Two married MTA employees, along with a third individual, have pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in a conspiracy to rig bids for MTA surplus vehicle auctions.
The husband-and-wife team of Dzmitry and Marina Yaniuk copped their guilty plea to fraud conspiracy on Feb. 9, the Justice Department announced on Monday. Their guilty pleas followed that of their co-conspirator, Timour Abramov, who admitted to a wire fraud conspiracy charge on Jan. 30. Federal prosecutors say that the trio of transit workers used insider information to cheat the bidding process in the auctions.
All three of them face up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.
“The MTA’s riders and New York’s taxpayers trust government employees to put public service first,” said Daniel Glad, director of the Justice Department’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force, in a statement. “When public servants abuse their positions and cheat for personal gain, the Antitrust Division and its PCSF partners will hold them accountable.”
The MTA periodically holds public auctions to get rid of old inventory it no longer needs. To ensure fairness in the process, all bids are supposed to be made blindly, without knowledge of other bid amounts.
But Abramov and the Yaniuks used their MTA insider status to their nefarious advantage. Marina Yaniuk, who worked as a sales specialist at the agency’s asset recovery unit, passed along information about other bids to Abramov and her husband obtained in the unit’s shared email inbox.
Abramov and Dzmitry Yaniuk, who worked as car inspectors at the Coney Island rail yard, incorporated a shell company in New Jersey explicitly for bidding on the auctions. Per their modus operandi, they would scan the other bids and, just before the 5 pm deadline, submit a bid slightly above the bid that would otherwise win.
The trio operated the scam from November 2019 to February 2021, claiming victory in five public auctions for 43 MTA-owned Toyota Camrys and paratransit vehicles; they paid a total of $187,000 for the goods and subsequently flipped them for a profit at other public auctions and on Facebook Marketplace.
The feds’ investigation was spurred by an earlier probe by the MTA Inspector General’s office, an independent watchdog agency overseeing the authority.
“Abusing access to confidential MTA information to interfere with a fair and competitive process undermines the public trust in that process and unfairly reflects on tens of thousands of honest, hardworking MTA employees,” said acting MTA IG Elizabeth Keating in a statement following Abramov’s guilty plea. “Our office is grateful for the diligence and commitment from our law enforcement partners at the Department of Justice, who work to ensure that individuals attempting to defraud the MTA are held fully responsible for their actions.”
In a statement, an MTA spokesperson said the agency espouses zero tolerance for fraudsters.
“If you break the law, you’re going to face justice,” said MTA spokesperson Michael Cortez. “The MTA does not tolerate fraudulent and illegal activity that undermines the competitive bidding process and violates the public’s trust.”
The Justice Department did not respond to further inquiries.
On Monday, those in the buyer’s market could submit a bid for a 42,500-pound Hough brand payloader in “inoperable but repairable” condition. Bidding ended Monday with a winning submission of $2,550.