Two charged in cheating employees in prevailing wage case

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced charges Monday against two owners of C & S Electric Co. for failing to pay its employees the prevailing wage and pocketing the difference.

Thomas Robert Clifton, 50, of Lake Elmo and Earl Keith Standafer, 57, of Burnsville were each charged with one count of theft by swindle over $35,000, Freeman announced at a news conference at the United Labor Centre in Minneapolis. The swindle was perpetrated against the general contractor, but it was the electricians who were shortchanged. Both men are scheduled to make their first court appearance on Oct. 21.

Freeman said Clifton and Standafer  promised the general contractor that they would pay prevailing wage when they bid on the project but then they became cheaters because they paid less than promised.

“While these are presently only allegations in a criminal complaint, I use the word cheaters because they took hard-earned money away from workers who earned it,” Freeman said.

In the spring and summer of 2010, Donlar Construction Co. was hired by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to be the general contractor for the expansion and renovation of the student center at Normandale College in Bloomington. Donlar hired C & S to do the electrical work after it submitted the low bid, which included paying prevailing wage.

From about August 2010 to August 2011, C & S had 16 electricians on the site. The prevailing wage for them would have been $34.30 an hour in basic wages and an additional $24.20 per hour in fringe benefits under the prevailing wage provision, according to the criminal complaint. During the construction, C & S was required to regularly submit documentation to Donlar indicating it was paying its workers the prevailing wage. When C & S would submit an application for payment from Donlar, the company would only pay C & S if it had demonstrated it was paying the prevailing wage. The documents showing compliance with prevailing wage laws and the applications for funds from Donlar all were signed by Clifton or Standafer, according to the criminal complaint.

In the winter of 2011-12, a complaint was filed with Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The state agency sent a questionnaire to all C & S employees and they all indicated they were not paid the prevailing wage. In fact, at one point Clifton told a number of the employees that they would not be paid prevailing wage due to the poor economy, according to the complaint.

Freeman praised Donlar Construction Co. for paying the electricians’ back wages once they learned C & S had not paid prevailing wage. The labor and industry department had calculated that amount at $257,250. Donlar then successfully sued C & S for that money.

“Some might say, ‘isn’t this piling on?’ ” Freeman asked. “They already had to pay in a civil suit. If a thief steals from you and gets caught and says oops, here’s the money back, that doesn’t satisfy the demands society. This distorts the bidding process.”

Freeman said if they are convicted, he will ask that they be sentenced to some time behind bars.

Read the complaints:

Watch video of the press conference.