Four Indicted in Prince William Embezzlement Case
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
As Maneesh Gupta and John Roessler worked together in Prince William County's information technology department in 2004, they realized the county's increasing spending in their field could present a financial opportunity. Together, they started Praetorian Systems, a company designed to bid for contracts from the office where the two were already employed.
Almost immediately, Praetorian Systems became a preferred county vendor and started winning millions of dollars in contracts, contracts that Gupta oversaw from the inside as the office's deputy director, according to police and prosecutors. Authorities said yesterday that Gupta, Roessler and two others conspired to rig the county's contracting system to send $9 million in work to Praetorian and shell companies Gupta and Roessler created, with about $4 million of that taxpayer money going straight into their pockets.
In one of the largest embezzlement cases in county history, prosecutors secured indictments Monday on 153 charges against Gupta, 45, of Woodbridge; Roessler, 50, of Woodbridge; Roessler's brother Vernon, 42, of Dale City; and Richard Billingsley, 41, of Springfield. Charges include racketeering, bid rigging, forgery, obtaining money by false pretenses and money laundering over a five-year period.
Law enforcement sources close to the investigation said yesterday that Gupta and Roessler set up the company and arranged for it to win lucrative bids with the IT office. Two sources, both of whom spoke anonymously because of the ongoing probe, said the scheme involved submitting fake bids in the names of legitimate county contractors so that Praetorian could then compete with and undercut those bids.
Gupta was able to hide his actions because he was in charge of the process, authorities said. Officials said yesterday that there were 26 cases in which the men gave themselves contracts and made up bids from other companies.
Michael C. Sprano, a Fairfax lawyer who represents Roessler, said Gupta and his client came up with the idea to launch Praetorian while working in the county office, which maintains and supports the county's network of computers, databases and telephones.
Roessler wanted to start his own business but did not think it could support his family, Sprano said. Instead, he double-dipped, working for Prince William and Praetorian until January 2008, when he left his county job, he said.
"It was never his intent to steal from the county," Sprano said. "His intent was that the county would always be charged a fair price, he would do good work and they would get what they paid for."
Sprano said his client knew the scheme was wrong, but that once he was caught up in it, it was hard to stop.
"Looking back now, he said he wishes he never would have done it," Sprano said. "He wishes it was done in a legitimate way."
Gupta's attorney, Robert Trout, said last week that Gupta has been cooperating with the investigation. Trout declined to comment yesterday.
Praetorian also inflated work hours to collect additional county payments, according to county officials.