By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Canadian executive whose steel company won nearly $1 billion of contracts to help rebuild the World Trade Center in New York has persuaded a U.S. judge to overturn his conviction for defrauding a program intended to help minorities and women.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska on Thursday ordered the acquittals of Larry Davis of Mississauga, Ontario and his company DCM Erectors Inc, and conditionally granted a new trial.
A Manhattan jury last Aug. 10 had convicted both defendants of fraud and conspiracy for misrepresenting that they had from 2009 to 2012 employed two minority-owned and woman-owned subcontractors for work actually done by other subcontractors or DCM itself.
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In a 100-page decision, Preska said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversaw the project in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, got "exactly what it paid for."
She said the agency's desire to employ more minority- and woman-owned businesses was merely "aspirational," and not central to the defendants' contracts.
"The evidence demonstrated beyond peradventure that the defendants' misrepresentations did not go to an essential element of the bargain and did not subject the Port Authority to actual or potential economic harm," Preska wrote. "Letting a guilty verdict stand here would be a manifest injustice."
Preska refused to dismiss the indictment, and said it was the first time in 25 years on the federal bench she had granted a new trial.
Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, said his office was evaluating its legal options.
"We are very pleased and grateful," Davis' lawyer Sanford Talkin said in an email. "Larry Davis and DCM did nothing more than build large buildings and structures under adverse financial and political conditions with unparalleled expertise and quality of result."
A lawyer for DCM had no immediate comment.
Prosecutors said DCM, which Davis has owned since 1999, had been awarded contracts in 2007 and 2009 to work on the new World Trade Center and an adjacent transportation hub.
The Port Authority program called for all contractors to make good faith efforts to subcontract at least 17 percent of their contracts' value to minority- and woman-owned businesses.
Johnny Garcia and Gale D'Aloia, who prosecutors said owned businesses involved in Davis' scheme, pleaded guilty in 2014 and cooperated with authorities.
But in Thursday's decision, Preska questioned what she called their "patently incredible testimony, making the soundness of the verdict doubtful."
The case is U.S. v. Davis et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-00923.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)