By Sean Ryan
Daily Reporter Staff A Brown County Circuit Court judge on Monday sentenced Bruce Phillips, a Green Bay contractor, to jail time and three years’ probation for violating Wisconsin prevailing wage laws. "We’re hoping it has a specific deterrent effect on Bruce Phillips but also a general deterrent effect on other corporations that are out there working with prevailing wages that if you violate them there will be criminal penalties," said Brown County Assistant District Attorney Dana Johnson. "We hope it ensures there is a level playing field and everyone is playing by the same rules." The judge found Phillips guilty of three counts of prevailing wage violation for public work his company, B. P. Phillips Construction Inc., Green Bay, performed between 1998 and 2000. Johnson said Phillips pleaded guilty to the counts in a plea bargain, and Johnson dropped charges of wage violation, false swearing and theft. The case began in January 1999 and ended with Phillips agreeing to serve 30 days in prison, three years probation and 150 hours of public service. Johnson said Phillips paid $88,000 in restitution to 10 of his employees who filed complaints.
Attorney Royce Finne, of Green Bay-based Finne & McKloskey Associated Attorneys, said the case doesn’t mean prevailing wage disputes will now frequent criminal courts. He said most district attorneys don’t want to handle prevailing wage cases, and when they do it’s to recover wages, not punish contractors. "I know DAs’ offices have traditionally complained about doing prevailing wage cases because they see it as a civil and not a criminal matter," he said. "The traditional wage cases that the DAs’ office files are civil." Howard Bernstein, a state Department of Workforce Development attorney, said the agency would continue to focus on recovering employees’ wages in prevailing wage cases. He said the criminal case against Phillips was the first in 10 years. Most prevailing wage disputes will remain civil, but this case will give prevailing wage law enforcers a big stick in deterring violators, said Bernie J. Samz, field supervisor for Wisconsin Alliance for Fair Contracting, which investigated the Phillips case.
|Mentioned in this Article Brown County Circuit Court Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Prevailing Wage Page Contact Resources|
"I’m hoping this will turn us around, and it will show contractors that if you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, there is going to be a penalty," Samz said. "This is the first (criminal prosecution) we’ve ever had. I’ve had plenty of contractors that have had to pay restitution through the DWD." Bernstein said the department only decides to turn to a district attorney in a wage payment dispute if there is evidence of intentional underpayment or if the contractor won’t hand over payment records. He said Phillips refused to turn over payment records, and there was early evidence his violation was intentional. "My understanding was that simple process of requesting records was not that simple in (Phillips’) case, and that was very out of the ordinary," Bernstein said. "You do look at individual cases where there seems to be more of a knowing intent. That would be the type of case that would start us thinking about going to the DA." Bernstein said in addition to the criminal punishment, Phillips Construction is facing a DWD debarment that would ban it from public projects. The DWD already decided in favor of debarment, but it won’t be carried out until the company has a chance to appeal, he said. Phillips and his attorneys were not available for comment. Madison Writer Sean Ryan can be reached at 608-260-8571 or by email.