News and Press Releases

Port St. Lucie Electrical Contractor and Wife Convicted in Kickback Scheme in Hurricane Wilma FEMA Fraud

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 6, 2012

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David C. Nieland, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, Miami Field Office, Jose A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID), Miami Field Office, and Susan Benton, Sheriff, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, announced yesterday’s conviction of defendants Jeffrey Wayne Aunspaugh, a Port St. Lucie electrical contractor, and his wife, Angela Aunspaugh. Sentencing is scheduled for June 4, 2012 before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore. The defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of up to 30 years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release.

More specifically, after a five-day trial, the Ft. Pierce jury convicted the Aunspaughs of conspiracies to commit honest services mail fraud, money laundering, and structuring financial transactions to evade currency reporting requirements. The jury also convicted the pair of substantive charges of structuring financial transactions to evade currency reporting requirements.

According to evidence presented at trial, Jeffrey and Angela Aunspaugh, owners of Ener-Phase Electric, Inc., obtained more than one million dollars from subcontracts with Glades Utilities Services, Inc. for storm-related repairs following Hurricane Wilma in 2005. According to the evidence, the pair paid more than $200,000 in cash kickbacks to their brother-in-law, Christopher Hale, who was the general manager of Glades Utilities Services, Inc., to obtain the contracts. Christopher Hale earlier pled guilty to receiving the kickbacks. Sentencing for Hale is scheduled for June 4, 2012.

To get the cash for the kickbacks, the Aunspaughs engaged in a series of structured withdrawals from their corporate bank account in amounts just under the amount necessary to trigger reports of cash transactions. In this way, the Aunspaughs withdrew $205,000 in cash in six months in 2006.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, “This verdict reflects the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners to combat fraud and waste in the federal government. We will continue to vigorously investigate and bring to justice those involved in defrauding the federal government.”

David Nieland, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, stated, “We remain steadfast in our commitment to aggressively pursue all individuals exploiting federal government programs funded by hard working tax payers and intended to benefit victims of tragic natural disasters. We encourage all persons with knowledge of fraudulent disaster claims to report them to our hotline at 1-800-323-8603.”

"Individuals who deliberately break down cash withdrawals into amounts less than $10,000, so as not to trigger a bank’s currency reporting requirement, are committing a financial crime,” said José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Division. “In this investigation, IRS special agents used their financial expertise to uncover that the Aunspaughs intentionally structured cash withdrawals, in order to hide their kickback scheme. These verdicts reflect our commitment and that of our federal and local law enforcement partners in aggressively investigating and prosecuting this type of financial crime."

Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton complemented her Detectives for working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s Office following a local investigation that uncovered this scheme. “This was a lengthy investigation where local charges were also prosecuted in a complicated financial investigation.”

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, IRS-CID, and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Russell R. Killinger and Adam McMichael.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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