CINCINNATI -- The key witness in the wire fraud case against Evans Landscaping owner Doug Evans testified through tears on Monday that he "let down my race" by running a shell company to illegally win minority contracts.
“I’m a black man in this city and I did this and I shouldn’t have done it,” Korey Jordan testified, wiping away tears. “I went against my belief system.”
Jordan, a longtime IT worker at Evans Landscaping, testified that he acted as the front for a new company – Ergon Site Construction – that was created in 2008 to win minority demolition contracts with the state and the city of Cincinnati.
“Basically I had to keep Ergon compliant … and sign checks,” Jordan testified, admitting that he regularly signed 20 blank Ergon checks at a time for Evans.
Although Jordan was the owner of Ergon, he testified that he controlled no money and had no decision-making power. He had to ask Evans to pay for all routine expenses, such as gas or a new laptop.
“He was bankrolling Ergon,” Jordan testified. Evans, 57, built a landscaping empire that began when he hauled mulch in a pickup truck as a teenager. He faces up to 103 years in prison if convicted.
Evans is a well-known figure on the city’s East Side, and this trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati has drawn dozens of observers every day.
At the heart of the case was how Evans did business with Ergon.
Evans’ attorney, Ben Dusing, told the jury in his opening statement that his client was just trying to do a nice thing for Jordan. The two men coached youth football together.
Evans has insisted he was just trying to help Jordan start his own minority-owned business by giving him $85,000 in startup money, guaranteeing a line of credit and teaching him the business.
But Jordan described a very different relationship during more than six hours of testimony on Monday.
Jordan said the idea for the unusual name of the shell company – Ergon Site Construction, came from former Evans Landscaping CFO Maurice Patterson, who also signed a plea deal admitting his guilt.
“Ergon meant work in Latin … and jumbling the letters and it means Negro, but I don’t know if that means anything,” Jordan testified.
He testified that Evans employees helped him submit fraudulent applications to the city of Cincinnati and the state to become a certified minority contractor. He hid Evans’ involvement to make it seem as if he operated independently.
Evans’ Landscaping managers hired Ergon’s workers, bid for Ergon’s jobs, and handled all of the accounting.
“They just told me, here are all of your employees … and they would bounce back and forth between Evans and Ergon,” Jordan testified.
Jordan agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge -- one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud -- in exchange for his testimony.
Evans faces trial with Jim Bailey, who is vice president of operations at 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.
If the men ever got caught, Jordan testified that Evans told him he would say, “I was just trying to help a brother out.”
“He was playing the reverse race card … that was the stance he told me he was going to take in court if we were exposed,” Jordan testified.
Cincinnati contract compliance officers audited Ergon several times because they were suspicious that Evans Landscaping was doing the work, Jordan testified.
Although Ergon repeatedly passed the city audits, Jordan said he was increasingly worried that he would get caught.
“If Ergon was exposed, I would be here (in court.) I would be on the news. I would have let down my race. I would have embarrassed myself,” Jordan testified. “My relationship with Evans wasn’t fully legal.”
Under cross-examination, Dusing tried to show that Jordan actually did run Ergon and performed much of the work himself.
Jordan admitted that he was the one who asked Evans for the opportunity to create a business. He also said that Evans encouraged him to find his own work and expand Ergon.
“Ergon was a lot of work. I put a lot of energy into that company,” testified Jordan, who said he quit Ergon twice before finally walking away in 2015 – the same year he began meeting with FBI agents.
Jordan is one of four former Evans employees who have agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges, in exchange for their testimony.
The trial began Nov. 13 and is expected to last a month.