Former US contractor pleads guilty in kickback case

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RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — A Florida man who worked as a project manager for a company that has done more than $200 million of dollars in energy efficiency work for the U.S. government pleaded guilty Monday to charges he took more than $2.5 million in kickbacks and bribes over a five-year period from subcontractors he was overseeing.

Bhaskar Patel of Windermere, Florida, entered the plea during a hearing in federal court in Rutland.

He is facing up to 10 years in prison for violating a law against taking kickbacks and bribes involving federal programs. The plea agreement also calls for the 67-year-old Patel to make cash restitution and liquidate some of his assets.

Sentencing is tentatively scheduled for December.

"Patel's crime involved a sweeping fraud that harmed many federal agencies and the American citizens and government employees who depend upon them," Vermont's United States Attorney Christina Nolan said in a statement issued after the court appearance.

During the hearing, Patel, who was released pending sentencing, answered a series of questions from U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford, most by saying "yes, your honor."

Patel's attorney, David Haas, declined to comment on the case on Monday, but said he may have something to say at sentencing.

Patel was a contract manager for Schneider Electric Buildings America Inc., which according to prosecutors "has enormous federal contracts." Patel negotiated subcontracts for energy efficiency projects at the U.S. government facilities.

Schneider describes itself as "leading the digital transformation of energy management and automation." On Monday, Schneider spokesman David Smith said the company was aware of Patel's guilty plea and would continue to cooperate fully with prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Patel accepted the illegal kickbacks and bribes in connection with a $70 million project for the United States Coast Guard in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; a $24.7 million project for the United States Department of Agriculture in Albany, California; a $12.6 million project for the United States General Services Administration in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; a $21.8 million project for GSA in San Juan, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and a proposed project for work at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.

The illegal activity was uncovered after investigators became aware that Patel had falsified a bid document submitted to Schneider by a Vermont subcontractor who was bidding for work at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction.

"Patel directed the subcontractors to pay him by check, often diverting funds through his adult son and daughter, and insisting on a bogus reference notation," said a press release.

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