA has no tolerance for waste, fraud or abuse in any government contracting program and is committed to working with our federal partners to ensure the benefits of these programs flow to the intended recipients.”

The government filed its complaint in two consolidated lawsuits filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.  Under the Act, a private citizen can sue on behalf of the government and share in any recovery.  The government also is entitled to intervene in the lawsuit, as it has done in this case.

This matter was handled by the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division in conjunction with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General and Office of General Counsel and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

The consolidated civil cases are U.S. ex rel. Roy. J. Fairbrother Jr. and Louis Petit v. TAB Construction Co. Inc., et al., No. 5:11-cv-1432 (N.D. Ohio) and U.S. ex rel. Patricia Hopson and Vince Pavkov v. TAB Construction Co. Inc., No. 5:12-cv-135 (N.D. Ohio).  The claims asserted against TAB and Richardson are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.