The Washington Post

Prison for judge’s wife in federal contract fraud case

The president of a Washington-area interior design firm has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for providing false information in order to obtain a $1.3 million contract to help renovate a federal building.

Darlene Mathis-Gardner, founder of Systems Design Inc. in Silver Spring, pleaded guilty in April to fraud and false claim charges. In addition to sentencing Mathis-Gardner to prison time, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the interior designer on July 13 to pay $389,738 in restitution to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to court papers, Mathis-Gardner, 56, sought to obtain a contract for interior design work on a building in Southwest Washington that was being renovated to become ICE’s headquarters.

Federal prosecutors said the District resident provided the federal government with false information and documents that misrepresented her company’s background and qualifications to do the work. the General Services Administration to win the contract. Once she started work on the project, Mathis-Gardner also presented invoices that overstated the number of hours that her firm had worked, federal prosecutors said.

In court papers, defense attorneys urged Leon for leniency and a sentence below the 21-27 month guideline range laid out in the plea agreement. While noting that Mathis-Gardner was a hard-worker, had two children and has been active in charity work, they also pointed out that she was married to a D.C. Superior Court judge, Wendell Gardner.

Until sentencing, Mathis-Gardner had avoided mention of her husband because he “has experienced great anxiety, concern, and professional embarrassment because of her conduct in the case,” wrote federal public defenders, Jonathan Jeffress and Michelle Peterson.

The lawyers noted that Judge Gardner’s chief concern was “for his wife’s safety” if she were to be imprisoned, and Mathis-Gardner feels remorse for how her criminal case has affected her husband.

In court papers, federal prosecutors sought a sentence of between 21 and 27 months as a signal to others to avoid committing contract fraud. They also noted that Mathis-Gardner “continued submitting forged documents to [the General Services Administration] even after she learned of the criminal investigation” into her contract.


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