YORK COUNTY, S.C. — Federal documents lay out the case against the owner of a $1.2 million Lake Wylie home that was raided in 2017.
Only Channel 9 was there when Federal Bureau of Investigation agents carried boxes, bags and computers out of the house.
Court documents say the homeowner, Jennifer Maier, also owned most of a company called Women’s Distribution Services.
She had a deal with agribusiness giant Cargill to supply things like protective equipment for Cargill employees and packaging meat. Part of that deal said the Lake Wylie supplier couldn’t charge Cargill more than 10 percent markup on prices.
The federal paperwork says it did though, with overcharges of more than $35 million.
Federal officials said Maier and business partner Brian Ewert also made a deal with two men who worked for procurement at Cargill and paid them off. Court papers also said Ewert put one of the men in his will.
Officials said this went on for years, leading to the April 2017 raid, which happened after Cargill changed policies and audited Women’s Distribution Services.
They said the conspirators tried to cover up the bribery scheme but couldn’t stay ahead of it.
Cargill sued the local company and Women's Distribution Services was ordered to pay back triple the overcharges, more than $100 million.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Andrew Murray, released more details about the crime.
The two owners of a South Carolina-based company and a manager at one of the country’s largest private companies appeared in federal court Wednesday and pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with an extensive bribery and kickback scheme involving more than $35 million of fraudulent overcharges, Murray announced.
Brian Ewert, 53, of Charlotte, Jennifer Maier, 51, of Clover, South Carolina, and Choung “Shawn” Nguyen, 47, of Wichita, Kansas, entered their guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer.
According to prosecutors, Ewert was co-owner and primary sales representative of WDS, Inc., also known as Women’s Distribution Services, Inc., located in Lake Wylie. One of Ewert’s responsibilities at WDS was to set prices for the supplies WDS provided to Cargill.
Maier was co-owner and Chief Executive Officer of WDS, responsible for running the company’s day to day operations.
Nguyen was a procurement manager with Cargill’s Strategic Sourcing Function group, responsible for implementing and monitoring Cargill’s supplier agreements with WDS.
Nguyen reported to an uncharged co-conspirator and senior employee within Cargill’s Strategic Sourcing Function group and both were terminated in May 2016.
According to the criminal information and plea documents, from 2009 through 2016, Ewert, Nguyen, and the uncharged co-conspirator conspired with each other to defraud Cargill by allowing WDS to overcharge Cargill by more than $35 million.
As part of the conspiracy, Ewert paid more than $1 million in bribes to Nguyen and others.
Court records show that in 2007, the uncharged co-conspirator helped Ewert start a business relationship with Cargill. Between 2008 and 2016, with the help of Nguyen, WDS dramatically increased its sales volume to Cargill. For example, between 2012 and 2016, Cargill purchased nearly $544 million in products from WDS.
Over the course of the scheme, in exchange for allowing WDS to overinflate the prices it charged Cargill, Nguyen and others were paid more than a million dollars in kickbacks.
The defendants admitted in court Wednesday that Ewert made regular cash payments to Nguyen and the uncharged co-conspirator, paid for family vacations, flew them on private jets, and gave them expensive gifts, including electronics.
In exchange for the illicit bribes, Nguyen and the uncharged co-conspirator assisted WDS in concealing from Cargill more than $35 million in overcharges.
In late 2015 and early 2016, after Cargill began to question WDS’s contracts, Ewert, Nguyen and the uncharged co-conspirator took a number of steps to conceal the scheme and to impede Cargill's audit by, among other things, providing misleading pricing information, falsely claiming that WDS was in compliance with its pricing obligations according to its agreement with Cargill, and falsely denying receiving any improper benefits from WDS.
When Cargill continued to demand proof related to pricing, Maier joined the conspiracy by creating at least 100 bogus invoices that she provided to Cargill in an effort to conceal more than $500,000 in fraudulent overcharges.
Ewert, Nguyen and Maier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine.
They are currently released on bond. A sentencing date has not been set.
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