Mechanic Is Guilty Of Fraud

After nearly a week of deliberations, a U.S. District Court jury yesterday convicted a Marysville mechanic accused of bilking Community Transit (CT) out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ralph Woodall, 50, and an Everett shop he co-owns, Ed's Transmission-Alliance, were charged with 15 counts of mail fraud for allegedly billing CT through the mail for transmission parts that were not installed, and charging new-part prices for rebuilt and used parts.

Woodall was found guilty in Seattle yesterday on five counts of mail fraud and not guilty on nine counts. One count was dismissed by Judge John Coughenour. The jury had been deliberating since last Tuesday.

Sentencing is set for March 7. Woodall faces up to five years in prison, according to Bruce Carter, a U.S. district attorney. He also faces fines of up to $250,000 for each count.

Woodall was being tried in U.S. District Court because CT operations rely partly upon federal funds.

"We are very pleased with the result of the verdict," Carter said. "It's important that people who cheat the government be brought before the court."

Woodall's attorney, Murray Guterson, declined comment on any appeal, but said there were some technical issues that would be raised before sentencing.

Guterson tried to convince the jury that CT got more than its money's worth in the form of bus transmissions that were better than new. The only culprit, defense attorneys claimed, is a

whistle-blower who triggered the investigation: a former Ed's Transmission mechanic who they allege was motivated by revenge and wants to make money by pursuing a civil suit against Woodall.

The case began in July 1993 when FBI agents raided Ed's Transmission shops and CT's office near Mill Creek to seize bus parts and documents after being tipped off that an alleged kickback scheme was going on within CT's repair department.

Michael Lynn, CT maintenance director, quit his job the next month, after telling investigators he'd accepted gifts from Woodall such as a Canadian fishing trip and 16 months' free use of a bulldozer, according to federal documents. Lynn hasn't been indicted.

According to court documents, Woodall told FBI agents in 1993 that he intentionally billed CT for parts not installed and charged new-part prices for rebuilt parts because he needed to make up for losses he suffered on low-bid work for other customers.

Woodall also allegedly told them he needed to recover for damage caused by CT mechanics, the cost of CT warranty work and the cost of several unbilled "spare" transmissions he supplied CT for emergencies.

Despite the federal allegations, Ed's Transmission-Alliance has continued to rebuild transmissions for other clients, including 15 school districts.

CT switched companies in 1993 and has since overhauled its policies on outside repairs. All contracts are now handled by CT's central-purchasing department.