Herman Miller executive accused in natural gas fraud, cost furniture maker $1.7 million

ZEELAND, MICH. - An energy executive at Herman Miller Inc. is accused of fleecing the furniture maker out of more than $1.7 million over a five-year period for natural gas services that were never provided.

Jerry Lee Akers is named in felony information accusing him of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud with the help of an unnamed co-conspirator.

Federal prosecutors say Akers, a 15-year employee, was involved in a scheme to bill Herman Miller for natural gas that was not delivered.

He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids on Dec. 20, for arraignment and a change of plea hearing before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Ellen S. Carmody.

If convicted, Akers faces up to 20 years in prison. A plea agreement offered by the U.S. Attorney's Office requires that Akers plead guilty to the felony information, cooperate with investigators and pay restitution. In exchange, federal prosecutors could ask for a reduced sentence.

As senior energy manager, Akers oversaw natural gas requirements for the Zeeland-based company, according the five-page felony information filed Wednesday, Nov. 30 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

He advised the unnamed co-conspirator to set up a company that would ostensibly supply natural gas to four Herman Miller locations. The company was then sent fraudulent invoices for natural gas services that were not provided, court records show.

Invoices were sent via email and Herman Miller mailed payments to the unnamed co-conspirator between June, 2010 and July, 2015, according to the felony information.

By the time the contract was terminated in July, 2015, the fraud generated more than $1.7 million. Akers was provided cash payments from the co-conspirator, federal prosecutors allege.

Akers “well knew the co-conspirator never provided any natural gas services to Herman Miller Inc. as falsely represented in the invoices,’’ according to the felony information.

Akers has worked at Herman Miller since Jan. 2001, according to information on his LinkedIn page.

Herman Miller released a statement Dec. 1 referring to Akers as a former employee. “Our internal audit organization has confirmed that Mr. Akers’ actions are not expected to have an adverse impact on the company’s reported results going forward,’’ according to the statement.

“As this is an ongoing legal matter, Herman Miller will not provide additional comment at this time.’’

Herman Miller has manufacturing facilities in the U.S., China, Italy and the United Kingdom, with sales offices, dealers, licensees and customers in more than 100 countries, according to the company’s website.

Akers served 10 years at the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, according to his LinkedIn page. He also served on the Wolverine Power Cooperative, holding positions of director, vice chairman and treasurer, his LinkedIn page says.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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