Two executives from a construction business based in Miami-Dade County have been jailed for more than three years each for their part in a scheme to avoid paying workers’ compensation and underpay their workers.
The brothers, Javier Estepa, age 48, and Diego Estepa Vasquez, age 37, were president and vice president respectively of the Aaron Construction Group Inc. of Hialeah, Florida. They were found guilty of defrauding Miami-Dade County. The brothers underreported their payroll as well as the number of employees they had on their books. In so doing, they were able to reduce their workers’ compensation insurance premiums as well as other costs, including their payroll taxes.
As a result, Aaron Construction was able to land projects by making artificially low bids. The county’s Department of Public Housing and Community Development, which is in charge of public housing and Section 8 funding, awards contracts to companies with the lowest bids. Between June 214 and December 2016, Aaron Construction earned over $3.9 million from such county contracts.
Contractors working with the county, however, must meet specific standards as part of their contracts. For example, in addition to underpaying workers compensation premiums and other dues, Aaron Construction paid its employees below the local prevailing wage and also did not pay overtime. The Davis-Bacon Act, however, requires that employees working on federally funded contracts must be paid both overtime and the local prevailing wage. Aaron Construction also paid subcontractors a flat rate rather than paying them by the hour as they had promised the county that they would.
Estepa and Estepa Vasquez were also accused of attempting to conceal their fraud by giving county officials fraudulent documentation.
In February, a jury convicted the brothers each of three counts of wire fraud and one count of wire fraud conspiracy. Estepa Vasquez was found guilty on the count of false statement, while Estepa was found guilty of three counts of false statements. Estepa, however, was acquitted of a count of witness tampering.
During court proceedings, the brothers’ attorneys attempted to portray the men as hard workers who cared for the community. The attorneys gave the example of how the brothers helped remove fallen trees in Miami in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. According to their lawyers, the brothers were upstanding family men whose employees were well treated.
Estepa’s attorney attempted to contextualize his client’s crimes. “In todayʼs climate and in particular Miami-Dade County, in return for a steady job and paycheck, many, many people are only too happy to sign on,” he explained. “Is it wrong? Yes. Is it a common practice? Absolutely.”
Estepa has been sentenced to four years and four months in prison. Estepa Vasquez has been sentenced to three years and five months in prison.
The brothers’ attorneys have said they will appeal the sentences. Although they do not deny their client’s guilt, the attorneys argue that the judge incorrectly calculated the loss to fraud at $1.7 million. The brothers’ attorneys argue it is, in fact, lower. Since sentencing is based on the dollar amount lost, the brothers’ attorneys hope to reduce their clients’ sentences during appeals.
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