A former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs contracts administrator faces a likely federal prison sentence Monday for tax fraud and lying to investigators by denying taking bribes from a crooked parking lot operator at the VA’s Westside medical center campus.
Ralph Tillman, 58, of Whittier, who resigned in 2014 after being confronted by VA investigators, admitted that he took nearly $290,000 in “hush money” from Richard Scott, 58, owner of Westside Services, which had a contract to operate public parking locations across the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, according to Tillman’s plea agreement.
Scott of Santa Monica was sentenced last month to nearly six years in prison for swindling the VA out of at least $12 million generated by his parking lots and bribing Tillman to keep the long-running scheme secret.
Tillman faces up to eight years — but is expected to receive less than half that amount — when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in downtown Los Angeles.
As part of his job, Tillman was responsible for managing contracts with “sharing partners,” such as Scott’s Westside Services, which were required to share revenues with the agency. He admitted that he first solicited a bribe from Scott in late 2003. About 18 months later, Scott began making monthly cash payments to Tillman, with Scott personally delivering the bribes in sealed FedEx envelopes.
In return for the cash, Tillman failed to scrutinize annual statements from Scott that he knew contained inaccurately reported revenues and expenses. Tillman also admitted that he knew Scott was defrauding the VA out of millions of dollars and that he entered into a contract extension with the parking lot operator in 2011 to continue the fraud and bribery scheme.
Prosecutors said that during an interview with special agents from the VA’s Office of Inspector General in September 2014, Tillman lied when he denied accepting money or anything of value from Scott. But in his plea agreement, Tillman admitted taking $286,250 from Scott from 2003 through last year, even after his retirement.
The defendants’ crimes have caused “profound and lasting damage” to the VA, said Meghan Flanz, executive director in charge of the master plan to revitalize the 388-acre medical center campus.
In a letter to the court on behalf of the healthcare system’s executive team in Los Angeles, she expressed “continuing anger, frustration and disgust regarding the actions of the defendants.”
Flanz wrote that while years have passed since Tillman and Scott first conspired to defraud the government, “their corruption continues to harm our campus, our employees, our reputation in the community, and most importantly, the veterans we are honored to serve.”
The VA contract with Scott was terminated in early 2017 after the agency settled a lawsuit that challenged the VA’s use of its Westside campus for any purposes not specifically related to the care and housing of veterans.
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