Federal prosecutors have charged two retired chairmen of PBSJ Corp. with making and orchestrating ways to conceal illegal campaign donations.
Both former chairmen had long careers with the Tampa-based engineer. The prosecutors charged that Richard A. Wickett, who retired in 2005, and H. Michael Dye, who retired in 2002, committed mail and wire fraud in making the donations over a period from 1990 to 2003. A grand jury has charged Wickett with the crimes and federal prosecutors have filed a public statement of information about Dye and his activities, but he has not been indicted.
The two could face jail sentences and forced restitution of funds or fines. Neither of the two could be reached for comment.
The purpose of the donations was to increase PBSJ’s chances of winning government contracts, prosecutors charge.
The investigation of the two former chairmen originated with information supplied by one or more of three defendants who are awaiting sentencing for their part in a scheme through which they defrauded PBSJ of $36.6 million dollars and used the funds to pay for lavish lifestyles and gifts for friends. PBSJ’s former chief financial officer W. Scott DeLoach and two subordinates pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and fraud charges. Sentencing had been scheduled for Feb. 15 but was delayed until the campaign donations could be fully investigated. PBSJ had also been seeking to recover funds from some of the ex-employees’ friends and relatives,
The charges represent another difficult chapter for PBSJ, which has been doing its best to put the scandal behind it. No charges have been filed against the company, a spokeswoman notes, and PBSJ has enacted many controls and safeguards and ethics provisions against both embezzlement and illegal political donations.
The total amount of money involved in the allegedly illegal donations is about $20,000. PBSJ performs many contracts for state and local governments, and the donations involved candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate as well as some presidential candidates. The amounts cited in the charges vary from several hundred dollars to several thousand.
According to the charges, Dye and Wickett had PBSJ employees submit fraudulent expense reports making claims for auto mileage that equaled money donated by the employees to candidates for elected office. In that way, prosecutors charge, PBSJ reimbursed staff for the donations. Some of the allegedly illegal reimbursement of staff was made through checks from a real-property ownership subsidiary, Seminole Development Corp., as a way to conceal that the donations really came from PBSJ. In other instances, say prosecutors, PBSJ issued checks to candidates that omitted or concealed the PBSJ corporate name and address to disguise the source of the funds.
Dye and Wickett also allegedly arranged for fake bonuses for PBSJ officers, directors and executives that in reality were used to pass corporate funds into PBSJ political action committees, federal prosecutors charge.