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$136 million fraud

Published August 17. 2010 05:00PM

An Orwigsburg man has pleaded guilty in what authorities are calling the largest disadvantaged business enterprise fraud $136 million in the U.S. Department of Transportation history.

Ernest G. Fink Jr., 64, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to defraud USDOT, and to commit wire and mail fraud, before Senior United States District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

Fink, who was part-owner and chief operating officer of Schuylkill Products Inc., Cressona, and its subsidiary, CDS Engineers Inc., until Schuylkill Products was sold in April 2009, faces up to five years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines plus restitution for his role in the scheme, according to U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith of the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Schuylkill Products manufactured concrete bridge beams used on highway construction projects in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

Fink on Monday admitted to participating in a 15-year conspiracy to defraud USDOT, the Pennsylvania department of Transportation and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in connection with the federal disadvantaged business enterprise program.

USDOT provides billions of dollars a year to states and municipalities for highway construction and mass transport projects on the condition that small businesses that are owned by disadvantaged people get a fair share of the funds.

In Pennsylvania, PennDOT and SEPTA received the money and are required to award a percentage of their subcontracts to eligible disadvantaged business enterprises.

Fink admitted in court that between 1993 and 2008, he and other Schuylkill Products executives diverted more than 300 PennDOT and SEPTA contracts worth $136 million meant for the disadvantaged business program to Schuylkill Products and CDS Engineers.

Fink and his co-conspirators used a small Connecticut highway construction company, Marikina Construction Corporation, as a front to obtain the lucrative contracts. Marikina is owned by Romeo P. Cruz of West Haven, Conn., a naturalized American citizen born in the Philippines. Marikina was certified as a disadvantaged business by SEPTA and PennDOT. The contracts were given to Marikina, but Schuylkill Products and CDS did all the actual work and took the majority of the profits.

Fink admitted that he and his co-conspirators hid the scheme by having workers pose as Marikina employees. They used Marikina business cards, email addresses, stationary, signature stamps, and used magnetic placards and decals bearing the Marikina logo to cover up the Schuylkill Products and CDS Engineers logos on company vehicles.

Cruz earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax fraud in 2008 and 2009; CDS vice-president in charge of field operations, Timothy G. Hubler of Ashland, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax fraud in 2008, Dennis F. Campbell of Orwigsburg, Schuylkill Products' former vice-president in charge of sales and marketing, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in 2008.

All three men are awaiting sentencing.

Joseph W. Nagle of Deerfield Beach, Fla., Schuylkill Products' former co-owner, president and CEO, was indicted on a charge of his role in the scheme, along with Fink, in November 2009.

The trial in that case is scheduled to begin Oct. 4 in federal court, Harrisburg.

The investigation was handled by the FBI, USDOT's Inspector General's Office, the U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General's Office and the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS. Senior Litigation Counsel Bruce Brandler is supervising the prosecution.

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