Updated: $1.5 million restitution ordered in fraud by Lincoln Hall contractor
Updated 10:40 p.m. Thursday.
SPRINGFIELD — The former head of a Peoria-area construction firm that received nearly $60 million in state contracts for building projects at two Illinois universities was ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty late Wednesday afternoon to fraud in connection with the deals.
Thomas J. Williams entered a guilty plea to two counts of mail fraud in Sangamon County Circuit Court. Williams, 81, of Peoria Heights was also sentenced to 2-1/2 years' probation in the case before Circuit Judge John Schmidt.
Williams admitted to falsely claiming that his company would pay minority-owned subcontractors, as required by state law, for millions of dollars of work renovating the University of Illinois' historic Lincoln Hall and building a new science complex at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
In his plea, he also admitted telling the Illinois Capital Development Board, which issued the contracts, that his company would employ BJB Enterprises of Peoria, a minority-owned firm, on the projects. But BJB did no work and didn't provide any materials, according to Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office.
"Williams Brothers used this subcontractor as a front to win significant state construction contracts," Madigan, a Democrat, said in a written statement. "The company's illegal acts denied legitimate minority-owned businesses from securing public contracts and defrauded taxpayers."
Williams did not return a phone message left at his home. Messages left for his attorney, Michael Monaco of Chicago, were not immediately returned. BJB Enterprises also could not be reached.
Williams resigned as president of the company in February in a decision unrelated to the plea deal, Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said.
Williams Brothers won a multimillion-dollar contract as part of the three-year, $64 million renovation of the UI's Lincoln Hall, an iconic structure opened in 1911. The building reopened for classes last fall, and Gov. Pat Quinn hosted its February rededication. Williams Brothers' contract required that $3.3 million be paid to a minority-owned subcontractor.
The state has paid Williams Brothers $41.1 million for the Lincoln Hall work, according to Capital Development Board spokesperson Dave Blanchette. The board oversees state-funded construction projects that don't involve roads.
Of the $1.5 million Williams must pay, $500,000 will go to the UI, according to university spokesman Tom Hardy. It will be paid in two installments over the next 24 months.
Williams Brothers is no stranger to campus projects. The Capital Development Board chose the company as general contractor for the $71 million electrical and computer engineering building currently being built off Wright Street south of the Beckman Institute in Urbana. To date, the state has paid $26.7 million to Williams Brothers for work on that building, according to Blanchette.
Not only has the company done work for state-funded projects on campus, it has also contracted directly with the UI, most recently on the Ikenberry Commons residence-hall project in Champaign.
"I think we're going to evaluate the existing contracts and the relationship and talk to the Capital Development Board and see where things go from there," Hardy said.
According to the court agreement, the case's resolution precludes any future action regarding other projects, including Ikenberry Commons and the electrical and computer engineering building.
Blanchette said one of the state agency's project managers for Lincoln Hall noticed discrepancies in the paperwork in April 2011 and notified his superiors, who then got in touch with the attorney general's office.
The case was investigated and prosecuted by Madigan's public-integrity bureau, which the three-term attorney general formed in 2006 with an eye toward uncovering fraud and government abuse and waste.
The company's deal for the SIU-Edwardsville science complex was $21.5 million, of which $3.4 million was supposed to be allocated to a minority-led business. The cost of building a new science building and renovating the existing one was $78.9 million.
Bauer said she didn't expect additional charges "at this time," but added that the office continues to investigate minority-enterprise fraud "in other government contracts."
According to state comptroller's records, Williams Brothers has received $85 million in contracts from the Capital Development Board since 2010, including about half of a $37 million obligation this year. It was not immediately clear if any of that money is connected to the university work.
BJB Enterprises is not listed among companies registered with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, but comptroller records indicate a company by that name has received just one recent state payment — $7,520 from the Department of Military Affairs in 2012.