Douglas Earles, 60, of White Lake pleaded guilty to conspiring with co-defendant, James Warner, a field inspector at the Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA), to steal over $100,000 from the airport between June of 2010 and August of 2013, United States Attorney Matthew Schneider announced today.
Schneider was joined in the announcement by Timothy Slater, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Detroit Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Andrea M. Kropf, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the United States Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General.
Earles, who owned and operated North Star Water Management and North Star Plumbing, companies which entered into contracts for plumbing installation and maintenance at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, participated in a scheme in which Warner, posing as Earles, would draft and submit fraudulently-inflated invoices for work which Earles purportedly performed at the airport. Some of the invoices Warner submitted on Earles’s behalf listed parts that Earles had not in fact replaced or repairs that Earles had not in fact performed. Upon payment by the WCAA to Earles, Earles would kickback roughly 40 per cent of the profits to Warner. This scheme is similar to the theft and bribery conspiracy that Warner engaged in with William Pritula, who pleaded guilty last July to paying over $5 million in kickbacks to Warner for pavement and hydrant repairs and maintenance at the airport.
Thus far, law enforcement has seized $11.4 million in criminal proceeds related to this investigation, including $7.5 million from Pritula and $3.9 million from Warner.
The theft charge to which Earles has pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
Warner’s trial is scheduled for May.
United States Attorney Schneider stated, “Today’s guilty plea signifies another step forward in dismantling this massive fraud and bribery scheme that stole millions of dollars from the WCAA.”
“The crime to which Mr. Earles pleaded guilty is part of a pattern of corrupt and illegal conduct by a WCAA high-level manager and contractors who were hired to improve the infrastructure at the airport,” said SAC Slater. “The case also highlights the FBI's Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force's commitment to investigating corruption in settings outside of city government. I would encourage anyone who has information about corruption in any setting to contact the FBI.”
"This investigation demonstrates that entities wishing to do business with the Federal government on transportation infrastructure projects will be held accountable for maintaining the highest level of integrity," said Andrea M. Kropf, DOT-OIG Regional Special Agent-in-Charge. "Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we will continue our vigorous efforts in preventing, detecting and prosecuting infrastructure fraud."
The investigation of this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Transportation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eaton P. Brown, Paul Kuebler, and R. Michael Bullotta