Feds: Gov't worker took plane, yachts as perks

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by Associated Press

KTVB.COM

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 14 at 11:46 AM

SEATTLE - A U.S. government worker from Southern California took illegal perks from his job - including a plane, yachts and heavy-duty trucks - and an investigation continues into how widespread the practice was, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Steven Bradley Smith, a field technician with the Federal Aviation Administration in San Diego, abused an internal computer system to claim surplus items from other government agencies, according to charging papers unsealed Thursday in federal court in Tacoma.

"There's a great concern about who knew what about this - about whether it's something that was systemic, or one guy who managed to find the seam in the zone defense of the FAA," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings told The Associated Press.

He said he could not comment further on the ongoing investigation.

The computer system is run by the General Services Administration and is designed to allow federal agencies to list items they no longer need, so that other agencies can acquire them free of charge. Prosecutors said Smith should not have been authorized to acquire items, but managed to anyway - purportedly on behalf of the FAA - using another agency's code number.

Among the 215 items Smith obtained since 2004 were a Cessna 210 from the Forest Service, a Boston Whaler from the Coast Guard, several computers, and a 44-foot Navy sailing yacht that had been used by the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Washington, the charging document said.

Investigators said they determined that Smith turned the Navy yacht, a fiberglass yawl called the Lively, over to his half-brother, Bradley Garner, who took it to Canada, where it remains. He also gave Garner the Cessna, and even though the plane remained owned by the government, Garner managed to take out an insurance policy - and received a $45,000 payment when the plane was damaged in a storm while parked at a Louisiana airport in 2007.

The Boston Whaler was found on a trailer in front of Smith's home in Blue Jay, Calif., along with a boat previously used by the Border Patrol and a Chevrolet K2500 truck once used by NOAA. Attached to that truck was a 600-gallon tank trailer formerly used by the Air Force, said an affidavit filed by Christopher M. Bjornstad, a special agent with the GSA's inspector general.

Other items, including several Apple computers, were sold on eBay, Bjornstad wrote.

Smith and Garner, who owns Royal Limousine Service in Bermuda Dunes, Calif., are both charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services.

Smith made an initial appearance Thursday in federal court in Santa Ana, Calif., and was ordered to post a $200,000 bond before he could be released on electronic home monitoring, Jennings said.

It was not immediately clear who Smith's lawyer was.

Garner was scheduled for a detention hearing Friday. A public defender who represented Garner at his initial appearance, Joan Politeo, was out of the office Thursday afternoon and did not return a message seeking comment.

Smith's activity came to the attention of the GSA when someone else in the Transportation Department reported he had been using their code number to try to claim the Lively early this year. Investigators allowed him to continue the practice to build a case against him, the court documents say, and the Lively episode is the reason charges were filed in the Western District of Washington.

In June, an FAA employee from Arizona, Jeffrey Allen Ward, was seen aboard the Lively with Smith at the Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle, Bjornstad wrote. Ward has not been charged.

It's unclear how Smith allegedly obtained the items - from around the country - while keeping his day job. After agencies claim items through the computer system, they must physically acquire them.

"It's not like UPS shows up with a boat on your doorstep," Jennings said.

In some cases, such as with the Navy yacht, Smith sent Garner to pick up the items.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA in Los Angeles, confirmed that Smith still works for the agency.

"Speaking generally, and not in relation to any specific case, the FAA has no tolerance for anyone misusing the funds of the United States of America," he said in a written statement. "We expect excellence and professionalism from all of our 46,000 employees."

Jennings said the government would try to reclaim its property - if it can find it.

"There's another Boston Whaler missing and a bunch of other boats we're still looking for," he said.

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