Jhonnita L. Williams, a former department administrator at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), pleaded guilty to participating in a false-invoice scheme that resulted in MARTA paying more than $520,000 for maintenance projects where no worked was actually performed.
“MARTA trusted Williams to use and protect taxpayer dollars effectively and responsibly,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Her participation in a half of million dollar theft of MARTA funds demonstrates that she sold the public’s trust for self-enrichment.”
“Williams circumvented proper government procedures and dipped into taxpayers’ money to subsidize her own personal greed,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top priorities, and we are committed to holding accountable those who choose to abuse their positions of trust.”
“MARTA has zero-tolerance for any employee who betrays the trust placed in us by our customers,” said MARTA Police Chief Wanda Y. Dunham. “The guilty plea by Ms. Williams concludes a coordinated investigation with our federal law enforcement partners, and we are satisfied with the results. We hope this guilty verdict serves as a deterrent for others who would attempt to defraud the taxpayers.”
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, the all three of the vendors funneled most of the money received from MARTA back to Erves and Williams. In total, MARTA paid the three vendors more than $520,000 for maintenance projects where no worked was actually performed.
Williams used the money to pay for various personal expenses, including the financing and purchase of an approximately 3,000 square foot single-family home with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms.
On July 24, 2018, a grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against Williams, 47, of Atlanta, Georgia. Today, Williams pleaded guilty to one count of conspiratorial federal program theft.
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 $41,539.1 in restitution.
This case is being 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 Prout are prosecuting the case.