- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

A former high-ranking executive for the District’s largest road-paving company was sentenced yesterday to more than three years in prison for shortchanging the city on asphalt and bilking taxpayers out of nearly $500,000.

Antonio C. Bras pleaded guilty midway through his trial in 2003 to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and federal highway fraud. Prosecutors said the scam involved Bras, a former Fort Myer Construction Corp. superintendent, overstating how much asphalt was used in city paving jobs.

“These projects were designed to provide safe roads in the District of Columbia,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told Bras before sentencing him to 37 months in prison. “These are severe offenses.”

Bras, 62, speaking through a Portuguese translator, apologized in a short, tearful statement.

“I come before you as a man with much remorse for what I have done,” he said.

His attorney, Joseph J. Aronica, sought community service and home detention for his client, saying his loyalty to others “may have led him down the wrong path.”

Mr. Aronica did not say whether he would file an appeal. Bras faced a maximum of five years in prison.

Prosecutors said Bras played a central role in the complex scam to submit phony job tickets to the D.C. government that inflated how much asphalt the company delivered to job sites.

Bras’ job was to ensure city highway inspectors regularly received bribes of as much as $200 for each time they accepted a phony ticket, said Assistant U.S. District Attorney Steven J. Durham.

Mr. Aronica said Bras played a limited role, blaming the city inspectors and another Fort Myer executive, who has since died.

“Mr. Bras is a classic middle man,” Mr. Aronica said.

The probe, by the FBI and the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation, examined thousands of financial transactions between the District and area paving companies during the mid- and late 1990s.

Investigators also uncovered instances in which company employees drove trucks loaded with asphalt onto scales two or three times to make it appear as if the company were using different trucks, according to court records. Prosecutors dubbed the investigation “Operation Hot Mix.”

“The victims here are the taxpayers of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Durham said. “It went on years and years and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Bras was the highest-ranking company official to be charged in the investigation. He no longer works at Fort Myer, which previously blamed the activities on “rogue employees” of a subsidiary company.

Executives at two other road construction companies, Granja Inc. and C&F; Construction, and several D.C. Department of Works officials previously pleaded guilty.

In 2003, Fort Myer agreed to pay $900,000 in fines and restitution to the federal government, including a $300,000 civil settlement. The company was debarred from federal contracts in 2003. It regained eligibility last year.

An attorney for the company declined to comment on the sentence yesterday. Fort Myer officials previously said the company knew nothing about the bribery and that it undertook a series of reforms when it learned of the scheme.

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