Solofa trial: Feds claim bribery, conflict of interest
Federal prosecutors claim that — prior to the school bus spare parts scheme — former Education Department official Paul Solofa was involved in an “overtime payment” scam involving mechanics and other workers at the DOE Bus Division.
Prosecutors on Tuesday asked the federal court in Washington D.C. to allow the jury to hear testimony from government witness Gustav Nauer at Solofa’s trial set for later this month about the overtime pay scheme as well as Solofa’s conflict-of-interest scheme in awarding a school lunch program to a contractor with whom he is a silent partner.
Solofa has been charged with one count each 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. It was also the time he was head of the business office that prosecutors allege that another scheme occurred involving overtime payments.
In a 16-page motion, prosecutors say the government will proffer evidence, through the brief testimony of Nauer, that immediately prior to the bus parts scam — which is at the heart of this case — Nauer asked for Solofa’s help in obtaining timely overtime pay for his employees at the bus division.
Nauer “will explain that despite properly submitting their overtime hours, the bus mechanics and drivers would sometimes wait months to receive their overtime pay,” said prosecutors. “Nauer will further state that the defendant confirmed that he could help, but that he required... a ‘favor’, in return.”
To satisfy defendant’s demand for a favor, Solofa and Nauer devised a scheme whereby, in exchange for ensuring that Nauer and his employees promptly received overtime pay, the defendant “would receive a cut of Mr. Nauer’s own overtime check,” the government alleges.
“Defendant received several cash payments from Mr. Nauer, and the payments only stopped once the larger bus parts scam was up and running,” prosecution further alleges. “This overtime bribery scheme provides an important explanation as to how defendant’s corrupt relationship with Mr. Nauer began” say court documents.
Prosecutors argue that evidence of this overlapping bribery scheme between defendant and Nauer is relevant and admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence and therefore should be allowed during trial, adding that “the evidence is not unfairly prejudicial to defendant.”
“Evidence of the overtime pay bribery scheme should be admitted because it is relevant to show defendant’s motive to tamper with witnesses and destroy evidence,” said prosecutors. “Once defendant knew that his role in the bus parts scheme was under investigation, he had a powerful motive to hide his involvement in that arrangement, knowing that other crimes, like the overtime pay bribes he received, might also come to light during the course of the investigation.”
Prosecutors didn’t say in the motion how much money Solofa received under the alleged overtime payment scheme.
Prosecutors also moved to admit into evidence at trial the defendant’s statement admitting to federal law enforcement officials that he had acted under a conflict of interest by awarding a school lunch contract to a company in which he was a silent partner. (The vendor is not identified in the motion)
“Though defendant’s conflict of interest is not directly at issue in this case, it was contemporaneous with the obstruction of justice charged in this case, and the government offers the statement as evidence of defendant’s motive for committing the offenses charged in this case — witness tampering and obstruction of justice — and as evidence of defendant’s candor and consciousness of guilt during his interview with law enforcement officials, in which he made several material admissions,” the government said.
It was during an interview with federal agents on Dec. 1, 2009 that Solofa stated that in his role as DOE Business Office manger, he had “received cash payments in exchange for his cooperation in a scam involving school bus parts,” the government alleges.
“In connection with that conspiracy, defendant admitted that he told a co-conspirator to destroy records that were sought by a federal grand jury subpoena,” it further alleges. “Moreover, and central to this motion, Defendant admitted that, apart from the bus parts conspiracy, he had engaged in a conflict of interest by simultaneously serving as a silent partner to a fish vendor who obtained a school lunch program contract and serving on the ASDOE board that awarded the contract.”
Solofa allegedly told federal agents that he assisted the vendor in preparing its bid for the contract and he concealed his partnership with the vendor because he knew that the secret partnership posed a serious conflict of interest with his role as an ASDOE official.
“Importantly, the agents knew nothing about this conflict of interest prior to Defendant’s candid confession,” the government said.