At first glance, it may seem surprising that the construction industry has any issues at all with criminal behavior. What could building skyscrapers and hotels have against godfathers and cartel leaders? The construction industry has one of the highest levels of bribery and corruption in the country, and the Department of Justice has begun cracking down heavily on this kind of behavior.
Corruption is a huge crime that permeates the construction industry. Most of the time, payments are made to government officials in order to get planning permission, permits, and special projects. In addition to regular laws affecting domestic corruption, construction workers have to be careful that they are not violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If payments are inflated and made on the part of the company in order to get a local work permit from a government official, this would be considered a violation, and a crime. Defense attorneys hired to represent the construction industry need to be aware not only of basic criminal litigation laws and procedures, but the regulatory schemes that affect the construction industry as well in order to ensure a well-rounded defense.
Bribery and kickbacks are another area that members of the construction industry need to be aware of. Sometimes these payments are allowed; but if they are unreported and unauthorized, those who pay kickbacks face heavy fines, the inability to enter into construction contracts in the future, and even possible jail time. In 2013, a Louisiana businessman who worked for an American company that provided construction services to the military in Afghanistan offered a huge subcontract to a co-conspirator in exchange for $60,000 in kickbacks to himself. He was sentenced to ten months in federal prison as a result. An attorney can help not only defend against these crimes, but also assist each company and contractor in preventing these kinds of criminal practices by developing internal practices and procedures, and conducting regular audits to ensure compliance.
Another aspect of some criminal behaviors in the construction industry are basic fraud. In one example, a director of a company with ties to the mafia was awarded a contract for work on the World Trade Center project after 9/11. After receiving significant funds from the project (over $1.5 million), he diverted these funds to an account held in his mother’s name to pay for renovations for his daughter’s home – which meant the company could not meet the obligations of the construction project. In addition, the director submitted fraudulent tax returns to cover his crime. The Attorney General sought charges, and indicted him soon thereafter. An attorney may not be able to prove one’s innocence in a case like this; however, they will usually be able to work directly with the prosecution and begin negotiating a settlement. They will also gain access to any documents and evidence the State might use in its prosecution, as well as any exculpatory evidence (or evidence that could mitigate the crime). Sometimes, before the government files official charges, but is in the midst of an investigation, the involvement of an attorney can provide the chance for a non-prosecution action. This usually involves the payment of large sums of money, changing practices in the company, and perhaps even the inability to contract with certain people and companies in the future. While these seem like stiff penalties, the possibility of no jail time and no conviction is appealing, as it can also save the reputation of these companies in the long run. Getting an attorney involved quickly can save lengthy and expensive litigation, and contribute to a quick and reasonable settlement.