By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Troy Langley, president of Urban Metropolitan Development of Atlanta, Ga., in an email statement on Wednesday, said he was stunned that his company and its project manager, Jennifer Taylor, now face criminal charges accusing them of not paying prevailing wages to employees who worked on demolition projects last fall for the Joplin School District.
UMD and Taylor also have been charged with 10 felony counts of forgery in connection with the alleged altering of copies of checks before their submission to the state as proof that the company paid its workers prevailing wage, as required by law.
Langley, who has filed suit in federal court alleging that the Joplin School Board and its director of buildings, grounds and transportation violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Urban Metro, a minority-owned business, said the charges are an attempt to mask the real issue.
“This latest aspersion is the Missouri Department of Labor and the Joplin School District’s attempt to mask the issues of racial intimidation, nonpayment for work completed, and retaliatory wrongful discharged (sic) that plagued this project,” he said.
Langley said Urban Metro hired a third party, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, to complete the certified payroll records and ensure that prevailing wages were paid. He said an employee of PTAC “signed her name, under penalty of perjury, stating that the record keeping was true and accurate.”
He said the PTAC employee was not an employee or agent of Urban Metro, but acted as an independent contractor for the specific duty of completing certified payroll and ensuring that workers were compensated the prevailing wage amount.
Langley wrote: “The Missouri DOL, acting in concert with Joplin School District, alleged discrepancies were discovered. UMD and Jennifer Taylor have been working with the DOL to clear any discrepancies that may exist. In fact, UMD challenged the calculations and unfair practices of the Missouri DOL and had arbitration scheduled to resolve the matter.
“UMD is stunned by these charges considering the matter remains an open dispute.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed the charges jointly with Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson. They announced the charges Tuesday afternoon at a news conference at Joplin City Hall.
Nanci Gonder, press secretary for Koster, in a statement released Wednesday, said: “The state’s prosecution is based on evidence obtained through its investigation. The evidence includes falsified documentation provided to the state by Ms. Taylor, UMD’s project manager.”
Langley, via email from the Globe, was asked to provide evidence of the alleged racial intimidation in connection the company’s work on the demolition of three schools damaged in the 2011 tornado: Irving Elementary School, the old South Middle School and Joplin High School.
The company did not respond to the request Wednesday.
UMD filed a lawsuit against the school district earlier this year in federal court, seeking $2.2 million in damages. It alleges that the district missed progress payments on a contract to demolish the schools.
In response to the company’s lawsuit, the school district countered with a lawsuit against UMD. Those suits are still active in federal court.
About the company’s lawsuit and its allegation that the school district violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, C.J. Huff, superintendent of the Joplin School District, on Tuesday said: “Our position is the opposite of their position. We feel very confident of our position in that case.”
Huff said the school district was not surprised when the criminal charges were filed, noting that the district had worked closely with the Department of Labor on the case after the district became concerned about record keeping “that did not appear to be right.”
About 20 employees of UMD are identified in a probable-cause statement as being underpaid. Koster said it is possible that the company could be barred from working in the state if the court determines that it violated the state’s prevailing wage law.
Missouri’s prevailing wage law requires that workers on public projects receive no less than the prevailing hourly wage, which is set before a project begins and is based on the county and the type of work.
Under the prevailing wage law, UMD was required to submit weekly certified payrolls to the Missouri Department of Labor and to the school district. As part of its oversight, the Labor Department requested that the company also submit copies of payroll checks for workers on the project.
Dankelson said the Division of Labor Standards requested copies of canceled checks to reflect the payment of the net wages indicated on the certified payroll forms that were submitted to the school district.
The Division of Labor Standards subpoenaed canceled checks from Bank of America to compare with those submitted by UMD. The bank records showed that 37 checks had been altered, according to Koster.
Koster alleges that UMD and Taylor altered copies of checks to make it appear that workers were paid prevailing wages, and submitted the forged documents to the Department of Labor and the Joplin School District. Those activities allegedly occurred between Nov. 29, 2011, and March 16, 2012.
UMD filed its lawsuit against the school district in April.
The combined wage underpayment to the employees was at least an estimated $55,000, according to the attorney general’s office. The probable-cause statement said the underpayment amount could be as high as $77,760.
FELONY FORGERY is punishable by up to seven years in prison, as well as fines of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for businesses. Each instance of failure to pay prevailing wage carries a fine of up to $500 or up to six months in prison, or both.