MARTA department administrator charged with false invoice scam
ATLANTA – Jhonnita L. Williams, a former department administrator at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) agency, has been charged with participating in a false-invoice scheme, resulting in MARTA paying more than $500,000 for maintenance work that was never performed.
“For years, Williams allegedly betrayed her employer and exploited her position of trust at MARTA, resulting in a massive theft of tax payer money,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “This grand jury charged yet another defendant in this significant fraud scheme.”
“Williams is accused of dipping into taxpayers’ money to subsidize her own personal greed,” said Murang Pak, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Public corruption like this hits at the heart of government, eroding the public’s confidence, and that’s why the FBI is committed to holding accountable those who choose to abuse their positions of trust.”
“With this indictment and the conviction of Ms. Williams’s co-conspirator Joe Erves, who is currently serving time, MARTA is closing the chapter on this incident,” said MARTA Chief of Police Wanda Y. Dunham. “We have zero tolerance for employees who violate the public trust. We remain vigilant to guard against and root out this type of behavior.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: MARTA is the principal public transportation operator in the Atlanta area, providing fixed rail and bus service to more than 500,000 passengers per weekday. Formed by Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act of 1965, MARTA is a multi-county local governmental agency with a 2016 annual budget of more than $880 million.
Williams worked for MARTA from 1999 to 2017. From 2010 to 2017, Williams worked as an assistant and department administrator for Joseph J. Erves. Erves served as MARTA’s senior director of operations and oversaw the maintenance of all of its buses and rail cars.
From approximately June 2010 to December 2016, Williams and Erves allegedly had numerous fake invoices prepared on behalf of three vendors for MARTA maintenance projects for which no work was performed. Williams and Erves allegedly used the false invoices as a basis to authorize payments to the three vendors – including fake invoices submitted by a business owned by Ferrell Williams (who was romantically involved with Jhonnita Williams). After being paid, the three vendors funneled a portion of the money received from MARTA back to Williams and Erves.
Williams used the money to pay for various personal expenses, including the financing and purchase of an approximately 3,000 square foot single-family home with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. To secure the loan, Williams falsely represented on her loan application that she received $8,500 as a gift from a family member, when in fact she was the source of the money.
On July 24, 2018, a grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against Jhonnita L. Williams, 47, of Atlanta, Georgia, charging her with conspiratorial and substantive federal program theft, mail fraud, and false statements on a loan application.
On September 20, 2017, Joseph J. Erves, 53, of Lithonia, Georgia pleaded guilty to federal program theft. On January 16, 2018, Erves was sentenced to two years and nine months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $522,825.45 in restitution.
On March 29, 2018, Ferrell Williams, 63, of Cincinnati, Ohio, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit federal program theft. Ferrell Williams’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 1, 2018.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the MARTA Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis, Chief of the Public Integrity & Special Matters Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Prout are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.