Four people in Anchorage were convicted of defrauding the federal government in a scheme that involved illegal bribes for contracts reserved for veteran-owned businesses.
The crimes took place between 2014 and 2016, and involved a local business owner giving nearly $30,000 in kickbacks to a Veterans Affairs employee who then doled out preferential contracts.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alaska announced sentences in the case. Anchorage residents Donald Garner, 50, Richard Vaughan, 74, Yalonda Moore, 52, and Dale Johnson, 50, all pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the case. Garner and Vaughan were both sentenced to a year in federal prison with three and five years of supervision after release, respectively, along with $347,000 in restitution owed to the federal government. Johnson will spend five years on probation, and Moore three years.
Vaughan worked as a contract officer representative at the VA and oversaw awards. According to a federal plea agreement, Garner met with Vaughan at a Muldoon parking lot in 2014 and paid him a cash bribe of $10,000 for a guarantee that his business, Veteran Ability, would be granted government contracts through the VA.
Under U.S. law, the Small Business Administration reserves a portion of federal prime and subcontracted awards for businesses primarily owned and operated by military veterans with service-connected disabilities.
Garner’s company was not certified in that program, but according to prosecutors, he made an arrangement for Dale Johnson’s company, Adaleco, to bid on contracts and act as a “pass through” entity. Adaleco would apply for the special veteran-owned small business contracts, Vaughan would award them, then Garner’s company would carry out the services and collect most of the money, in the process paying Johnson $54,302 in kickbacks, according to court documents.
From 2015 to 2017, according to the plea agreement, Garner paid bribes amounting to $29,235 directly to Vaughan. One of those was related to a multi-year contract for snow removal at VA facilities. The two men pleaded guilty to knowingly submitting fraudulent invoices, some of them for work described as “unnecessary or never performed.”
Yalonda Moore, who worked as a bookkeeper for both the businesses, pleaded guilty to tipping off Garner that the FBI was monitoring a phone call between them by using a codeword, “baby,” to alert him not to say anything incriminating. According to prosecutors, that amounted to “intentionally obstructing a federal investigation with which she was purporting to cooperate.”
According to his sentencing document, Garner escaped a troubled childhood by enlisting in the military in 1990, eventually joining the elite Army Ranger program before being honorably discharged after a service-related injury. Afterward, he struggled with a range of health issues, from diabetes and chronic pain to diagnoses for depression and alcohol-use disorder.
In a sentencing memorandum filed on behalf of Garner, defense attorney Rex Butler argued that his client admitted he had erred, but that the government’s case that taxpayers were defrauded out of $347,000 as a result of the scheme was drastically overvalued and belied legitimate work carried out under the contract.
Butler portrayed Garner as having been largely duped by Vaughan and Moore, who played more sophisticated roles in brokering the initial bribery arrangement.
“(Vaughn) was the conductor. He was the architect and builder. Everyone else was just a pawn,” Butler wrote in the memorandum.
The plea agreement also cites a contract awarded by Vaughan to Garner’s business in 2016 for housekeeping work at VA facilities worth more than $5 million. That contract was terminated for cause less than a year later after paying more $776, 272, and is not part of the final convictions or sentences.