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Published Aug. 8, 2007

The president of a company hired to help build a $20-million project at James A. Haley VA Medical Center was found guilty Friday of fraud and offering a kickback.

Hans Sigvardsson, 56, of Connecticut, could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

Jurors deliberated for about four hours before reaching their decision. Sigvardsson, the president of Liko Inc., showed no emotion as U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday read the verdicts.

Liko Inc., which builds specialty patient lifts or slings, was also found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and offering a kickback.

Liko Inc. was a subcontractor on the 70-bed Spinal Cord Injury Center at Haley, which opened in 2002.

The foreman for Dawson Building Contractors, the general contractor on the project, was Joel Velasco. He has entered a plea agreement, and told authorities he approached a Liko employee and asked for a pickup truck in exchange for favorable treatment.

The Liko employee, Peter Castelli, was the prosecution's star witness during the four-day trial. He testified he discussed Velasco's request with Sigvardsson, who authorized him to buy the truck.

Later Velasco changed his request to two trucks and finally to cash, Castelli said.

In January 2001, Sigvardsson authorized payment of $71,570 to Castelli as a "bonus" to cover the kickback payment, according to court testimony. Sigvardsson deposited the money into Castelli's bank account and then Castelli issued the $63,000 cashier's check to Velasco.

Sigvardsson denied being involved in the scheme.

Velasco accepted a plea agreement Monday, the day Sigvardsson's trial began. He agreed to cooperate with Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mosakowski, but was not called as a witness.

Sigvardsson was allowed to remain free on $250,000 bond.

A sentencing date has not been set.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at (813) 226-3416 or