News Column

Execs Hire Minority Student to Win Contracts, Get Prison Instead

September 10, 2013

Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

Two white executives in a cable installation business who named an African-American college student president of the firm to win minority contracts from the city were sentenced to federal prison Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer sentenced Guy Potter, the former owner of ICS Cable, to 4 1/2 years in prison, and former company manager Matthew Giovenco to a 3-year term. Separate federal juries convicted both men of mail fraud earlier this year.

In a lengthy sentencing hearing, prosecutors Tuesday invoked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, arguing the defendants' fraud cheapened the progress the country has made in offering economic opportunities to minorities.

Before he was sentenced, Potter, 67, choked up as he apologized for taking a chance away for a minority to "make their life better."

Federal prosecutors alleged that ICS Cable fraudulently obtained more than $8 million from 2003 to 2006 through subcontracts with RCN Telecom Services of Illinois, a cable provider that was required by city rules to give a percentage of its work to minority-owned businesses.

As owner, Potter appointed the son of a consultant, Jerone Brown, as president to achieve minority-owned status. Brown was in college at the time and went along with the scheme believing he was going to be trained as a cable executive, prosecutors said.

Brown and his mother, Cheronne Mayes, pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges and offered testimony at the trial.

Giovenco, 43, told the judge Tuesday that his upbringing as one of the only white kids on his block left him deeply ashamed of taking advantage of minorities.

"I know what it's like to be socially ostracized, to be in the minority," Giovenco said. "Every time I gave (Brown) a check it was embarrassing because I knew it was for his skin color."

But Pallmeyer said that, in the end, the case was more about simple Chicago-style greed than race.

"It's part of the whole 'where's mine' mentality that I think people rightfully see as cynical and manipulative," Pallmeyer said.

jmeisner@tribune.com

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Original headline: Prison terms for execs who hired black student to win minority contracts


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