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Three Los Angeles Businessmen Sentenced in Oregon Bribery Scheme Cases Relate to Prison Food Buying Program

U.S. Attorney’s Office September 23, 2009
  • District of Oregon (503) 727-1000

EUGENE, OR—Kent S. Robinson, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, announced today that three individuals charged in a kickback scheme involving an Oregon Department of Corrections employee were sentenced today in federal court. U. S. District Judge Ann Aiken today sentenced Michael Levin, 53, and William Lawrence, 51, both of Valencia, California, and Howard Roth, 60, of Sherman Oaks, California.

Defendants operate Levin & Lawrence, Inc. (L & L, Inc.), a wholesale food distributor located in Santa Clarita, California. L & L, Inc. sells food products to institutional clients, which has included prisons. From August 2004 through December 2006, the three defendants paid a total of $532,000 in kickbacks to Farhad “Fred” Monem, the former Food Services Manager for the Oregon Department of Corrections. These payments were made to secure more than $4.3 million in food contracts with the Department of Corrections during that time period.

When the kickback scheme was discovered in December 2006, federal search warrants were obtained and served on L & L, Inc.’s business premises. The three defendants quickly admitted to participating in the bribery scheme and began cooperating in the government’s investigation of Fred Monem. Pursuant to a plea agreement reached with the government, the California businessmen pleaded guilty in April 2007 to one count of bribery and one count of filing a false income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Since their pleas, defendants have collectively paid approximately $750,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, $200,000 to the California Department of Revenue, and $540,000 to the State of Oregon to settle tax and civil claims brought against them. Defendants Lawrence and Roth also agreed to surrender funds they used to purchase property in Oregon with Fred Monem.

After their guilty pleas, defendants formed a non-profit corporation and participated in the Summer Night Lights program sponsored by the City of Los Angeles. Summer Night Lights is a program designed to reduce crime and violence by keeping gang-ridden city parks open until midnight during summer months, providing entertainment, food and recreational opportunities to city residents. The program is now two years old and in 2009 served sixteen parks.

Defendants’ role in Summer Night Lights is to donate, prepare and assist serving food to Los Angeles residents and their families. For the 2009 program, defendants provided 250,000 free meals for the Summer Night Lights program.

Taking into account their valuable cooperation in the Monem investigation, the exemplary community service provided by defendants, and their payment of $1.5 million to the IRS, California and Oregon, the prosecution supported a request that Judge Aiken order each defendant to a twelve month sentence, with three months in jail, followed by nine months of home detention. Judge Aiken agreed to the recommendation and ordered that the three month jail sentences be staggered in a manner which will allow defendants the opportunity to continue to operate their business and to prepare for the 2010 Summer Night Lights program.

Acting U. S. Attorney Kent Robinson said, “These defendants paid a heavy price for attempting to bribe a public official: they lost all the profits of their crimes; they paid substantial penalties; and now they have lost their freedom. The sentence in this case makes clear that we will aggressively pursue public corruption. At the same time, we recognize that their extraordinary efforts to repay their debt to society have provided a great benefit to their community, and we have agreed to a sentence which will permit those efforts to continue.”

Max Williams, Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections attended the sentencing hearing and stated “I am pleased to see these three men held accountable for their actions in a scheme that so blatantly violated the law and so seriously abused the trust of the Department of Corrections and the citizens of the state of Oregon. It is my hope that the sentence handed down today will stand as a warning to the serious consequences of bribing a public official. We are appreciative of the cooperation of the Federal government in this investigation and we remain hopeful that Fred Monem will ultimately be brought to justice and held responsible for his part of this scheme.”

Fred Monem is named in a twenty count indictment, charged with conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and fraud. He is currently a fugitive. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believes Fred Monem is hiding in Iran, a country which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, and the FBI, with the assistance of the Oregon Department of Corrections. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorney Christopher Cardani.