Almost exactly two years after FBI agents arrived in unmarked cars to raid Evans Landscaping, federal officials on Friday unsealed federal charges against the Newtown company and its well-known owner, Doug Evans.
Evans, 55, who built a landscaping empire from a humble beginning hauling mulch in a pickup truck as a teenager, faces up to 103 years in prison if convicted of all six charges.
“Corruption is a losing proposition,” said Angela Byers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cincinnati office. “We will not tolerate these types of acts that steal from the taxpayers and hurt our community.”
Byers joined U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman at a press conference to reveal Evans’ indictment. Also indicted was Jim Bailey, 49, who is vice president of operations for Evans Landscaping.
Both men face the same charges: two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and one count of misprision of a felony. The company, Evans Landscaping, faces five charges and a potential $1.25 million in fines.
Prosecutors allege that Evans and an IT employee, Korey Jordan, who is black, created a new company, Ergon Site Construction, in 2008 to act as a front for Evans to win minority and small business contracts with the city of Cincinnati and the state for demolishing houses, public schools and other projects.
The city awarded Ergon 140 demolition contracts worth nearly $2 million.
“They came up with a plan so that they would form a company called Ergon Site Construction that would essentially operate as a front for Evans Landscaping so that Evans could get minority business enterprise contracts or small business enterprise contracts,” Glassman said.
Jordan agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. As part of his plea agreement, he will testify at trial.
Whatever jurors believe about the true relationship between Jordan and Evans may determine Evans' fate at trial.
Evans' attorney, Ben Dusing, said his client was just trying to help Jordan start up his own minority-owned business by giving him $85,000 in startup money, guaranteeing a line of credit, and teaching him the business.
"He was trying to do a nice thing," Dusing said.
But federal prosecutors describe a very different relationship. Jordan performed "little if any work" for Ergon and had little, if any, actual control of Ergon's management, finances and operations.
"He was not permitted to make certain decisions or take actions without Doug Evans' approval," according to a press release from federal officials.
Evans Landscaping not only dispatched Ergon vehicles to jobs, it also directed virtually all field and construction operations, including on-site supervision of Ergon field workers, according to federal prosecutors.
While Dusing admits that Evans Landscaping helped Ergon on certain jobs because Jordan's company was "incompetent," at no point did it control Ergon. In fact, if there was a problem with Ergon's demolition work, city of Cincinnati employees actually called Evans to complain.
"At no point in time did Evans take over for Ergon," Dusing said. "At various points in time, often at the request of the city, when Ergon screwed up big time ... Evans endeavored to assist Ergon. To the extent there are allegations that Evans' relationship with Ergon was concealed from the city, that is absurd."
Three other Evans Landscaping employees also signed plea agreements admitting their guilt and will testify at trial: Maurice Patterson and John Dietrich, two former CFOs; and former manager Michael Moeller.
These former employees had been terminated from the company, now work for competitors, and would have a lot to gain by "assailing both Mr. Evans and the company," Dusing said.
Evans will appear in court on Wednesday, but a trial is still six to nine months away, Dusing said.
In the meantime, Evans arrived to work at Evans Landscaping on Friday at 6:30 a.m. as he always does, Dusing said.
When asked about the fate of his companies, which employ more than 300 people, Dusing said, "There is obviously some larger question about what this means for the future of 300 people in Newtown, but luckily in the short term that's not something that needs to be addressed because business goes on as usual."
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.
Evans has also 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.
He owns industrial warehouses, farming land, parcels adjoining railroad lines and hilltop land overlooking the Little Miami River that was once owned by George Washington.
That 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.
When Evans’ wife of nearly 20 years sued him for divorce in January 2015, court filings revealed the size and scope of his wealth.
Those records show a 2013 income for Evans of $2.34 million, and bank accounts and investments worth more than $2 million. He also had an ownership stake in 19 companies and trusts and was the sole owner in all but two of them.
"It's tough to see the logic or the sanity of this prosecution," Dusing said.
Dusing is a former federal prosecutor who successfully defended Kenwood Towne Place developer Matt Daniels against charges of fraud in 2013. A jury found Daniels not guilty.