Friday, December 18, 2009

Maryland Man Sentenced in Asbestos Bid-Rigging Scheme

The previous leader of the asbestos abatement plan for the state capitol building in Charleston, West Virginia, was sentenced to twelve months in prison by a federal judge in Maryland. Forty-seven-year-old Gaithersburg, Maryland, resident Paul Prendergast pled guilty to breaking the federal Travel Act law in October 2007. He admitted to distributing private bidding data to a Maryland firm seeking to gain work on asbestos cleanup projects.
The firm that received the information from Mr. Prendergast used it to submit lower bids, beat the offers made by their competitors and win asbestos remediation jobs. In return, Mr. Prendergast reportedly received thousands of dollars and a prestigious position with the firm when he moved from West Virginia to Maryland. Mr. Prendergast's previous position was as the coordinator of the state office overseeing worker safety and health issues, which he held from 1998 to 2003.
In this capacity, Mr. Prendergast directed projects dealing with the cleanup and disposal of toxic materials, including asbestos, from the state capitol building and the nearby office buildings that formed the "Capitol Complex" in Charleston. According to court papers, he awarded several bids to Environmental and Demolitions Services Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland. When court officials obtained Mr. Prendergast's financial records, they showed that he received three checks from EDS totaling $11,000.
After he left his position with the state office, Mr. Prendergast worked for a contracting company held by the same ownership group as EDS. Court documents show that he earned $85,000 in salary during the twenty-one months he was with the company, as well as a $55,000 payment for services as a project manager from another related firm involved in subcontracting work.
Newspaper reports also showed that EDS earned over $329,000 in contracts for asbestos abatement jobs from the state of West Virginia from 1998 to 2005. In one instance from 2001, Mr. Prendergast worked out a project with EDS that allowed them to develop a landfill in West Virginia. The tacit agreement was that Mr. Prendergast would receive a portion of the money for providing EDS with inside information on the bidding process.
A clause in his plea agreement stated that Mr. Prendergast would receive a sentence of three hundred sixty-six days and pay a fine of $3,000. US District Judge Peter J. Messitte agreed to the plea bargain. In exchange, Mr. Prendergast pled guilty to violating bribery and political corruption laws in West Virginia and stated that he would work with federal authorities on other cases.
The US Attorney for Maryland said that the investigation was a cooperative effort between the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal Investigation, Division, the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the investigative branch of the West Virginia Legislature. In their report, they also found that Mr. Prendergast's successor, Gary Bryant, Jr., and his assistant were artificially over-billing for their overtime work on asbestos cases; the state terminated both worker's positions after the report was released.
Although Mr. Prendergast pled guilty to his violations in Maryland, the federal attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia has not commented on the case. He has also not stated if his office will conduct a separate investigation following Mr. Prendergast's plea.

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