Department of Justice seal U.S. Department of Justice

Debra Wong Yang
United States Attorney
Central District of California


United States Courthouse
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, California 90012
Release No. 06-056

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2006
For Information, Contact Public Affairs
Thom Mrozek (213) 894-6947

FORMER OFFICIAL AT INLAND EMPIRE WATER AGENCY PLEADS GUILTY IN FEDERAL CORRUPTION CASE STEMMING FROM CONTRACTS STEERED TO FRIEND'S FIRM


Los Angeles, CA - A former official with the Mojave Water Agency (MWA) has pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges for orchestrating a scheme that funneled contracts to an associate's surveying firm and brought the official more than $1 million in revenues.

Russell John Mullins, who was the director of engineering, operations and maintenance for the MWA, pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of "honest services" mail fraud. Mullins, 64, of Rancho Mirage, entered his guilty pleas before United States District Judge Robert J. Timlin in Los Angeles.

Another defendant, James Dale Cole Jr., the owner of J.D. Cole & Associates, Inc., pleaded guilty yesterday to aiding and abetting the scheme that began soon before Mullins was appointed to the senior management position with the MWA in February 1993. Cole, 52, of Yucaipa, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting fraud in a program that received federal funds.

In the scheme, Mullins awarded or steered contracts to the firms operated by Cole and another man, Pasquale Benenati Jr. In return, Cole and Benenati subcontracted much of the work to Mullins' company, R.J. Mullins & Associates, Inc., of San Bernardino.

As part of the scheme, Cole and Benenati submitted inflated invoices to the MWA that made no mention of Mullins' involvement in the project. The Environmental Protection Agency reimbursed the MWA for some of the fraudulent invoices submitted by Cole and Benenati.

The contracts that were fraudulently awarded by Mullins concerned work performed in relation to the Morongo Basin Pipeline and the Mojave River Pipeline projects, the latter of which was funded largely by the EPA.

To further the scheme, Mullins filed false Statements of Economic Interest with the San Bernardino County Clerk.

Mullins' company, R.J. Mullins & Associates, also pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of "honest services" mail fraud.

The three defendants who pleaded guilty are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Timlin on August 4. At sentencing, Mullins faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in federal prison and Cole could be sentenced to as much as five years in prison. Mullins' company faces a term of probation and fine that could be as much as $1 million.

Previously in this case, Benenati, a 73-year-old Riverside resident, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting theft from a program that received federal funds.

This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department; and the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General.

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Release No. 06-056

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