A former executive at Polar Air Cargo pleaded guilty on Tuesday to defrauding the company by illegally accepting kickbacks from vendors in exchange for favorable contracts and shipping rates, priority cargo space on company aircraft, and other benefits.
Robert Schirmer, 58, was senior director of customer service for the Americas at Polar Air Cargo. He entered a guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one other fraud charge. He originally was charged with four violations of the law.
Schirmer’s plea comes with a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison. The air cargo executive also agreed to forfeit more than $983,000 and repay Polar Air Cargo $9.3 million.
U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman will determine Schirmer’s sentence at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 13.
The Department of Justice indicted Schirmer and nine co-defendants last April for colluding in a corruption scheme that cost Polar Air Cargo about $52 million over more than a decade.
The biggest fish in the alleged pond of corruption is Lars Winkelbauer, who was chief operating officer for three years until July 2021 and held various leadership roles at DHL and Polar Air Cargo over a 16-year period.
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. The airline has a fleet of 15 large Boeing cargo jets: six 747-8s; two 767-300s; and seven 777s, according to aircraft database Planespotters.net.
Winkelbauer was arrested in Thailand and was extradited to the United States.
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 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 executive defendants, along with two other co-conspirators who worked at Polar Air Cargo, received unlawful payments, either directly or through various limited liability companies they controlled, in excess of $23 million, according to prosecutors.
The remaining defendants are headed to trial next year. Judge Furman this week granted the defense until Jan. 18 to file motions, with all government responses to be filed by Feb. 22.
Legal news site Law360 first reported Schirmer’s guilty plea.
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