FMCSA official pleads not guilty to bribery

A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration field supervisor has pleaded not guilty to a bribery charge, despite recordings of him agreeing to delay a carrier review or audit for cash.

On Jan. 19, U. S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., for Western District of New York filed the criminal complaint in Buffalo federal court. The next day, Delevan, N.Y., resident James H. Wood, 44, entered a not guilty plea to the felony charge of accepting a bribe in his official duties.

A safety consultant for Canadian carriers recorded telephone conversations with Wood, who allegedly agreed to delay a compliance review or safety audit of a Canadian trucking company.

Earlier this month, officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General began working with a confidential informant in the on-going investigation. The informant estimated he had paid bribes of $60,000 to $70,000 over the past two years, in cash and through Western Union.

In return, Wood allegedly provided a list of Canadian companies targeted for inspection and initiated complaint audits to put a company out of business and a “friendly audit” to assist a company in getting satisfactory rating. He also:

• Provided the consultant assistance in getting work from the listed companies.
• Gave an audit sample of what would be reviewed during inspection.
• Helped to reschedule an audit.

Another safety consultant asked the informant for protection from complaint audits initiated by Wood on his client companies. The supervisor allegedly agreed to not audit the consultant’s clients for $3,000. Still, two of the client companies remained targeted for audits, but the FMCSA official allegedly agreed to delay audits for an additional $1,000.

The informant made consensual recordings of phone calls with Wood. In these recordings, Wood allegedly agreed to take a bribe to delay compliance reviews and provide satisfactory ratings. He also named a drug testing company that would switch a positive test result to negative for $1,000.

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The two exchanged emails in which Wood for $5,000 would allegedly provide satisfactory ratings to two companies. Investigators conducted physical surveillance at a Jan. 12 meeting when Wood allegedly accepted the informant’s $1,000 bribe. 

Wood is scheduled for a Feb.1 detention hearing when a magistrate judge will decide if he will be held without bail or released on conditions. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.

FBI agents worked with the DOT OIG in the investigation.