Ex-Polar Air Cargo chief operating officer jailed for fraud

Source: Worawee Meepian/shutterstock

Former Polar Air Cargo chief operating officer Lars Winkelbauer has been sentenced to four years in prison for his alleged part in a scheme to defraud the airline of more than $32m in revenue.

Winkelbauer previously pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, said the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York in a press release on May 30.

US Attorney Damian Williams said: “Lars Winkelbauer abused his high-level position at Polar for over a decade, extracting millions of dollars in kickbacks for himself and causing tens of millions of dollars of harm to the company.  The substantial sentence imposed today sends an important message: corporate corruption doesn’t pay.” 

In April last year, 10 people were charged with defrauding Polar Air Cargo during a period that is estimated to have spanned at least in or about 2009 through to about July 2021.

The charges were based on allegations that these 10 defendants were involved in a fraud scheme that resulted in the airline, 51% owned by Atlas Air Worldwide and 49% owned by DHL Express, losing an estimated $52m and which impacted nearly all operations.

Some of them were Polar executives, others were vendors with business relationships with Polar.

As well as working as Polar’s chief operating officer, Winkelbauer was executive vice president and the most senior of the executive defendants in the court case. 

According to the charging documents and other filings and statements made in court, he personally received “kickbacks connected to approximately 11 separate vendors or customers of Polar totalling over $6m.  He also attempted to conceal the illegal kickback payments through a sophisticated money laundering scheme, including via falsified invoices and the use of shell companies in China”.

In addition to the prison term, Winkelbauer was sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to forfeit $6.8m and to make restitution to Polar in the amount of $32.9m.

Former Polar Air Cargo executive Robert Schirmer pled guilty in October 2023 to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. 

Then in January this year, former vice president of operations, system performance and quality, Carlton Llewellyn pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud.

Alongside Winkelbauer, Llewellyn and Schirmer there is one other co-defendant that was a senior executive at Polar. There are also six co-defendants that owned and operated various Polar vendors and customers.

Polar’s new management helps firm move on from fraud case

10 people charged with defrauding Polar Air Cargo Worldwide

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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]