Owner of Tampa Contracting Company Pleads Guilty to Paying Illegal Kickbacks for Fraudulent Training Certificates
TAMPA, FL—United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Paul R. Pinet (67, Tampa) yesterday pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and to making false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements. Pinet faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge. Barry Fitzgerald (62, Lakeland) pleaded guilty to the same charge in a related case on May 15, 2014.
According to the plea agreement, Pinet owned and operated Premier Corrosion Protection Services, Inc., a contracting company in Tampa that provided its contracting services to phosphate mines in Polk County and elsewhere. Fitzgerald was a Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) approved safety instructor at a community college located in Polk County.
Federal law requires all miners, including those working in a surface mining operation, to receive training and instruction regarding various health and safety risks. New miners are required to take a 24-hour, newly-employed, inexperienced miner training course. Experienced miners are required to take an 8-hour refresher course each year. The training must be performed by an MSHA-approved training instructor and documented on MSHA Form 5000-23. Newly-employed inexperienced miner training is the mechanism by which miners receive their initial familiarization with the multitude of dangers inherent in the mining occupation, and their notification of their legal right to a safe working environment under the Mine Act.
From 2008 to at least July 2011, Pinet conspired with Fitzgerald and others to impede and impair MSHA’s administration and oversight of the Federal Mine Health and Safety Act and conspired to make false and fraudulent training certificates. As part of this conspiracy, Pinet purchased and caused the purchase of falsified training certificates (MSHA Forms 5000-23) from Fitzgerald for both the company’s new and experienced miners. The certificates were used by the company to make it appear as if its employees were properly trained, but in truth, Fitzgerald did not perform any MSHA training for the individuals named on the falsified certificates. Pinet obtained false and fraudulent training certificates in this manner for himself and other company employees. The company used these untrained workers to perform work at various phosphate mines in Polk County, including the Four Corners Mine.
In exchange for providing false and fraudulent training certificates, Pinet paid a kickback to Fitzgerald. The kickbacks were paid in cash or a check from the company made payable to cash. Pinet paid Fitzgerald $100 and later $125 per falsified training form. In addition to cash payments, Pinet caused at least $4,350 in checks to be paid to Fitzgerald between March 2009 and July 2011.
Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, stated: “Miner training is a critical element in assuring a safe work place and preventing injuries, illnesses, and death. Those individuals who falsify miner training certificates put miners at risk and will be prosecuted to the full extent permitted by law.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew J. Mueller.