CINCINNATI – A federal judge in Cincinnati sentenced Ron Craig Estes to 18 months in prison on Dec. 14 after the Cincinnati businessman pleaded guilty to one count of theft or embezzlement from an employee benefit plan and one count of mail fraud.
Under terms of the plea agreement, Judge Timothy S. Black of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, ordered Estes – sole owner of R&R Steel LLC – to forfeit $25,000 to the U.S government and to pay an amount of restitution to the affected participants of the R&R Steel LLC 401(k) Plan that will be determined at a later hearing. He must also pay an assessment of $200 and serve 3 years of supervised release following his prison term.
Estes’ guilty plea comes after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration’s Cincinnati office found he collected between $15,000 and $40,000 from the company’s 401(k) plan fraudulently by forging participant signatures and using funds for his personal benefit. Estes was the retirement plan’s only named trustee and administrator.
EBSA’s investigators found Estes forged the signatures of multiple participants on distribution forms for the R&R Steel LLC 401(k) Plan and changed the participants’ addresses to that of his own or his company’s address. As the plan’s sole fiduciary, he then signed the distribution forms and authorized the cash distribution. The checks arrived at the company or Estes’ personal address, and he then forged checks with participants’ signatures and convert the funds for personal use by cashing the checks at local banks and markets. In some cases, Estes’ victims were non-English speaking or had limited English proficiency.
“Estes offered his employees a tangible benefit, and willfully stole retirement earnings from employees he knew were most likely not going to report the fraud or exercise their legal rights,” said Employee Benefits Security Administration Regional Director Joe Rivers in Cincinnati. “He further compromised the safety of his employees and others on a Cincinnati commercial development by falsifying documents. The U.S. Department of Labor is a guardian of worker’s rights and will continue to pursue employers who violate the law.”
Investigators also found Estes committed mail fraud when he wrote and mailed an $800 R&R Steel company check to receive 10 fraudulent U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration training certificates that he used to meet requirements necessary to obtain a $450,000 subcontract to perform work on a Cincinnati commercial development in October 2015.
Estes entered his guilty plea on Dec. 12, 2019.
Employers and workers can reach EBSA toll-free at 866-444-3272 for help with problems related to private sector retirement and health plans. Learn more about EBSA.
U.S. v. Ron Craig Estes
Case No: 1:19-cr-00139-TSB