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Consultant Sentenced in AOL Fraud Case

Saturday, April 1, 2006
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A federal judge sentenced Aubrey Strickstein, head of an HR consulting company, to one year in prison following his conviction on three fraud charges in connection with a $100,000 contract to provide nonexistent work to America Online.

The discovery of that $100,000 contract led to an FBI investigation. Eventually, federal prosecutors charged Gregory Horton, AOL's former executive vice president of HR, and Ruben Moreno Jr., an HR vice president at AOL, with a years-long $2.2 million fraud scheme involving Dulles, Va.-based AOL and their former employers -- AutoNation, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Denver-based Qwest Communications.

Strickstein, 46, head of Pinebrook Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz., was charged with conspiring with Horton and Moreno to defraud those companies. In return for substantial business contracts -- for work that either was not performed or was performed in-house at the individual companies -- Strickstein paid $400,000 to companies controlled by Horton, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was sentenced on Feb. 24 by Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, who presided over the one-week jury trial in November that found Stricken guilty of three fraud charges. The jury acquitted him of a broader conspiracy charge.

Horton, who testified against Strickstein, was later given a reduced sentence "for his cooperation," says Stephen P. Learned, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case. "Horton took the witness stand and testified that he had these incriminating conversations with Strickstein that demonstrated that Strickstein knew what was going on," he says.

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Although Strickstein admitted he wrote the checks to transfer the funds, he testified at trial that he was unaware of any wrongdoing and was merely complying with Horton's unorthodox requests to get around budgetary constraints, Learned says.

Horton's sentence was reduced from 46 months in prison to 24 months, Learned says. Horton is serving his sentence in a federal prison in Jessup, Ga.

Moreno, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud in April 2005 and received eight months of home detention, also testified against Strickstein.

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