Contractor for Scott County water project charged with labor law violations

Friday, April 23, 2010

The president of a Michigan construction firm has been charged with numerous violations of the state's prevailing wage law for allegedly failing to pay employees the correct wage for work on construction of a Scott County public water system.

Norman J. Bass, 67, president of Municipal Construction Inc. of Goodrich, Mich., was charged Tuesday by Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd with six counts of failing to pay workers on the Scott County Public Water Supply District No. 4 construction project the state prevailing wage, a misdemeanor. Bass has also been charged with five counts of felony forgery for allegedly falsifying documentation concerning the workers' pay and hours.

The latest charges are in addition to two charges of felony failure to pay withholding tax filed March 2 by Boyd's office.

Thomas LaCosse, 61, of South Lake, Texas, the superintendent on the project, was charged Tuesday with six counts of failing to pay workers the state prevailing wage for work on the project.

In a probable-cause statement supporting the charges, Jerry D. Wolsey wrote that the investigation into the case began when the payrolls from the construction company presented by water district officials "reflected misclassification and under payment of wages to the workers employed by MCI."

Wolsey wrote that several employees came forward claiming they weren't paid at the correct rate for their respective duties and that they weren't properly paid overtime. One employee said he was fired from this job because his boss thought he was a whistle-blower, Wolsey wrote.

Wolsey wrote that audits showed 17 workers were underpaid by $63,347.81.

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon Bass denied all the charges. Bass said his company paid workers properly according to the bid specifications for the project, which was funded by USDA grants and loans.

If anyone wasn't paid overtime for hours worked, Bass said, the payrolls turned into him by LaCosse didn't reflect that. The company tried to cooperate with Missouri officials to work out any disputes about how workers were paid before the matter went before a criminal court, Bass said.

Bass said the project was three-quarters completed when work stopped because of the investigation in December, and that work remains stopped.

"They have killed me by stopping the job for four months while I was trying to fight them," Bass said. "I'm not a big guy, I'm a small guy, and they are absolutely ripping me apart."

Work on the construction project started in July. Scott County voters approved a bond issue to fund the water district's construction in November 2005. When it is completed, the water district will deliver water to all areas of Scott County not currently served by a public water supply.

Bass has written a letter to Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan asking for her intervention in the case.

As of Thursday afternoon neither Bass nor LaCosse were in the custody of Scott County authorities. No court dates have been set in their cases.

msanders@semissourian.com

388-3652

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