School bus scheme: Solofa trial underway in D.C.
Former local Department of Education official Paul Solofa went on trial yesterday at the federal court in Washington D.C. on charges of obstruction of justice and witness tampering stemming from his role in the school bus spare parts scheme at the time he was head of the DOE business office several years ago.
No other details were available on federal electronic court records as to yesterday’s proceedings, however, not much is expected to be released when it comes to opening and closing arguments as well as witness testimonies.
Star witnesses for prosecutors are Gustav Nauer, former supervisor for DOE school bus division and Oscar Mayer, boss of Pacific Products, the local firm which supplied spare parts for the school bus scheme. While Mayer has yet to be charged, Nauer has already pled guilty at the federal court in Honolulu and will be sentenced later this year.
Late last week, the Solofa’s defense filed an opposition to federal prosecutor’s motion to admit — at Solofa’s trial — additional evidence of another alleged bribery scheme between Solofa and Nauer which involved overtime paychecks.
The defense is also opposed to Solofa’s alleged confession to federal agents about being involved in a conflict of interest on an unrelated contract to provide food for the school lunch program. It was also when Solofa was head of the DOE business office that prosecutors allege that the overtime payment scheme occurred with Nauer as well as the awarding of the school lunch contract to a vendor, whose silent partner was Solofa.
Defense argued in its motion that Solofa is not charged with accepting bribes or theft of federal program money. However, the indictment includes as “background” allegations that Solofa and others conspired to purchase parts for school buses that were never delivered and that Solofa and others received kickbacks “in the form of cash payments and free or discounted automotive repairs and other goods and services” between 2002 and 2007.
Solofa’s defense team argued that this is the only evidence the court has already decided can be used for the obstruction charge. “The evidence of the other alleged bribery scheme involving overtime pay is at best evidence that he has engaged in conduct similar to the conduct that is alleged to be the motive here,” the defense argues. “That is not probative of anything the government must prove.”
Additionally, the “government suggests that it is admissible because it provides details on the genesis and operation of the bribery scheme.”
“However, the bribery scheme is not what is charged in this indictment. The evidence that Mr. Nauer and Mr. Solofa were engaged in a separate bribery scheme from that which forms the motive in this case is irrelevant,” the defense contends. Notably, unlike Oscar Mayer, whose testimony will be about the charges in this case — obstruction and witness tampering — nothing Nauer testifies about will address those charges, according to the defense.
“Thus the notion that this evidence should be admitted because it will not unduly prolong Mr. Nauer’s testimony is a red herring,” said Solofa’s attorneys.
“To add evidence of two additional uncharged crimes will unnecessarily complicate the trial, is likely to confuse the jury, and raises the very likely scenario that the jury simply says because Mr. Solofa has engaged in numerous questionable activities, he likely committed the crime,” they argued.
They also pointed out that there is no allegation that Mr. Solofa attempted to obstruct an investigation into the alleged overtime scheme. Nor is there any evidence that Mr. Solofa attempted to obstruct an investigation into the conflict of interest matter. In fact, the defense counsel is “aware of no investigation ever being conducted of either of those matters,” the motion says.