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Federal truck safety inspector accused of taking bribes from company officials

A truck safety supervisor for the U.S. Department of Transportation was arrested by federal agents Thursday on charges that he took thousands of dollars in bribes from trucking company officials.

James H. Wood, 44, of Delevan, was charged with felony counts of bribe-taking and conspiracy.

The U.S. Attorney's Office identified him as a Buffalo supervisor with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the DOT. He was investigated by agents from the DOT Inspector General's Office and the Buffalo FBI Office.

Wood accepted bribes from safety consultants for Canadian commercial trucking companies, who paid him to provide "inside information" that enabled some trucking companies to avoid or delay inspections of their vehicles, prosecutor Trini E. Ross said in court papers.

At times, Wood accepted cash to initiate "complaint audits" that could put a company out of business, and at times he helped trucking firms get "friendly audits" that allowed them to keep potentially unsafe vehicles on the road, authorities charged.

"[A cooperating witness] estimated paying Wood approximately $60,000 to $70,000 over approximately the past two years for information and assistance," FBI Special Agent Allan Rains said in the complaint.

At one point earlier this month, according to court papers, the cooperating witness e-mailed some detailed information to Wood about plans for some more upcoming bribes.

"Call me ASAP!" Wood allegedly responded in an e-mail.

Agents said Wood later told the witness on the phone: "Don't ever put that kind of stuff in an e-mail to me again. All e-mail is open to anybody who wants to get a hold of it."

Wood pleaded not guilty Thursday during a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr., who ordered Wood held in jail at least until after a mental health examination is conducted.

Ross told the judge that federal agents are concerned because Wood is "despondent" over the arrest and because he owns six firearms.

Speaking in court, Wood said he expects to be fired from his federal job, which he said pays $80,000 a year. He said he and his family live in a $220,000 home but owe more than $200,000 on the mortgage. He said he only has a few thousand dollars in bank accounts.

Brian P. Comerford, a federal public defender, was assigned to represent Wood.

The agency that Wood works for has more than 1,000 employees nationwide and is charged with making sure that safety checks are conducted on trucks and that driver safety records are checked on a regular basis.

Agents from the DOT Inspector General's Office received information on Jan. 11 that Wood had been taking bribes for years from companies that his agency was supposed to monitor, according to court papers.

During the investigation, a safety consultant for Canadian trucking companies made tape recordings of Wood for federal agents.

According to court papers, federal agents recorded Wood arranging to "push back" a safety compliance review for one company in exchange for $1,000, court papers alleged.

Another potential $3,000 bribe was discussed in the taped conversations, agents said.

Wood is married, with children and foster children, Ross said in court.

Schroeder tentatively scheduled a detention hearing for Wood on Feb. 1.