Back in 2013, AWI Builders were awarded a $10.3 million contract to construct a new lobby and entrance to the Pacific Amphitheater at the Orange County Fairgrounds for the Orange County Fair Project. In the contract, AWI agreed to pay prevailing wages and keep proper payroll records. Though a windfall back then, the company is finding itself in hot water now. Seems pretty cut-and-dry, right? Well, believe or not, it isn’t.
OCDA Tony Rackauckas slapped AWI, OSC Inc., Zhirayr “Robert” Mekikyan, Anna Mekikyan, and Tigran Oganesian — all of whom are officers at the companies — with a lawsuit contending that they didn’t keep their end of the deal. In this case, the company failed to pay over $200,000 in prevailing wages and taxes on a project at the Orange County Fairgrounds. This includes failing to pay overtime to workers on the project.
It doesn’t get better for AWI. The DA’s office is also accusing AWI of over 2,000 violations for false entries on weekly payroll reports, including fake payroll checks and a second set of reporting books to cover up fraud. Additionally, the defendants are accused of forging and submitting three apprenticeship certificates, even though none of the three ironworkers were certified apprentices from any recognized apprenticeship organization, in a deceitful attempt to comply with the applicable apprenticeship standards, and threatening one or more workers with deportation if they were reported these activities to authorities.
Believe it or not, though the above is the general gist of the suit, it actually gets worse for the company. AWI is accused of reporting paying prevailing wages of approximately $50 per hour when workers were paid less than $20 per hour. Although workers were asked to work overtime and during weekends and holidays at times, AWI is accused of failing to accurately report the overtime hours or pay the prevailing overtime wages earned by their workers.
Think that’s all? Guess what? There’s more. The DA alleges that AW engaged in unfair business practices in violation of public policy by underbidding a public works project, exhibiting conduct that was knowing and intentional and in complete disregard of the law and public policy.
The grounds of the suit are based on the illegal practices being reported to the OCDA by an ironworkers union. The OCDA Bureau of Investigation investigated this case.
The DA’s office is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation to the maximum extent permitted by law for the defendants’ violations in relation to the OC Fair Project from August 2013 to the present date. So if you’re counting at home, that’s a lot of dinero.