Former Charity Executive Pleads Guilty to Bribery and Embezzlement Scheme

June 7, 2018

A former executive of a Springfield, Missouri charity, who was also an Arkansas lobbyist, pleaded guilty in federal court today to bribing Arkansas elected officials in a multi-million-dollar scheme, and then along with other charity executives, embezzling millions of dollars from the Springfield health care organization.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Garrison for the Western District of Missouri made the announcement.

Milton Russell Cranford, aka “Rusty,” 57, of Rogers, Arkansas, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to one count of federal program bribery.  Cranford was an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. (formerly known as Alternative Opportunities Inc.), a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Springfield, and oversaw the charity’s operations and lobbying efforts in the state of Arkansas. Cranford also operated three lobbying firms: The Cranford Coalition, The Capital Hill Coalition and Outcomes of Arkansas.

By pleading guilty today, Cranford admitted that he and other Preferred Family Healthcare executives paid bribes to Arkansas State Senator Jonathan Woods, Arkansas State legislator Henry Wilkins IV, a person identified in court documents as “Arkansas Senator A,” and others, to provide favorable legislative action for Cranford, his clients, and Preferred Family Healthcare. In exchange for the bribes paid by Cranford, the officials identified in the Information steered Arkansas General Improvement Fund (GIF) money to Preferred Family Healthcare and other Cranford clients; held up agency budgets; requested legislative audits; and sponsored, filed and voted for legislative bills that favored the charity and Cranford clients.

The additional income gained by Preferred Family Healthcare from Cranford’s bribes enabled Cranford and other executives of the charity to engage in multiple schemes to embezzle, steal, and unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of the charity, including, but not limited to, diverting charity funds to for-profit companies owned by the executives, causing the charity to make rental payments to properties owned by Cranford and the executives; paying for their personal expenses using corporate credit cards; and causing the charity to lend significant funds to Cranford personally, and to for-profit companies owned by other charity executives.  The executives also caused the charity to misapply its funds for unlawful contributions to the campaigns of elected public officials and causing the charity to spend substantial amounts of funds on lobbying and political advocacy.

In addition, Cranford entered into an illegal kickback scheme whereby Cranford paid over $600,000 in illegal kickbacks to a charity executive in exchange for more than $3.5 million in payments made to The Cranford Coalition.  Cranford also acknowledged his role in a second illegal kickback scheme involving the charity’s contract with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based political operative Donald Andrew Jones, also known as “D.A.” Jones, and another charity employee, former Arkansas State Representative Eddie Wayne Cooper.  In exchange for Cranford’s role in facilitating the charity’s contract with Jones for lobbying and political advocacy, under which the charity paid Jones almost $1 million, Cranford received kickbacks totaling $219,000 from Jones, $18,000 of which Cranford provided to Cooper, and Cooper received another $45,000 directly from Jones.  In separate but related cases, both Jones and Cooper previously entered guilty pleas acknowledging their roles in that kickback scheme.

A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

The case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the FBI and the Offices of the Inspectors General from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. This is a combined investigation with the Western District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich of the Western District of Missouri and Trial Attorneys Marco A. Palmieri and Sean F. Mulryne of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

Defunct Philly Hospice’s Owners/Operators to Pay Millions to Settle Civil False Claims Suit

Thursday, July 6, 2017

PHILADELPHIA – Acting United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen announced today that Matthew Kolodesh, Alex Pugman, Svetlana Ganetsky, and Malvina Yakobashvili have agreed to pay millions of dollars to settle False Claims Act allegations that they and their now-defunct company, Home Care Hospice, Inc. (HCH), falsely claimed and received taxpayer dollars for hospice services that were either unnecessary or never provided. Previously, a federal jury found Kolodesh guilty on, and Pugman and Ganetsky pleaded guilty to, related criminal charges.

Kolodesh was HCH’s de facto co-owner; Pugman was HCH’s Executive Director and co-owner; Ganetsky was HCH’s Development Executive; and Yakobashvili was HCH’s CEO and President. Kolodesh and Yakobashvili are husband and wife, as are Pugman and Ganetsky.

The civil settlements with Kolodesh, Pugman, and Ganetsky specifically resolve False Claims Act allegations that HCH and they, between January 2003 and September 2008: knowingly submitted false claims and records (including fabricated records) to Medicare for purported hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill and thus not eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit; and/or knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims and records (including fabricated records) to Medicare for crisis care services that were not necessary or not actually provided; and, as a result of this conduct, violated the False Claims Act and cost the Medicare Program millions of dollars. The settlements with these defendants, as well as Yakobashvili, also resolve federal common law allegations that all five defendants were unjustly enriched as a result of such conduct.

As part of the settlements, the United States will retain the full value of multiple financial accounts that were restrained in a related civil injunction action filed by the United States in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The estimated current value of those interests is approximately $8.8 million. The defendants have further agreed: (1) to make cash payments to the government ($400,000 from Pugman and Ganetsky, and $425,000 from Kolodesh and Yakobashvili); and (2) to transfer to the United States various assets, including Pugman’s and Kolodesh’s interests in condominium properties that they co-own.

Under qui tam (whistleblower) provisions of the federal False Claims Act, certain private citizens may bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and may share in any recovery. This suit was originally filed on behalf of the United States by Maureen Fox and Cathy Gonzales, former HCH employees who discovered the alleged fraud. The settlements announced today include False Claims Act whistleblower awards for Ms. Gonzales and for the Estate of Ms. Fox, who passed away after filing suit.

As the result of the United States’ related criminal investigation, 22 persons employed by or associated with HCH were criminally convicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“The Medicare hospice benefit is intended to provide patients nearing the end of life with pain management and other palliative care to make them as comfortable as possible,” Lappen said. “Too often, however, we hear reports of companies that abuse this critical service by enrolling patients who do not qualify for the hospice benefit, do not provide claimed services, or who push patients into services they don’t need in order to get higher government reimbursements. The Department of Justice, including this office, will take swift action to protect the public welfare and taxpayer dollars and to make sure that Medicare benefits are available to those truly in need.”

“Medicare, a crucial component of our nation’s health care system, draws from a finite pool of funds,” said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “The defendants siphoned money earmarked for dying patients’ hospice care, and built their bank accounts on taxpayers’ backs. The FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those defrauding the U.S. government.”

“Today’s settlement returns over $8 million to our nation’s Medicare program. This money was wrongfully paid as a result of fraudulent billings and part of a massive criminal conspiracy that preyed on a program that comforts beneficiaries at the end of their lives,” said Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge of the Inspector General’s Office of the United Stated Department of Health and Human Services in Philadelphia. “In addition to this civil settlement, this investigation resulted in the criminal prosecution of 22 individuals for health care fraud or other charges. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the dedicated federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to use every available tool to jail those who steal from federal health care programs and recoup cash and assets illegally acquired.”

The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Organized Crime Section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The civil case was handled at the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Assistant United States Attorneys Eric D. Gill, Gerald B. Sullivan, and Colin C. Cherico. Assistance was provided by the HHS Office of Counsel to the Inspector General and the Commercial Litigation Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

The civil claims asserted against HCH, Kolodesh, Pugman, Ganetsky, and Yakobashvili are allegations only, and there has been no determination of civil liability. The civil qui tam suit is docketed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as U.S.A. et al. ex rel. Fox and Gonzales v. Home Care Hospice, Inc, et al., No. 06-cv-4679.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is one of 10 federal districts that formed an Elder Justice Task Force as a part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative. (The office announced its task force here in March 2016, and maintains a publicly accessible website here.) The task force seeks to enhance government protection of vulnerable, elderly Pennsylvanians from harm and to ensure the integrity of government health care spending.

ISRI gauging impact of coin buyback suspension

The American Metal Market Daily is the online resource for metals industry news and proprietary pricing information covering the steel, non-ferrous and scrap markets. Since its first print issue published in 1882, AMM has been the trusted name in metals industry information.  This is what AMM has learned about growing concerns reporrted by members of and recent actions taken by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI)  on their behalf (click below to access the article):

“Collecting coins out of scrap metal is a decades-old practice—particularly since the shredder came into being, and more so since the advent of advanced metal processing technology,” he said. “If it is hurting our members as a result of pricing of zorba or through the inability to sell direct back to U.S. Mint, then obviously we need to step in.”

Chasing the Jackpot in America’s Cash Stream-AMM

The American Metal Market Daily attended the FormerFedsGroup.Com unsealing of 13 metric tons of Wealthy Max US clad coins in Hong Kong. American Metal Market is the online resource for metals industry news and proprietary pricing information covering the steel, non-ferrous and scrap markets. Since its first print issue published in 1882, AMM has been the trusted name in metals industry information.  This is what AMM has learned about the scrap industry and the coin redemption industry in what is a fascinating read.

Cash and Carry: The US Mint vs. Wealthy Max
Chasing the Elusive Jackpot in America’s Cash Stream 

American Metals Market Report on Hong Kong Unsealing by FormerFedsGroup of 13 Metric Tons of Mutilated Clad Coins Processed by Wealthy Max

2015-05-29 11.34.57

The country’s oldest and most respected metals market trade publication, AMM, attended the Hong Kong unsealing of 13 metric tons of US clad coins on February 23rd that were processed in Foshan, China by the Wealthy Max quality assurance line in September, 2014, immediately following its processing of four shipments of mutilated clad coins that were seized by the government as being counterfeit.  Now, the US Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which played no role in creating this mess, has, sensibly, reasonably and in good faith, has started referring to the coins as not meeting Mint specifications rather than in the preposterous terms used by the US Attorney’s Office of New Jersey and the Department of Homeland Security who, preposterously, continue to allege counterfeiting in one of the most slipshod, ramshackle and careless investigations in recent memory.  Linked here is the carefully researched article.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to Pay $1.6 Million to Resolve Allegations of False Claims For Federal Grants

– Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Corporation (Big Brothers) has agreed to pay the United States $1.6 million to resolve allegations of false claims for funds under Department of Justice grants awarded to help children at risk, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. Big Brothers is a not-for-profit organization that provides mentoring services to boys and girls throughout the United States. The organization, originally based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, now is headquartered in Tampa, Florida.
Big Brothers is a national organization that acts through approximately 300 independent affiliate agencies across the United States. Since 2004, Big Brothers has received millions of dollars in grants from the Justice Department to support initiatives on behalf of children at risk. As a condition of those grants, Big Brothers was required to maintain sound accounting and financial management systems in accordance with federal regulations and guidelines designed to ensure that grant funds would be properly accounted for and used only for appropriate purposes.
The United States alleges that Big Brothers violated these regulations and guidelines with respect to three grants awarded by the Justice Department from 2009 to 2011, by commingling the grant funds with general operating funds, failing to segregate expenditures to ensure that the funds for each grant were used as intended, and failing to maintain internal financial controls to safeguard the proper use of grant funds. These allegations were documented in a 2013 audit of the three grants performed by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. Since 2013, Big Brothers has replaced its management team and begun implementing policies aimed at correcting deficiencies in its management and accounting of federal grant funds.
“The US Attorney’s office is committed to protecting federal grants and ensuring that the funds are appropriately spent,” said Memeger. “Federal grant recipients must administer these grants with transparency and diligence, and the compliance measures implemented pursuant to this settlement agreement will help to achieve those goals.”

“Organizations such as Big Brothers have an obligation to the populations they serve as well as to the taxpayer to ensure that government grant funds are used for their intended purpose,” said Mizer. “The settlement announced today exemplifies the Department’s commitment to hold those who mishandle such funds accountable.”
“We appreciate the support of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Civil Division in working with us on these kinds of cases,” said Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. “The OIG’s auditors and investigators will continue to work with each other closely to uncover misuses of grant funds, and with our law enforcement partners to ensure that justice is served.”
In addition to paying the United States $1.6 million, Big Brothers has agreed to institute a strict compliance program that requires the organization to engage in regular audits, both internally and by independent auditors; establish a compliance team, an employee code of conduct, whistleblower policies, and a disciplinary policy for employees who engage in or fail to disclose abuses of federal grant funds; provide regular employee training on these policies; and employ risk assessment tools to detect abuses that might otherwise go undetected.

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. The settlement was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel M. Sweet and Scott W. Reid in coordination with Trial Attorney David W. Tyler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch. The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

Indictment Charges Three People with Running $54 Million “Green Energy” Ponzi Scheme

An indictment was unsealed today charging three people in an investment scheme, involving a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania-based company, that defrauded more than 300 investors from around the country.  Troy Wragg, 34, a former resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Amanda Knorr, 32, of Hellertown, Pennsylvania, and Wayde McKelvy, 52, of Colorado, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud and seven counts of wire fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Special Agent in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division.

As the founders of the Mantria Corporation, Wragg and Knorr allegedly promised investors huge returns for investments in supposedly profitable business ventures in real estate and “green energy.”  According to the indictment, Mantria was a Ponzi scheme in which new investor money was used to pay “earnings” to prior investors since the businesses actually generated meager revenues and no profits.  To induce investors to invest funds, it is alleged that Wragg and Knorr repeatedly made false representations and material omissions about the economic state of their businesses.

Between 2005 and 2009, Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy, through Mantria, intended to raise over $100 million from investors through Private Placement Memorandums (PPMs).  In actuality, they raised $54.5 million.  Wragg and Knorr were allegedly able to raise such a large sum of money through the efforts of McKelvy.  McKelvy operated what he called “Speed of Wealth” clubs which advertised on television, radio and the internet, held seminars for prospective investors and promised to make them rich.  According to the indictment, McKelvy taught investors to liquidate all their assets such as mutual funds and 401k plans, to take out as many loans out as possible, such as home mortgages and credit card debt and invest all those funds in Mantria.  During those seminars and other programs, Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy allegedly lied to prospective investors to dupe them into investing in Mantria and promised investment returns as high as 484 percent.

It is further alleged that Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy spent a considerable amount of the investor money on projects to give investors the impression that they were operating wildly profitable businesses.  Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy allegedly used the remainder of the funds raised for their own personal enrichment.  Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy allegedly continued to defraud investors until November 2009 when the SEC initiated civil securities fraud proceedings against Mantria in Colorado, shut down the company, and obtained an injunction to prevent them from raising any new funds.  A receiver was appointed by the court to liquidate what few assets Mantria owned.

In order to lure prospective investors, it is alleged that Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy lied and omitted material facts to mislead investors as to the true financial status of Mantria, including grossly overstating the financial success of Mantria and promising excessive returns.

“The scheme alleged in this indictment offered investors the best of both worlds – investing in sustainable and clean energy products while also making a profit,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger.  “Unfortunately for the investors, it was all a hoax and they lost precious savings.  These defendants preyed on the emotions of their victims and sold them a scam.  This office will continue to make every effort to deter criminals from engaging in these incredibly damaging financial crimes.”

“As alleged, these defendants lied about their intentions regarding investors’ money, pocketing a substantial portion for personal use,” said Special Agent in Charge Sweeney Jr.  “So long as there are people with money to invest, there will likely be investment swindlers eager to take their money under false pretenses.  The FBI will continue to work with its law enforcement and private sector partners to investigate those whose greed-based schemes rob individuals of their hard-earned money.”

If convicted of all charges, the defendants each face possible prison terms, fines, up to five years of supervised release and a $1,000 special assessment.

The criminal case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore.  The SEC in Colorado investigated and litigated the civil securities fraud charges which formed the basis of the criminal prosecution.

An indictment is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Doctor Indicted On Charges He Illegally Distributed Drugs (EDPA)

PHILADELPHIA – Dr. Jeffrey Bado, 59, of Philadelphia, PA, was charged today by indictment with illegally distributing pain medications from his Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr medical offices, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger.  Bado is charged with two counts of maintaining a drug-involved premises, 200 counts of illegally distributing oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, outside the usual course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose, as well as 33 counts of health care fraud and four counts of making false statements to federal agents.


According to the indictment, Bado, a doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, gave prescriptions for large numbers of oxycodone pills to “patients” who paid in cash for an “office visit” during which the “patient” would receive at most a cursory physical examination and little other medical care or treatment.  During their first visit to Bado’s practice, new patients would still get prescriptions for large amounts of oxycodone even though they provided little or no recent medical records to verify their claim of pain, or provided medical records that were not consistent with their claims of pain.


The indictment alleges that Bado’s prescribing mirrored the needs of drug addicts and drug traffickers.  Bado would allegedly comply with patient requests for pills with specific concentrations of oxycodone, and Bado would allegedly switch patients to pills with a higher street value even though there was no medical justification for the switch.  Bado allegedly continued to prescribe high amounts of oxycodone even when he knew that his patients were addicted to oxycodone, were using illegal drugs, or were not even taking the oxycodone pills as prescribed.


The indictment further alleges that Bado committed health care insurance fraud by billing Medicare and private insurers for patient visits that occurred in February 2010, when Bado was out of the office and traveling in Haiti.  Bado allegedly directed residents, nurses and other staff to see patients while he was away, and allegedly directed that they provide the patients with prescriptions that Bado had already filled out and signed.  Before departing for his trip, Bado allegedly made notations in and signed medical charts to make it appear as though he had seen the patients when in fact he was away in Haiti during their appointments.  Bado then allegedly had his office staff submit fraudulent claims to these patients’ health care insurers for the cost of the patients’ office visit as if Bado had seen these patients.  It is alleged that Bado subsequently made several materially false statements to federal agents regarding the arrangements he made before leaving for Haiti, including falsely claiming that he had not filled out in advance out any medical records for the patient appointments that occurred while he was in Haiti.


If convicted of all charges, Bado faces an estimated sentencing guideline range of at least 24 years in prison with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of oxycodone distribution and maintaining a drug premises counts, 10 years in prison for each count of health care fraud, and five years in prison for each count of making false statement counts.  He also faces substantial fines and criminal forfeiture.


The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, the Haverford Township Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Department.  It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nancy Beam Winter and Andrew J. Schell.

An Indictment is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Former Owner and President of Pennsylvania Consulting Companies Charged with Foreign Bribery

The former owner and President of Chestnut Consulting Group Inc. and Chestnut Consulting Group Co. (generally referred to as the “Chestnut Group”) was indicted by a federal grand jury today for his alleged participation in a scheme to pay bribes to a foreign official in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the Travel Act, and to launder proceeds of those crimes.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division made the announcement.

“We are committed to combating foreign corruption, across the globe and across all industries, through enforcement actions and prosecutions of companies and the individuals who run those companies,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “As alleged, in this case, the owner and chief executive of a Pennsylvania financial consulting firm secured hundreds of millions of dollars in business by bribing a European banking official.  He now faces an indictment for corruption in federal court.  Bribery of foreign officials undermines the public trust in government and fair competition in business.  The charges returned today reflect the clear message that we will root out corruption and prosecute individuals who violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

“We will aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals in our district who use corrupt means like bribery to influence foreign officials,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger.  “Our criminal statutes in this arena must be enforced to ensure fair dealing in a competitive global marketplace where foreign officials often hold significant decision-making authority.  The alleged conduct here was particularly reprehensible because it undermined the legitimacy of a process designed to support businesses for the citizens of developing nations.”

“This is a great example of the FBI’s ability to successfully coordinate with our international law enforcement partners to tackle corruption,” said Special Agent in Charge Hanko.  “Bribery – foreign or domestic – cripples the notion of fair competition in the marketplace.”

Dmitrij Harder, 42, of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, the former owner and president of the Chestnut Group, was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and Travel Act, five counts of violating the FCPA, five counts of violating the Travel Act, one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering, and two counts of money laundering.

According to allegations in the indictment, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was a multilateral development bank headquartered in London, England, and was owned by over 60 sovereign nations.  Among other things, the EBRD provided financing for development projects in emerging economies, primarily in Eastern Europe.

According to allegations in the indictment, Harder and others paid bribes for the benefit of a senior official at the EBRD in exchange for influencing the official’s actions on applications for financing submitted by the Chestnut Group’s clients and for directing business to the Chestnut Group.  The EBRD ultimately approved applications for financing from two of the Chestnut Group’s corporate clients; the first resulted in the EBRD providing an $85 million investment and a 90 million Euro loan, while the second resulted in a $40 million investment and a $60 million convertible loan.  The Chestnut Group allegedly earned approximately $8 million in “success fees” as a result of the EBRD’s approval of these two applications.

The indictment alleges that Harder made five payments totaling more than $3.5 million to the sister of the EBRD official, in part as an effort to conceal the bribes.  These payments were allegedly made for purported consulting and other services provided to the Chestnut Group by the official’s sister, when in fact she provided no such services.  Harder also allegedly participated in creating fake documents to justify these payments.

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

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Philadelphia Division.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Leo R. Tsao of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Defense Contractor Pleads Guilty to Major Fraud in Provision of Supplies to U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

Supreme Foodservice GmbH, a privately held Swiss company, and Supreme Foodservice FZE, a privately-held United Arab Emirates (UAE) company, pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the United States and agreed to resolve civil violations of the False Claims Act, in connection with a contract to provide food and water to the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, the Justice Department announced today.  The companies pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA) and paid $288.36 million in the criminal case, a sum that includes the maximum criminal fine allowed.

In addition, Supreme Group B.V. and several of its subsidiaries have agreed to pay an additional $146 million to resolve a related civil lawsuit, as well as two separate civil matters, alleging false billings to the Department of Defense (DoD) for fuel and transporting cargo to American soldiers in Afghanistan.  The lawsuit was filed in the EDPA, and the fuel and transportation allegations were investigated by the Southern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Virginia, respectively, along with the Department’s Civil Division.

“The civil resolutions and agreements reflect the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to hold accountable contractors that have engaged in war profiteering,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The department will pursue contractors that knowingly seek taxpayer funds to which they are not entitled.”

“These companies chose to commit their fraud in connection with a contract to supply food and water to our nation’s fighting men and women serving in Afghanistan,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  “That kind of conduct is repugnant, and we will use every available resource to punish such illegal war profiteering.”

The Criminal Fraud

In 2005, Supreme Foodservice AG, now called Supreme Foodservice GmbH, entered into a contract with the Defense Supply Center of Philadelphia (DSCP, now called Defense Logistics Agency – Troop Support) to provide food and water for the U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan.  According to court documents, between July 2005 and April 2009, Supreme Foodservice AG, together with Supreme Foodservice KG, now called Supreme Foodservice FZE, devised and implemented a scheme to overcharge the United States in order to make profits over and above those provided in the $8.8 billion subsistence prime vendor (SPV) contract.  The companies fraudulently inflated the price charged for local market ready goods (LMR) and bottled water sold to the United States under the SPV contract.  The Supreme companies did this by using a UAE company it controlled, Jamal Ahli Foods Co. LLC (JAFCO), as a middleman to mark up prices for fresh fruits and vegetables and other locally-produced products sold to the U.S. government, and to obscure the inflated price the Supreme companies were charging for bottled water.  The fraud resulted in a loss to the government of $48 million.

Supreme AG, Supreme FZE and Supreme’s owners (referred to in court documents as Supreme Owners #1 and #2) made concentrated efforts to conceal Supreme’s true relationship with JAFCO, and to make JAFCO appear to be an independent company.  They also took steps to make JAFCO’s mark-up on LMR look legitimate, and persisted in the fraudulent mark-ups even in the face of questions from DSCP about the pricing of LMR.

Even though the SPV contract stated that the Supreme food companies should charge the government the supplier’s price for the goods, emails between executives at the companies (referred to as Supreme Executive #1, #2, etc) reveal the companies’ deliberate decision to inflate the prices. Among other things, Supreme Owner #1 increased the mark-up that JAFCO would impose on non-alcoholic beer from 25 percent to 125 percent.  On or about Feb. 16, 2006, during a discussion about supplying a new product to the U.S. government, one Supreme executive wrote to another, “I am very sure the best option is to buy it from Germany and mark up via [JAFCO], like [non-alcoholic] beer.”

In early March 2006, after a DSCP contracting officer told the Supreme food companies that she wanted to see a manufacturer’s invoice for specific frozen products, Supreme Foodservice GmbH lowered its prices for those products to prices that did not include a JAFCO mark-up.  On March 14, 2006, instead of disclosing that the initial pricing had included a mark-up, a Supreme executive misled the DSCP representative by saying, “Based on more realistic quantities, we have been able to negotiate a better price,” to explain the change in pricing.

In June 2006, when a DSCP contracting officer raised questions about pricing focusing on four specific items, Supreme executives again misled the DSCP, claiming that the high prices were for a high quality of product, and offering to sell lower quality products for lower prices.  Supreme Foodservice GmbH did this even after analyzing its JAFCO margin on the four items in question and finding its profit margins were between 41 and 56 percent.

In September 2007, after a fired Supreme executive threatened to tell the DSCP about the fraud, his former employer entered into negotiation of a “separation agreement” with that executive to induce that executive not to disclose the ways in which the Supreme food companies were overcharging the DSCP.  The agreement stated that the executive would receive, among other things, a payment of 400,000 euros in September 2010, provided that the executive did not cause: a deterioration in the economic situation linked to the SPV contract; the termination of the SPV contract; or a decrease in the price levels for products, specifically including LMR and bottled water provided to the U.S. government.

Defendant Supreme GmbH pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, conspiracy to commit major fraud and wire fraud.  Supreme FZE, which owns JAFCO, pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States.  The Supreme companies agreed to jointly pay $48 million in restitution and $10 million in criminal forfeiture.  Each company also agreed to pay $96 million in criminal fines.  In addition, as a result of the criminal investigation, the Supreme companies paid $38.3 million directly to the DSCP as a refund for separate overpayments on bottled water.

The Civil Settlements

In a related civil settlement, Supreme Group agreed to pay another $101 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the EDPA by a former executive, which alleged that Supreme Group, and its food subsidiaries, violated the False Claims Act by knowingly overcharging for supplying food and water under the SPV contract.  The payment also resolves claims that, from June 2005 to December 2010, the Supreme food companies failed to disclose and pass through to the government rebates and discounts it obtained from its suppliers, as required by its SPV contract with the United States.

“Today’s results are part of an ongoing effort by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and its law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of the Department of Defense’s acquisition process from personal and corporate greed,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations James B. Burch for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General.  “The Defense Criminal Investigative Service will continue to pursue allegations of fraud and corruption that puts the Warfighter at risk.”

“We are very pleased with this resolution, and are gratified that the public can now see what we’ve been aggressively investigating,” said Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU).  “Companies that do business with the government must comply with all of their obligations, and if they overcharge for supplying our men and women in uniform who are bravely serving this nation, they must be held accountable for their actions.”

Separately, Supreme Site Services GmbH, a Supreme Group subsidiary, agreed to pay $20 million to settle allegations that they overbilled for fuel purchased by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for Kandahar Air Field (KAF) in Afghanistan under a NATO Basic Ordering Agreement.  The government alleged that Supreme Site Services’ drivers were stealing fuel destined for KAF generators while en route for which the company falsely billed DLA.

“It is important that government contractors supporting conflicts abroad be held accountable for their billings to the government,” said U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “The DoD investigating components are instrumental in protecting the interests of the government, and their efforts in this investigation are to be commended.”

Supreme Group’s subsidiary Supreme Logistics FZE also has agreed to pay $25 million to resolve alleged false billings by Supreme Logistics in connection with shipping contracts between the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), located at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and various shipping carriers to transport food to U.S. troops in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.  The shipping carriers transported cargo destined for U.S. troops from the United States to Latvia or other intermediate ports, and then arranged with logistics vendors, including Supreme Logistics, to carry the cargo the rest of the way to Afghanistan.  The United States alleged that Supreme Logistics falsely billed USTRANSCOM for higher-priced refrigerated trucks when it actually used lower-priced non-refrigerated trucks to transport the cargo.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois is committed to protecting the integrity of all of the vital missions carried out at Scott Air Force Base, including the mission of the U.S. Transportation Command,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton for the Southern District of Illinois.  “These vital services carried out by the brave men and women of the armed forces of the United States deserve, and will receive, our full support, and this office will do everything possible to protect their missions.”

“These settlements are victories for American taxpayers,” said Special Inspector General John F. Sopko for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  “It sends a clear signal that whether a case involves a mom and pop outfit or a major multinational corporation, we will work tirelessly with our investigative partners to pursue justice any time U.S. dollars supporting the mission in Afghanistan are misused.”

The EDPA lawsuit was initially filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, by Michael Epp, Supreme GmbH’s former Director, Commercial Division and Supply Chain.  The False Claims Act prohibits the submission of false claims for government money or property and allows the United States to recover treble damages and penalties for a violation.  Under the Act’s whistleblower provisions, a private party may file suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The case remained under seal to permit the United States to investigate the allegations and decide whether to intervene and take over the case.  Epp will receive $16.16 million as his share of the government’s settlement of the lawsuit.

The criminal and civil matters in the EDPA were the result of a coordinated effort by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, DCIS, U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Command’s MPFU and the FBI.

The investigation of Supreme Site Services ’ alleged false billings for fuel was conducted by the Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the investigation of Supreme Logistics’ alleged false invoices for transportation was handled by the Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois.  Both matters were investigated by the Defense Contract Audit Agency Office of Investigative Support, the Army Audit Agency, the International Contract Corruption Task Force, the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit, the DoD Office of Inspector General’s DCIS, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The claims resolved by the civil settlements are allegations only, except for the conduct for which the Supreme food companies have pleaded guilty.