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Ashland defense contractor who bribed official avoids prison

PORTLAND — An Ashland-based defense contractor who bribed a government official to secure more than $170 million in contracts was sentenced Friday to a year on probation and fined $5,000.

The 75-year-old contractor, who goes by Sky after changing his name from William Hovelman, sat quietly in a wheelchair at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Defense attorney Michael Levine said Sky suffered a massive stroke about a week after pleading guilty to conspiracy in April 2016, and has difficulty speaking.

“My client has unfortunately capped off a very long and illustrious career with a felony conviction,” Levine said. “For some folks, like my client, a felony conviction is a terrible, terrible stigma and punishment.”

Sky’s firm, Sky Research Inc., which is located near the Ashland airport, specializes in aerial surveys of old military bombing and gunnery ranges to find weapons debris. Court documents say a program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Nebraska rigged bids on nine contracts between 2002 and 2012. In exchange, Sky provided him with cash and other perks.

Federal prosecutors began investigating Sky Research in 2010. In March 2012, federal agents seized thousands of payroll, tax and personal finance documents as well as digital data and other items from the company offices and the home of Sky and his wife, Anne Sky, on East Main Street in Ashland.

Court documents say Jerry Hodgson, a program manager for the Army Corps in Nebraska, rigged bids on nine contracts. The bribes included a car, an Alaskan fishing expedition, meals and accommodations in Costa Rica and Vietnam and $4,000 in cash, among other items, according to prosecutors.

Affidavits filed in 2012 also allege the Skys provided Hodgson with three personal assistants over a span of eight years to fulfill sexual favors for him.

Affidavits filed to obtain the search warrants in 2012 outlined much of the investigation. U.S. Army Special Agent Derek W. Lindbom wrote that an informant contacted the Army’s inspector general in 2010 to report that Hodgson had returned contract bids to Sky Research with instructions on how to change the forms to win the bids.

Hodgson was sentenced in December to two years on probation. In recommending a sentence of probation for Sky, the government noted his health problems and the desire to avoid a sentencing disparity with Hodgson.

Hodgson told investigators he considered Sky a good friend and acknowledged vacationing with him, the affidavits said. Shown invoices from the Alaska fishing trip paid for by Sky, Hodgson said he paid him back in cash but couldn’t remember from which account the money had been withdrawn.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Bradford said Hodgson’s information to Sky proved invaluable in winning the contracts.

“On almost every contract on which SRI worked with Hodgson, Hodgson told SRI what to bid; he provided the price structure,” Bradford wrote.

Ashland defense contractor who bribed official avoids prison