Company Settles Claims That It Deliberately Underpaid Workers
ATLANTA - Advanced Power & Lighting (“APL”) and two of the company’s former officers and/or employees, Richard Lee Robertson and Greg Piccione, have agreed to pay a total of $780,000 to settle allegations that they deliberately underpaid workers on several federally funded projects covered by the Davis-Bacon Act, and then violated the False Claims Act by submitting false and fictitious payroll records to conceal their conduct.
“The underlying False Claims Act lawsuit alleges that APL, Robertson and Piccione deliberately took advantage of workers, at a time when they were most vulnerable,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “The settlement reflects the reality that individuals and entities that exploit workers will be held accountable by the government.”
U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General Todd Zinser commended the cooperative effort by the staffs of the U.S. Attorney’s for the Northern District of Georgia, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and the Commerce Department OIG to ensure APL was held accountable for funds it received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Zinser also noted the importance of Federal Whistleblower laws that led to the revelations of APL underpaying its workers.
Special Agent in Charge Richard L. Walker of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations stated, “This case is a great example of the OIG's work with its law enforcement partners to actively investigate fraud involving federal contracts, including the filing of false payroll records to facilitate cheating workers of their earned wages.”
The relevant conduct arose in connection with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”), which was enacted to stimulate the economy and create jobs by funding infrastructure projects. Pursuant to a Recovery Act initiative known as the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (“BTOP”), the federal government provided the U.S. Department of Commerce with $4.7 billion to promote, through grants, the deployment of broadband infrastructure – e.g., miles of fiber-optic cable and supporting structures – throughout North Georgia.
To effectuate the Recovery Act’s goal of providing high wage jobs, contractors on BTOP projects were required to comply with the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that workers be paid not less than the applicable prevailing wage, which is set by the U.S. Department of Labor, and can be fulfilled by providing the applicable wage in all cash, or through a combination of cash and bona fide fringe benefits.
In late 2010, APL was awarded a BTOP subcontract to assist with broadband projects in North Georgia, and the company repeatedly acknowledged – and promised to comply with – the projects’ Davis-Bacon Act requirements. The False Claims Act lawsuit alleges that, despite these repeated promises, in order to increase their own profit margins and/or bonuses, APL, Robertson and Piccione – over an extended period of time – deliberately underpaid certain workers by approximately $10.00 per hour.
The lawsuit further alleges that, to conceal the underpayments, APL, Robertson and Piccione submitted fictitious payroll documentation, which falsely represented that workers were receiving approximately $10.00 per hour in training and uniforms, which they erroneously characterized as fringe benefits. In truth, however, no such training or uniforms were provided to workers, and these items did not even qualify as fringe benefits under the criteria set forth by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
This civil settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by a former APL employee under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery obtained. The case, pending in the Northern District of Georgia, is filed under United States of America ex rel., v. Advanced Power & Lighting, Richard Lee Robertson and Greg Piccione, et. al., Civ. No. 1:12-cv-3825-AT (N.D. Ga. Nov. 1, 2012). The claims settled in the civil settlement are claims only, and there has been no determination of liability.
The case was investigated by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia; the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General; and the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the Inspector General.
This matter was handled for the United States by Assistant United States Attorney Paris A. Wynn.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.