Seven people who pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme involving Virginia Department of Transportation officials and snowplow contractors say corruption is endemic to the agency.
The two officials and five contractors indicated that corruption extends beyond the scheme that put all seven behind bars for terms ranging from three months to seven years, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Even prosecutor Samantha Bateman said in court that corruption "is a more pervasive problem in the Virginia Department of Transportation than is known."
Anthony Willie, a former superintendent, received the heaviest sentence earlier this month, with seven years to serve. According to court documents, he and his deputy, Kenneth Adams, awarded millions of dollars in snow removal contracts to contractors from whom they each collected between $200,000 and $300,000 in bribes. A federal wiretap caught Willie demanding that women be sent to his room during a snowstorm.
"Don't bite the hand that feeds you," he told a female snowplow driver on the phone.
Adams, who was sentenced to five years, had agreed to wear a wire for the FBI, but was cut off as an undercover informant for continuing to take bribes as he recorded the meetings where contractors dropped off bags of cash.
His involvement also introduced a drug component to the scheme, as he was selling cocaine. Willie was one of his customers, and was videotaped snorting the drug in his office, according to court documents.
Adams pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Agency spokeswoman Jennifer S. McCord said in a statement that Willie and Adams defied the values of VDOT, which is conducting "ongoing reviews and internal controls to more securely safeguard procurement and contracting processes."
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema has said the snowplow scheme didn't hurt taxpayers, but did undermine faith in the system, and thus incurred serious punishment.
The scheme only came to light because a snowplow contractor complained to FBI agents who were looking into a separate corruption case at the agency that involved falsified vehicle registrations. Contractor Rolando Pineda Moran, who would end up with a six-month sentence, told FBI agents who came to search his home that they were missing the big picture.
"You're looking at the trees," Moran said, as described by his defense attorney William Odio. "There's a big forest out there."