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Woman pleads guilty to government fraud

ALBANY — A former employee of an Albany transportation company has pleaded guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to a scheme to overcharge the Department of Defense for transportation services, according to Justice Department officials.

The services were rendered through the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and officials say the overcharges resulted in the loss of millions of dollars to the U.S. government.

Kelli Durham, 33, of Leesburg, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of wire fraud before U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands in the Middle District of Georgia, Albany.

According to a release by the DOJ, Durham, a former employee of an Albany-based trucking company, admitted to participating in a scheme led by the owner of the company to defraud the government by over billing for freight transportation services falsely claimed to have been provided to DLA at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany. Further, Durham admitted that at the direction of the trucking company owner, she took several steps intended to defraud the government and other trucking companies with which she brokered government freight, including altering shipping and equipment specifications stated on government bills of lading.

Government prosecutors say Durham then used those falsified bills of lading to broker loads, using shipping and equipment specifications inferior to those contracted for the DLA, while still billing DLA for the more expensive specifications it had requested. According to the DOJ, this led to massive over billing of the government and losses in excess of $7 million.

The release states that the trucking company handled thousands of freight shipments for DLA from July 2008 to December 2012, with most of them designated as “exclusive-use,” a premium service requiring that each shipment be transported on a single truck even if that prevented the truck from being filled to capacity. Each of these exclusive-use shipments were listed on a single bill of lading, the DOJ release states.

According to the DOJ release, Durham has admitted that she received approximately $905,685 for her part in an elaborate fraud scheme. Officials say Durham faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of not more than twice the pecuniary loss to the government. As a part of her plea agreement, Durham has agreed to forfeit the $905,685 as well as pay full restitution to the Department of Defense, officials say. According to the DOJ release, Durham is expected to be sentenced within about 60 days.

DOJ officials say this is the seventh guilty plea arising from a corruption probe centered at the MCLB-Albany. The case continues to be investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, with assistance from the Dougherty County District Attorney’s Office Economic Crime Unit, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, DLA Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General, officials say.