A General Services Administration carpenter's foreman working at the Central Intelligence Agency had a $65,000 house built to his specitications on the Patuxent River in Maryland as part of an illegal payoff from a government contractor, according to government sources.
Elmer A. Van Pelt, who retired from GSA last year as a $23,700-a year foreman, received the unusual payoff after he helped the contractor obtain contracts to perform nearly $1 million in phantom work, according to the sources.
The contracts called for installing enough floor tile in CIA headquarters to cover a building six times the size of the top secret installation at Langley.
Van Pelt pleaded guilty Jan. 3 to conspiracy to defraud the government after the U.S. attorney's office here charged him with receiving more than $35,000 in payoffs, mostly in cash, from the same contractor, John P. Rudell of Tuxedo Contractors Inc. in College Park. The company is no longer in existence.
As part of a plea bargaining arrangement worked out by the prosecutors, Van Pelt, 60, agreed to plead guilty to receiving the $35,000. He denied receiving the house as a payoff, and it was not included in the criminal charge.
However, FBI agentsa traced the $65,000 paid for the new house directly to Rudell, sources said. They said the money came from a special account apparently used by Rudell for making payoffs to GSA employes.
Reached for comment, Van Pelt said, "Talk to my lawyer." The lawyer, Anthony P. Interdonato of Clinton, said, "I have no comment. I'm not at liberty to discuss that sort of thing at this point." Ruaell, who nnow lives in Wisconsin, also had no commennt.
Investigators working on the GSA scandal say a house payoff is the kind of brazen kickback they are uncovering in corruption schemes that seem to have no limits. Because so many of the GSA defendants are pleading guilty -- 32 of 40 indicted so far -- the details of the payoffs often do not find their way into public record.
Payoffs made to GSA employes in other cases have included color television sets, airline tickets to Trinidad and Bermuda, microwave ovens, stereos, air-conditioners, freezers, ranges, dishwashers, luggage, diamond rings, cars, typewriters, lawn mowers, furniture, carpeting and auto tires.
Van Pelt's house is a rambling, brick structure at 296 Shoreview Dr. in the Golden Beach section of Mechanicsville in St Mary's County, Md. It is a rural area dotted with pine trees more than an hour's drive from Washington.
The black-shuttered house is across the street from a boat landing on the Patuxent, which empties into Chesapeake Bay. Van Pelt, whose annual pension from GSA is estimated at about $9,000, keeps a boat next to his garage.
FBI agents first focused on Van Pelt when they determined, with the help of GSA engineers, that much of the tiling work paid for at CIA headquarters had never been done. In investigating Van Pelt, the agents became suspicious when they found that he had obtained no mortgage loan to cover the purchase of the land or the house.
John R. Goldsmith, the Mechanics ville builder who constructed the custom house for Van Pelt, said recently he was paid in three installments through what he called an "escrow account" that was not Van Pelt's. He said Van Pelt told him he had obtained the money as a commission on the sale of a commercial property.
Van Pelt acknowleged to the FBI that he received the money for the house and for a new Buck station wagon from Rudell, but he said the money represented loans. He could produce no evidennce that he had ever made a payment of principal or interest or had signed any loan agreements, sources said.
Rudell acknowleged the monkey was a kickback paid for Van Pelt's help in awarding him contracts to perform phantom work and said they agreed they would call the money a loan if questioned. He has already pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of $1 million, most of which was kicked back to GSA employes.
Sources said the evidence developed by the FBI will be shown to U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Gasch before he sentences Van Pelt as part of a confidential, presentencing report, but it will not be made public. CAPTION: Picture, Government sources say this $65,000 house in Mechanicsville, Md., was part of a payoff to a GSA employe. By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post