Company hired to demolish Joplin schools charged with forgery - KOAM TV 7

Company hired to demolish Joplin schools charged with forgery and failing to pay prevailing wage


Updated December 18, 2012 at 6:45 PM CST:  A company hired to demolish three Joplin schools destroyed by last years tornado is hit with criminal charges.

The Missouri Attorney General and Jasper County prosecutor today filed felony forgery charges  against Urban Metropolitan Development, or UMD, and the project manager.

The company was hired to demolish Joplin High School, Irving Elementary School and old South Middle School.

Prosecutors allege UMD altered copies of checks before submitting them to the state as proof that the company paid their workers the prevailing wage rate required by law.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says failing to pay proper wages could lead to problems in the quality of rebuilding.

"Out of state workers that really don't care about rebuilding Joplin in the way that deserves, they do slip-shod work and they are back to Oklahoma and Texas," says Koster.  "That is why it is important that we remain vigilant and make sure that quality, experienced workers are being paid the laws wage in these prevailing wage cases."

"That people come to this community looking for work or ways to make money in result of the storm will make note of this particular situation," says Joplin Schools Superintendent CJ Huff.

The school district terminated its contract with UMD in April accusing the company of a lack of performance.

UMD has sued the district for failing to pay.

That dispute has not been resolved at this time.

Posted December 18, 2012 at 2:34 PM CST - news release issued by Office of Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster:

Joplin, Mo. - Attorney General Chris Koster and Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney Dean Dankelson today charged Urban Metropolitan Development (UMD) of Atlanta and UMD project manager Jennifer Taylor with five counts each of failure to pay prevailing wage.  Both UMD and Taylor were also charged with ten felony counts of forgery for allegedly altering copies of checks before submitting them to the state as proof that the company paid their workers the prevailing wage rate as required by law. 

According to Koster, UMD received contracts to demolish three schools that were destroyed by the May 2011 tornado - Irving Elementary School, Old South Middle School, and Joplin High School.  The public works projects come under Missouri's prevailing wage law, which requires workers on public projects to receive no less than the prevailing hourly wage, which is set before a project begins and is based on the county and the type of work. 

Under the prevailing wage law, UMD was required to submit weekly certified payrolls to the Missouri Department of Labor.  As part of their oversight, the labor department requested that the company also submit copies of payroll checks to workers on the project.  Koster alleges that UMD and Taylor altered copies of checks to make it appear workers were paid prevailing wages, and submitted the forged documents to the Department of Labor and Joplin Public Schools.

"It has been an important goal of the Attorney General's Office to ensure that no individuals profit unfairly from the tragedy of the Joplin tornado," Koster said.  "Today we are alleging that a company hired to help the city's schools move forward took advantage of the situation by knowingly paying workers less than the prevailing wage and forging documents to cover it up."

"While every prevailing wage case is considered serious because it steals money from the pockets of working families, the allegations of forgeries submitted to the Department of Labor makes this case particularly egregious," Koster said.

Felony forgery is punishable by up to seven years in prison as well as fines up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for businesses.  Each instance of failure to pay prevailing wage carries a fine of up to $500 or up to 6 months in prison, or both.

The charges against the defendants are merely accusations. As in all criminal cases, the defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty.

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