Photo: AP/Wideworld
Martinez campaign donation eyed.

An investigation of an alleged embezzlement scheme at PBSJ Corp. through which three longtime employees stole $36 million in company funds has expanded to include campaign donations.

On Sept. 15 federal prosecutors charged three former PBSJ Corp. employees, including ex-chief financial officer W. Scott DeLoach, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with the scheme. DeLoach, Rosario Licata, the company’s former manager of accounts payable, and Maria Garcia, former accounting manager and payroll supervisor, all were charged in federal court in Miami by prosecutors who claim the funds were used to buy houses, cars and vacations.

All three waived their right to indictment by a grand jury, which had been investigating the alleged crimes. Although all three are reported to be negotiating plea deals with prosecutors, the waiver does not entitle them to the protections associated with a guilty plea.

"The vast majority of PBSJ's political donations were proper and recorded correctly."
- Mark Schnapp, PBSJ Attorney

Prosecutors also charged DeLoach with making $11,000 in illegal campaign contributions to the 2004 campaign of Senator Mel Martinez (R), of Florida. The donations were made in $1,000 and $2,000 installments on Oct. 4-5, 2004, to the “Martinez for Senate” federal political committee and were disguised under names with the initials S.I., S.T., L.F., R.F., A.Q, and V.Q., according to a description by federal prosecutors filed with the court.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission made on Aug. 29, Tampa-based PBSJ reported that federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were probing “possible irregularities relating to past political contributions by certain employees of the company.”

PBSJ employees have made extensive donations to political candidates in recent years, as have employees of other companies in construction and other businesses. It isn’t clear if federal prosecutors are trying to determine if DeLoach’s contributions were made with the approval or in coordination with other PBSJ employees.

According to Mark Schnapp, an attorney for PBSJ, the company has discovered some improper campaign contributions in the past by others but these “were old and the vast majority of the political donations were proper and recorded correctly.” Schnapp declined to discuss the nature of the improper donations but says he does not expect the company will be charged because of them.

On the same day as the charges by federal prosecutors, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in Miami against DeLoach, Garcia and Licata charging them with violating securities regulations. The alleged violations consist of providing the company with inaccurate information as the three employees altered records to disguise their alleged crimes. Although privately held, PBSJ Corp. files financial reports with the SEC due to the high number of employee shareholders. Auditing procedures in place to comply with the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act uncovered the discrepancies and unraveled the alleged fraud.

High Living

Federal prosecutors claim the stolen funds allowed the three defendants to enjoy lifestyles filled with luxuries. DeLoach owned a multimillion-dollar home in Aventura and property in the Florida Keys worth millions of dollars, Maserati and Aston Martin sports cars and a 118-ft-long yacht, federal prosecutors and SEC officials claim. DeLoach’s home was a 6,500-sq-ft waterfront estate appointed with exquisite, custom-made furnishings and more than 50 pieces of fine art, according to the SEC lawsuit.

Garcia used the stolen money to buy sports cars, jewelry, Rolex watches and part of a restaurant. Licata invested in real estate and “gambled away large sums of money,” says the SEC lawsuit.

PBSJ in April filed lawsuits against associates of the defendants that it accuses of receiving money or property from the defendants. The firm has sued Garcia and Licata for breach of fiduciary duty, theft and fraud. One associate is accused of taking over $369,000 from Garcia and DeLoach. Attorneys for DeLoach, Licata and Garcia could not be reached for comment.

The fraud and stealing lasted from 1992 to 2005, prosecutors claim, and often involved nothing more elaborate than making out company checks to cash and then cashing the check themselves. The defendants also stole corporate assets from PBSJ’s medical benefits account by writing checks drawn on that account for deposit into two secret bank accounts, according to the SEC lawsuit.