Five sentenced in Air Repair kickback case

By Carolyn Roy - bio|email

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - All five of the men who defrauded the Bossier Parish School board of over a million dollars in a bid-rigging and kickback scheme have been sentenced by a federal judge.

The punishments ranged from probation to beyond the recommended maximum for the alleged mastermind.

It's the conclusion of a bid-rigging and kick-back scheme that prosecutors say began more than seven years ago, with Arklatex Air Repair co-owners Alan Lee and Garrett Wilson cooking up a plan to solicit bribes and business from the school board through maintenance department employees Winfred "Randy" Johnston, William "Mont" Rodes and Mark Rowe.

All five were indicted in December 2008 after a six-month FBI investigation dubbed "Operation Screaming Eagle."  The employees were fired soon after. By the end of March 2009, all five had reached plea deals to have all the charges against them dropped, except for one count each of mail fraud.

Rodes and Johnston each got just over seven years.  Even though the sentence was on the low end of the federally recommended range, Johnston's attorney Peter Flowers says his client has already suffered significantly since the indictment.  "Nobody denies that what he did was wrong, but this sentence was, given the life that he's lead, I felt like it was harsh."

The third employee, Mark Rowe, got credit for cooperation and a lesser role in the scheme, receiving five years probation.  He had no comment after his sentencing, except to acknowledge relief.

Air Repair co-owner Garrett Wilson, already serving seven years for parole violation, also got 87 months (7 years, 3 months).  If it were not for a request from Alexander Van Hook the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, U.S. District Judge Maurice Hicks, said he would have handed Wilson the maximum recommended sentence 108 months (nine years).  Instead, the co-conspirator got credit for his cooperation with investigators, and for selling his business and assets to turn the money over for restitution. Wilson's attorney also asked the judge to recommend the sentence be served at the same time as his current incarceration, but the judge declined to rule on that request.

"Obviously we're disappointed the judge didn't give an order that it was concurrent," Wilson's attorney Russ Owen said after the sentencing, "but it certainly could have been worse."

The judge threw the book at co-owner Alan Lee, who is also serving time for parole violation. Going beyond the recommended maximum, Judge Hicks cited Lee's long criminal history in handing down a sentence of 120 months (10 years) in federal prison. "Everywhere you go, you attempt to take something from somebody that does not belong to you," Hicks told Lee, explaining why he chose to go beyond the guidelines in his case.  "You haven't gotten the message.  Maybe this is going to help."

Thanking investigators and his prosecutorial team, U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan expressed satisfaction with all of the sentences handed down Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm very satisfied with the sentences.  As the judge said, if you ask the parents of the students and teachers in the Bossier Parish, what could the school board do with an extra $1.2 million dollars to better education in Bossier Parish, they would have a long list of suggestions.  None of it would be to pay bribes and kickbacks going out the back door."

Flanagan says nearly $500,000 has already been seized to put toward the $1,194,300.25 in losses suffered by the Bossier Parish School Board.  All five have been ordered to jointly repay the money.  20% of their future earnings will also be garnished.  All five men have 10 days to appeal their sentences.  Johnston and Rodes have been ordered to report to federal prison in October.

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