A Naperville husband and wife were sentenced to prison Tuesday in connection with public contract fraud involving projects at O'Hare International Airport and in the Village of Orland Park, according to an FBI press release.
Aurora Venegas, 63, and her husband, Thomas Masen, 67, both of Naperville, were sentenced to federal prison after engaging in a scheme to steer minority contracts through Venegas' supply company, according to authorities.
Venegas, the owner of defunct Azteca Supply Co., a once certified minority business enterprise and a women’s business enterprise, pleaded guilty to mail fraud. Her husband, Thomas Masen, former comptroller and secretary of National Concrete Pipe Co. in Franklin Park, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, the press release said.
The judge ruled that Venegas collected nearly $9.7 million in fraudulent payments while acting as a minority contractor on runway and restroom projects at O’Hare International Airport for the city of Chicago between 2001 and 2008.
Venegas only admitted that she engaged in a $57,000 fraud scheme involving a landscaping project at a new Metra commuter rail station for the Village of Orland Park, the press release said.
She was sentenced to 26 months in prison and ordered to pay $482,850 in restitution. Her husband was sentenced to 24 months in prison and ordered to pay $450,000 in restitution.
Venegas and Masen were ordered to begin serving their sentences on Dec. 4 and Nov. 27, respectively. Venegas also was placed on home confinement during the first six months of two years’ supervised release.
“It is an especially serious crime because it involves public money,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, Jr. in the press release. “What Ms. Venegas was supposed to be doing, Mr. Masen was doing and, as a result, the work wasn’t being performed by a [legitimate] WBE or MBE.”
According to authorities, court proceedings showed that, following a Nov. 2007 interview with Venegas by a Chicago Inspector General's Office investigator, Venegas, Masen, and others made it appear that Azteca maintained an inventory of concrete pipe at the National Concrete Pipe plant where Masen worked.
Venegas staged Azteca’s warehouse to make it appear that she kept inventory of other products, and she asked to borrow inventory from another company so that if an inspection occurred, Azteca could falsely convey that it maintained products that it claimed to sell, the press release said.
Azteca was certified by the city of Chicago as a minority business enterprise and a women’s business enterprise. To obtain and maintain that status, Venegas falsely represented that she performed a commercially useful function, didn't perform brokering services between Azteca and other companies and was the only person who provided estimates for Azteca’s contracts, the press release said.
Based on Azteca’s status as a minority business enterprise and a women’s business enterprise contractor for the city of Chicago, Metra provided reciprocal status for its contracts, according to the release.
Venegas learned from customers what supplies they needed and caused Azteca to act solely as a broker in shipping those items from actual suppliers to customers in violation of minority business enterprise and a women’s business enterprise contract requirements.
Venegas and Azteca allegedly generated invoices to make it appear as though Azteca had complied with contract requirements when, in fact, Venegas and Azteca had played no role whatsoever, authorities said.
Masen admitted lying to the FBI when he told agents that he did not direct Venegas and Azteca as to what Azteca should charge for certain goods sold to customers and how much Venegas should mark up those items. The government showed that Masen frequently interacted directly with Azteca’s customers and used Azteca as a “pass-through” to make it appear that customers were purchasing goods from Azteca when, in fact, they were purchasing goods directly from Masen’s company, the press release said.