BJay Pak, U.S attorney, Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak, U.S attorney, Northern District of Georgia

A former MARTA executive has been sentenced to federal prison and ordered to pay back more than $500,000 stolen from the transit authority through fake bills, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak announced Tuesday.

Ex-MARTA Senior Director of Operations Joseph Erves, 53, has been sentenced to two years, nine months in federal prison for orchestrating a false invoicing scheme that resulted in MARTA paying more than $500,000 for maintenance work that was never performed and for then funneling most of that money into his personal bank accounts, Pak said in a news release.

“Given his executive management position, it is clear that MARTA placed great trust and faith in Erves,” Pak said in the news release. “Unfortunately, instead of serving the public interest and taking his civic duty seriously, Erves chose to indulge his desire for money and a fancy car. His quest for personal enrichment has earned him this sentence and time to reflect on his dishonesty.”

Erves worked for MARTA from 1993 to 2017, Pak said. Ultimately, Erves oversaw the maintenance of all MARTA buses and rail cars and had the authority to approve payments of up to $10,000 to vendors. In 2010, Erves retained three different vendors purportedly to perform maintenance projects. But he had fake invoices prepared on behalf of the three vendors for more than 40 maintenance projects for which no work was performed.

Pak said Erves used the false invoices as bases to authorize payments to the three vendors. They funneled most of the money they received from MARTA into Erves’s personal bank accounts. Subsequently, Erves used the cash to pay personal expenses. Pak said that included purchases at high-end department stores and a Porsche 911.

Pak’s defense attorney, Marcia Shein of Shein & Brandenburg in Decatur, painted a different picture in a sentencing memo. She urged U.S. District Judge Steve Jones of the Northern District of Georgia not to impose any additional fines or prison time.

“The moment this matter came to the attention of the MARTA authorities, and Erves was confronted, he began the painful journey of acceptance of his misconduct and the initiation of retribution and restitution. All of this occurred before any charges were filed against him,” Shein wrote. “Further, as part of his intention to rectify his criminal restitution liability he agreed to, without contesting the value or his own retirement benefits, relinquishing all he had accumulated in his twenty four years of employment with MARTA in his retirement account. This was the beginning of Mr. Erves’ efforts at extraordinary acceptance of responsibility.”

Shein said Erves voluntarily turned over $298,000 toward the payment of restitution, over half of what is owed. She added, “It should be noted that the others who received substantial payments should be equally responsible for paying the full restitution in this case. Others received substantial funds for themselves as participants in the scheme. Nonetheless, Erves is the only one cooperating and trying to rectify his circumstances to the best of his ability.”

Shein told a story of how a father of five grown children started down the wrong road. “Mr. Erves’ financial condition is quite precarious and has been for a long time. He got himself into substantial debt over credit cards and student loans,” Shein said in her sentencing memo. “The extra funds he received from his conduct in the instant case sustained him in making payments and trying to resolve the level of debt he found himself in. This is not an excuse for taking money that does not belong to him, but it is an issue that may have influenced his bad judgment and decisions in the instant case. Now, having voluntarily relinquished his retirement funds to help set off the restitution, he is looking at a difficult time ahead.”

Shein said Thursday that Erves’ sentence could have been worse if he had not taken such a proactive approach. “From the beginning, he walked into my office and said he did this and he couldn’t deny it,” she said. “I’ve never had a client do that. He’s a stand-up guy. I think he’s going to find a new life.”

The case is U.S.A. v. Erves, No.: 1:17-CR-00282-1-SCJ.