Wrist Slap for CEO Who Defrauded USAID out of Hundreds of Millions

Wrist Slap for CEO Who Defrauded USAID out of Hundreds of Millions

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

Former CEO Derish Wolff of Louis Berger Group, one of the country’s largest engineer contracting firms will be confined to his home for a year and have to pay a $4.5 million fine for helping to defraud the federal government out of hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years. The fine represents a tiny fraction of the amount the company collected from the government. 

Wolff, 70, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Anne Thompson for leading a “conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called ‘cost-reimbursable’ contracts—including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan” and for inflating overhead costs. 

Related: U.S. Blew $500k on Melting Afghan Buildings 

Federal prosecutors said the company, tasked with building roads and bridges in Afghanistan and Iraq, charged the government 140 percent of the actual cost for every project it did. That means that for every one dollar of work the contractor did, it received $1.40 extra. Louis Berger was paid more than $2 billon by the U.S. government for its infrastructure work in war zones. 

Prosecutors said that between 1990 and 2009, Wolff and his colleagues inflated the costs of their work for USAID by telling accountants to “pad time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.” 

Related: Pentagon Won’t Verify $300 Million a Year in Afghanistan is Spent Properly

Beyond logging false work hours, the prosecutor said Wolff routinely instructed his subordinates to bill USAID for all of their overhead expenses—like rent at Louis Berger’s Washington office even though the D.C. office worked on other projects that had nothing to do with the federal government.

After two other company executives pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the federal government in 2010, Louis Berger Group agreed to make full restitution to USAID. It settled civil and criminal charges and had to pay $18.7 million in criminal fines and an additional $50.6 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by significantly overbilling USAID.

Chart of the Day: Long Way to Go on Coronavirus Testing

Healthcare workers with ChristianaCare test people with symptoms of the coronavirus in a drive-thru in the parking lot of Chase
Jennifer Corbett
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The White House on Friday unveiled plans for a new effort to ramp up testing for Covid-19, which experts say is an essential part of limiting the spread of the virus. This chart from Vox gives a sense of just how far the U.S. has to go to catch up to other countries that are dealing with the pandemic, including South Korea, the leading virus screener with 3,692 tests per million people. The U.S., by comparison, has done about 23 tests per million people as of March 12.

After Spending $2 Billion, Air Force Bails Out on Planned Upgrades of B-2 Bombers

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air For..
© Hyungwon Kang / Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The Air Force has scrapped a planned upgrade of its B-2 stealth bomber fleet — even after spending $2 billion on the effort — because defense contractor Northrup Grumman didn’t have the necessary software expertise to complete the project on time and on budget, Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reports, citing the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that the nearly $2 billion that had already been spent on the program wasn’t wasted because “we are still going to get upgraded electronic displays.”

Big Hurdle for Sanders’ Plan to Cancel Student Debt

Chip East / REUTERS
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Bernie Sanders wants to eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt, to be paid for by a tax on financial transactions, but doing so won’t be easy, says Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal.  

The main problem for Sanders is that most Americans don’t support the plan, with 57% of respondents in a poll last fall saying they oppose the idea of canceling all student debt. And the politics are particularly thorny for Sanders as he prepares for a likely general election run, Mitchell says: “Among the strongest opponents are groups Democrats hope to peel away from President Trump: Rust Belt voters, independents, whites, men and voters in rural areas.”

Number of the Day: $7 Million

NY mayor cites climate stance in endorsing Obama
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much Michael Bloomberg is spending per day in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, according to new monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission. “In January alone, Bloomberg dropped more than $220 million on his free-spending presidential campaign,” The Hill says. “That breaks down to about $7.1 million a day, $300,000 an hour or $5,000 per minute.”