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Officials: Bid-rigging scheme involved Ohio agency

CINCINNATI (AP) — A Cincinnati-based company and one of its executives pleaded guilty Tuesday in a bid-rigging scheme involving employees with the Ohio Department of Transportation that authorities said cheated taxpayers out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Quattro Inc., a subsidiary of A&A Safety Inc., and A&A sales representative Timothy O'Brien pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from the scheme as part of a plea agreement in exchange for their cooperation. A&A provides traffic-control devices to Ohio and other states.

At a news conference in Cincinnati announcing the charges, Attorney General Mike DeWine said that Quattro filed multiple bids for Ohio road projects using different company names, creating the appearance of a competitive process, and that transportation employees were complicit in the wrongdoing.

"They weren't playing by the rules," DeWine said. "They were, in fact, violating state law."

The company pleaded guilty to two felony counts, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, while O'Brien pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of engaging in a conspiracy against trade.

O'Brien and A&A Safety President Bill Luttmer, who signed Quattro's guilty plea agreement, did not respond to phone messages seeking comment Tuesday.

DeWine said that it's hard to say exactly how much extra money Ohio paid for Quattro to provide traffic-control devices, but that it was in the tens of thousands of dollars.

As part of the plea agreements, Quattro has been ordered to pay back about $42,800 to Ohio and other public entities, while O'Brien has to pay $5,900.

"This is a warning today with these guilty pleas," DeWine said. "A warning to any organization or individual who may be tempted to rig the state's competitive bidding process: Bid-rigging and price-fixing are unacceptable and illegal. If you engage in either, we'll come after you, and we will prosecute."

The investigation into the bid-rigging, which began in 2008, continues, with DeWine saying there would be "more to come" and that other companies could face charges.

As a result of the investigation, a state inspector general's report said that three transportation employees were fired and one was suspended as a result; one other employee believed to be involved retired. They are not expected to face criminal charges.

DeWine said the case is the first in almost 30 years involving criminal charges under the state's antitrust law, known as the Valentine Act.

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