WHITE PLAINS – Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Richard Brega, the former owner of Brega D.O.T. Maintenance Corp. in Rockland County, was found guilty by a federal jury in White Plains of fraud, bribery, and theft of government property.
The convictions were for Brega’s billing the Rockland Board of Cooperative Educational Services (Rockland BOCES) for maintenance of school buses that was never performed, and bribery of a Rockland BOCES official.
The convictions resulted from a three-week trial before the United States District Judge Kenneth M. Karas.
Brega is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Karas on October 17, 2018.
Brega, 50, of Rockland County, was convicted of three counts: (1) mail fraud, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison; (2) bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison; and (3) theft concerning a program receiving federal funds, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison.
Popkave, 62, who currently resides in Florida, pled guilty before Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy on January 24, 2017, to five counts: (1) conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison; (2) mail fraud, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison; (3) theft concerning a program receiving federal funds, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison; (4) bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison; and (5) obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, “As a unanimous jury found, Richard Brega engaged in fraud, bribery, and theft of government property. The scheme not only defrauded Rockland school districts and the federal government by billing for bus maintenance work that was not performed, but it also put children at risk of riding unsafe buses. Now Brega awaits sentencing for his crimes.”
The evidence at trial showed, among other things, the following:
Rockland BOCES serves eight school districts in Rockland County. Among the services that Rockland BOCES offers to its students – particularly children with special physical, intellectual, and emotional needs – is transportation, for which it has a fleet of buses and other vehicles (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Rockland BOCES buses” and “bus fleet”), some of which are specially equipped for students with physical disabilities. Rockland BOCES receives federal funding each year, often in excess of $1 million.
Brega owned and controlled vehicle repair and transportation companies in Rockland County, including Brega D.O.T. Maintenance Corp. (“Brega DOT”), a fleet maintenance repair shop. From in or about 2008 or 2009, through in or about 2015, Brega DOT provided vehicle repair service and maintenance for Rockland BOCES bus fleet, including regular preventive maintenance (“Preventive Maintenance”), which is supposed to involve a thorough and detailed inspection and testing of the buses at Brega DOT’s facility, designed to ensure that the buses are defect-free and safe to operate with children aboard. Brega DOT would fix any problems with the buses that it found during Preventative Maintenance inspections before releasing the buses back to Rockland BOCES. Brega DOT also created invoices documenting the work done and provided those invoices to Rockland BOCES for payment. Rockland BOCES’ director of transportation, William Popkave, would then approve the invoice as accurately stating work that was performed on Rockland BOCES buses, and Rockland BOCES would mail payment to Brega DOT.
From in or about 2012 through in or about 2014, Brega stole money from Rockland BOCES by, among other things, billing Rockland BOCES for Preventative Maintenance inspections that were never performed. To do so, Brega directed his employees to prepare fraudulent invoices, as well as fraudulent supporting documentation, giving the false appearance that his company had performed regular Preventive Maintenance inspections on certain buses, when in fact those buses were not even brought to Brega DOT and Preventative Maintenance inspections were not performed.
To create the fraudulent invoices, and to obtain payment from Rockland BOCES for work that was never performed, Brega bribed Popkave – who oversaw upkeep and maintenance of its buses – with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of free personal vehicle repairs. Popkave sent Brega lists of buses and their mileages so that Brega could create fraudulent invoices and supporting documentation, and thereafter approved payment of the fraudulent invoices at Rockland BOCES, even though Popkave and Brega knew that the buses had not even been to Brega DOT on the days for which Brega DOT billed Rockland BOCES, and had not received Preventative Maintenance inspections.