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West Virginia Health and Safety Official Pleads Guilty to Bribery

WASHINGTON—Paul Prendergast, a resident of Gaithersburg, Md., pleaded guilty today to violating the Travel Act in connection with accepting bribes in violation of the West Virginia Bribery and Corrupt Practices Act, announced Ronald J. Tenpas, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

According to the plea agreement, from 1998 to March 2003, Prendergast worked as the Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator at the West Virginia Department of Administration, General Services Division (GSD), receiving and reviewing bids submitted for asbestos and lead abatement projects. For certain asbestos and lead abatement jobs, Prendergast had primary authority to award contracts to the lowest bidder. He was also responsible for overseeing work performed on the projects and had primary authority to approve payment requests submitted by the contractor.

Two of these contractors were Maryland corporations engaged in asbestos and lead abatement work in Maryland and West Virginia. The contractors were affiliated companies, and were jointly operated and managed. Between August 1998 and January 2003, these contractors performed a number of abatement contracts for GSD. Immediately upon leaving his employment with GSD, Prendergast worked for one of these companies.

Prendergast admits that he unlawfully provided one of these contractors with confidential bid information that he received from other abatement firms regarding contracts to perform asbestos and lead abatement at various buildings in the West Virginia State Capitol Complex. This contractor then used the bid information to submit bids to the state of West Virginia that were lower than those submitted by other abatement companies. Prendergast would then award the contracts and approve payments to the contractor, and caused the state of West Virginia to mail checks to the contractor. While he maintained bid and operational authority over contracts of interest to the contractor, Prendergast also received money and other benefits from the contractor, including three checks from 2000 to 2003 in the amounts of $6,000, $2,500 and $2,500.

In 2001, while still employed by GSD, Prendergast prepared a business proposal for the contractor involving a joint venture for a landfill in West Virginia, with the expectation that he would share jointly in the proceeds.

In April 2003, following negotiations that had begun in or about 2002, the other contractor involved hired Prendergast at nearly triple the salary he received from GSD; from April 2003 to January 2005, Prendergast received $85,000 as “salary” from this second contractor; and from December 2003 to December 2004, Prendergast accepted $55,000 from a subcontractor over whom he had oversight responsibility in his position as project manager for the second contractor.

Prendergast faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine or twice the gain derived from the crime or loss caused to the victim. A sentencing hearing date will be set in the future.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division, the West Virginia Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case. Trial Attorney Noreen McCarthy for the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina L. Simms are prosecuting the case.