Builder Lend Lease (U.S.) Construction LMB Inc., formerly Bovis Lend Lease, and its onetime top New York City executive on April 24 settled charges of decade-long overbilling, worker time-sheet padding and other fraud charges on public and private projects there.
The pact with the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn defers prosecution of the firm. Lend Lease agreed to pay $56 million in penalties and compensation and implement "far-reaching corporate reforms."
James Abadie, 55, who had been executive vice president of Bovis and principal-in-charge of its New York City operations, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud as part of the overbilling scheme. A veteran of more than 30 years at the firm, he left in 2009 at the start of government probes into its activities.
Abadie, who has been a major participant in local industry groups and collective bargaining, is listed as a consultant to New York City builder Plaza Construction. He was a key manager of Bovis' cleanup work at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack. The following year, ENR named him as a Newsmaker for his efforts.
Sydney, Australia-based real estate services firm Lend Lease Corp. Ltd. in 2011 dropped "Bovis" and adopted the name "Lend Lease" for its U.S. operation. Federal documents say Abadie "directed his subordinates to carry out the practice of adding unworked hours to labor foremen's time sheets."
The U.S. says "about one to two hours of unworked overtime" were added daily for foremen in Local 79 of the Mason Tenders' union. Bovis also admitted to fraud in meeting disadvantaged-business requirements by self-performing work. "We accept responsibility for what happened in the past and have agreed to continue to make restitution to the affected clients," says Robert McNamara, CEO of Lend Lease's Americas region.
"It's what people do under pressure to get jobs done. It's not a kickback scheme," says one source. Adds Mysore Nagaraja, a former city transportation agency head, "Construction in New York is quite good, but there has to be a strong message that these kinds of practices won't be tolerated and the message has to stick."