Winning government contracts can be a massive boost for small companies.

The contracts provide a guaranteed, much-needed regular income for small businesses.

However, in 2007, a pair of twins carried out a massive scam on the American government, which ended up in death and prison.

 READ MORE: HBOS BANKER ‘DRIVEN BY RAPACIOUS GREED’ AND GANG STOLE MILLIONS FROM SMALL BUSINESSES

Charlene Corley and her sister Darlene Shuler Wooton ran a shipping company that received more than $21.5 million in payments from the government between 1998 and 2006.

The two managed to write huge bills for shipping tiny, inexpensive items, which were sent to US troops.

For example, they were paid $998,798 for shipping two washers worth 19 cents each.

The company, C&D Distributors, inLexington, South Carolina, used a computerized government system that allowed shipping costs for each order to be submitted individually.

The system made the payments automatically.

The scam started in 1997 when a mistake on an invoice for shopping charges led to the company making a profit of $5,000.

The sisters initially returned the cash but then found due to the flaw in the system, they could charge any amount for shipping, which would be paid without any questions being asked.

Their outrageous overpricing included an invoice for $445,640 for shipping an elbow pipe worth $8.75 and £492,096 for a $10.99 machine thread plug.

How were they caught?

Nine years after it started, the twins were caught after the system red-flagged an invoice for an astonishing $998,000 for washers that cost 19 cents each.

The discovery led Darlene Wooten to take her own life. She left a suicide note and a check to the Department of Defense for $4.5 million.

Her sister admitted the charges in August 2007.

She admitted two conspiracy charges to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

Each of the charges carried a maximum sentence of 20 years.

She was eventually jailed for six-and-half-years in federal prison.

She was also ordered to pay £15.5 million in restitution payments.

Need Career Advice? Get employment skills advice at all levels of your career

She told the court her sister had been more responsible for the scheme, saying: “I messed up really bad. I’m sorry. I’m desperately ashamed.”

It was revealed she had used the cash to buy several beach homes on Edisto Island, 10 cars, expensive jewelry and vacations, five new businesses, including a cookie store, and a $250,000 box at Clemson University’s football stadium.

She served her 78-month sentence and was released with time off for good behavior in February 2015.

The scam has been featured on CNBC’s “American Greed” documentary show.

The crimes led to the system being changed to safeguard against similar crimes in the future.

Follow us on YouTube,Twitter,LinkedIn, and Facebook