The lawsuit that likely started the FBI probe into Evans Landscaping and its well-known owner, Doug Evans, was quietly dismissed last month, with both sides dividing up a bank account and parting ways.
In October 2014, the prominent East Side landscaping company sued a subcontractor, Ergon Site Construction and its owner, Korey Jordan, claiming it was owed $273,041 for unpaid work.
That lawsuit sparked an epic legal battle.
Jordan, who is black, filed a countersuit claiming that Evans profited from his minority business enterprise status and assumed its identity in order to get city contracts.
But Evans insisted that he gave “arms-length support” to Ergon and loans so Jordan could have operational cash flow, according to federal court documents.
In 2013, the city of Cincinnati awarded several minority owned business contracts to Ergon. When the company could not complete all of the work, it subcontracted with Evans for demolition jobs, according to court documents filed by Evans.
That’s when their relationship went sour. First came the lawsuit, and then months later, the FBI investigation.
Television cameras captured the raid in July 2015 as FBI agents arrived in unmarked cars and took away boxes of documents for Evans’ locations in Newtown, Anderson and Mt. Carmel.
Since then FBI agents have poured over thousands of documents from Evans Landscaping, but no indictment has ever been filed from their probe into alleged minority contracting issues.
The FBI has been typically quiet about the case.
The only peek into their probe came in December 2015, when the FBI tried to seize two Mack trucks from Evans Landscaping, alleging violations of money laundering, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. A judge issued a stay on the case, pending the outcome of the investigation.
“Beyond approving the general idea of providing meaningful yet arms-length assistance to Mr. Jordan and Ergon … Evans had no direct involvement in the founding or creation of Ergon,” Evans’ attorney, Ben Dusing, wrote in response to the forfeiture claim.
Evans built his empire from a modest high school landscaping business.
With just a shovel and a pickup truck, a young Evans sold mulch to local homes and businesses and spread it himself. Instead of going to college, he devoted himself to his business.
Today his companies employ more than 200 people.
Evans, 54, has been collecting property for more than 20 years and is Newtown’s biggest landowner. He controls more than 800 acres, including the purchase of Ivy Hills Country Club in 2014.
His real estate portfolio was valued at roughly $18.8 million in 2015, according to auditor records from Hamilton and Clermont counties and listings for his property.
The allegation that Evans tried to fraudulently obtain city demolition contracts, “is not only untrue but also makes little sense,” Dusing wrote in court filings.
If Evans’ companies generated $35 to $40 million annually during the six years the FBI alleged it defrauded the city out of $2 million in minority business contracts, “It makes little sense that Evans would perpetrate a fraud that in the big picture would benefit the company so negligibly,” Dusing wrote.
An even smaller amount of money was at stake in the lawsuit that likely sparked the FBI probe to begin with.
On Dec. 16, 2016 – more than two years after the lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas – Ergon and Evans agreed to drop their dispute and split the money in Ergon’s bank account that was at issue.
Earlier court documents place the value of that bank account at $261,460.