- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

A Washington construction company owner is the latest defendant convicted in an ongoing, four-year investigation into corruption and kickbacks in the road-repair business in the District.

Gregorio Florentino, owner of C&F Construction, pleaded guilty last week to paying off a city inspector to approve substandard road repairs, the seventh person convicted in a wide-ranging roadway repair scam.

Florentino's company also pleaded guilty to paying the same official, former Department of Public Works employee Joseph Mathis, a kickback. The company has paid $41,000 in restitution and could be hit with a fine of up to $500,000.

Florentino, whose sentencing date has not been set, faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

"We are satisfied that justice has been served with regards to these guilty pleas," said Roger Burke Jr., the federal prosecutor in charge of the case.

Mark Biros, the attorney for Florentino and C&F Construction, said his client was a victim of unscrupulous city workers.

"They were a victim of government extortion," Mr. Biros said. "The Department of Public Works controlled what C&F was paid."

Mr. Biros added that the real story was not his client's involvement, but the ongoing investigation into the DPW.

Since the investigation began in 1997, five DPW employees have pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks that have cost the city more than $250,000.

Beginning in 1997 and lasting for more than a year, C&F performed roadwork for the District as a result of federally funded contracts. DPW is the agency responsible for approving the roadway work. Mathis was the project engineer assigned to approve C&F projects.

Mathis previously pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge and cooperated with investigators on the Florentino case. He told them he had previously told Florentino that he would falsify documents saying work for the city had been done. The resulting overpayments for work that was never done were split three ways among Mathias, Florentino and C&F Construction.

In return, Florentino agreed to provide Mathis with false concrete tickets from a private company so that Mathis could include them in the contract file. This was done to create the appearance that large amounts of concrete were delivered to the project sites.

Other guilty pleas in the case have come from five DPW employees and another contractor, Carlos Granja. His company, Granja Contracting Inc., has also pleaded guilty.

Mr. Burke said this latest guilty plea is not the end of the investigation.

Next month, former DPW employee Robert Lewis is scheduled to stand trial in a related matter. Mr. Burke would not elaborate on the length or scope of the ongoing investigation, or how many people were involved.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, classified the investigation as "significant."

In response to the ongoing probe, the DPW and the Department of Transportation have been working with the U.S. Attorney's Office to root out the corruption.

Dan Tangherlini, DPW's acting transportation director, said the department has reformed the relationship between inspectors and contractors, limiting their contact. They are also hiring new management teams, and are in the final stages of hiring a new chief engineer.

"We can't assure that someone is not going to do something wrong again," he said. "But we can make it as hard as possible. This [situation] undermines the public trust and the quality of our infrastructure, and we won't tolerate it."

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