Federal court

The J. Waites Waring Federal Courthouse is in downtown Charleston. (file)

A former sales manager for a North Carolina-based company pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to rigging a government contract to furnish a new U.S. embassy overseas.

Some of his tactics included plying a federal employee with dinners, concerts and trips to the ballet. 

Steve Anstine, who previously worked for Bernhardt Furniture Co., admitted in U.S. District Court in Charleston to receiving information about competing bids in advance of the State Department awarding his former employer a $1.5 million contract in 2017. 

He faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and another three years of supervised release. 

William Howard, vice president for Bernhardt, said Anstine is no longer with the company, which is based in Lenoir, N.C. 

The facts surrounding Anstine's guilty plea highlight how the 56-year-old gained an inside look at the bid prices and design plans submitted by his competitors. 

In that way, Anstine gained an advantage over at least three other businesses looking to net the lucrative federal contract. 

The investigation into Anstine's actions was initiated by federal agents with the State Department's Office of Inspector General, according to the federal court documents. 

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Anstine initially denied any wrongdoing when he was first confronted by those agents in May 2017.

In court Monday, Anstine admitted he received the bid information from two unnamed employees with the State Department. He also admitted to paying for dinners, golf tournaments, sporting events and ballet performances for one of those individuals. 

The two federal employees who assisted Anstine have yet to be charged as part of the investigation, but federal prosecutors say the case remains open.

The prosecutors will now have an ally in Anstine, who agreed to cooperate with the investigation as part of his plea agreement.  

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.