Charges Allege New Jersey Woman Exploited The USDOT Disadvantaged Business Program
PHILADELPHIA - Joyce Abrams, 75, of Willingboro, NJ, was charged by Information with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a scheme involving the USDOT Disadvantaged Business Program and work performed on the federally funded Girard Point Bridge project and at the federally funded 30th Street Station, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger.
Abrams was the president and sole owner of Markias, a now-defunct certified Disadvantage Business. The alleged scheme involved a joint venture, referred to in the charging information as the “AB JV,” composed of Company A and Company B, both of which are bridge painting contractors but neither of which are certified Disadvantaged Businesses in Pennsylvania.
In September 2009, PENNDOT awarded a contract for approximately $70.3M to a triventure that included the AB JV to perform structural steel painting and repairs, and concrete repairs, on the Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia. As part of that award, the triventure made a commitment to PENNDOT to subcontract approximately $4.7M in Disadvantaged Business work to Markias to supply materials to be used in performing the contract. Under governing law, AB JV and the triventure were only entitled to Disadvantaged Business credit for worked performed by a Disadvantaged Business that was performing a commercially useful function. Instead, according to the information, the AB JV and Employee No. 1 ordered materials needed for their work on the Girard Point Project directly from suppliers that were not Disadvantaged Businesses, and used Markias as a mere pass-through or front, to give the appearance that disadvantaged business enterprise requirements had been met on the Girard Point Project when those requirements had in fact not been met. Markias did not perform a commercially useful function. PENNDOT awarded approximately $3.26M in Disadvantaged Business credit to Company A, Company B, and Company C during the course of the Girard Point Project based on Disadvantaged Business work allegedly performed by Markias.
In December 2010, PENNDOT awarded contract for approximately $50.8 million to a joint venture of Company C and Company F to perform structural steel painting and repairs and roadway reconstruction beneath and around AMTRAK’s 30th Street Train Station in Philadelphia. Company C and Company F entered into a subcontract, for approximately $15 million, for the AB JV to perform the structural steel painting beneath 30th Street Station. As part of the bid process, Company C and Company F committed to subcontract approximately $1.7M in Disadvantaged Business work to Markias to supply paint materials for the 30th Street Project. Instead, according to the information, the AB JV and Employee No. 1 ordered materials needed for their work on the 30th Station Project directly from suppliers that were not Disadvantaged Businesses, and used Markias as a mere pass-through or front, to give the appearance that disadvantaged business enterprise requirements had been met on the 30th Station Project when those requirements had in fact not been met. Markias did not perform a commercially useful function.
In addition, the information alleges that the AB JV and Employees No. 1 No. 2 ordered materials to be delivered to and used on out-of-state projects while directing that the purchase invoices be sent to Markias in New Jersey. Then, allegedly at the direction of AB JV and Employee No. 1, Joyce Abrams issued invoices that made it falsely appear that those supplies had been used on the 30th Street Project in Pennsylvania. The AB JV allegedly caused Company C and Company F to falsely report to PENNDOT that the supplies delivered to and used on the out-of-state projects qualified for Disadvantaged Business credit in Pennsylvania when those purchases did not so qualify. PENNDOT awarded approximately $1.275 million in Disadvantaged Business credit to Company C and Company F during the course of the 30th Street Station Project based on Disadvantaged Business work supposedly performed by disadvantaged business (Markias). AB JV paid Markias 2.25% of the face value of the invoices processed by Markias allegedly to act as a pass-through.
If convicted the defendant faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a possible fine, supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, and IRS Criminal Investigations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Paul Shapiro.
An information is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.