A Guilty Plea that Unveiled a Multi-Million Dollar Fraud

According to the latest reports by the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Robert Schirmer has pleaded guilty in connection with a scheme to defraud the cargo carrier of tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Schirmer is a former senior executive at Polar Air Cargo and admitted recently to his involvement in more than a decade-long scheme to swindle the cargo airline.

Schirmer admitted to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison according to U.S. law. He will be sentenced by the New York Southern District Court on February 13, 2024. He has also agreed to pay forfeiture amounting to USD 983,759.32 and make restitution to Polar Air Cargo amounting to USD 9,340,729.

As per the sources available, Schirmer along with 3 other senior executives were involved in a kickback scheme that resulted in approximately USD 23 million in unlawful payments from conflicted vendor companies from 2009 to July 2021. These executives received these payments in exchange for ensuring favorable business arrangements with the airline. The fraud had a pervasive impact on Polar Air Cargo’s operations for over a decade.

A total of ten suspects were charged, including former Lars Winkelbauer (VP and COO), who was recently extradited from Thailand, Abilash Kurien (former VP of Marketing, Revenue Management, and Network Planning), and Carlton Llewellyn (former VP of Operations, Systems Performance & Quality). Other defendants in the case are vendors who had business dealings with Polar Air Cargo.

Robert Schirmer was also one of 10 people charged earlier this year with defrauding the Atlas Air Worldwide/DHL subsidiary of tens of millions of dollars in revenue. According to court documents, Winkelbauer, Schirmer, and two other colleagues accepted millions of dollars in under-the-table payments from six co-conspirators who owned or operated ground handling, trucking and freight forwarding companies that provided services to Polar Air Cargo, or were customers, in exchange for the sweetheart deals. The Polar Air executives also had secret ownership interests in some of the supplier companies.

The court has extended the deadline for the filing of defense motions to January 18, 2024, with government opposition due by February 15, 2024, and replies from defendants by February 22, 2024. The trial is scheduled for October 28, 2024.

Polar Air Cargo is a joint venture between all-cargo airline Atlas Air and parcel delivery giant DHL Express. Atlas Air operates the aircraft. Most of the space is reserved for DHL, which determines the flight network. Atlas markets the rest of the capacity to freight forwarders.

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