Trucker pleads guilty to bribing military officials for contracts

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 10/9/2014

A Mississippi truck driver has pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges after admitting he paid bribes to traffic officials at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., over a period of six years.

David R. Nelson, 54, of Lucedale, Miss., entered a guilty plea to one count of bribery of a public official on Tuesday, Oct. 7, in U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Georgia, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice. The bribes totaled more than $120,000 in cash over a period of roughly six years. The two military employees have also entered guilty pleas on the bribery charges.

According to court records, the bribery scheme took place from 2006 to about April 2012, when Nelson was employed as a long-haul trucker for an unidentified large commercial trucking company based in Louisville, Ky. The plea agreement Nelson signed states that he began hauling loads for the company out of the MCLB beginning in 2005. 

The payouts were made to at least two employees of the center and at least one unidentified public official, and included as much as $1,500 cash per load. Court records also indicate that, on at least one occasion, Nelson gave one of the employees and the unnamed public official $500 each to spend at casinos in Biloxi, Miss. In exchange, Nelson and his company received preferential treatment on lucrative loads.

Initially, Nelson received his notices of shipments from the facility from an independent broker. But in late 2006, Nelson began receiving information about loads from Mitchell D. Potts, a load planner and subsequently supervisor of the traffic office of the Defense Logistics Agency headquartered at the base. The agreement states that Potts approached Nelson in need of cash to help cover child support and other expenses he faced as a result of a divorce. Nelson gave him money, and in exchange Potts took steps to ensure that Nelson and his company continued to get shipments from his agency.

Nelson started paying Potts $500 cash for each shipment, but eventually increased his payouts to $1,500 per load. When Potts was promoted to supervisor, another employee, Jeffrey S. Philpot, was brought into the scheme, and assumed Potts’ role of planning loads for Nelson. When Nelson visited the office to pick up a load, he gave whichever of the two men was there at the time an envelope of money in return for the load.

Along with hauling large freight on open trailers, Nelson also transported van trailer loads for DLA. Many of those loads were either Protected Security Service loads, such as weapons which require satellite tracking, or Dual Driver Loads, which require two drivers but no satellite tracking. Because of his preferential treatment, Nelson was often able to obtain multiple PSS or DDL loads on a single trailer. Nelson and the company could then bill the government for delivery of all shipments as though they were sent on separate trucks. In order to facilitate that scheme, Nelson admitted to purchasing a van trailer with five separate compartments at a price of more than $56,000.

No sentencing hearing for Nelson has been scheduled as of Thursday.

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