By David Pendered
The sentencing in federal court this week of a former MARTA department administrator brings to a close a scheme in which two top transit officials and an associate defrauded MARTA of more than $500,000.
MARTA Police Chief Wanda Dunham sent a message to MARTA employees in her space in the statement issued Tuesday announcing the final sentencing expected in the case. Dunham said:
- “This sentencing will send a clear message to any MARTA employee who thinks they are above the law and would act to erode the trust the public has given us.”
Dunham comments also remind that MARTA police coordinate their white-collar crime enforcement efforts with federal authorities:
- “The sentencing of Ms. Jhonnita Williams concludes a coordinated investigation with our federal law enforcement partners, and we are satisfied with the results…. We would like to thank members of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts in assisting the MARTA Police Department with bringing all of the major players involved in this fraud scheme to justice and for seeking restitution of taxpayer dollars.”
The statement issued by the office U.S. District Attorney Byung J. “B.Jay” Pak announced the sentencing of Jhonnita Williams, 48, of Atlanta. Williams was sentenced to one year, four months in prison, three years of supervised released, and ordered to pay $522,825.45 in restitution.
Williams will follow her former boss to a federal prison – the MARTA executive who oversaw the maintenance of all of MARTA’s buses and rail cars, former Senior Director of Operations Joseph Erves. Williams served as Erves’ assistant and departmental administrator, according to the statement.
Erves worked for MARTA from 1993 to 2017, according to an Aug. 24, 2017 federal statement. In his final position, as senior director, Erves was authorized to approve payments of up to $10,000 to MARTA’s vendors.
This is the description of the fraud scheme federal officials provided in that statement:
- “Beginning in or about 2010, Erves retained three different vendors purportedly to perform maintenance projects for MARTA, including repairing brake testing equipment and fixing various MARTA tools and equipment. From approximately June 2010 to December 2016, Erves had fake invoices prepared on behalf of the three vendors for more than 40 maintenance projects for which no work was performed.
- “Erves then used the false invoices as bases to authorize payments to the three vendors. In many cases, Erves personally approved payments to the vendors knowing that the vendors had not performed any work for MARTA.
- “After being paid, the three vendors funneled most of the money received from MARTA into Erves’s personal bank accounts.”
Subsequently, Williams and the associate were brought into the investigation. The associate was described as a romantic partner of Williams:
- “Williams and Erves used the false invoices as bases to authorize payments to the three vendors – including fake invoices submitted by a business owned by Ferrell Williams (who was romantically involved with Jhonnita Williams). After being paid, all three of the vendors funneled most of the money received from MARTA back to Erves and Williams. In total, MARTA paid more than $520,000 for maintenance projects when no work was actually performed.
Erves was sentenced to two years in nine months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $522,825.45, according to Pak’s statement.
Ferrell Williams, of Cincinnati, Ohio was sentenced to eight months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $41,539.10 in restitution.
During the heyday of the fraud, Williams and Erves spent their ill-gotten gains on the types of material goods popular in TV dramas, according to federal statements:
- Erves bought a Porche 911 automobile and bought items at high-end department stores;
- William bought personal items including the purchase/financing of a house with about 3,000 square feet and four bedrooms with 2.5 bathrooms.