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Local men jailed in bribery case

Businessmen convicted of paying off Oregon state official

Posted: September 28, 2009 10:20 p.m.
Updated: September 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Three businessmen from a Santa Clarita food distribution company received short prison and home detention sentences last week for bribing an Oregon prison official to secure $4.3 million in food contracts, authorities said.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Valencia residents Michael Levin, 53, and William Lawrence, 51, and Sherman Oaks resident Howard Roth, 60, to three months in jail and nine months in home detention, according to a United State Department of Justice report.

The three operators of Levin and Lawrence, Inc., each pleaded guilty in April 2007 to allegations that they paid $532,000 in kickbacks to Farhad "Fred" Monem, former Oregon Department of Corrections food services manager, for the contracts, according to the report.

FBI officials said they believe Monem fled to Iran.

Levin, Lawrence and Roth received lighter sentences Wednesday because they cooperated with federal investigators, collectively paid $1.5 million in fines and participated in extensive community service, the report said.

"While the sentences seem short for such a serious offense, the extraordinary cooperation they provided along with the community service and the quick resolutions they made allowed us to be comfortable with this sentence," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Cardani said. "They are going to jail."

In December 2006, federal investigators discovered the bribes that reached as far back as August 2004 and obtained search warrants for the Santa Clarita business. The business operators immediately admitted to participating in the scheme and began cooperating with the government's investigation of Monem, the report said.

The defendants pleaded guilty in April to one count of bribery and one count of filing a false income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.

Since their pleadings, the men collectively paid $1.5 million to the IRS, California Department of Revenue and to the State of Oregon in tax and civil claim settlements, the report said. Lawrence and Roth have additionally surrendered funds used to purchase property in Oregon with Monem.

The defendants also donated and volunteered with the Los Angeles-sponsored Summer Night Lights program, a Los Angeles-sponsored program that attempts to keep gang-ridden city parks open late during summer months to prevent crime and violence, the report said. Levin, Lawrence and Roth provided more than 250,000 meals to the program in 2009.

Oregon Department of Corrections director Max Williams said the sentence was appropriate considering the men's cooperation with the government and the fines they paid.

"The public loses confidence in the government to do its work, (and) the Legislature loses confidence," Williams said.

The defendants will serve their terms in a staggered manner starting on Nov. 15 so they can continue operating their business and prepare for the 2010 Summer Night Lights program, Cardani said.

The real consequences are being reserved for Monem, who is under indictment, he added.

"When we bring him to justice and he's brought to jail," Cardani said, "it will be far more serious."


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