Defendant Illegally Obtained Federal Contracts Meant for Small, Disadvantaged Businesses
Michelle Cho, an officer of Far East Construction Corporation (Far East) and other construction companies, was sentenced today to six months in prison and 24 months of supervised release on a federal charge of conspiring to commit wire fraud. Cho was also ordered to pay forfeiture in the amount of $169,166 and pay a criminal fine in the amount of $35,000.
The sentencing was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Acting Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Inspector General Carol Fortine Ochoa of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Special Agent in Charge Brian J. Reihms of the Central Field Office of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU).
According to court documents, Cho was an initiator and mastermind of a scheme lasting more than five years to defraud a disadvantaged persons’ business assistance program of tens of millions of dollars. Cho utilized two straw companies, including Far East, to conspire with MCC Construction Company (MCC) and others to defraud the SBA. Cho’s two companies were eligible to receive federal government contracts that had been set asides for small, disadvantaged businesses under the SBA 8(a) program. Cho and MCC understood that MCC would illegally perform all of the work on these contracts and pay three percent of the proceeds to Cho’s companies rather than have Cho’s companies perform at least 15 percent of the work as required by the SBA 8(a) program. In so doing, MCC was able to win 27 government contracts worth over $70 million from 2008 to 2011. The scope and duration of the scheme resulted in a significant number of opportunities lost to legitimate small, disadvantaged businesses.
The court documents also state that Cho and MCC violated the provisions of the SBA 8(a) program, which is designed to award contracts to businesses that are owned by “one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” To qualify for the 8(a) program, a business must be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by a U.S. citizen (or citizens) of good character who meets the SBA’s definition of socially and economically disadvantaged. The firm must also be a small business (as defined by the SBA) and show a reasonable potential for success. Participants in the 8(a) program are subject to regulatory and contractual limits. Also, under the program, the disadvantaged business is required to perform a certain percentage of the work. For the types of contracts under investigation here, the SBA 8(a)-certified companies were required to perform 15 percent or more of the work with its own employees.
Cho, 45, of Downers Grove, Illinois, was charged on Oct.12, 2016, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud. She pleaded guilty on Nov. 15, 2016, and was sentenced today by the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson.
MCC pleaded guilty on Feb. 2, 2016, to conspiring to commit fraud on the United States by illegally obtaining government contracts that were intended for small, disadvantaged businesses and agreed to pay $1,769,924 in criminal penalties and forfeiture. Thomas Harper, another former officer and owner of MCC, pleaded guilty on June 22, 2016, to conspiring to obstruct proceedings before a department or agency. He is to be sentenced on May 15, 2017. Walter Crummy, another former officer and owner of MCC, pleaded guilty on Aug. 23, 2016, to conspiring to commit wire fraud and was sentenced earlier this month to a year of probation, two months of which were home confinement, and forfeiture in the amount of $105,618.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the Inspector General for the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Inspector General of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the Central Field Office of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU).
The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marston and Trial Attorney Justin P. Murphy of the Antitrust Division.