DOWNERS GROVE – A Downers Grove man who worked as the head of Amtrak transportation at Union Station admitted in federal court Oct. 12 that he steered work to his wife’s company to photograph Amtrak’s “Polar Express” train event last holiday season, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.
Benjamin Sheets, 50, also worked for his wife’s Downers Grove photography company as the business manager, a fact he failed to disclose to Amtrak, the release stated.
Sheets pleaded guilty to making false statements to Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General, according to the release. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras set sentencing for Feb. 27, 2018.
Amtrak’s “Polar Express” event is a family-oriented holiday celebration that includes festively decorated trains departing Union Station on a daily basis in December, with actors re-enacting the train ride from the 2004 film “Polar Express” starring Tom Hanks.
On Nov. 2, 2016, Sheets received an email from his wife that listed debts in excess of $25,000 to which he responded, “We need to write an agreement for Polar Express,” according to criminal information previously filed in the case. Sheets then steered the work for "Polar Express" photography to his wife's company without following Amtrak procurement procedures, the release stated.
During the “Polar Express” event in December 2016, his wife’s company set up a photo booth in Union Station’s Great Hall and sold 3,679 photos for $10 each, according to the release.
When Sheets learned in early 2017 that Amtrak Inspector General investigators were looking into the award of work, he had the promotions company that staged the event prepare a back-dated, phony contract to make it appear his wife’s photography business had been hired by the promotions company prior to the "Polar Express" event, the release stated. Sheets tendered the contract to Inspector General investigators in March 2017.