RALEIGH -United States Attorney John Stuart Bruce announced that today in federal court before United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, SANTIAGO DE LA TORRE, 45, of Cicero, Illinois, was sentenced to serve 35 months in federal prison ori harges of Conspiracy to Make False Statements Concerning Highway Projects, and Perjury. The defendant was also ordered to serve a 3-year term of supervised release and to make restitution.
In October of 2011 a federal highway contractor discovered a defect in a grouping of elastomeric bridge bearings that had been shipped for use on bridges in North Carolina. An elastomeric bridge bearing is a slab of rubber that is reinforced with multiple layers of steel and placed underneath bridges to absorb shock. The bearings were defective because the steel plates were exposed, subjecting them to the elements and creating the potential for deterioration. The North Carolina Department of Transportation began an investigation and found systematic problems with the bearings that had been shipped, and in some instances installed, on bridge projects throughout the state. In total, 1,270 of the shipped bearings were found to be nonconforming and defective. The bearings were shipped in connection with 25 different highway projects in North Carolina between May of 2009 and October of 2011. Upon further investigation , the Department of Transportation found that many of the bridge bearings had come from a company named Delgado Elastomeric Bearings Corporation, located in the Chicago
The United States Department of Transportation conducted a criminal investigation into the creation and shipment of the defective bridge bearings. It was discovered that the North Carolina application to supply the bridge bearings to local contractors had been forged. The name of a teenager with no knowledge of how to manufactur e bridge bearings was fraudulently used on the application. This teenager was also held out by Delgado Elastomeric Bearings Corporation as the vice president of the company, when in fact, the teenager had no idea of this title. This same name and title had also been used on all certificates sent to North Carolina highway contractors certifying the conformity of the bearings with applicable state and federal regulations.
Ultimately,the investigation revealed that the defendant, SANTIAGO DE LA TORRE, and his brother Joel De La Torre, had forged the name of the teenager on the documents described above. Inspection of the Chicago facility used to manufacture the bridge bearings revealed that the facility did not contain the required testing devices and machinery which would have revealed the defects in the bridge bearings.
SANTIAGO DE LA TORRE committed perjury in the grand jury when he was asked if he had ever seen testing certification documents. In fact, conversations recorded by the FBI showed that the defendant had seen the certifications and was knowledgeable about the use of the teenager’s name on the documents. Prior to the defendant’s arrest, the defendant also encouraged his brother to flee to Mexico rather than face prosecution.
Although not presently incurred, costs associated with the replacement of the bearings are expected over time to exceed $5 Million due to the difficulty in removing the bearings from beneath existing structures, engineering costs, and traffic control. Federal and state agencies have reported that there is no immediate threat to safety due to the faulty bearings, which will be monitored and replaced over time.
Joel De La Torre was previously sentenced on April 21, 2016, and ordered to serve 35 months in federal prison for his role in the scheme.
The investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney William M. Gilmore represented the United States.