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KICKBACK ALLEGATION IS BEING PROBED LOCAL FOOD FIRM ID'D IN WARRANT.

Byline: JUDY O'ROURKE Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA -- Federal authorities are probing whistle-blowers' claims that a food buyer for Oregon's Department of Corrections took at least $475,000 in bribes and kickbacks from a Santa Clarita food wholesaler, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore.

No charges have been lodged but search warrants were executed earlier this month.

The 42-page search warrant affidavit describes dealings between the Santa Clarita company, the Oregon state employee and a pair of private companies created by him and his wife.

Two former employees of Levin and Lawrence Inc., in the Centre Pointe Business Park in Santa Clarita, told officials the company flipped roughly 20 percent of profits derived from the prison sales back to the food buyer, according to the court document.

Company representatives declined to comment Tuesday.

Farhad ``Fred'' Monem bought large quantities of bulk foods for the 13-prison system in Oregon, where he had worked for a decade, the affidavit said.

The distributor snapped up products nearing the end of their shelf lives at steep markdowns, the document said. Many of these items later found their way to prison cafeterias or were sold in prison commissaries.

One unidentified informant told federal officials he overheard a company salesman tell the owners ``if they ever had product that was difficult to sell, they would make Fred buy it,'' the affidavit shows.

Monem's wife, Karen, was listed as the sole corporate officer of Jamm Inc., where many payments were routed, according to the affidavit.

The couple has an unlisted number and could not be reached for comment.

In the affidavit, Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Robert Salisbury claims the kickbacks paid mortgage and credit card payments, enriched a retirement account and funded a golf club membership, boat storage and car purchases.

A paper trail shows the two owners of Levin and Lawrence Inc., and salesman Howard Roth stayed at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on at least 15 occasions; 11 of those times Monem was also there. Videotape shows Roth and Monem arriving in a limousine and checking in at the hotel's VIP counter. Salisbury saw the men meet in November, and Roth footed Monem's bill, according to the affidavit.

The Salem, Ore., man may have received kickbacks from the Levin and Lawrence Inc. owners for at least three years, from early 2003 through November 2006, records show. Monem earned $75,500 a year, and was recently placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, said Perrin Damon, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The Associated Press and other wire service stories reported a search of the Monems' home yielded $12,410 in cash and hashish and marijuana stashed in a briefcase in a bedroom closet.

The informants left Levin and Lawrence in May 2006 and established a competing food distribution company in Los Angeles, the records show.

Monem and his wife also might have received an additional $200,000 in kickbacks from other food companies, court records show.

Kent Robinson, of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland, Ore., said his office does not comment on pending investigations.

judy.orourke@dailynews.com

(661) 257-5255
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 24, 2007
Words:531
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