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TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that the payroll manager for a Bergen County construction company pleaded guilty today to demanding cash kickbacks from employees and failing to pay them for numerous hours of work to circumvent prevailing wage rules on public works projects. The company, UniMak, LLC, of Saddle Brook, N.J., entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the Attorney General’s Office last month under which it agreed to pay $1 million to seven employees who were cheated out of earned wages.
The payroll manager, Toni Jovanoski, 44, of Montvale, N.J., pleaded guilty today before Superior Court Judge James X. Sattely in Bergen County to third-degree false contract payment claims for a government contract (prevailing wage violations) and third-degree misconduct by a corporate official. The state will recommend that Jovanoski be sentenced to a five-year term of probation. Under the plea agreement, Jovanoski must pay the New Jersey Department of the Treasury $23,913 in back taxes related to these offenses. He also is jointly and severally liable with UniMak for payment of full restitution of $1,082,041 to the seven victims. Sentencing is scheduled for June 4.
Under the non-prosecution agreement, UniMak and its principals, owners and directors are debarred for three years from securing new contracts with the State of New Jersey or any of its administrative or political subdivisions. The company must report quarterly for three years to the Division of Criminal Justice about its prevailing wage compliance and oversight of subcontractor compliance.
The criminal charges and non-prosecution agreement are the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General-Newark Field Office, and New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigation. The investigation was undertaken as a result of a criminal referral by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, who also provided valuable assistance during the investigation.
“We’re committed to using all available tools, including criminal prosecutions, to protect our workers and the integrity of our public contracts,” said Attorney General Grewal. “New Jersey’s Prevailing Wage Act is intended to safeguard the interests and well-being of workers on public projects and prevent unfair competition among contractors bidding for such projects. We won’t tolerate corporate officials who cheat their workers and illegally enrich themselves and their businesses with public funds.”
“We’re putting dishonest contractors on notice that we will hold them accountable by aggressively investigating and prosecuting prevailing wage violations and fraud in public projects,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend our attorneys, detectives, and analysts in the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as our partners— the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, the New Jersey Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigation, and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.”
“An important part of the mission of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations relating to defrauding workers out of their lawful wages and benefits. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, and federal and state Wage and Hour Divisions to investigate these types of allegations,” stated Michael C. Mikulka, Special Agent-in-Charge, New York Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.
“Public contracting is a privilege. Prevailing wage laws were enacted to protect honest, hard-working employees from unscrupulous employers. The law worked as intended for these employees, who are receiving the back wages they rightfully earned, and for the contractor, who has been debarred,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “We were glad to provide the information that helped bring justice in this case.”
For more than five years, from January 2013 through February 2018, UniMak engaged in public works projects subject to the provisions of the Prevailing Wage Act. During that period, Jovanoski, as payroll manager, failed to pay seven employees the mandated prevailing wages for hours they worked on such projects by requiring cash kickbacks from the employees. Specifically, the employees received paychecks for work they completed that included a note indicating how much each of them was required to kick back to Jovanoski in cash. They were required to pay Jovanoski the amount on the note, or they would not receive subsequent paychecks.
By paying the kickbacks, the employees’ wages were reduced to less than the prevailing wage rates required. In addition, Jovanoski failed to pay the seven employees for numerous hours of overtime and, in many cases, regular work hours they worked on the public works projects.
Deputy Attorney General Gezim Bajrami is prosecuting the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. DAG Bajrami, Detective Sang Han, former Detective Robyn Greene, and former Analyst Terri Drumm investigated for the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Lt. Michael Fallon, Deputy Bureau Chief Jacqueline Smith, Bureau Chief Erik Daab, and DCJ Deputy Director Annmarie Taggart.
Attorney General Grewal thanked the Special Agents of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General-Newark Field Office and Auditor Kerry Czymek of the New Jersey Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigation for their work on the investigation. He also thanked the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development for their referral and valuable assistance.
Defense Attorney for Jovanoski: Matthew E. Beck, Esq., Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi P.C., West Orange, N.J.
Attorneys for UniMak, LLC: Lawrence S. Lustberg, Esq., Meghal J. Shah, Esq., Gibbons P.C., Newark, N.J.