A U.S. District Court judge has acquitted a contractor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of charges that he defrauded the agency of more than $125,000.
Judge Joyce Hens Green, in a verdict delivered Thursday, said William H. Elsey III did not intend to commit fraud in submitting inflated and duplicative bills to the federal disaster agency. Elsey is former chief of the energy division of IMR Systems Corp. of Falls Church, which had several noncompetitive contracts with FEMA's emergency training center in western Maryland.
Green said she accepted Elsey's defense that he was "uninformed, mistaken, careless, negligent and lax in his monitoring of the contracts . . . . There was no persuasive evidence of Elsey's willful intent to defraud the government in these overcharges."
Some of the charges involved the work of Michele Smith Jackson, who the judge said was hired by Elsey at the request of Fred J. Villella, former head of FEMA's training center. Jackson wrote thank you notes for Villella, addressed Christmas cards for him and helped him prepare for his daughter's wedding, Green said. Villella has denied any wrongdoing.
"It is obvious that Elsey hired Jackson to accommodate Villella's request and to curry favor with a high government official important to IMR's then-current contract with FEMA," Green wrote. But, she said, "there is no evidence that Elsey knew . . . that the vast majority of her time was in performance of work for Villella, both business and personal."
Elsey inadvertently submitted duplicate vouchers, erroneous bills and inflated overhead charges, Green said, but he notified FEMA "that there were problems with his accounting and vouchering system."
The government could not prove its case because of a "climate of confusion" among FEMA officials about the billing procedures, Green said.