Former MARTA administrator sentenced to prison for taking more than $520,000 in fraud scheme
ATLANTA – Jhonnita L. Williams, a former department administrator at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), has been sentenced for her part in a false-invoice scheme that resulted in MARTA paying more than $520,000 for maintenance projects where no worked was actually performed.
“Williams sold the public’s trust for self-enrichment when she chose to participate in a half of million dollar theft of MARTA funds,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Her sentence sends a clear message to others who may choose to misuse taxpayer dollars that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Government employees who use their positions to steal money from taxpayers to subsidize their own personal greed, are one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Public corruption erodes public confidence and the first step toward restoring that confidence is sending a message that crimes like this will not go unpunished.”
“The sentencing of Ms. Jhonnita Williams concludes a coordinated investigation with our federal law enforcement partners, and we are satisfied with the results,” said MARTA Police Chief Wanda Y. Dunham. “This sentencing will send a clear message to any MARTA employee who thinks they are above the law and would act to erode the trust the public has given us. We would like to thank members of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts in assisting the MARTA Police Department with bringing all of the major players involved in this fraud scheme to justice and for seeking restitution of taxpayer dollars.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: MARTA is the principal public transportation operator in the Atlanta area, providing fixed rail and bus service to more than 500,000 passengers per weekday. Formed by Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act of 1965, MARTA is a multi-county local governmental agency with a 2016 annual budget of more than $880 million.
Williams worked for MARTA from 1999 to 2017. From 2010 to 2017, Williams worked as an assistant and department administrator for Joseph J. Erves. During most of the conspiracy, Erves served as MARTA’s senior director of operations and oversaw the maintenance of all of its buses and rail cars.
From approximately June 2010 to December 2016, Williams and Erves had more than 40 fake invoices prepared on behalf of three vendors for MARTA maintenance projects for which no work was performed. Williams and Erves used the false invoices as bases to authorize payments to the three vendors – including fake invoices submitted by a business owned by Ferrell Williams (who was romantically involved with Jhonnita Williams). After being paid, all three of the vendors funneled most of the money received from MARTA back to Erves and Williams. In total, MARTA paid more than $520,000 for maintenance projects when no work was actually performed.
Williams used her portion on the money to pay various personal expenses, including the purchase/financing of an approximately 3,000 square foot single-family home with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms.
The sentences for all defendants in this case are as follows:
On September 20, 2017, Joseph J. Erves, 54, of Lithonia, Georgia pleaded guilty to federal program theft. On January 16, 2018, Erves was sentenced to two years and nine months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $522,825.45 in restitution.
On March 29, 2018, Ferrell Williams, 63, of Cincinnati, Ohio, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit federal program theft. On August 1, 2018, Ferrell Williams was sentenced to eight months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $41,539.10 in restitution.
On November 28, 2018, Jhonnita Williams, 48, of Atlanta, Georgia pleaded guilty to one-count of conspiratorial federal program theft. For her crime, Williams was sentenced to one year, four months in prison, three years of supervised released, and ordered to pay $522,825.45 in restitution.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the MARTA Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey W. Davis, Chief of the Public Integrity and Special Matters Section, and Alison B. Prout prosecuted the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.