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. 

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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.” 

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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.

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