TN businessman charged with defrauding government of $1.2M

A Vonore, Tenn., businessman faces federal charges for allegedly defrauding the U.S. Department of Defense of more than $1 million, intimidating potential witnesses and forcing employees to cover up environmental violations, reports the News Sentinel.

Phillip Michael Huddleston is charged in a six-count indictment unsealed this week in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to defraud the government, three counts of wire fraud and two related illegal banking transactions.

Huddleston is co-owner of Protech Metal Finishing in Vonore. He is accused in an indictment drafted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Morris of conspiring with another man identified only as “unindicted co-conspirator 1” to rip off the Defense Department via shoddy work on plating for 717 ammunition racks, lying to federal inspectors, tricking regulators with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, threatening to fire whistle-blowers and forcing his employees to engage in cover-ups.

Huddleston’s attorney, David Eldridge, said his client maintains his innocence, and his firm remains open.

“Mr. Huddleston denies the allegations against him and looks forward to defending himself at trial,” Eldridge said. “Protech Metal Finishing has many long-standing and positive relationships with its customers. Protech will continue to provide its customers quality service as it has done for many years.”

The indictment alleges $1.2 million in thievery from the defense department from September 2011 through February 2014 and states the plot began as far back as 2009. Court records indicate a June 2013 fire at the Vonore warehouse involving illegally stored hazardous waste spurred at least part of the probe that led to the indictment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley arraigned Huddleston on Tuesday. A July 12 trial before Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan has been set.