An L.A. County employee and the electrical contractor who paid him almost $300,000 in bribes both pleaded guilty to federal bribery and tax charges, with both also agreeing to cooperate in an ongoing federal investigation, according to plea agreements filed Wednesday.
Mohammad R. Tirmazi, 50, of Alta Loma was working in the county’s Internal Services Department when he accepted bribes from 2014 to 2017 from 38-year-old Palmdale resident Enrique Contreras, owner of Tel-Pro Voice & Data, a vendor that performed electrical work for the county.
In exchange for the cash, checks and gifts, Tirmazi helped “steer lucrative county contracts to businesses or contractors” that Contreras knew would subcontract his company, court records show.
Tirmazi also agreed to approve change orders that Contreras requested for work that didn’t happen, materials that weren’t bought or used, unnecessary work or materials, and work or materials that were generally overpriced, according to court documents.
At the same time, Contreras inflated the time that his own company worked for the county so he could get extra money to pay bribes to Tirmazi, according to court records.
Tirmazi thought Contreras’ company’s work was generally “shoddy” but overlooked the poor quality because of the bribes, according to court records. Tirmazi didn’t report or force Contreras to correct building and safety code violations that Tirmazi found during inspections of his company’s work, court records show.
“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,” U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna said in a statement.
Contreras and Tirmazi made a multitude of choices they thought would help them not get caught, including Contreras’ telling Tirmazi to make deposits at his bank of less than $10,000 to avoid mandatory bank reporting requirements. Tirmazi preferred cash “because he thought it would be harder for law enforcement to trace the bribe payments,” the plea agreement says.
Contreras paid Tirmazi $216,207 in checks, attempting to conceal the bribes by making the checks out to people or businesses that Tirmazi controlled. Contreras wanted to pay Tirmazi in checks so he could claim the payments as a business expense, thus lowering his company’s taxable income, according to court records.
Tirmazi also had an IT equipment-related business, which made part of its money selling cables. Tirmazi bought some cables online that were unusually low-priced, and he later admitted he thought they might have been stolen, according to court records. He then sold the cables to Contreras for $55,400. The two men attempted to hide the undisclosed business relationship. Contreras wrote checks payable to other people, who cashed the checks for Tirmazi, according to the plea agreements.
The cases against Tirmazi and Contreras are part of an ongoing FBI and Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation.
As part of their guilty pleas, Tirmazi and Contreras will each face a statutory maximum sentence of 13 years in federal prison.
“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,” acting Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner for IRS Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles said in a statement. “We must stop this corrupt conduct, which leads to the unfair awarding of lucrative contracts and a clear violation of the federal tax laws.”
Contreras also admitted to bribing county employee Thomas Shepos with thousands of dollars in cash, totaling up to $300,000, in exchange for Shepos’ telling Contreras nonpublic county information and helping Contreras secure county contracts, according to court records.
Shepos would tell Contreras about upcoming county projects that Contreras could bid on, and Shepos would also tell Contreras when there were multiple bids so that Contreras knew when to lower his bid and increase his chances of getting the contract. Shepos pleaded guilty in November to accepting bribes.
In total, Contreras bribed both county workers with upward of $600,000, court records show.
In mid-2017, Contreras stopped paying bribes to Tirmazi. That’s when he told Tirmazi that Contreras was under federal investigation.