Former MARTA administrator pleads guilty to theft in $520,000 fake invoice scheme

Jhonnita L. Williams

Jhonnita L. Williams, a former MARTA department administrator, pleaded guilty Nov. 28 to participating in a false-invoice scheme that resulted in the transit authority paying more than $520,000 for maintenance projects where no work was actually performed.

Williams, 47, of Atlanta pleaded guilty to one count of conspiratorial federal program theft. Her plea comes in the wake of a seven-count grand jury indictment handed down against her on July 24, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said MARTA trusted Williams to use and protect taxpayer dollars effectively and responsibly. 

“Her participation in a half-million dollar theft of MARTA funds demonstrates that she sold the public’s trust for self-enrichment,” he said.

Williams is the second MARTA manager to plead guilty in a false-invoice scheme that took place between June 2010 and December 2016. Joseph J. Erves, a former MARTA senior director of operations who oversaw the maintenance of all MARTA buses and rail cars, pleaded guilty to federal program theft on Sept. 20, 2017.

Joseph J. Erves

Joseph J. Erves

Erves, 54, of Lithonia was sentenced on Jan. 16, 2018, to two years and nine months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $522,825.45 in restitution.

A third person – vendor Ferrell Williams of Cincinnati, Ohio, who was romantically involved with Williams – pleaded guilty on March 29, 2018 to conspiring to commit federal program theft. Ferrell Williams, 63, was sentenced on Aug. 1 to eight months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $41,539.10 in restitution.

Investigators say Williams used the money to pay for various personal expenses, including the financing and purchase of an approximately 3,000-square-foot single-family home with four bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. Erves used his illegal gains to buy a Porsche 911 and multiple products at high-end department stores.

Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, which investigated the case with the MARTA Police Department, said Williams circumvented proper government procedures and dipped into taxpayers’ money to subsidize her own personal greed.

“Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top priorities, and we are committed to holding accountable those who choose to abuse their positions of trust,” Hacker said.

According to Pak, the indictment and other information presented in court, Williams worked for MARTA from 1999 to 2017. Between 2010 and 2017, she was an assistant and department administrator for Erves, who was employed at MARTA from 1993 to 2017.

The case against the two showed that between June 2010 and December 2016, Williams and Erves had more than 40 fake invoices prepared on behalf of three vendors, including a business owned by Ferrell Williams, for MARTA maintenance projects for which no work was performed. 

The two used the false invoices as bases to authorize payments to the three vendors, who after being paid funneled most of the money received from MARTA back to Erves and Jhonnita Williams.  In total, MARTA paid the three vendors more than $520,000 for those maintenance projects.

MARTA Police Chief Wanda Y. Dunham said MARTA has zero-tolerance for any employee who betrays the trust placed in the system by its customers.  

“The guilty plea by Ms. Williams concludes a coordinated investigation with our federal law enforcement partners, and we are satisfied with the results,” Dunham said. “We hope this guilty verdict serves as a deterrent for others who would attempt to defraud the taxpayers.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey W. Davis, Chief of the Public Integrity and Special Matters Section, and Alison Prout are prosecuting the case. 

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