This Is How an Air Force Official and Defense Contractor Tried to Conceal Their Million-Dollar Bribery Scheme

A Defense Department official was sentenced to 24 months in prison after pleading guilty to accepting about $185,000 in bribes, and more than $1 million in bribe offers, to provide confidential information to a defense contractor, according to the Justice Department.

Jose Mendez, 50, of Farr West, Utah, was sentenced on Wednesday, acting Assistant Attorney General
Mythili Raman and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow of the District of Utah announced.

The first A-10 to roll out after having its wings replaced with new ones sits at the ceremony held Feb. 15 at Hill Air Force Base to celebrate its roll-out. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex Lloyd)

Mendez was charged along with the owners of Atlas International Trading Company in Sarasota, Fla., Sylvester Zugrav, 71, and Maria Zugrav, 67. Sylvester Zugrav was sentenced to 15 months and his wife, Maria Zugrav was sentenced to 24 months on Jan. 8.

Sylvester Zugrav gave Mendez seven in-person cash payments ranging from $500 to $10,000 and bought him a laptop computer and software package worth over $2,900, according to the Justice Department.

Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez established e-mail accounts to be used only to communicate requests and offers for bribe payments, and created password-protected documents for e-mail communications with codewords and false names. Mendez used name “Chuco” and Sylvester Zugrav used the name “Jugo.” Cash was called “literature.”

Mendez was the program manager for the U.S. Air Force Foreign Materials Acquisition Support Office (FMASO) at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden.

He was offered $1.24 million in payments and other things of value in the course of the conspiracy that lasted from 2008 through 2011 to provide non-public information in the contracting process, according to the Justice Department. He admitted that he gave Atlas International Trading and the Zugravs information such as government budget and competitor bid information in order to help the company in winning contracts.

“Among other things, assisting Atlas in obtaining and maintaining procurement contracts; assisting Atlas in receiving payments on such contracts; and providing Atlas with contract bid or proposal information or source selection information before the award of procurement contracts,” a Justice Department release said.

Mendez admitted he received $185,000 so far, with a promise of additional payments if Atlas received future government contracts.

The Zugravs made three types of payments to Mendez, cash payments via Federal Express to Mendez’s home address; in-person payments of cash and other things of value; and electronic wire transfers to a bank account in Mexico opened by and in the name of Mendez’s cousin, according to the Justice Department. Each package contained $5,000 in cash, except the last package, which contained $3,000 and was seized by law enforcement.

After the Mexican bank account was opened by Mendez’s cousin, Maria Zugrav, made wire transfers to the bank account located in the name of Mendez’s cousin to avoid detection of the larger bribe payments by law enforcement. From 2008 through 2011, Zugrav sent to the Mexico account 10 wire transfers ranging from $350 to $26,700.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, according to the Justice Department.

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