A federal judge Tuesday sentenced a former MARTA executive to 33 months in prison for his role in a scheme that cost the agency more than $500,000.
Joseph Erves, 53, MARTA's former senior director of operations, admitted orchestrating a false invoice scheme that led the agency to pay for maintenance work that was never performed. Tuesday, he expressed remorse for his actions and asked the MARTA Board and others for forgiveness.
“They supported me, believed in me and trusted me, and I let them down,” Erves told U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones at his sentencing hearing.
Erves worked for MARTA from 1993 until last year, rising to oversee maintenance of the agency’s buses and rail cars. He had authority to approve payments of up to $10,000 to MARTA vendors.
Beginning in 2010, Erves retained three vendors purportedly to perform maintenance work, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The work included fixing various MARTA tools and equipment.
From June 2010 to December 2016, Erves had fake invoices prepared on behalf of the three vendors for more than 40 maintenance projects, according to federal prosecutors. He used false invoices to pay the vendors nearly $523,000 over the years for work they did not perform.
Prosecutors say the three vendors – which have not been identified – funneled most of the money into Erves’ personal bank accounts. Among other things, he used it to buy a Porsche 911 and to make multiple purchases at high-end department stores.
Erves resigned after MARTA opened a criminal investigation into his actions last March. In August, he pleaded guilty to one count of federal program theft.
Erves’ attorney, Marcia Shein, argued for an 18-month sentence. She cited his cooperation with investigators and his decision to turn over all he had from his MARTA retirement account — $298,000 – as restitution. Shein said the vendors who participated in the scheme should cover the remainder of the cost.
Jones rejected the plea for a lighter sentence, noting the scheme lasted for six years and involved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The FBI and the MARTA Police Department are continuing to investigate the case.
After the sentencing, Shein said her client is trying to take responsibility for his actions. In a written statement, U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak had a different take.
“Given his executive management position, it is clear that MARTA placed great trust and faith in Erves,” Pak said. “Unfortunately, instead of serving the public interest and taking his civic duty seriously, Erves chose to indulge his desire for money and a fancy car.”
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