There is something magical about southern Florida. Warm winters, lush vegetation, fancy cars, great fishing… and fraud. Lot’s of fraud.
We took special interest in the news that a contractor doing work at the Miami International Airport wants to go to jail for a year. Who wants to spend a year in prison? Someone facing a decade in prison!
What really interests us about this case is a similar case at the Miami International Airport. One we filed that resolved in early 2016 for three million bucks. There seems to be a connection between contractors, kickback schemes, fraud and the airport.
Miami International Airport’s LED Lighting Kickback and Bribery Scheme
In the current case, Roy Jesus Bustillo pleaded guilty late last year to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud against the government. His crime? Paying a kickback to the airport’s chief of facilities. In return, Bustillo’s company received airport renovation contracts.
It’s a pretty simple scheme. Bustillo got a lucrative $5 million contract to supply LED lighting to the airport. The airport’s facilities manager got a kickback (cash). And let’s not forget taxpayers and Bustillo’s honest competitors. They get screwed.
Bustillo Asks for Light Sentence
We understand that all defendants ask for a light sentence. And we get it when a defendant’s lawyer says his client is a great dad / family man. Bustillo claimed, however, that he “provides structure to his children.”
Mail fraud? Wire fraud? Bribery of public officials? Bid rigging? Illegal kickback scheme? Is that providing structure or being a positive role model for one’s young children?
After the pro forma “I made a mistake” and “family breadwinner” arguments, things get really interesting. Part of Bustillo’s pitch for leniency is that his former boss was a thief!
According to a sentencing memo, “[Bustillo’s former boss William Pino] was not a novice in bid rigging. It was under Mr. Pino’s tutelage and in this environment that Mr. Bustillo learned to transact business. In this setting, unlawful conduct was not only tolerated, but encouraged.”
Pino was convicted in 2014 of a public corruption charge and got one year in prison.
One would hope that Bustillo would have learned that crime doesn’t pay. Apparently, however, he thinks that if his former employer only got one year so she he.
Bustillo also sought leniency because of his youth. The guy is 37! As a former prosecutor and police officer, I have a sympathy for high school or college kids who make stupid mistakes. Bustillo was apparently engaged in a bribery scheme for years, however. By the time he hit his 30’s he should have known better.
His final argument centers on his cut of the crime. Because he was the most junior member of the bribery racket, he got the least amount of money. Just $764,000. (Although he claims he has expenses.)
That is another troubling argument. If three men rob a bank together should their sentences be determined by how much he one receives?
Bustillo Sentenced on January 6th
Bustillo’s arguments for leniency ring hollow. Apparently, the court thought so to. Despite a plea for just 12 months, Bustillo was sentenced last week to 27 months in prison.
Aviation Maintenance Director Sentenced
Bustillo will serve 27 months for his role in the scheme. But what about the public official who accepted the bribes and directed the contracts to Bustillo? Ivan Valdes of Miami got 7 years of prison.
In announcing the sentences, Miami’s U.S. Attorney Winfred Ferrer said, “The public has a right to expect that officials who oversee local government agencies are ethical, trustworthy, responsible, and represent the best interests of the community.”
An FBI spokesperson said, “Corrupt officials are on notice – breach the public’s trust through stealing or accepting bribes in the course of their official duties and they will be vigorously investigated. The South Florida community can be assured that public corruption will remain a top priority for the FBI.”
Fake “Made in USA” Materials Used at Miami International
In January of 2016, our firm’s case against Novum Structures settled for $3 million. The company resolved both civil and criminal charges centered around metal products used at the airport. Various U.S. laws require steel used in public projects be made in the USA. These laws help protect steel jobs and assure quality.
The mislabeled metal components were used in part at the Miami International Airport, although in that case, there was no indication that airport officials were in on the scam.
Whistleblower Awards for Public Contract Frauds
Public officials, vendors or others with knowledge of fraud involving public contracts are eligible for whistleblower awards. The typical award is between 15% and 30% of whatever the government collects.
Whether it be contractors overbilling their services, billing for goods or services never provided or mislabeling products, awards may be available if state or federal funds were involved.
In the Novum Structures case, the whistleblower received hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Do you have information about government contractor fraud? The whistleblower clients at MahanyLaw have collected over $100 million in awards. We have a passion for helping our clients stop fraud. We also work diligently to protect our clients from illegal retaliation and get them the highest awards possible.
Photo of Bustillo Family (courtesy of sentencing memorandum submitted to court)