A former FAA Aviation Safety Inspector and the co-owner of a South Florida aviation repair company, AVCOM Avionics and Instruments Inc., were charged with various offenses in connection with bribery scheme during 2010-2013. To date, the other co-owner of AVCOM Avionics and Instruments Inc. has also been convicted and sentenced in connection with the ongoing investigation.
Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Marlies T. Gonzalez, Regional Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG), and Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
Patricia Suarez, a/k/a “Patricia Bailly,” a/k/a “Patricia Del Castillo,” 49, of Coral Gables, was charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371 and 201(b)(1)(C) and (b)(2)(C), and fifteen counts of bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 201(b)(1)(C). If convicted, Patricia Suarez faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years’ imprisonment for the conspiracy count and fifteen years’ imprisonment each for the bribery counts, as well as a fine up to $250,000 or triple the bribery proceeds.
Manuel R. Fernandez, 40, of Miami, was charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371 and 201(b)(1)(C) and (b)(2)(C); fifteen counts of bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 201(b)(2)(C); one count of providing false statements to a federal agency, in violation Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2); two counts of wire fraud, in violation Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343; and two counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A. If convicted, Fernandez faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years’ imprisonment for the conspiracy count, fifteen years’ imprisonment each for the bribery counts, five years’ imprisonment for the false statements count, twenty years’ imprisonment for each wire fraud count, and a two-year consecutive mandatory minimum sentence for the aggravated identity theft counts, as well as a fine up to $250,000 or triple the bribery proceeds.
Rolando Suarez, 56, of Coral Gables, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371 and 201(b)(1)(C). Rolando Suarez was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. Rolando Suarez also agreed to pay approximately $711,940 in joint and several restitution in relation to the bribery scheme.
Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg stated, “The Suarez’s, through their company, paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to Fernandez, an FAA Aviation Inspector, for the sake of minimizing the cost of doing business, gaining inside information on its competitors, and maximizing profits. This indictment represents our joint efforts to ensure that businesses compete on a level playing field, without improper outside influences or the payment or receipt of bribes.”
“This investigation of alleged bribery demonstrates that those entrusted with ensuring the safety our aviation system are held to the highest standards of integrity in the roles for which they are employed,” said Marlies T. Gonzalez, Regional Special Agent-In-Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG). “The Department of Transportation has made safety and accountability a top priority. Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we will continue our vigorous efforts to prevent, detect and prosecute fraud schemes that compromise the safety of the traveling public.”
“When those entrusted with aviation system safety put self-interest and personal enrichment ahead of their obligation, they breach the public’s trust,” said Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “We encourage anyone who may have information about corruption to come forward and report it. This information is vital to our work. The South Florida community can be assured that public corruption will remain a top priority for the FBI.”
According to the indictment, from 2010 through June 28, 2013, Fernandez served as a FAA Aviation Safety Inspector with the FAA South Florida Flight Standards District Office (“FSDO”). Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez were the co-owners, officers, and directors of AVCOM, a Miami aviation repair company, which was subject to the jurisdiction and official responsibility of the FAA South FSDO.
Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez corruptly provided thousands of dollars in cash, income, credit cards, vacation cruises, airline tickets, and other things of value to Fernandez, in exchange for Fernandez violating his lawful and official duties as an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector. In violation of his lawful and official duties, Fernandez provided AVCOM with improperly obtained aviation repair manuals, which saved AVCOM vast sums of money. Fernandez assisted AVCOM in altering and erasing language, warnings, and advisories from the manuals that indicated confidential, proprietary, copyrighted, and trade secret material. Fernandez also provided AVCOM with notice and warnings as to FAA inspections and investigations regarding AVCOM and its competitors, disclosed to AVCOM sensitive and confidential information regarding AVCOM’s competitors, and concealed and failed to report AVCOM legal, regulatory, and policy violations to the FAA.
In addition to cash payments, in order to funnel additional money to Fernandez, Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez submitted documents to AVCOM’s payroll provider establishing Fernandez’s relative as a no-show employee. In turn, Fernandez’s relative promptly provided these AVCOM funds directly to him. Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez also issued various company checks made out directly to Fernandez.
According to the indictment, Fernandez also provided materially false statements to the FAA and DOT in order to hide his AVCOM activities. Additionally, Fernandez electronically submitted fraudulent sick leave requests to the FAA, including utilizing a forged and fictitious doctor’s note.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the DOT-OIG and the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean T. McLaughlin.
An indictment merely contains allegations and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.