- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Four people have been charged with defrauding federal small-business programs to obtain government construction contracts worth millions of dollars.

The defendants are accused of obtaining contracts worth more than $140 million under a U.S. Small Business Administration program that helps disadvantaged business operators compete for government contracts. Another $24 million was obtained under an SBA program that helps disabled veterans, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II said Monday in a news release announcing the charges.

A federal indictment unsealed last week in Wheeling charged 42-year-old Nichole P. Northcraft of New Cumberland, West Virginia, and 64-year-old Michael J. Marshall, 61-year-old Brandt Stover and 52-year-old Stephen M. Powell, all of Steubenville, Ohio, with conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Stover also was charged with willfully causing the submission of false claims, witness tampering and two additional conspiracy counts.

Stover was general manager and Marshall was the accountant, attorney and inside office manager for several companies that submitted false eligibility statements to participate and remain in the programs. Powell also was involved in the companies. All three men are accused of exercising control over the companies beyond the extent allowed by the programs.

The trio also circumvented rules prohibiting them from making more money than the companies’ owners, the indictment charged.

Northcraft is charged with submitting false eligibility statements for a company she owns, N-Powell Company, Inc., to participate and remain in the program for disadvantaged business operators. She also is accused of failing to control N-Powell to the extent required by the program.

It wasn’t clear whether any of the defendants had an attorney who could be contacted for comment. Northcraft and Stover did not immediately return telephone messages Monday. A woman who answered a telephone number listed for Marshall hung up. A recording on a listing for Powell said the message mailbox was full.

Contracts fraudulently obtained through the scheme included one awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs to replace sealant around window glass and frames at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, and another awarded by the U.S. Navy to build a fence at the Naval Information Operations Command in Sugar Grove, the indictment said.

The scheme deprived legitimate disadvantaged companies of federal contracting opportunities, SBA Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson said in the news release.

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