a lounge area with chairs and a bar
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

Former Airline Employees Admit to Accepting Bribes In Conspiracy Plot

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were involved — with each defendant.

Three former airline employees admit to accepting bribes in a conspiracy plot for agreeing to assist a company to obtain lucrative contracts from the airline for maintenance and construction services to renovate toilet facilities and other projects at Newark International Airport — even though the company in question submitted a bid of $19.7 million, which was the highest of three companies that were seeking work from the airline.

Former Airline Employees Admit to Accepting Bribes In Conspiracy Plot

a group of people on escalators in a airport
The restrooms are behind you. Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

The approximate total values of the bribes and kickbacks that were accepted by the former employees of United Airlines — all of whom are residents of New Jersey — are as follows:

  • Alok Saksena, 45, of Montclair: $539,000.00 while employed as the director of corporate real estate
  • Lovella Rogan, 48, of Springfield: $409,000.00 while employed as a project manager
  • Anthony Rosalli, 44, of Burlington: $276,000.00 in bribes when he worked as a senior manager for airport operations projects

Each of the former employees of United Airlines pleaded guilty before Zahid N. Quraishi — who is a judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Trenton — to the charge of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud after investigations were conducted by agents and representatives of several government agencies. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in April of 2024. They each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.00.

“The defendants compromised their positions by accepting bribes in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of home renovations, electronics, and jewelry”, according to Philip R. Sellinger, who is an attorney for the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. “Commercial bribery of this kind corrupts the fairness of our economic system. We will hold to account those who unlawfully violate their duties to further their own economic interests.”

The maintenance and construction company — which had not been publicly identified at the time this article was written — bid on a contract in September of 2021 to renovate toilet facilities at Newark International Airport. “The defendants sat on the selection committee and each of them voted to award the contract to the company”, according to this official press release from the Department of Justice of the United States. “In exchange for the defendants’ help in obtaining the restroom renovation contract and with the expectation that they would use their positions to help the company obtain future contracts, the company agreed to pay for significant renovations at the defendants’ personal residences, including renovating and building bathrooms, renovating a deck, installing floors and sheetrock, and renovating a kitchen. The company gave the defendants valuable items, including electronics and jewelry.”

As one example, Rogan asked the contractor for — and received — vacations worth approximately $10,000.00 to Walt Disney World and the Philippines. She also submitted a “Christmas list” that included guitars and guitar amplifiers, Rolex watches, Airpods, iPads, an Apple watch, gaming monitors, a foosball table, and a 9-room dollhouse — as well as diamond earrings which cost greater than $30,000.00.

According to the aforementioned press release, the defendants also conspired with an employee of the maintenance and construction company to inflate change orders fraudulently — which amended the scope of work of the contract — to recoup some of the costs of the bribes. The company submitted change orders — which contained fraudulently high numbers — with the knowledge and consent of the defendants to obtain money not legitimately earned by the company so that the company could partially fund the bribe payments to the defendants.

No comment was publicly released from United Airlines at the time this article was written.

Final Boarding Call

people walking in a large airport
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

Interestingly, I used to use Newark International Airport regularly years ago. I was there again recently and noticed the renovations that the airport has undergone — including the toilet facilities which I used but did not take photographs of them. Overall, the airport is nicer to use now. I was somewhat impressed with the transformation.

This is not the first time that employees of United Airlines were involved in a bribery scandal at Newark International Airport. Jeff Smisek was relieved from his responsibilities as chairman, president and chief executive officer at United Continental back in September of 2015 due to federal and internal investigations associated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose former chairman — who is now 84 years of age — was suspected to have allegedly used his prominent position to demand favorable treatment or personal benefit from United Airlines.

Most notably was when David Samson pressured the airline to revive a weekly direct flight between Newark and Columbia in South Carolina in 2012 — a flight which lost money for United Airlines and became known as the “Chairman’s Flight” — near his weekend vacation home so that he can have easier access to it and save himself significant time driving. He also was negotiating with the airline over a hangar it wanted to build at Newark International Airport.

Samson resigned from his position as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey back in March of 2014. Despite pleading guilty to the charges of bribery in the summer of 2016, Samson served no time in jail.

Major airports around the United States seem to be a bastion of greed with regard to awarding lucrative contracts to companies. The defendants deserve to punished to the fullest extent of the law, in my opinion.

Concluding this article is a quote with which I agree that has been attributed to James E. Dennehy, who is the special agent in charge of the field office in Newark for the Federal Bureau of Investigation: “Federal law requires an honest bidding process because if everyone in a position of authority demanded goods and services for their approval, the cost of doing business would be astronomical and untenable. These individuals admit to taking bribes in the form of home renovations, electronics and jewelry instead of money, thinking no one would notice. Greasing someone’s palm for a lucrative contract not only isn’t fair, but it’s also illegal.”

Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Sourcing of plane parts has also been exploited as a vehicle for corruption. Wouldn’t be surprised if that is even now a recurring problem.

    Corruption/corrupt exploitation of the procurement process goes on far more than we notice it. Some would say that airlines that went to a more revenue-based mileage/status earning program were incentivizing their travelers to engage in corrupt exploitation of company travel purchase programs by getting business travelers to play games with the aim for ending up with more expensive ticket purchases than necessary. And those who encourage corruption by customers shouldn’t be all that surprised when their own management/employees end up engaged in corrupt relations with suppliers of their own.

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