FORMER CONSULTANT TO THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FOUND GUILTY IN MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT OF $1.7 MILLION FRAUD SCHEME
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday March 7, 2012
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that WILLARD LANHAM, a/k/a “Ross Lanham,” a former consultant to the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”), was found guilty Monday in Manhattan federal court for illegally obtaining $1.7 million in DOE funds that were intended to provide internet access to New York City public schools. LANHAM directed the funds to “Lanham Enterprises,” a company he owned and controlled, but which did no work to justify receiving the funds. He was convicted after a six-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As a Manhattan jury found Monday, Willard Lanham siphoned off public funds designated for New York City schools for his own personal use. The jury’s swift verdict in this case should make it clear that abuse of public funds will not be tolerated.”
According to the Complaint, Information, and the evidence at trial:
From 2002 through October 2008, LANHAM was a consultant to the DOE, responsible for managing multiple major initiatives, including Project Connect, a large-scale cabling, integration, and wireless deployment project with the goal of providing internet access to all New York City public school classrooms. During his tenure as a consultant to the DOE, LANHAM was involved in all aspects of managing Project Connect and two other DOE initiatives, including providing oversight and supervision of the various contractors and subcontractors engaged on these projects. Between 2002 and 2008, LANHAM was paid an annual salary of approximately $200,000, for a total of approximately $1.4 million in compensation, all of which was billed to, and ultimately paid for by, the DOE.
LANHAM abused his position of trust with DOE by unlawfully and without authority converting to his own use an additional $1.7 million in DOE funds that was intended to be used to provide internet access to New York City public school classrooms. He converted this money from the DOE in the following two ways.
First, LANHAM orchestrated the hiring of outside consultants (the “LANHAM Consultants”), including his own brother, to work for him on a DOE project that he oversaw, and he arranged it so that his company, Lanham Enterprises, would pay these consultants directly. LANHAM also billed a Project Connect subcontractor for the work performed by the LANHAM Consultants, which was unrelated to the work the subcontractor was performing for the DOE. LANHAM billed for the work at a much higher rate than what he had actually paid the LANHAM Consultants, and then pocketed the difference.
Second, LANHAM instructed a subcontractor working on the DOE projects he managed to pay a LANHAM Consultant, and to bill Lanham Enterprises for approximately the same amount. LANHAM then used his company to charge another subcontractor a greatly inflated amount for the work of that LANHAM Consultant, and again pocketed the difference. In both of these circumstances, Lanham Enterprises contributed nothing of value to the work that the LANHAM Consultants performed, other than to submit significantly marked-up invoices for the work that was ultimately paid for by the DOE.
LANHAM was never authorized by the DOE to engage in this conduct. In fact, throughout this scheme, LANHAM affirmatively misled the DOE and the contractors and subcontractors that he was responsible for overseeing. For example, LANHAM told certain individuals at the DOE that the DOE was not paying for the LANHAM Consultants, and that they were being paid for by a DOE contractor.
LANHAM used the proceeds from the scheme, in whole or in part, to fund a lavish lifestyle, that included purchasing luxury cars, and purchasing and developing significant real estate holdings on Long Island.
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LANHAM, 58, of East Northport, New York, was convicted on all four counts of an Information that charged him with one count of theft concerning a program receiving federal funds and three counts of mail fraud. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the mail fraud counts, and 10 years in prison for the theft count. For each count, LANHAM also faces a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Daniels on June 21, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the New York City Department of Investigation and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District.
This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian A. Jacobs and Alvin Bragg are in charge of the prosecution.