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Press Release

Chief Operating Officer Of International Cargo Airline Sentenced To Four Years In Prison For Defrauding His Employer

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that LARS WINKELBAUER was sentenced to four years in prison by U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman in connection with a massive scheme to defraud Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc. (“Polar”), a leading cargo airline, of more than $32 million dollars in revenue.  WINKELBAUER previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Lars Winkelbauer abused his high-level position at Polar for over a decade, extracting millions of dollars in kickbacks for himself and causing tens of millions of dollars of harm to the company.  The substantial sentence imposed today sends an important message: corporate corruption doesn’t pay.” 

According to the charging documents and other filings and statements made in court:

From at least about 2009 through about July 2021, LARS WINKELBAUER and at least nine other individuals participated in a massive scheme to defraud Polar.  At all relevant times, WINKELBAUER and three co-defendants were senior executives of Polar (the “Executive Defendants”), and six co-defendants (the “Vendor Defendants”) owned and operated various Polar vendors and customers. 

The Executive Defendants agreed to accept millions of dollars in kickbacks from the Vendor Defendants, and also reaped substantial financial benefits as a result of their secret ownership interests in certain Polar vendors, in exchange for ensuring that those vendors received favorable business arrangements with Polar.  The fraud they perpetrated — which involved a substantial portion of Polar’s senior management and at least 10 customers and vendors of Polar — led to pervasive corruption of Polar’s business, touching nearly every aspect of the company’s operations for over a decade. 

As a result of the scheme, the Executive Defendants, along with two co-conspirators who also worked as senior executives at Polar, received unlawful payments, either directly or through various limited liability companies they controlled, in excess of approximately $23 million in kickback payments or disbursements as a result of their ownership of conflicted companies. 

WINKELBAUER was Polar’s Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President and was the most senior of the Executive Defendants.  He personally received kickbacks connected to approximately 11 separate vendors or customers of Polar totaling over $6 million.  He also attempted to conceal the illegal kickback payments through a sophisticated money laundering scheme, including via falsified invoices and the use of shell companies in China.

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In addition to the prison term, WINKELBAUER, 48, of Bangkok, Thailand, was sentenced to three years of supervised release.  WINKELBAUER was also ordered to forfeit $6,774,039.30 and to make restitution to Polar in the amount of $32,902,847.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. 

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine Reilly, Danielle Kudla, Kevin Mead, and Qais Ghafary are in charge of the prosecution.


Nicholas Biase, Lauren Scarff, Shelby Wratchford
(212) 637-2600

Updated May 30, 2024

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 24-187