A former Chicago-area concrete and carpentry subcontractor has been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for fronting a women’s business enterprise/disadvantaged business enterprise (WBE/DBE) fraud scheme that involved multiple major public infrastructure projects.
A jury last June convicted Elizabeth Perino for allowing her company, Lockport, Ill.-based Perdel Contracting Co., to be claimed as a subcontractor in 2011 on two Chicago-funded projects to meet WBE hiring requirements, without performing any work.
Among the projects in question was a $7-million O’Hare International Airport runway repair project, in which Perino falsified documents to make it appear that employees of general contractor Diamond Coring Co., Chicago, were on her payroll.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern Illinois, Perino also falsely claimed that her company had purchased Diamond Coring’s equipment to perform the O’Hare job. At the project’s conclusion, the street sweepers were to be returned to Diamond Coring for $1 per machine. Perdel would receive 18% on top of the labor costs and $20 per hour for the street sweepers.
Diamond Coring’s owner, who cooperated with investigators in the Perino case as part of a 2012 plea agreement, served two years of probation for his role in the scheme.
The 62-year-old Perino could have received up to 80 years in prison for her conviction on three counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud. While prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 38 months, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman refused defense attorneys’ request for probation and home confinement when he handed down the sentence on March 23. Finerman said the sentence was intended to set an example to combat continued industry-wide misconduct.
Perino’s activities were uncovered following a 2008 whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former Perdel project manager Ryan Keiser, who alleged that, between 2004 and 2011, Chicago-based James McHugh Construction Co. sidestepped federal and state DBE requirements on seven major Chicago transportation projects. Federal and state investigators found that McHugh had used Perdel and another Perino-owned company, Accurate Steel Installers, as “pass-throughs” for approximately $40 million worth of subcontracted work.
With the federal government and state of Illinois, Keiser received approximately $2 million of McHugh’s $12-million settlement, which was finalized in 2014. In exchange for admitting no wrongdoing and being allowed to continue bidding on public projects, McHugh agreed to revamp its internal compliance practices, appoint a corporate DBE compliance officer and retain an independent monitor to evaluate subcontracting practices for three years.
McHugh Senior Vice President Mike Meagaher says the monitor has found the company “to be in complete compliance with all DBE rules and practices.” When the monitoring period ends on May 1, 2017, McHugh’s director of compliance, Natalie Pedraza, and the company’s general counsel will assume oversight of subcontracting activities.
McHugh Construction ranked at No. 165 among ENR’s top U.S. contractors in 2016. The company reported $444 million in revenue, 19% of which was in the transportation sector.