Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lebanese citizen who diverted millions in state road money sent to prison

TALLAHASSEE — A 36-year-old Lebanese immigrant who managed to get his hands on millions of dollars in state transportation money has been sentenced to nine years in federal prison.

But questions remain surrounding just how a Lebanese citizen with multiple arrests for auto theft and operating chop shops in Miami could divert about $10 million from the state's coffers to his own bank account.

U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle sentenced Ali Hammoud on Monday in Tallahassee. Hammoud pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud and identity theft as part of a sealed plea agreement that could see him testify against others.

Hammoud admitted involvement in a scheme that diverted more than $5.7 million from the Wachovia bank account of Anderson Columbia, a Lake City construction company, to his own accounts at Regions Bank in Miami. Hammoud tried to withdraw an additional $5 million, but the scheme was discovered before the transfer was completed.

Some of the money had been sent by wire transfer to bank accounts in Lebanon.

Trying to recover the money, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink filed a civil suit against several banks, a Miami jewelry store that sold Rolex watches to Hammoud and others. About $900,000 has not been recovered.

The FBI arrested Hammoud in July 2008 as he boarded an Air France flight in Miami for Beirut, Lebanon. He had $2,000 cash and a new Rolex when taken into custody.

The scheme unraveled after John Godbold, controller at Anderson Columbia, one of the state's biggest road builders, discovered that more than $5 million in expected state payments failed to arrive in the firm's bank account at Wachovia on the morning of July 22, 2008.

Godbold alerted officials at the bank and in Sink's office.

"Every morning we make sure the money is deposited in the bank," said Brian Schrieber, comptroller for Anderson Columbia. "The FBI did a good job in catching him after John found it."

When Hammoud entered a guilty plea earlier this year, his lawyer told the judge that his client was not aware of the amounts of money being deposited in his accounts until after each deposit was made — an indication that others were involved. But no one else has been prosecuted.

Federal investigators said the money was diverted from the paving company's bank account at Wachovia to an account Hammoud owned at a Regions Bank branch in Miami after bogus paperwork was filed with the state directing the change in deposits.

State officials apparently processed the change without verifying it with Anderson Columbia.

Sink fired two of her top administrators after auditors determined that her office lacked the internal controls necessary to manage the billions of dollars it pays to vendors every year.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at

Lebanese citizen who diverted millions in state road money sent to prison 08/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 10:59am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida reverses decision to shield information from nursing home inspection reports


    TALLAHASSEE — Florida regulators decided Friday they will abandon the use of software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online, choosing instead to link to the more complete reports available on a federal site.

    Officials for the state Agency for Health Care Administration said Friday they will no longer use software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online. The agency has been under increased scrutiny since Sept. 13, when eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, pictured here, died after power was lost to an air-conditioning system during Hurricane Irma. Two more residents died this week. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
  2. Trump's travel ban to be replaced by restrictions tailored to certain countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries is set to be replaced as soon as this weekend with more targeted restrictions on visits to the United States that would vary by country, officials familiar with the plans told the New York Times on Friday.

  3. Maria: Clearwater Coast Guard plane aids rescue near Puerto Rico


    Eight minutes. That's how long it took the Petty Officer 3rd Class Darryn Manley of the Coast Guard said it took him to spot the boat that capsized off a Puerto Rican island on Thursday.

  4. Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

    Lizette Hernandez, 22, above, completes paperwork Friday for a motion for protection from domestic violence against her husband, Shane Zoller. Their daughter, Yanelly, 4, left, died in a gun accident at the home of Zoller’s parents.
  5. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.