- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

A Washington, D.C. Department of Public Works official has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to conspiracy and bribery charges for receiving cash and gifts from city road contractors in an overbilling scheme that cost taxpayers $225,000.

The charges and plea agreement by Bijan Haghtalab, a former public works area engineer who was in charge of many city street repair projects, were unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court.

Mr. Haghtalab agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to bribe, for which he could face up to five years in prison.

"More than $225,000 … was fraudulently billed to U.S. taxpayers. In addition, District of Columbia citizens were deprived of the use and benefit of those funds for the purpose of repairing the roadways of this city," according to the criminal action filed by U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis.

Mr. Haghtalab said in the plea agreement on May 24, 1999, that he would assist in the federal investigation of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and city road contractors.

If he provides "substantial assistance," the U.S. Attorney would file a motion with the court asking that he receive a lesser sentence.

This is the second criminal action taken within a week involving city road contractors and corrupt city officials.

A federal grand jury last week accused Florentino Gregorio and his company C&F; Construction Co., and Carlos Granja and his company Granja Contracting Inc. of bribing DPW employees into inflating city payments to their companies. The two men and their companies were charged in separate federal grand-jury indictments for bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and fraud.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger W. Burke Jr. said the charges against Mr. Haghtalab and the two contractors are parts of different investigations, although they were discovered in an ongoing probe of DPW and city road contractors.

Court records do not indicate whether the two city contractors and Mr. Haghtalab were connected.

Court records show that the FBI has been involved in a "discreet, wide-ranging investigation" of corruption in DPW's street construction branch. The investigation involved the relationships of DPW employees and city road contractors.

Court records also show that other employees who work for DPW's street construction branch also accepted bribes from city contractors for falsifying reports and inflating payments to the contractors.

The records note that Mr. Haghtalab and other city employees, who were not identified, conspired to cover up and falsify documents to disguise the overbilling schemes.

The Federal Highway Administration, which provided at least 80 percent of the money for city road projects, contacted DPW as early as August 1996 about bribes being paid to DPW employees in return for allowing private road contractors to perform shoddy work, court filings show.

Former DPW Director Larry King told the federal agency he could find no corruption.

During an investigation of DPW road contracting, the FBI found documents were missing or incomplete and DPW officials were not interested in determining the extent of the problem.

The FBI focused on Mr. Haghtalab because of charges that he authorized payments to a city contractor who billed the city for furniture and equipment that was used by Mr. Haghtalab in his office. Mr. Haghtalab approved the payment by the city for the furniture as an allowable expenditure even though furniture purchases were not part of the road contract.

On Feb. 25, 1999, Mr. Haghtalab admitted to the FBI that he devised schemes to conceal overbilling by paving companies that were reimbursed from federal highway funds.

He admitted that 28 times between February 1995 and October 1998 he had a relative bill city contractors for equipment that was paid for by the contractors and then billed to the road projects.

In addition, the paving companies would receive 10 percent of the amount plus they were reimbursed.

"The defendant would ensure the companies were reimbursed by misusing his position as a public official to falsify reports to disguise the payments and to allow the companies to be paid for work never performed and for materials they were never authorized to be used on the contract," court records state.

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