Nazik Modawi and her husband Abboud Wali started a company called Rides Inc.in the Philadelphia area to provide non-emergency transportation services to the aged and people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. By all accounts, the company was successful, growing from three vans to more than 40 vans averaging 600 trips per day. The couple wanted more however. They wanted to get in on some of the largess spewed by the Federal Government and in particular, the Department of Transportation.
Beginning in 1980, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued regulations to increase the participation of minority and disadvantaged business enterprises in federally-funded programs. To become certified as a DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise), a company must be owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Companies that hold DBE certification, are eligible for contracts reserved or set-aside for DBE companies. Recipients of DOT funds, such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SPTA) must establish a DBE program. To become a DBE under SPTA's program, a company must go through an arduous, time-consuming qualification process.
In November and December of last year, Modawi and Wali showed up at SPTA offices bearing wads of cash. We don't know how much but it was significant. The ostensible purpose of the cash payments were to get SPTA to expedite their DBE application for certification. That might be how things work in some countries but not here in America.
The SEPTA folks immediately reported the cash payments to authorities. Thank goodness for that bit of honesty. An investigation ensued and now the couple has been charged with conspiracy and bribery. Those are serious charges. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250 thousand dollar fine. The bribery charge carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and the same $250 thousand dollar fine.
You can read the full Justice Department press release here.