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Fraud plea agreement to resolve whistleblower case

Federal courts can cause serious damage to the lives of defendants who are accused of obtaining government money illegally. A Wisconsin businessman is on the hook for over $1.6 million, according to the details of a plea deal between the construction company owner and U.S. prosecutors. The owner of Watry Homes was accused of conspiring to commit fraud in a 2013 whistleblower lawsuit.

The defendant entered into construction contracts with the federal government, including a $4.7 million public housing project in Milwaukee. Prosecutors claim the owner promised to pay construction workers prevailing wages, higher rates – in some cases, much higher pay -- than employees actually received. The difference between the contract rates and the actual rates apparently ended up in the defendant's pocket.

The whistleblower, a former roofing supervisor at the construction company, is expected to receive $180,000, a portion of the government's proposed $1 million dollar settlement. The plea agreement includes restitution of nearly $660,000 to make up for workers' lost wages.

The defendant agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a prison terms of just over one year, a significantly shorter term than the possible maximum of 5.25 years for fraud conspiracy recommended in sentencing guidelines.

The defendant allegedly violated contract terms by lying about the number of employees working on the projects and wages he was paying. Court papers stated the business owner falsified records and claims. The defendant also apparently threatened workers who disputed pay rates with a loss of a job or income and ordered employees to lie about the projects to federal investigators.

The government resources available to recover misused taxpayers funds are nearly limitless. Defendants must be willing to consider every viable defense strategy to resolve a fraud case, including plea agreements that may reduce charges or lighten penalties. A criminal defense attorney makes sure a defendant understands these options and associated benefits and consequences.

Source: Journal Sentinel, "Watry Homes owner to plead guilty to fraud, pay $1.6 million settlement," Cary Spivak, June 15, 2015

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