Two Former Executives of Athletic Equipment Company Sentenced for Roles in Extensive Fraud on New Jersey Schools
NEWARK, NJ—The former chief financial officer and chief executive officer of a leading supplier of athletic equipment and reconditioning services were sentenced today for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud schools in New Jersey and elsewhere, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Mitchell Kurlander, 57, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 41 months in prison and his father-in-law, Alan Abeshaus, 83, of Highland Beach, Florida, was sentenced to three years of probation, including nine months of home confinement. Each defendant previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William H. Walls to one count of mail and wire fraud conspiracy. Judge Walls imposed the sentences today in Newark federal court.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
Circle System Group Inc. (Circle) sold and reconditioned athletic equipment, uniforms, and apparel. Although its services were marketed nationally, a large portion of Circle’s business focused on middle schools, high schools, colleges, and youth sports programs in New Jersey. Circle’s business depended primarily on a sales force that attempted to maintain relationships with the school officials—including athletic directors, equipment managers, trainers, and coaches—who were responsible for purchasing athletic equipment and reconditioning services on behalf of the schools. Kurlander was the CFO and Abeshaus was the CEO.
From at least 1997 to June 2007, Circle engaged in a number of business practices aimed at defrauding schools, including keeping duplicate payments by schools that should have been returned or credited back to schools, submitting fake quotes to school officials, and submitting fraudulent invoices to schools.
Circle sent invoices and monthly statements of account to schools. Schools often paid both the invoices and statements, paying twice for the same items or services. At the direction of Kurlander and Abeshaus, Circle improperly retained at least $822,000 in overpayments from various schools in New Jersey and elsewhere and converted these overpayments to the personal use and benefit of Abeshaus.
Circle and its sales staff often would provide multiple price quotes, including some that appeared to come from other companies, to allow schools with requirements to obtain multiple price quotes to justify a contract with Circle. Using quote forms with the letterhead of other companies, Circle administrative staff would prepare fake, higher quotes at the direction of Kurlander and others. Circle submitted numerous such fake quotes to schools in New Jersey and elsewhere during the course of the conspiracy.
As a routine business practice, and to ingratiate Circle with school officials, Kurlander authorized Circle employees to make gifts and donations to schools and school officials, and often would take officials on golf outings and to meals. Kurlander routinely inflated Circle’s invoices for services and goods to those schools to reimburse Circle for these donations and gifts. Gifts provided by Circle to school officials included computers, digital cameras, flat-screen TVs, golf clubs, leather jackets and other personal apparel.
Circle sometimes also submitted bid packages and price quotations for goods and reconditioning services that were lower than the prices that Circle intended to charge schools. After Circle obtained a school’s business, Circle would, at Kurlander’s direction, garner its desired profits by fraudulently inflating the quantity or nature of the reconditioning work or by fraudulently inflating other invoices to those schools for reconditioning services.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Walls sentenced Kurlander to three years of supervised release, fined him $15,000 and ordered him to pay $1,052,942 in restitution. Abeshaus was fined $250,000, ordered to forfeit $300,000, and pay $1 million in restitution.
Three other individuals previously pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy. On Dec. 22, 2008, former Circle president David Drill pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud, among other Circle customers, various New Jersey schools. Two school officials—former Long Branch High School Athletic Director Charles Ferrara Jr. and former Elizabeth High School official Robert Firestone—pleaded guilty on Nov. 22, 2010, and Jan. 5, 2011, respectively, to participating in the conspiracy. Ferrara and Firestone admitted, among other things, that they received items from Circle for their personal use and directed Circle to fraudulently bill the cost of those items back to their respective schools. Drill is awaiting sentencing before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas. Ferrara was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in June 2014 to one year of probation. Firestone was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in November 2014 to one year of probation.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark; and U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Steven Anderson of the Mid-Atlantic Region and Special Agent in Charge Brian Hickey of the Northeastern Region, with the investigation leading to today’s sentences.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee M. Cortes Jr. and Senior Litigation Counsel J Fortier Imbert of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.