Ex-CEO admits role in scheme to defraud government

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The former president and CEO of a New Jersey-based engineering consulting firm pleaded guilty Friday to leading a conspiracy that reaped tens of millions of dollars by overcharging the U.S. government for reconstruction projects overseas, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. He faces 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in March.

Federal prosecutors say Wolff overbilled the United States Agency for International Development over nearly 20 years — from at least 1990 to 2007 — on reconstruction projects in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. The independent federal agency advances U.S. foreign policy in developing countries and countries destabilized by war.

Prosecutors say employee work hours at the Morristown-based Louis Berger Group were padded to make it appear they had spent time on the government contracts when they actually had not. From 2003 to 2007, then-controller and CFO Salvatore Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri helped with a similar scheme, prosecutors say.

Wolff also instructed subordinates to charge USAID for expenses unrelated to the projects, such as rent for Berger's offices in Washington, D.C., the U.S. attorney's office says.

Pepe and Pellettieri pleaded guilty in 2010 to conspiracy to defraud the government. At the same time, the Berger Group agreed to make full restitution to USAID and pay about $70 million in civil and criminal penalties.

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