A former contract manager for the California Department of Transportation and two contractors have pleaded guilty to bid rigging and bribery on more than $8 million worth of Caltrans improvement and repair contracts for bridge toll buildings and highway maintenance facilities.
Choon Foo “Keith” Yong, former Caltrans senior transportation engineer, in the Maintenance and Operations Division, pleaded guilty in April to accepting $800,000 in cash, wine, furniture and remodeling services on his home in exchange for steering contracts to two contractors, who recently pleaded guilty in the scheme. The scheme occurred between early 2015 through late 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In all, the projects were valued at a total of more than $8 million, according to plea agreements.
William D. Opp, a contractor, pleaded guilty October 3 to bribery and bid-rigging. Opp formed a separate construction company to submit sham bids on Caltrans contracts. He also paid bribes to Yong, his plea agreement says. Opp formed the shell company with his wife as president to shield his name from Caltrans officials who knew him. She merely signed documents and checks as Opp directed, his plea agreement says.
Bill R. Miller, a construction company owner and former business partner of Opp’s, is the latest to plead guilty to paying Yong bribes and bid rigging. He recruited others to submit sham bids on Caltrans contracts, so Miller or other conspirators would win the contracts. Miller submitted his plea agreement November 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.
How it worked
The scheme began in 2015 when Yong was approached by a Caltrans employee about making extra money by bid rigging. The employee then introduced Yong, who served as a Caltrans contract manager, to construction company owner Bill R. Miller.
Miller and Yong worked out an agreement in which Yong would give Miller advance notice of contract work on toll building and maintenance facility work. The contracts were between $3,999 and $314,000, requiring at least two bidders. The lowest bidder would win the contract. Yon was responsible for listing companies to send bid invitations to and submitting those to Caltrans.
Miller agreed to pay Yong 10% of the contract awards as a bribe. The employee who introduced Miller to Yong would help Yong set up the bid invitation lists. In exchange, Yong paid the employee $500 a month.
Yong would then ask Miller which companies he wanted to receive invitations to bid on a project. Miller would list other companies that would submit inflated, sham bids, and his company or one in on the conspiracy would win the contract with the low bid.
Yong also would send no-bid, emergency work Miller’s way, which Miller would submit inflated prices for.
William Opp at first worked for Miler’s company and soon became a partner in the scheme, in which he and Miller would split the proceeds. Opp later set up a sham company with his wife at the helm. Opp’s company would submit sham bids for contracts that Miller would win.
As part of his bribes, Yong got $130,000 worth of remodeling work done on his house by Miller’s company. He also received cash payments in 2018 ranging from $25,000 to $96,000. And he got some wine and furniture in the scheme.
Yong worked for Caltrans from 1990 to 2019.
Yong, Opp and Miller are awaiting sentencing for their plea agreements.
They face a maximum 10 years in prison for bid-rigging and a fine of up to $1 million, and up to 10 years for bribery and a fine of up to $250,000. Their plea agreements also call for paying restitution of anywhere from $700,000 (or $800,000 for Yong) to $15 million.
Sentencing will be decided by the court, scheduled to occur for each defendant on dates scheduled between December and February.
Miller’s guilty plea November 14 was the latest in the case. “This construction company owner is the third person to plead guilty and the highest-level contractor to face justice in the Antitrust Division’s investigation into bribery and bid rigging at Caltrans,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Transportation infrastructure is critical to our nation, so punishing bid rigging and bribery schemes that target public works remains a top priority for the division and its Procurement Collusion Strike Force partners.”
The Antitrust Division was joined in the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California and the FBI’s Sacramento Division as part of the Justice Department’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force.