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US contract worker to admit taking $2.5 million in kickbacks

Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A former project manager for a company that has done tens of millions of dollars in energy-efficiency work for a number of U.S. government agencies agreed to plead guilty to charges he took more than $2.5 million worth of kickbacks from subcontractors across the country and in the Caribbean, court documents say.

Bhaskar Patel, of Windermere, Florida, is facing up to 10 years in prison for violating a law forbidding contractors to take kickbacks and bribes involving federal programs, according to filings in U.S. District Court in Vermont. The plea agreement also calls for Patel, 67, to make cash restitution and liquidate some of his assets.

Patel is to scheduled appear in U.S. District Court in Rutland on Aug. 6.

His lawyer, David Haas, of Orlando, Florida, was tight-lipped: “We may have more to say later,” Haas said on Friday.

The Vermont office of the United States Attorney declined to comment on the case.

Between 2011 and 2016, Patel “directed subcontractors to transfer money to him, either directly or indirectly,” court documents said.

One document, filed on July 19, lists more than 60 payments to Patel and two of his children, ranging from a low of just over $6,200 to almost $137,000. The documents do not name the subcontractors alleged to have paid the kickbacks.

Patel was a contract manager for Schneider Electric Buildings America Inc., which negotiated subcontracts for energy-efficiency projects at U.S. government buildings. On its website, the company describes itself as “leading the digital transformation of energy management and automation.”

“Mr. Patel is no longer an employee of the company,” said David Smith, a spokesman for Schneider, which is out of Andover, Massachusetts. “He was terminated immediately once the company learned of his actions.”

Smith also said the company, which a federal government contract database showed apparently did more than $220 million worth of business with the U.S. government between 2009 and earlier this month, was working with federal prosecutors.

The contracts that Patel oversaw were part of a U.S. Department of Energy program designed to procure energy savings and improvements for government buildings with no up-front costs or special appropriations from Congress. Schneider Electric was one of a number of contractors that worked on such programs.

Court documents say Patel began working as a project manager for Schneider in 2010.

Prosecutors cite subcontracts that were managed by Patel from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other places in the U.S.

They also cite a proposal by Schneider for $42.5 million worth of energy-savings work over 21 years at the Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in White River Junction; Togus, Maine; Bedford, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island. As part of that project, they said, Schneider Electric had submitted a fraudulent bid document for work in White River Junction. The document gave a subcontractor listed as SC 4 preference over a contractor out of Vermont.

The documents say Schneider was not able to win the contract in Vermont “as a result of the criminal investigation associated with these charges.”

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