Trucking company owner gets prison time for bribery charge

| Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A 29-year-old Chicago-area millionaire has been sentenced to prison in a bribery case linked to Illinois’ infamous Operation Safe Road investigation.

The defendant in the case, Dejan Zlatkovic, was sentenced to nine months in jail and pay a combined fine and forfeiture of $40,000 after a court convicted him of attempting to bribe a federal official, said Randall Samborn, public information officer with the assistant U.S. attorney.

The case drew considerable media attention, in part because of Zlatkovic’s background. According to The Associated Press, Zlatkovic is a self-made millionaire that the judge in the case called “the personification of the American dream.” He arrived in the United States a poor immigrant, and eventually made his fortune in trucking and real estate.

In March 2002, an FMCSA official was assigned to conduct a safety review of one of Zlatkovic’s companies, KGB. In July of that year, the agency conducted a safety review of his other company, ATA Transportation.

During the review, the FMCSA official determined that ATA would receive an unsatisfactory safety rating and would be fined roughly $68,000 for what Samborn called “numerous violations.” Those included drivers going over the 10-hour driving limit then in effect, as well as insufficient insurance and poorly maintained trucks.

On July 18, 2002, as the federal official was in the last stages of the safety review of ATA, Zlatkovic inquired as to what the likely outcome was. The FMCSA official told him that although his work was not complete, that he had “already identified numerous major violations in various categories that would result in an overall unsatisfactory rating,” Samborn said.

Zlatkovic allegedly said he could remedy many of the violations within 24 hours, but the FMCSA official said that would not be enough to avoid the bad rating.

It was at that point, Samborn said, that federal prosecutors allege that Zlatkovic offered the official $10,000 in exchange for a conditional rating.

Not long after, on July 25, 2002, the official spoke again with Zlatkovic and asked if his offer was still good. Unknown to the trucking company owner, the federal official had already reported that he had been offered the money, and was recording the conversation.

Samborn said Zlatkovic confirmed his offer, which the official agreed to accept. They met later on, and after the official showed him a final report showing a conditional rating, Zlatkovic allegedly gave him $10,000 in cash in $100 bills.

Zlatkovic pleaded guilty to in November 2004. He was sentenced Feb. 16. Samborn said Zlatkovic had agreed to surrender to serve his prison term May 16.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor