Business owner pleads guilty to wire fraud conspiracy to obtain more than $2.8 million in government contracts

BALTIMORE -- Wesley Burnett, 54, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty October 24, 2014, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $2.8 million in federal government contracts through the use of the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program, designed to assist disadvantaged businesses. 

The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Small Business Administration (SBA) Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson; Brigadier General Keith M. Givens, Commander Air Force Office of Special Investigations; and, Mary L. Kendall, Deputy Inspector General, Department of the Interior.

According to his plea agreement, Burnett owned and operated Confederate Group LLC and Total Barrier Works (TBW). These companies were in the business of maintaining and installing anti-terrorist systems and vehicle-control equipment such as security barriers, bollards, gates, uninterrupted power systems (UPS) and other perimeter security anti-terrorist equipment.

Burnett admitted that at various times from 2007 until 2014, he falsely represented to the U.S. government that Confederate Group LLC was a "Hispanic-American owned business," a "minority-owned business," a "service disabled-veteran owned business," and a "small-disadvantaged business," in order to win federal contracts at military bases and federal buildings that were reserved for firms in those categories. In fact, Burnett is not a member of any racial or ethnic minority, is not a disabled veteran and is not a member of a socially disadvantaged group, as those terms are defined by the Small Business Administration, and therefore his company was not qualified to receive contracts set aside for those categories. As a result of Burnett fraudulently claiming minority and/or disabled veteran status, from 2008 through 2014, Confederate Group LLC was awarded approximately $534,315, in contracts reserved for minorities and service disabled veterans. 

In order to bid on the set-aside contracts, Burnett recruited individual who were members of racial or ethnic minorities, service-disabled veterans, or members of socially disadvantaged groups, and offered them a percentage of the total value of any contract he won using their companies' name. As part of the scheme, Burnett, using the name of the minority owned company bid on federal government contracts set aside for companies owned by minorities, service-disabled veterans, or members of socially-disadvantaged groups. Burnett and TBW did all of the work covered by the contract, then paid the owner of the company in whose name the contract had been awarded a fixed percentage of the gross value of the contract, usually between four and five percent. To further this "pass thru" arrangement, Burnett falsely represented that TBW was a trade name for the minority-owned company in whose name the contract had been awarded, when in fact TBW was a separate and distinct company.

For example, Yogesh K. Patel was the owner of United Native Technologies, Inc. ("UNTI"), which, according to its articles of incorporation, was formed to "perform information technology services to federal, state and local government, as well as commercial." In 2005, Patel applied for and was granted certification as a minority or socially disadvantaged owned business under the SBA's 8(a) program. In addition to a broad scope of assistance from SBA, participants in the 8(a) program can receive sole source government contracts that are reserved for minority or socially disadvantaged owned companies.

Burnett met Patel at a business conference and the two agreed to use UNTI to bid on 8(a) set aside contracts at federal government installations, including military bases and federal buildings, with Burnett, TBW and individuals at Burnett's direction actually performing the work necessary to fulfill these contracts. Burnett also agreed to pay Patel approximately 4.5 percent of the total value of any contract awarded to UNTI. As a result, between January 2010 and November 2013, UNTI was fraudulently awarded more than $1.8 million in 8(a) set-aside U.S. government contracts, while the work on the contracts was actually performed by Burnett's company and employees.

Burnett admitted that he had similar arrangements with the owner of an 8(a) firm that did electrical and other work for government and commercial clients, and with the owner of a service-disabled veteran owned small business. Burnett also fraudulently obtained the personal identifying information of a service-disabled veteran, which he then used when bidding on federal government contracts.

Burnett faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow has scheduled sentencing for February 2, 2015, at 10:00 a.m.

Yogesh K. Patel,  47, of Gaithersburg, Md., previously pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on January 12, 2015, at noon.

The National Procurement Fraud Task Force was formed in October 2006 to promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in government contracting activity for national security and other government programs. The Procurement Fraud Task Force includes the United States Attorneys' Offices, the FBI, the U.S. Inspectors General community and a number of other federal law enforcement agencies. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Task Force, demonstrates the Department of Justice's commitment to helping ensure the integrity of the government procurement process.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the SBA Office of Inspector General, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Leo J. Wise and Sean R. Delaney, who are prosecuting the case.