guilty plea as part of ongoing US probe into Caltrans bribery | national politics

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A former contract manager at the California Transportation Agency pleaded guilty Monday in what federal prosecutors said was an ongoing investigation into a bid-fixing and bribery fraud involving multimillion-dollar contracts.

Choon Foo “Keith” Yong agreed to cooperate in the investigation into what prosecutors said was a conspiracy to rig the bidding process for improvements and repair contracts at California Department of Transportation facilities.

The scheme ensured companies controlled by his co-conspirators would submit the winning bid and get the contracts, prosecutors said.

The contracts had a total value of more than $8 million and Yong’s agreement stipulated that he would be awarded at least 10% of the value according to his settlement agreement.

He received bribes and other payments in the form of furniture, wine and home remodeling totaling more than $800,000, according to prosecutors.

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He agreed to pay a refund as part of his plea deal in a scam that ran from early 2015 to late 2019, prosecutors said.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division described Yong’s guilty plea as “the first in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into bribery and bid-fixing at Caltrans.”

Caltrans officials did not immediately comment.

The plea deal states that Yong colluded with “Contractor A, Contractor B, and other co-conspirators” without naming them. He would submit “the agreed bidder names – which always included Contractor A” for review. Another company would make a “bogus offer” so that Schütz A or the company of another co-conspirator would win the bid.

Contractor A would then pay money or other benefits to the co-conspirators’ bidders.

The agreement allowed Contractor A or another conspiring entity to “win the Caltrans contracts at inflated prices,” according to the plea deal.

Yong was introduced to Company A in early 2015 by “Caltrans Employee A,” who then worked with him on the bid agreement, the plea deal said. He then paid her $500 a month in cash from his share of the earnings until early 2017.

Yong retired from Caltrans in 2019 after starting work there in 1990, and the investigation began after his retirement, his defense attorney Tom Johnson said.

“He looks forward to getting this over with and moving on to the next chapter in his life. That’s why we campaigned early on for the plea,” Johnson said.

The joint investigation includes federal prosecutors and FBI investigators working under the Justice Department’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force, established in November 2019. Kanter said her role has grown in importance since Congress passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year.

Yong is due to be sentenced in August. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison plus a $1 million fine or twice the monetary loss.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence at the lower end of state sentencing guidelines, plus an additional reduction for his cooperation.

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