While Vermeer Rebuilt After Tornado, a Kickback Scheme was Hatched

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aerial view of tornado damage 2018 Vermeer campus Pella, Iowa buildings destroyed strewn debris
A screen shot from a Vermeer video of the new Eco-Center showing damage from an EF3 tornado that struck the company's campus in Pella, Iowa, in 2018.

While Vermeer and its employees were rebuilding after a tornado destroyed manufacturing plants in 2018 at its campus in Pella, Iowa, a kickback scheme was hatched to defraud the company, according to federal court records.

Two men, including Vermeer’s former director of construction, were indicted last month on one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges stem from the two working together to win contracts on the company’s rebuilding project in 2019 and the use of kickback payments, according to records at the U.S. District Court in the Southern Iowa District.

Roger Paul Bradford, the company’s former construction director, and Viorel Draghia, owner of Draghia Painting & Contracting, were both charged in the scheme. Draghia has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing in September. Bradford has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in August.

According to court records, Vermeer hired Bradford in January 2019 to oversee the company’s construction projects, including the construction of an Eco-Center to replace the one destroyed in the tornado.

Bradford and Draghia had known each other while in Northern Virginia before Bradford was hired. After Bradford got the job, he would email Draghia confidential construction-related information about the projects, and the two would work on bids for those projects, according to Draghia’s plea agreement. Vermeer and its general contractor were unaware of the scheme, according to court records.

In exchange for winning the contracts, Draghia paid kickbacks to Bradford in cash and with his company's checks, the plea agreement says. In July 2019, Draghia won a contract for masonry work on the Eco-Center and also won work on additional projects between July and October 2019.

The documents, bids and invoices for payment were sent via email, court records say.

Bradford’s indictment document said he would also intercede with the general contractor on behalf of Draghia, and in one instance, he emailed to the contractor: “I feel confident that this is the Vendor we want to do the block work as they can meet the schedule and quality.”

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According to the indictment, there were competing bids for the masonry work, some of which were at a lower price.

The contractor and Vermeer would have not allowed the scheme if they had known, according to court records.

Vermeer fired Bradford on October 29, 2019, and alerted the FBI after its own internal investigation.

Along with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Bradford was also indicted on a charge of attempted obstruction of official proceeding. The indictment says he implored Draghia “to lie to law enforcement about the existence of the kickback scheme” and to not “flip” on him.

Vermeer released the following statement concerning the criminal case:

“In 2019, Vermeer uncovered evidence of deliberate fraudulent activity by a former employee and contractor. We presented the findings of our internal investigation to the FBI, who performed their own independent investigation leading to these charges. While we will not comment further on a pending matter, we thank law enforcement for their work and appreciate the work of our internal team and partners in identifying and bringing these issues forward.”

An EF3 tornado struck the Vermeer Mile campus July 19, 2018, destroying two plants with a combined 320,000 square feet, as well as its shop and the Eco-Center. Employees and leadership rallied behind the "Vermeer Strong"  slogan to rebuild new, larger structures to replace the lost buildings as well as to expand its building capacity. Vermeer opened the new Eco-Center in April 2020. It is designed to use alternative, environmentally safe uses for waste and hazardous materials generated by Vermeer by recycling it, repurposing it or burning it for fuel.

Vermeer produces a variety of equipment, including trenchers, vacuum excavators, directional drills and compact loaders.

The Vermeer video below details the Eco-Center's functions: