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Published On: Fri, Jun 21st, 2019

FAA Aviation Safety Inspector, Manuel Fernandez Convicted of Bribery and Fraud Scheme

Yesterday, following a four-week trial before U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke, a federal jury convicted a former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Safety Inspector Manuel R. Fernandez, 42, of Miami, of twenty-one criminal counts for his participation in a bribery and fraud scheme.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Todd Damiani, Regional Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG), and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.

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According to the evidence at trial, from 2010 through June 28, 2013, Fernandez served as a FAA Aviation Safety Inspector with the FAA South Florida Flight Standards District Office (“FSDO”). Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez were the co-owners, officers, and directors of AVCOM, a Miami aviation repair company, which was subject to the jurisdiction and official responsibility of the FAA South Florida FSDO.  The evidence showed that, at the same he was working for the FAA, Fernandez held various positions at AVCOM, including Vice President of Operations.

In exchange for Patricia Suarez and Rolando Suarez corruptly providing over $150,000 in cash, as well as jewelry, a cruise, clothing, and approximately $15,000 funneled to Fernandez’s mother, Fernandez violated his lawful and official duties as an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector.  Fernandez provided AVCOM with advanced notice and warnings as to pending FAA inspections of AVCOM, disclosed financial information about AVCOM’s competitors, and provided AVCOM with improperly obtained aviation repair manuals produced by original equipment manufacturers such as Honeywell and Delta, saving AVCOM from paying vast sums of money for this proprietary information.  The evidence further showed that Fernandez provided materially false statements to the FAA and DOT in order to hide his participation in these AVCOM-related activities. Additionally, Fernandez submitted a fraudulent sick leave request to the FAA, utilizing a forged doctor’s note.

Fernandez was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371 and 201(b)(1)(C) and (b)(2)(C); fifteen counts of bribery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 201(b)(2)(C); one count of providing false statements to a federal agency, in violation Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2); two counts of wire fraud, in violation Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343; and two counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A.  Fernandez faces a maximum statutory sentence of 5 years in prison for the conspiracy count of conviction, 15 years in prison for each for the bribery counts, five years in prison for the false statement count, 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, and a 2-year consecutive mandatory minimum sentence for the aggravated identity theft counts.  In addition, he faces a fine of up to $250,000 or triple the bribery proceeds.

Rolando Suarez previously pled guilty and was sentenced to 24 months in prison.  Patricia Suarez previously pled guilty and was sentenced to 5 years’ probation with 240 days of electronic monitoring.  Rolando and Patricia Suarez were ordered to jointly pay $711,940.46 in restitution.

Fernandez is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Cooke on August 28, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. (Case No. 17-20780-Cr-Cooke).

U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the DOT-OIG and FBI in this matter.  She also thanked the Hialeah Police Department, Miami Beach Police Department, and Miami-Dade Police Department for their assistance.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Davis and Yeney Hernandez.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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