Jury deliberates in corruption trial involving trucking co., Marine base

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The fate of a trucking company owner and two ex-military base workers rests in the hands of a Georgia jury that will decide whether the defendants are guilty of corruption and bribery.

The trial centers around allegations of corruption at Albany Marine Corps Logistics Base, and a scheme that allegedly began in January 2008 and lasted until at least June 2012. Prosecutors say the scheme involved exchanging money and other things of value to transportation officials at the base in exchange for favorable treatment and the awarding of contracts and loads for a trucking company.

The defendants in this case – trucking company owner Christopher Whitman and former base workers Shawn McCarty and Bradford Newell – had a litany of charges for bribery, theft and obstruction, according to court records.

The indictment states that McCarty worked on the base as a transportation assistant and was responsible for planning, logistics and preparing bills of lading for freight. Newell was a contractor who worked on inventory-related tasks under the Fleet Support Division of the USMC, a group responsible for the storage, care, inventory and distribution of surplus equipment. Newell left this position in June 2010 and also co-owned and operated a sporting goods store. Whitman was the founder, co-owner and chief operator of United Industrial of Georgia Inc., and its affiliated entity, ZMK Trucking.

In January of 2008, Whitman’s company became eligible to do business with the Defense Logistics Agency headquartered at the base and entered into an agreement to bid on and receive DLA freight transportation orders and to service those orders either directly or by brokering them to other companies.

The indictment states that within the first five months of 2008, ULOC’s bank account never exceeded $40 and even had a negative balance on or about June 1, 2008. That all changed one month later, when the U.S. government paid the company nearly $38 million for transportation contracts, resulting in a gross profit in excess of $20 million.

By 2010, the company had gone from servicing less than 500 DLA transportation orders to the first-ranked carrier at MCLB-Albany, servicing more than 7,500 loads – more than half the shipments leaving the base, the indictment stated. The next closest competitor received fewer than 2,000 DLA shipments that year.

Among the things Whitman is alleged to have offered in addition to money are rare coins, collectible items, automobiles, firearms, home improvements, housing and meals. Among the benefits Whitman’s company received from McCarty and other employees were improper awarding of freight orders, limiting the ability of brokers to select companies other than Whitman’s, and planning “overpriced transportation loads through unnecessary shipping specifications and premium-priced-service requirements” according to the indictment.

Whitman also stands accused of defrauding the government by then replanning and consolidating those DLA loads without authorization, and then billing the Department of Defense for services the company did not actually perform. He is accused of bribing McCarty and two other base employees, Mitchell Potts and Jeffrey Philpot, with cash, homes and gifts.

Among the gifts Whitman is alleged to have provided Philpott are things worth approximately $523,662, including a baby grand piano valued at $9,370; a 2000 Pontiac TransAm valued at $22,000; firearms valued at $18,700 total; and a gold Beatles album valued at $11,800.

Whitman’s alleged gifts to McCarty totaled approximately $156,000 and included a 1990 Ford Mustang valued at $11,919; a 2011 Polaris Four-Wheel ATV valued at $16,262; and $6,500 for a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle and new motor for the vehicle.

In exchange for the cash, gifts and other services, the base employees would delay freight transportation orders for hours, days, or even weeks, then designate those orders in need of “expedited pick-up” a premium-priced service, unnecessarily increasing shipping costs for the federal government. The employees are also accused of alerting Whitman and his company to forthcoming orders before competitors were made aware and of “short loading” freight shipments, enhancing the company’s opportunity to defraud through both load consolidation and increased shipping costs.

The indictment also states that when Whitman became aware of a law enforcement investigation into the scheme in the spring of 2012, he instructed Philpot to return some of the valuables he’d given him, to conceal their relationship.

Prosecutors allege that Whitman would then direct subordinates at his company to replan and consolidate the short-loaded freight shipments and broker those deals to other trucking companies for delivery, while still billing the DOD under more expensive specifications ordered by the base. He also reportedly directed subordinates to alter the government bills of lading in a further effort to conceal the scheme.

Philpott and Potts pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme last year, along with another trucker, David R. Nelson.

Nelson admitted to paying bribes of more than $120,000 in cash over a period of roughly six years to Philpott and Potts for preferential treatment on getting loads at the base.

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