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Contractor pleads guilty in Big Dig overbilling case

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jef Feeley and Beverly Ford
Bloomberg News / May 21, 2008

A major contractor for the $15 billion Big Dig project has pleaded guilty to defrauding the US government by overbilling for workers who helped construct tunnels designed to ease traffic snarls.

McCourt Construction Co., based in Boston, agreed to pay $500,000 in fines under a plea agreement reached with the government, Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak told US District Judge Richard G. Stearns. The company, which was paid $245 million for its work on the project, will be placed on three years' probation.

Wyshak said McCourt, hired to work on the project's main tunnel, overbilled the government from 2002 to 2005 by falsely reporting work was done by more experienced workers who commanded a higher rate.

"The evidence would show that workers were instructed to bill apprentices at journeymen's rates," Wyshak said at a court hearing yesterday. He said the overbilling scheme added $314,494 to the project's costs.

John Pappalardo, a lawyer for McCourt, told Stearns that some of the overbilling was the result of invoices submitted by subcontractors who worked for the construction company.

Pappalardo said after the hearing that he didn't anticipate any further prosecutions against McCourt or its officials in the case. Stearns set an Aug. 25 sentencing date for the company on the single count of conspiring to defraud the government.

Three workers from Massachusetts Electric Construction Co., a McCourt subcontractor, were convicted last year of using similar practices to bilk the government out of $80,000.

One man was sentenced to 15 months in prison, and two others received probation in exchange for their cooperation.

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