Former FAA Aviation Safety Inspector Sentenced to More than Six Years in Prison for Bribery and Fraud Scheme
MIAMI, FL - A former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Safety Inspector Manuel R. Fernandez, 42, of Miami, was sentenced to 75 months in prison today, after having been convicted by a trial jury of twenty-one criminal counts related to his participation in a bribery and fraud scheme.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Todd A. Damiani, Regional Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG), and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
According to the evidence at trial, from 2010 through June 28, 2013, Fernandez served as a FAA Aviation Safety Inspector with the FAA South Florida Flight Standards District Office (“FSDO”). Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez were the co-owners, officers, and directors of AVCOM, a Miami aviation repair company, which was subject to the jurisdiction and official responsibility of the FAA South Florida FSDO. The evidence showed that, at the same he was working for the FAA, Fernandez held various positions at AVCOM, including Vice President of Operations.
In exchange for Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez corruptly providing over $150,000 in cash, as well as jewelry, a cruise, clothing, and approximately $15,000 funneled to Fernandez’s mother, Fernandez violated his lawful and official duties as an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector. Fernandez provided AVCOM with advanced notice and warnings as to pending FAA inspections of AVCOM, disclosed financial information about AVCOM’s competitors, and provided AVCOM with improperly obtained aviation repair manuals produced by original equipment manufacturers such as Honeywell and Delta, saving AVCOM from paying vast sums of money for this proprietary information. The evidence further showed that Fernandez provided materially false statements to the FAA and DOT in order to hide his participation in these AVCOM-related activities. Additionally, Fernandez submitted a fraudulent sick leave request to the FAA, utilizing a forged doctor’s note.
Fernandez was convicted on June 13, 2019. Today, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke sentenced Fernandez to concurrent terms of 51 months in prison for his convictions on one conspiracy to commit bribery, fifteen counts of bribery, one count of providing false statements to a federal agency, and two counts of wire fraud. He was also ordered to serve 24 months in prison, to run consecutively to the sentence of 51 months in prison, for his conviction on the two counts of aggravated identity theft (Case No. 17-20780-Cr-Cooke).
The Court ordered Fernandez to surrender to authorities on January 6, 2020, to begin his federal prison sentence. A restitution hearing is scheduled for February 26, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.
Rolando Suarez previously pled guilty and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Patricia Suarez previously pled guilty and was sentenced to 5 years’ probation with 240 days of electronic monitoring. Rolando and Patricia Suarez were ordered to jointly pay $711,940.46 in restitution.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the DOT-OIG and FBI in this matter. She also thanked the Hialeah Police Department, Miami Beach Police Department, and Miami-Dade Police Department for their assistance. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Davis and Yeney Hernandez. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Lehr is handling the asset forfeiture aspects of the case.