Ex-Security Director Gets 15 Months In Bribery Scheme
By Kat Greene
Law360, Los Angeles (July 18, 2013, 8:20 PM ET) — A Virginia federal judge on Thursday reduced the recommended sentence for a security expert for a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who admitted accepting bribes from a contracting firm, finding a lower punishment was merited because he’d had little influence on the contractor’s successful bids.
Derek Matthews was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to 15 months in prison for accepting bribes in his role as Washington-area regional director for the Federal Protective Service, a division of Homeland Security that is responsible for securing federal buildings. He admitted he accepted a side consulting position at a friend’s contracting company that enabled him to advise the contractor on its bids for government projects, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Justice was initially seeking a sentence of three years in prison for the longtime police officer and security expert, but U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema issued a 15-month sentence after the defense argued that the government was unaffected by Matthews’ consulting deal, as he was never able to influence a government official into signing on with his friend’s company.
“This was a travesty this guy was even prosecuted,” said John K. Zwerling, Matthew’s attorney. “I understand why the government did it. I just don’t agree with it.”
Matthews signed on in late 2011 to a contract with a longtime friend Keith Hedman, who had a company that contracted with private and government organizations, according to the case. In his position as a consultant, he agreed to review Hedman’s proposals to make them more attractive to potential clients, according to court documents.
The contract was for $50,000, though he was paid only $12,500 for his work over several months, according to filings. Matthews did not disclose his conflict of interest to his government supervisors.
Things went sour when Matthews agreed to review a pitch made by Hedman to his government employer, the Federal Protective Service, according to court documents. Though not in a position to determine which contractor his office hired, he did suggest changes to the proposal and put in a good word with his supervisors when asked which contractor they should hire, according to the case.
“Matthews engaged in a series of official acts, including lobbying of government officials and sharing information with Hedman, in an effort to obtain business for Hedman,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement.
In June, Hedman was sentenced to six years in prison for the scheme, which also included a shell company that enabled him to fake qualifications such as minority ownership for advantageousSmall Business Administration loans, according to court documents.
Matthews pled guilty to accepting the bribes in April. The Justice Department was seeking three years in prison for his offenses, but Matthews argued that, because he wasn’t a department decision-maker and hadn’t demonstrated any influence in the winning of contracts, the proposed sentence was too high, according to court documents.
Instead, Judge Brinkema issued a 15-month sentence, to be followed by a year of supervised release, according to the Justice Department.
“The facts of the case make it less egregious than it might seem,” Zwerling said. “He’s destroyed financially. He has a high school education. It’s going to be very hard for him to find work now.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment beyond a press release.
The case is USA v. Matthews, case number 1:13-cr-00153, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.