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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Michigan

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Former Airport Official Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison in Record Setting Bribe and Kickback Scheme

United States District Judge Victoria A. Roberts sentenced convicted former Wayne County airport official, James Warner, 52, of Commerce Township, to 10 years’ imprisonment today. A federal jury convicted Warner last June of ten counts of conspiracy, federal program bribery, federal program theft, money laundering and obstruction of justice, in connection with maintenance and repair contracts for runways and parking structures at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, United States Attorney Matthew Schneider announced today. 

Schneider was joined in the announcement by Steven M. D'Antuono, 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 Midwestern Region of the United States Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

According to the evidence provided during the three-week trial, from May of 2010, through August of 2014, while employed as a field inspector at the Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA), Warner used his position of trust at the airport to direct more than $43 million in airport infrastructure projects to three coconspirators—William Pritula, Douglas Earles and Gary Tenaglia—in exchange for more than $6 million in kickbacks. This amount represents the highest bribe totals in the Eastern District of Michigan’s history, and one of the largest in the country.

On one occasion, Warner falsified the square footage and asphalt depth on an airport roadway project, creating and later approving a $938,000 bill from Pritula’s company for work which Pritula’s subcontractor only invoiced $275,000. Warner and Pritula then split the profits evenly. On another occasion, Earles’s company submitted two separate invoices—one for $13,429.63, and another for $18,055.26—for the replacement of backflow preventers at the airport. However, as the evidence revealed at trial, the backflow preventers listed in these invoices were neither purchased nor installed at the airport. Since Warner was the public official responsible for verifying these falsified invoices, he was able to conceal this fraud from the airport and authorize the airport to pay Earles for work that was never completed—a percentage of which was ultimately kicked back to Warner.

Each of Warner’s coconspirators, Pritula, 69, of Romulus, Earles, 60, of White Lake, and Tenaglia, 65, of Commerce Township have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and theft.”  To date, the government has seized $11 million from Warner and his co-conspirators.

United States Attorney Schneider stated, “This case is yet another example of our office’s commitment to vigorously prosecute corrupt public officials who elevate their own greed over the best interests of the people of Michigan.” 

“Through bribery, fraud, and kickbacks, Mr. Warner stole the hard-earned money of the men and women who fund the services provided at Detroit Metropolitan Airport,” said SAC D’Antuono. “I am incredibly proud of the hard work of agents from the FBI and the US Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, and attorneys from the United States Attorney’s Office, whose collective efforts helped bring a measure of justice to this defendant."

 “With one of the largest bribes prosecuted to date in the Eastern District of Michigan, today’s sentencing reinforces our commitment to rooting out egregious infrastructure fraud,” stated Andrea M. Kropf, DOT-OIG Regional Special Agent-In-Charge. “It sends a message to public officials who may be motivated by greed to abuse their positions that they will be met with the full force of the criminal justice system.”

The investigation of this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eaton P. Brown and Mark Chutkow.

Public Corruption
Updated February 5, 2020