A former U.S. General Services Administration executive who organized a notoriously lavish conference in Las Vegas in 2010 has pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco to making a false claim for travel expenses.
Jeffrey Neely, 59, of Gardnerville, Nev., entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg on Tuesday.
He will be sentenced by Seeborg on June 30 and could face up to five years in prison. Neely also agreed to pay the government $8,000 in restitution and could additionally be fined up to $250,000.
Neely was the acting regional administrator between 2009 and 2011 for the GSA’s Pacific Rim Region, also known as Region 9, which is based in San Francisco and includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Pacific territories.
The GSA manages buildings and services for federal agencies. Before and after serving in the top post as acting regional administrator, Neely was a regional commissioner, in charge of building services.
In October 2010, he organized an $823,000, four-day conference at the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas for 300 employees of Region 9 and three other GSA regions in the western half of the United States.
The conference’s costs included commemorative coins, a $30,000 talent-show awards dinner, $44 breakfasts, semi-private parties, spacious suites for some officials and souvenir yearbooks, according to a 2012 report by the GSA’s inspector general.
The price tag also included $130,000 in costs for eight scouting and planning trips and meetings in 2009 and 2010. Six of the planning meetings were held at the M Resort Spa Casino.
Neely’s guilty plea was for a claim for reimbursement for lodging at the resort on March 11, 2010, at the time of one of the planning trips.
The inspector general concluded that “many of the expenditures on the conference were excessive and wasteful” and did not follow federal procurement rules. The report said Neely instructed planners to make the event “‘over the top,’ bigger and better than previous conferences.”
The scandal led to a congressional hearing and the resignation of the GSA’s national administrator, Martha Johnson, and firing of two top deputies. Neely was put on administrative leave after the report was issued on April 2, 2012, and resigned the following month.
In a written plea agreement filed in court Tuesday, Neely admitted, without giving details, that he caused GSA to pay other false claims in addition to the one to which he pleaded guilty.
He said in the document, “I agree that my actions constitute an abuse of my position of trust as GSA’s regional commissioner and, at times, acting regional administrator.”
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped four other charges of false claims and false statements contained in a grand jury indictment in September.
Those charges concerned claims for lodging in San Luis Obispo County in June 2010 and roundtrip airfare between Guam and Saipan in February 2012, and documents submitted to justify a business trip to Long Beach in June 2010 and an extension of his stay in Las Vegas at the time of the conference in October 2010.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News