2 Kansas, 1 Missourian accused in 'rent-a-vet' scheme

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors are alleging that two Topeka businessmen and a Kansas City-area man operated a $352 million business fraud scheme that involved using minority or disabled military veterans to obtain federal business contracts.

In a civil action filed in Kansas City, federal prosecutors allege Matt Torgeson, president of Torgeson Electric Co., and Matthew McPherson, president of McPherson Contractors, both based in Topeka, worked with Michael Patrick Dingle to create what are sometimes called "Rent-A-Vet" companies. They allege they received more than 60 fraudulent small-business government contracts beginning in 2009.

According to court documents, the men set up businesses called Zieson Construction and Simcon Corp. to obtain contracts meant for minority or disabled veterans and then used the money for themselves or their businesses, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . Under federal law, minority or disabled veterans are to manage the daily operations of businesses that receive "set aside" contracts for small minority-run businesses. Torgeson, McPherson and Dingle are not disabled or minorities and prosecutors say Dingle managed two of the fraudulent businesses.

A third front company, Onsite, was formed after Zieson was growing too large to qualify for the small business contracts, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors are asking that properties and bank accounts owned the co-conspirators be forfeited because they were proceeds of the alleged fraud.

In the court filing, federal prosecutors contend millions of federal dollars were paid to Zieson and Simcon and then funneled to Torgeson, McPherson and Dingle. Prosecutors allege that between April 2010 and January 2018, the government paid about more than $300 million in "illicit funds" to Zieson, Simcon and Onsite, and others associated with the alleged fraud.

The lawsuit also names veterans or minority individuals whose names were used to set up the front company and who signed paperwork contending they were managing the companies. No criminal charges have been filed.

In an emailed statement, McPherson Contractors said it was working with authorities on the investigation. Matt Torgeson told KSNT-TV that his company also is cooperating with the investigation. A phone number listed for Dingle went unanswered.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com