Make us your home page

Whistle-blower: Engineering firm bilked feds on Everglades restoration

An Orlando federal judge unsealed a lawsuit Tuesday against one of the nation's biggest engineering firms, Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan Inc., that alleges it cheated the Army Corps of Engineers out of roughly $15 million on an Everglades restoration project.

Kermit Prime Jr. of Isleworth was a senior vice president at the firm and helped negotiate the $90 million, 15-year contract, according to his suit.

But he later discovered the company was cheating the corps, his suit alleges, by telling the government that PBS&J paid its employees more than twice what it really did.

When it negotiated the contract in 2001, the firm included projected labor costs based on its then-workforce, according to the suit. But once work began, the firm hired lower-cost employees and did not update the corps or contract, the suit alleges.

That happened even though the contract banned the company from making any profits on those labor costs, the suit alleges.

Between 2001 and 2007, the firm booked a 23 percent profit on the contract, the suit says: $8.9 million in net income on billings of $38.6 million. But at the time, its executives were telling corps officials in Jacksonville that the profit margin was no more than 10 percent, the suit alleges.

The suit also accuses the firm of wrongfully firing Prime in 2009 because he complained twice to his boss, Robert Paulson, about the labor charges.

Prime is the former president of the Florida Engineering Society. He joined PBS&J in 1997 as director of its Central/North Florida environmental division and was promoted to national senior vice president for environmental engineering.

PBS&J was acquired by WS Atkins plc, a British company, last year. Carol Hobbs, a spokeswoman at its Winter Park office, said her company had not seen the suit and knew nothing about its allegations.

The suit was filed Dec. 29, 2010, but remained a secret until Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ordered it unsealed. The federal government, she wrote, had declined to pursue a case against PBS&J.

Federal law allows whistle-blowers to sue on behalf of the U.S. government in fraud cases and keep a portion for themselves. Prime is asking for one-fourth of the money generated by the suit.

Prime's attorney, David S. Oliver of Orlando, estimated the labor overcharges at $15 million to $20 million.

The corps' Everglades project is one of the world's largest eco-system restoration jobs, encompassing 18,000 square miles. It's projected to cost $7.8 billion and take 30 years to complete. When the corps sought private engineering help, PBS&J formed a partnership with Parsons Corp. and was hired. Parsons Corp. is also a defendant in the suit.

Whistle-blower: Engineering firm bilked feds on Everglades restoration 12/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 8:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  2. A sports rout on Wall Street


    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  3. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  4. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  5. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights


    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.


    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]