When James Bieker, a Lawrence man who owns JB Environmental Drilling, discovered that he was one of the victims of an embezzlement scheme that would eventually total more than $1.3 million, he had to spend two months working with the author of the fraud.
For more than a decade, Bieker served as a subcontractor for a 52-year-old Lenexa man who this week pleaded guilty in a Missouri federal court to charges related to the scheme.
Bieker said he first suspected that Robert L. Fine II, owner of FINEnvironmental Inc., a Missouri corporation that performed services for property owners who used or operated petroleum storage tanks, was falsifying Bieker’s invoices and pocketing the difference in March 2012. He had to work alongside Fine until investigators contacted Fine the following May.
“I had to work for this man and not say a thing even though I knew what was going on,” Bieker said. “Meryl Streep has nothing on me. I had to go in front of this guy daily and act like nothing was going on.”
This week, as part of Fine’s plea agreement in a Missouri federal court, Fine was ordered to pay $335,761.25 to Bieker for what Bieker called fees related to geology work that he was initially told he couldn’t collect.
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri reported that from August 2002 to February 2012, Fine created false invoices purporting to be from JB Environmental Drilling, inflating the amount. Over that period, Fine pocketed $924,236 in excess payments from the Missouri Petroleum Storage Tank Insurance Fund, which was created to ensure that owners and operators of underground storage tanks have the financial resources available to pay for cleanup of spills or leaks from their tanks.
Bieker said he met Fine at the referral of a mutual friend. Before long, Fine enlisted the services of Bieker’s JB Environmental Drilling, which Bieker has owned for much of the time since he moved to Lawrence in 1986.
The case against Fine eventually began to uncover embezzlement spanning at least a decade. According to court documents, one such invoice falsified by Fine in 2009 claimed Bieker’s services were $41,091 when they were actually $16,992.50, netting Fine an excess payment from the PSTIF of more than $24,000.
Fine faces up to 30 years in federal prison without parole and a fine of up to $500,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after an investigation by the United States Probation Office.
“I’m finally going to get restitution for the geology time, but my business suffered dramatically,” said Bieker, who estimated that projects for Fine eventually grew to account for up to 95 percent of JB Environmental Drilling’s business. “He was keeping me very busy but for a bad reason. I thought I was getting a lot of good work out it; he was getting rich off it.”