Half of suspected road contracts allegedly rigged

Half of suspected road contracts allegedly riggedWork since 1997 tops $100 million (Wisconsin) The construction work alleged to be compromised by an illegal bid-rigging scheme accounts for roughly half of the state-funded projects won by Vinton Construction Co. and Streu Construction Co. in the past seven years.A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday alleges the executives of the two lakeshore firms rigged bids and fixed prices for at least 30 construction projects totaling more than $100 million worth of work since 1997.James Maples, 73, president of Vinton Construction Co. in Manitowoc, and his son, Michael Maples, 51, vice president of the firm, face two federal charges. Ernest J. Streu, 55, president of Streu Construction Co. in Two Rivers, and his nephew, John Streu, 47, who is secretary and treasurer of the firm, also face those charges.The federal charges are conspiring to rig bids for government highway projects and commission of wire fraud – between Wisconsin and Florida – while submitting the fixed bids via the Internet. If convicted, they each face up to 23 years in prison and $600,000 in fines.Also involved but not charged was a project manager working for James Cape & Sons of Racine, who allegedly provided confidential bid information to the Mapleses and Streus.The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday refused to release comprehensive details of which bids prosecutors believe were rigged. The criminal complaint limits its narrative to a handful of examples including projects in Outagamie, Manitowoc and Winnebago counties.Because the Justice Department refuses to release specifics of the compromised bids, it is not clear exactly which of the 78 state contracts issued to the two companies since 1997 were rigged. The contracts total $207.4 million, according to a search of state Department of Transportation records.Nineteen of those 78 state projects were in Brown County, accounting for $29.6 million, including three multi-million-dollar projects at Austin Straubel International Airport.Tom Walker, executive director of Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, which represents 140 contractors, wouldn’t comment on the individuals allegedly involved, but said he was disappointed when he heard about the allegations.”I didn’t know this was coming,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the industry knew it was coming.”He said his members spend a lot of time training staff about what kinds of conversations are illegal.”We as an industry have a responsibility to take whatever steps are ultimately decided necessary to reassure the public that the process is completely monitored and instances like this are not likely to repeat themselves,” Walker said.The Streus and Mapleses are due back in federal court Jan. 30This isn’t the first time these construction firms have been in hot water over bid rigging – including Cape & Sons.The Streu, Vinton and Cape companies were convicted and fined $5,000 each in 1974 in Madison for rigging bids in projects around the state in the late 1960s and early 1970s.They were among 16 companies from throughout the state that were convicted after a secret John Doe investigation in Madison.All three were granted immunity from prosecution in 1975 in Brown County Court as prosecutors sought their sworn testimony in a major bid-rigging investigation involving several Green Bay and Manitowoc-area companies and projects. In that major investigation, William C. Streu of the Streu Co. admitted entering bids he knew were high on 29 cases so that a former Green Bay company, the Schuster Construction Co., could win them, according to testimony in the case. Streu testified that Schuster brought him bid figures so that Streu would know what figures to stay above when bidding, according to Press-Gazette coverage of the case in 1975.It is unclear whether Streu testified to receiving anything in return for the favor to Schuster. However, the companies charged in the case were accused of agreeing to stay out of each other’s geographic areas.Robert Vinton of the Vinton company told investigators he didn’t want a September 1974 job in Green Bay but that he cast a high bid for it after Schuster contacted him and asked for help, press coverage from 1975 indicated. Coverage does not indicate what, if anything, he may have testified to receiving in exchange for his help.Details of Warren Cape’s testimony were not included in Press-Gazette coverage of the investigation, much of which arose from a secret John Doe hearing, a fact-finding process in which witnesses are forced to testify in court for investigation purposes, but the proceedings are not open to the public.Several companies eventually were convicted in cases involving construction projects at the Don A. Tilleman Bridge, Austin Straubel airport, Fort Howard School and elsewhere.Construction companies and plumbing and heating companies from Green Bay, Fond du Lac and Manitowoc were among those implicated.

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