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NJ Firm Official Debarred Over NYCTA Bribes

Monday, September 24, 2018

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The former principal of a New Jersey engineering consulting firm has been debarred for three years by the Federal Transit Administration in relation to charges he made payments to a former New York City Transit Authority official in exchange for preferential treatment as a contractor for the agency.

Mansukh Patel, who headed Vista Engineering Corp., of Ridgefield, New Jersey, was debarred from federal work on Sept. 11, and may not participate in federal procurement or nonprocurement programs for three years. Patel was allegedly one of a number of contractors who paid Talib Lokhandwala, who held positions related to project management and administration with NYCTA, in exchange for favors related to project work.

Lokhandwala, who served the agency as administrative project manager, construction project manager and senior director of mentoring programs during his time there, was sentenced earlier this year to 46 months in prison for his role in soliciting the bribes. The payments related to work that included the Willets Point Shea Stadium elevated subway station (now known as Mets-Willets Point), which included the refurbishment and repainting of the station, according to the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General, which investigated the matter.

Willets Point Station
Tdorante10, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The bribe payment reportedly related to projects including the rehabilitation and repainting of the Willets Point-Shea Stadium elevated subway station (now known as Mets-Willets Point.)

According to court documents, Lokhandwala pressured Patel and other contractors to pay him bribes through a shell corporation in exchange for his help securing future contracts, and threatened to prevent contractors from winning future contracts if they did not comply. The scheme, which lasted from 2009 through 2015, netted Lokhandwala more than $150,000 total, according to prosecutors.

The case became a federal matter because the Willets Point project received federal funding of more than $10,000 per year through the FTA.

In February, Patel and Vista Engineering, along with Ghusalal Patel, also of the firm, were suspended by the FTA, a move that can precede debarment. At the same time, Lokhandwala and his wife, Bhavna Lokhandwala, were also suspended, along with Bhavna Associates Inc., the front company set up to receive bribes.

Past DBE Fraud Conviction

In 2016, Ghusalal Patel was sentenced to pay $250,000 for allowing Vista to serve as a pass-through on a $22 million structural steel installation contract with the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, of which NYCTA is a subsidiary. In that case, Vista received the contract for the steel work, but investigators found that A.J. McNulty and Company did the work. Vista was a certified disadvantaged business enterprise and was awarded the contract as such.

Many federal contracts incentivize the awarding of contracts to certified DBEs as part of a program aimed at leveling the playing field for firms owned by women and minorities.

According to an archived article published by the MTA in 2015, Vista was founded in 1985 and has over the years worked with the authority on projects “from bridges and tunnels to tracks and stations.”


Tagged categories: Criminal acts; Engineers; Ethics; Fraud; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Public Transit

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