W. Ralph Wills III served time for federal tax fraud — but that didn’t keep three firms linked to him from snagging nearly half a billion dollars in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in recent years.
Federal procurement regulations bar convicted felons from supervising federal contracts for private companies or serving as directors or designated officers of companies bidding on such contracts.
But there is a loophole in the regulations that allows government officials to ignore an individual’s felony conviction if it occurred three or more years prior to his involvement in seeking a federal contract. The Tampa, Fla.-based Wills served a five-month federal prison term in 2003 for tax fraud. In 1997, he paid nearly $1 million in fines and restitution, and agreed never again to be associated with a brokerage or investment firm to settle multiple fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Despite his record, Wills is no stranger to FEMA, especially when contracts for temporary trailers for disaster victims are on the agenda. A $42 million trailer maintenance contract the agency awarded Hendersonville, Tenn.-based firm SRS Inc. in 2008 remains in force even though Wills is a key corporate officer.
Wills was retained as a financial consultant in 2009 and became the firm’s chief financial officer in 2011, according to Dewayne Scott, SRS’s chief executive officer.