Los Angeles, California - A public official in Los Angeles County’s Internal Services Department and the electrical contractor from whom he accepted nearly $300,000 in bribes have both agreed to plead guilty to bribery and tax charges.
In a plea agreement filed this morning, the county official – Mohammad R. Tirmazi, 50, of Alta Loma – agreed to plead guilty to accepting bribes and subscribing to a false 2016 tax return in which he failed to report $192,800 in income, including approximately $137,400 in bribe payments.
In a second plea agreement filed this morning, the contractor – Enrique Contreras, 38, of Palmdale – agreed to plead guilty to paying bribes and subscribing to a false 2015 tax return in which he failed to report $281,422 in income.
According to court documents, from 2014 to 2016, Tirmazi accepted a total of nearly $300,000 in bribe payments from Contreras, the owner of a low voltage electrical wiring company, Tel-Pro Voice & Data, Inc., that performed work for the County. In exchange for the bribes, Tirmazi approved change orders requested by Contreras for, among other things, work that did not occur and materials that were not used on County projects.
Tirmazi also admits in his plea agreement that he did not report, or force Contreras to correct, violations of the County’s Building and Safety Code or the National Electrical Code that Tirmazi uncovered during inspections of Tel-Pro’s work. Some of those violations related to asbestos removal and Tel-Pro’s failure to properly install cables. In his plea agreement, Tirmazi admits that he generally considered Tel-Pro’s work to be “shoddy,” but he overlooked its poor work because of the bribes he received from Contreras.
“Corrupt public officials and powerful people who pay bribes pose a threat to our institutions and, as we see in this case, also can threaten public safety,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Bringing these criminals to justice will help restore trust in our civic institutions.”
“Public officials who accept bribes abdicate their responsibilities at the expense of the public they’re paid to serve,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI is committed to investigating unscrupulous individuals whose criminal behavior erodes trust in our municipal departments.”
Tirmazi formed a company called TEQ Solutions, LLC as a way to conceal bribe payments from Contreras, court filings state. Contreras, who bribed Tirmazi with cash and gifts, also paid Tirmazi with checks made payable to TEQ Solutions that were disguised to look like payment for legitimate services rendered. Because TEQ Solutions did no work for Contreras or Tel-Pro, the checks were nothing more than bribes.
Tirmazi’s plea agreement further states that, to hide his ownership of TEQ Solutions, Tirmazi used a third party to file the business paperwork and open a bank account. To lower TEQ Solutions’ taxable income, and thus keep more of the bribe money he received, Tirmazi issued sham IRS Form 1099s to make it appear as though other individuals had received income from TEQ Solutions for work legitimately performed.
In his plea agreement, Tirmazi admits that he failed to report on his tax returns for years 2014 to 2016 a total of $355,107 of income he received from bribe payments and a side business selling IT equipment.
Contreras, in his plea agreement, admits that he failed to report a total of $636,454 of income he received from 2013 to 2017 as a result of his improper deduction of bribe payments and other personal expenses.
“Investigating contractor fraud schemes is like peeling back the layers of a rotten onion: Each new layer reveals another public official and/or contractor who is profiting from these illicit schemes,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner for IRS Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles. “We must stop this corrupt conduct, which leads to the unfair awarding of lucrative contracts and a clear violation of the federal tax laws.”
As part of their plea agreements, both Tirmazi and Contreras have agreed to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation.
In his plea agreement, Contreras admits to bribing two County officials—Tirmazi and Thomas J. Shepos, 69, of Palmdale, a public official formerly employed by the County in the Real Estate Division. Shepos pleaded guilty in November 2018 to accepting bribes and is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner on November 18, 2019.
From approximately 2013 to 2016, Contreras made cash payments to Shepos, totaling approximately $200,000 to $300,000, in exchange for Shepos providing non-public County information to Contreras and helping Contreras secure County contracts.
As part of his plea agreement, Shepos also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation.
One of the individuals from whom Shepos admitting receiving bribes was real estate developer Arman Gabaee, 58, of Beverly Hills. Gabaee was arrested and subsequently indicted on federal bribery charges last year. His trial is currently scheduled for September 10 before United States District Judge George H. Wu.
Tirmazi and Contreras will be summonsed to appear for arraignments in United States District Court in the coming weeks.
Once they enter their respective guilty pleas, each man will face a statutory maximum sentence of 13 years in federal prison.
The cases against Tirmazi and Contreras are part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ruth C. Pinkel and Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.