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Racketeering charges filed in alleged trucking scheme

Pierce County

Three people, including a River Falls man, were accused of scamming a business out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a trucking scheme.

Pierce County prosecutors charged River Falls resident Daniel W. Briese and two Trego residents with one count each of racketeering—a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and $15,000 fine.

According to charges filed Thursday, Briese paid out inflated invoices to the Trego-based trucking firm Redeye Express, which kicked back funds to him. Redeye Express owners Bruce R. Williams, 60, and Deborah D. Johnson, 65, are also charged in the case.

Pierce County sheriff's investigators estimated the scheme generated $277,710 in losses for Trinity Meyer Utility Structures, which was previously owned by Thomas & Betts Corp. The Texas-based company operates a plant on 150th Avenue in Hager City that produces large steel poles.

Briese and Williams make their first court appearances Feb. 13; Johnson's initial appearance is Feb. 27.

According to complaints filed in the case:

Briese worked as transportation manager at the plant and arranged hauling contracts for shipments. Redeye contracted as a hauler with the plant through Briese in 2010.

The plant decided in March 2016 to use internal transportation for deliveries and sent in company officials to coordinate with local management. Those managers encountered "hostility or indifference" at the Hager City plant, the complaint states, which goes on to note that Briese quit his job under "acrimonious circumstances" April 19, 2016.

That move got company officials suspicious and led to an internal investigation into Briese's activities while he was with the company. The investigator interviewed several people at the plant, as well as Johnson, before bringing information to the sheriff's office.

Pierce County investigator Collin Gilles learned Briese, Johnson and Williams concocted a scheme just before Redeye Express was incorporated in 2010. Gilles said the scheme was in place from at least August 2014 until Briese quit last year. It might have begun as far back as 2012, Gilles noted.

The scheme ran like this: Redeye would submit invoices for more than the going market rate to the plant for hauls that would go directly to Briese. He would pay out the bill, then received a 7 to 10 percent kickback from Redeye.

Gilles said the going rate for hauls to Byron., Ill., and Hampshire, Ill., were $1,000 per trip, or $1,350 for "disadvantaged business entities."

"Despite that, Briese was awarding many of Bryon and Hampshire contracts to Redeye for $1,600 (being $600 over the market rate) and getting a kickback from Redeye of anywhere from 7 percent to 10 percent of the total contract amount," Gilles wrote in the complaint.

Redeye also paid Briese by providing him with a personal credit card and paying his monthly bill. Williams told investigators other companies engaged in similar activity as Redeye.

Williams and Johnson both admitted to the scheme and Briese later corroborated the allegations, as did Redeye drivers.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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