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Town of Erie says it was scammed out of more than $1 million in bridge project

Posted: 6:15 PM, Dec 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-31 08:14:06-05
Erie bridge scam

ERIE, Colo. — The town of Erie revealed Monday that it was a victim of a scam regarding a more than $1 million payment to cover the construction of a bridge.

The town said unknown perpetrators were able to steal $1,016,233.80 meant for SEMA Construction, Inc, the primary contractor in the construction of the Erie Parkway bridge.

On October 21, someone completed an electronic form on the town’s website requesting a change in how SEMA would receive payments, requesting a change from check to electronic funds transfer, according to a newsletter from town administrators.

The newsletter said staff checked some of the information on the form for accuracy but did not verify the authenticity of the submission with SEMA. Four days after the request was made, the town began submitting payments to the scammer’s account, which the town believed belonged to SEMA.

The money taken from the Town of Erie was wired out of the country, according to the newsletter.

The town was notified of the fraud on November 5, and an investigation was opened with the Erie Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Erie police said there is no evidence that a town employee was involved in the scam.

SEMA Construction was ultimately paid for the work on the bridge using funds from an insurance claim. The town sent two physical checks totaling $1,016,233.80 to the construction firm on November 15.

Officials said after the incident, the town’s finance director removed the online form used to perpetrate the fraud and discontinued making vendor payments via electronic funds transfer unless appropriately verified.

Erie is also, as part of the town’s 2020 budget request, creating two new positions: an accounting manager and a finance manager, and increasing a current part-time risk manager position to full-time.