Construction Firms Received $346 Million for Contracts Set Aside for Veterans, Minorities
KANSAS CITY, MO (STL.News) – An Olathe, Kansas man who conspired with others to control construction businesses that received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal government contracts, pleaded guilty in federal court today to defrauding the government with respect to contracts set aside for service-disabled veterans and certified minorities.
Matthew C. McPherson, 43, waived his right to indictment by a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Roseann Ketchmark to an information that charges him with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and major program fraud.
By pleading guilty today, McPherson admitted that he participated in a conspiracy from September 2009 to March 2018 to obtain contracts set aside by the federal government for award to small businesses owned and controlled by veterans, service-disabled veterans, and certified minorities. McPherson, who is neither a certified minority nor a veteran, was the owner of an established construction company in Topeka, Kan. (identified in court documents as Business C) that was not entitled to compete for those federal contracts.
McPherson and his co-conspirators controlled and operated Zieson Construction Company. The business was formed on July 9, 2009, with Stephon Ziegler – an African-American service-disabled veteran – as the nominal owner. Zieson’s primary business was obtaining federal construction contracts set aside for award to small businesses owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans or certified minorities. However, Ziegler did not control the day-to-day operations or the long-term decision making of Zieson. McPherson and his co-conspirators actually controlled and operated Zieson, and received most of the profits from Zieson through the respective business entities.
Between 2009 and 2018, Zieson was awarded approximately 199 federal contracts set aside for award to small businesses, minority-owned small businesses, and veteran-owned small businesses for which the government paid Zieson approximately $335 million. McPherson and his co-conspirators, through their business entities, received approximately $4,183,920 each from Zieson by using false and fraudulent invoices.
Ziegler pleaded guilty on May 21, 2019, to making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
In 2014, when Zieson was growing too large to compete for small business contracts, McPherson and his co-conspirators used the minority status of another Zieson employee to set up Simcon Corp as a small business in the state of Missouri. Simcon’s business, like Zieson’s, was to obtain federal construction contracts set aside for award to qualified small businesses. In reality, McPherson and his co-conspirators managed and controlled Simcon. Simcon was awarded a $4,423,638 contract in July 2016 from the U.S. Air Force and a $6,911,404 contract in September 2016 from the U.S. Army.
Zieson and Simcon used the same employees and shared office space and equipment. Zieson and Simcon were located in a building owned by an LLC that was controlled by McPherson and his co-conspirators. Zieson purported to subcontract work to Simcon (which Simcon did not actually perform) to establish alleged past performance and profitability. This allowed Simcon to claim experience and financial strength to successfully compete for federal set-aside contracts.
McPherson and his co-conspirators each received approximately $319,866 from Simcon using false and fraudulent invoices.
McPherson also caused Business C to submit false and fraudulent invoices to Zieson in order to hide and receive profits from the scheme.
As a result of McPherson’s participation in the conspiracy, Business C obtained approximately $5,516,786 in fraud proceeds. Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, McPherson must forfeit those fraud proceeds to the government.