Friday, November 3, 2017

Fraud Friday - Government Employee Solicited and Accepted Bribes from Contractor

Now they're both in a heap of trouble.

There is not that much different in the relationship between a Government contracting officer and his contractor and that of a purchasing agent and his suppliers. In both cases, management places a great deal of trust that the person will act with integrity in carrying out his duties - namely buying at the best possible prices and terms. Trust is crucial but is not a substitute for good internal controls.

One reason we discuss allegations of contract fraud on these pages is to examine what went wrong in a given situation, what internal controls were nonexistent or were not adequate to prevent. We know from research that within a five year period, most small businesses will be affected by occupational fraud. And we also know that where there is a financial need, an opportunity, and rationalization, fraud is more likely to occur. So one way to prevent (or reduce) the occurrence of fraud is to take away the opportunity and that means implementing a robust system of internal controls.

So consider the recent Justice Department press release announcing the arraignment of Elvis, a supervisor with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a business owner named Ivan on charges of bribery and kickbacks. Although this occurred at the FDA, it could have occurred in any governmental or contractor organization.

Elvis was the senior facilities officer at FDA's Atlanta field office and in that role, influenced the selection of businesses that perform building maintenance work. Ivan was the owner of P&E Management, a firm that performed building maintenance work. Ivan need work to sustain his company and Elvis was there ready to give him work ... for a price.

According to the press release, Ivan gave Elvis a debit card tied to Ivan's bank. Elvis used this card for shopping sprees, vacations, and dining out. On one occasion, Elvis used the card to pay for official government business trip and later sought reimbursement from the Government for that trip. To top it off, Ivan bought Elvis a Cadillac Escalade worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 thousand.

This bribery/kickback scheme went on for six years before it was discovered. We don't know how it was discovered - whether someone blew the whistle or perhaps an internal audit review. For the same firm to win contracts time after time over an extended period of time is inherently a red flag. But we know that there was a massive breakdown in internal controls that allowed this to happen and to persist for such a long time. It seems that Elvis had the ability to spend the Government's money without any oversight at all. And, if we've come to understand Government procurement regulations at all, we know that is not the way procurement is supposed to be done. Government procurement is characterized by market research, solicitations, evaluations, selections, negotiations, review and approvals accompanied by mountains of paperwork. For one person to wield so much power and influence to circumvent all of these controls suggests an internal control breakdown.

So how did Elvis circumvent the controls? Elvis always kept his purchases of building maintenance services under the micro-purchase threshold (currently set at $5,000) where speed and efficiency can streamline the procurement process but can also be easily exploited by persons such as Elvis.

You can read the entire Justice Department press release here.

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