Lafayette Company Fined For Defrauding USDA
OAKLAND – Z.A.S. International, Inc. was sentenced yesterday to an $18,000 fine and ordered to pay the U.S. Department of Agriculture $17,985.34 in restitution for theft of government funds, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Special Agent in Charge Lori Chan, USDA Office of Inspector General, Investigations.
Z.A.S. International pleaded guilty on Aug. 12, 2014, to one count of theft of government funds. According to the plea agreement, Z.A.S. admitted that, between 2009 and 2011, it defrauded the USDA of $17,985.34 by inflating travel costs that were reimbursed by the USDA. According to court documents, Z.A.S., based in Lafayette, Calif., is in the business of trading and marketing food products internationally. It participated in the USDA’s Market Access Program, which assists small businesses and cooperatives with marketing and promoting American agricultural goods and commodities in foreign markets, including through reimbursement of travel costs for international trade conferences. Z.A.S. defrauded the government by purchasing high-priced airline tickets for travel to trade conferences, requesting refunds of those tickets, and subsequently purchasing significantly lower-fare tickets that its employees actually used for travel. Z.A.S., however, applied for and received reimbursement for the higher-fare tickets.
Z.A.S. was charged in a criminal Information on Aug. 12, 2014, and pleaded guilty that same day to violating Title 18, United States Code Section 641, a Class A misdemeanor. The sentence today was handed down by the Honorable Kandis A. Westmore, United States Magistrate Court Judge, who fined the defendant $18,000, and also ordered it to pay $17,985.34 in restitution and a special assessment of $125. In sentencing Z.A.S., the Court stressed the need to deter such conduct by other participants in government programs, but noted the company’s full cooperation with the government’s investigation. Z.A.S. International indicated that it would pay the fine, restitution, and special assessment today.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang prosecuted this case with the assistance of Vanessa Quant. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, and is believed to be the first prosecution in the nation of a Market Access Program participant.