(PLYMOUTH, Ma.) – Nine days after the Hanover-based paving company P.A. Landers Inc. proposed an expansion of its Plymouth asphalt plant, a federal grand jury indicted the company’s top two officials on charges they rigged the plant to fleece state and municipal road projects out of $18 million.The Sept. 28, six-count indictment named president and owner Preston “Skip” Landers, 56, of Hanover, and company vice president Gregory R. Keelan, 49, of Pembroke.It charged both men and the company with conspiracy to defraud the state and several municipalities by sending false documents through the mail, mail fraud and making false statements.”The indictment alleges that, from 1996 through at least March 2003, the defendants generated fake and inflated asphalt weight tickets on government-funded paving projects on which P.A. Landers Inc. worked,” Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts said Wednesday in a prepared statement.According to the statement, the federal transportation department, the Inspector General’s office and the Internal Revenue Service investigated the company.Landers founded his namesake company in 1978 as a small firm specializing in septic system installations. It has since grown into one of the state’s largest paving companies and is a major supplier of aggregate – a mix of sand, gravel and petroleum – used to build roads and highways. The material is produced at the company’s North Plymouth asphalt manufacturing plant, which began operating in 1995.P.A. Landers has worked on several high-profile state highway projects, including contracts to supply most of the dirt covering the Big Dig’s Interstate 93 tunnels, the new Route 44 divided highway in North Plymouth and Carver and the rebuilding of Route 3 in Hanover. It also holds numerous municipal road-building contracts, including the town of Plymouth’s.Shortly after the asphalt plant went on-line, the indictment alleges, Landers hatched a plan to generate phantom or inflated weight tickets by using a diagnostic device originally designed to recalibrate the facility’s computerized truck scales. The tickets are based on the weight of asphalt ordered for road and highway projects.According to the indictment, Landers ordered an electrical engineer to install the device so it was hidden from view, and then had him train other plant workers how to use it to override the scales. Then, Landers conspired with Keelan, his chief of construction, to generate the inflated tickets for actual orders and bogus weight tickets for shipments that never left the plant.Sullivan asserted the company cashed in on government projects, raking in about $18 million in overcharges at the expense of the Massachusetts Highway Department, the MBTA and several municipalities.The same day the indictments were handed down, arrest warrants were issued for Landers and Keelan, though both men made arrangements through their attorneys to surrender to the U.S. District Court in Boston.”They appeared in court today to be arraigned,” Samantha Martin, a Sullivan spokeswoman, said Thursday. “They both entered not-guilty pleas. The case will proceed to trial from here, though a date has not been set.”She said the next step was the pretrial “discovery” phase, during which the prosecution and defense meet to share information. If convicted, both men could face up to 20 years in prison and be ordered to pay a fine equal to double the payments they received through the scheme, or about $36 million.P.A. Landers’ attorney John Markey, of the Boston law firm Mintz Levin, responded Thursday. He criticized the indictments and said Preston Landers anticipated clearing his name in court.”Preston Landers maintains his innocence to all charges and looks forward to his day in court,” he said by e-mail. “He started PA landers 27 years ago with three employees and built it into one of the largest employers on the South Shore. This is the first time that the integrity of Landers’ operations have been questioned.”North Quincy attorney George C. McMahon represents Keelan. He did not respond to a telephone call to his office.Markey accused the government of building a case against his client by using information taken from the November 2003 federal indictment of P.A. Landers paving crew worker Michael Vinal. The government charged him with witness tampering in a separate federal probe of the company.In that case, Vinal allegedly telephoned former P.A. Landers paving supervisor Thomas Fitzgerald, who cooperated in the probe, and left him a threatening message in June 2003. Vinal was acquitted of the charge last December.”In December 2004, Vinal was charged in a related case and was acquitted,” Markey said. “The government is relying on many of the same witnesses again, and we expect the same result.”Eric Abel, a MassHighway spokesman, said the department was watching the developments carefully, but it still expects P.A. Landers to fulfill its highway construction contracts with the state on time, including Route 44 – scheduled for completion this year.”We are determining the best way to proceed with this case, but at this moment, we anticipate our current projects with the company will be brought to completion,” he said.However, it remains unclear whether P.A. Landers stands accused of swindling the town of Plymouth. The company inked a $301,152 contract with the town in August to supply labor and materials for various construction projects, including $222,200 for 5,500 tons of pavement, $22,500 for 300 tons of concrete and $18,000 for an additional 200 tons of concrete.”They have our paving contract this year, so obviously, this is something we’ll be watching very closely,” DPW director George Crombie said. “We’re very concerned about it.”Both Keelan and Landers appeared before the Plymouth planning board Sept. 19 to discuss the company’s plans to ramp up the plant’s production and install stricter environmental controls. (See related story for more information.)By Chris NelsonMPG Newspapers
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