Richard Brega, who bribed a Rockland school official to approve payments for bus repairs that were never done, was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison on Monday.
Brega, 51, of Tomkins Cove, had asked U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas to sentence him to house arrest.
The crimes were an anomaly, his attorneys, Kerry A. Lawrence and Rebecca R. Brown, argued in a sentencing memorandum, “in what has otherwise been a life dedicated to family, friends, serving the community and building multiple, successful well-run businesses.”
Prosecutors called him a cheat.
“He cheated his clients, nickel-and-diming them every chance he could,” Benjamin R. Allee and Michael D. Maimin, assistant prosecutors, said in their sentencing memo.
“He catered fulsomely to government officials, making sure that they would enter into contracts with him, not because he provided a good service at the right price, but because they were chummy with him and he gave them good food, good drink and good camaraderie.”
Ultimately, the government argued, Brega counted money as school buses deteriorated and children were put at risk.
After a three-week trial, a jury on May 4 found Brega guilty of bribery, theft from a program receiving federal funds and mail fraud.
From 2008 through 2015, Brega D.O.T. Maintenance Corp in Valley College, serviced school buses for the Rockland Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a consortium of eight school districts. Many of the buses were used by students with physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities.
Brega gave free vehicle repairs worth more than $87,000 to William “Billy” Popkave, the director of transportation for Rockland BOCES, and to Popkave’s family and friends.
Popkave created phony invoices and approved $80,000 in payments for maintenance on buses that were never brought to the shop.
Popkave, 62, has pleaded guilty to several crimes. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Brega also routinely overcharged for labor and parts on buses that were serviced for the school agency.
He has been charged in state court with bundling campaign contributions from his employees and others, for the benefit of a public official and candidate for office.
Brega’s attorneys argued that no purpose would be served by imprisoning him.
“The felony conviction alone, even without imprisonment, has all but destroyed Mr. Brega’s life.”
His criminal conduct, they said, “stands in stark contrast with his otherwise lawful, extraordinary personal and professional history.”
Brega never told Popkave that he would get free car repairs, they said, and Brega always invoiced him. Popkave stopped paying but continued to bring cars for service. Meanwhile, school buses were not being brought in for scheduled services, they said.
That’s why Brega and Popkave devised the false invoice scheme, they argued, to offset declining revenue.
The buses that Brega’s company did service, his attorneys said, were all safe. No passengers were harmed. The fleet had an excellent record in state Department of Transportation inspections.
“There is zero risk of me ever doing anything like this again,” Brega stated in a letter to the judge. He submitted 66 letters from family, friends, employees attesting to his honor, respect, kindness, decency and generosity.
Prosecutors argued that he should be sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison.
The scheme netted Brega about $100,000, they wrote in their sentencing memo. At one point, Brega’s company, which had been charging $835 for preventative maintenance, lost the bus contract to Southern Westchester BOCES, which charged $225 for the service.
The chief mechanic there, David Gleason, was sickened by what he found, the prosecutors wrote. The buses were in a state of utter disrepair.
“I saw brakes that were metal on metal where the brake pads had worn down to the point where there was no brake pad,” Gleason testified. “I saw a tremendous amount of rust on the underside of the carriage of those buses. There was issues with ball joints. There was issues with clamps that appeared to have been installed incorrectly.”
Rockland BOCES had to spend $105,136 on repairs and more than $2.2 million to replace buses that could no longer pass state inspections.
Brega’s criminal conduct was no anomaly, the prosecutors wrote. He had bragged to Popkave that he was a puppeteer to politicians. “I like being the guy who tells them what to do.”
He boasted about using Machiavellian tactics to outmaneuver government officials.
Even after he was convicted, glowing testimonials he submitted to the judge, the prosecutors wrote, appeared to have been fabricated, ghost written or misleading.
One letter, for instance, called Brega “the most amazing person I have ever encountered” and a “gift from God.”
“But the author denies signing any such letter with those sentiments,” the prosecutors said.
Brega’s character, according to the prosecutors, “is defined by a selfish, power-hungry, destructive ambition. Brega was willing to bribe (a) public official, steal from a school district, cover up that conduct and engage in all manner of other deceptive conduct in order to aggrandize himself and his businesses.”
The fraud and bribery scheme was not an anomaly, they wrote.
“It simply reveals who Brega actually is.”