Gary Francis Bauerly, owner of WATAB Hauling Co., pleaded guilty Monday in Hennepin County District Court to felony theft by swindle over $35,000 for not paying his workers prevailing wage required for road work for federal, state and local governments. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the case is a warning that violations of the prevailing wage will be punished.
“I want the workers to be made whole,” Freeman noted. “I want the message to go out that you can debarred” from future government contracts.
As part of his plea before Hennepin County District Court Judge Tanya Bransford, Bauerly, 65, of Rice, had to detail the scheme that netted him more than $52,000. Under questioning by his attorney, he admitted that WATAB supplied drivers to federal, state and county road construction projects from July 30 through December 2007.
He acknowledged that at the time, he was aware that he had to pay those drivers the prevailing wage as part of the contract. Instead, Bauerly admitted that he, or someone under his control, submitted false certifications that they were paying the prevailing wage when WATAB was not. According to the criminal complaint, Bauerly kept the difference between what he was supposed to pay and what he actually did pay the drivers.
The case was groundbreaking because Freeman has assigned staff to specifically investigate prevailing wage cases. Prevailing wage violations are normally misdemeanors but this case was especially egregious and was charged as a felony swindle.
“Unfortunately, some contractors deliberately refuse to pay the legal prevailing wages on some projects,” Freeman said. “That cheats workers and the responsible contractors who follow the law. We in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office take these cases very seriously and will continue to prosecute them aggressively.”
Prevailing wage laws, also known as Davis-Bacon laws, have been in place across the country since the 1930s to prevent unscrupulous contractors on publicly funded projects from bringing in low-paid workers and undercutting the standard of living in communities.
As part of his plea agreement, Bauerly agreed not to contest the debarment proceedings by federal, state or local governments. If a government agency debars WATAB, the company will not be allowed to do business with that agency for a set number of years. The agreement also calls for stay of imposition of a prison sentence of up to 21 months as long as he commits no crimes or violates other conditions set by the judge over the next two years. In addition, Bauerly must pay more than $52,000 in restitution to the drivers who were not paid the prevailing wage.
Judge Bransford ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set sentencing for 9 a.m. Feb. 25.