By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis – IBEW Local 1 is bannering the new St. Louis police headquarters at 1915 Olive Street to expose the fact that the city has chosen to hire a man who is a convicted embezzler to perform electrical work on the project.
The man is Thomas R. Ruzicka, who according to state records is the license holder, officer and/or director for RE Contracting, the electrical subcontractor on the police HQ project. Tri-Co General Contracting is the general contractor on the project.
Ruzicka and the companies he’s been associated with have had a checkered past with the law. It includes:
• In 2010, Ruzicka pled guilty in federal court to embezzling more than $100,000 from his employees. The story was chronicled on Aug. 8, 2010 in an article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At that time, Thomas Ruzicka’s company was called Ruzicka Electric and Sons, Inc. and also sometimes referred to as “Ruzicka Electric.” He was sentenced to two-years’ probation and ordered into a drug and alcohol abuse treatment program.
One thing that is particularly irksome for Local 1 and the building trades is that the unions in town have not only been managing their pension funds responsibly, but have reinvested those funds to help the city of St. Louis recover from the recession.
Since 2008, union pension funds have plowed about $200 million into the community to fund Park Pacific, the Laurel, the Council Tower Apartments and the Cortona at Forest Park, a five-story apartment complex being built on the site of the old Arena. Yet the city decides to go with a convicted embezzler of pension funds who fails to comply with state prevailing wage laws and has a track record of not paying taxes.
“The building trades have invested millions of dollars in building things in this city and you’ve got a guy here that has the pension fund – the 401(k) money for his employees – and he puts it in his pocket rather than putting it in the fund,” Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs said.
•Records from Case.net, the state of Missouri's public judicial records website, show that from 2010 through the present RE Contracting has repeatedly failed to pay state taxes and unemployment contributions on time. There are three unsatisfied liens and/or certificates of assessment against RE Contracting from July 2013 through September 2013 for unpaid taxes and penalties totaling more than $13,000 and unemployment contributions and penalties totaling more than $8,600.
• While Thomas Ruzicka was operating Ruzicka Electric & Sons, the Missouri Department of Labor cited the company several times for state prevailing wage violations, including for the firm’s work on Carnahan Middle School in the City of St. Louis. The company failed to pay employees more than $140,000 in wages and benefits for work on that project.
• Prior to the dissolution of Ruzicka Electric & Sons , various creditors and suppliers obtained judgments against Ruzicka Electric & Sons while the Missouri Department of Revenue and Division of Employer Security filed multiple liens and certificates against the firm for unpaid taxes and/or unpaid unemployment contributions.
CITY INFORMED OF PROBLEM
Jacobs said Local 1 presented the City of St. Louis with details of Ruzicka’s checkered past with the law and issues concerning the companies he has been associated with. It shared with the city information obtained through the Sunshine Act and from public records.
“He’s been through a litany of name changes and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the name changes have been caused from some kind of illegal action, whether it’s prevailing wage violations, embezzling from his employees or failure to make unemployment contributions, and there have been tax problems all along the way,” Jacobs said. “We’re looking for the city to uphold the responsible bidder aspect of this. They were the low bidder, but in our mind, they weren’t the lowest responsible bidder.”
Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis Slay, said Tri-Co. submitted the low bid for the project.
Rainford said the City attempted to have Tri-Co remove RE Contracting as the subcontractor after learning of the prevailing wage issue, but a lawyer for RE Contracting informed the City that the matter had been “cleaned up,” and the City had no legal standing to debar the company. The City Counselor’s office agreed.
“It is not uncommon in city government that following the law can lead to a result that we find unsavory or unsatisfactory,” Rainford said. “The money that we use at City Hall is not ours; it’s the taxpayers’. And not following the law would cost the taxpayers a lot of money.”
Rainford said, the City was sensitive to the concerns of Local 1, but its hands were tied.
“At a certain level, we agree with them,” Rainford said. “But we have an obligation to do things within the parameter of the law.”
TAXPAYERS AND DONORS DESERVE TO KNOW
Last week, Local 1 initiated a campaign to inform the public about the decision by the city to hire a person who pled guilty to embezzling money from his employees and who is associated with companies that have failed to pay creditors, employees, and vendors, violated state prevailing wage laws, and have failed to pay taxes and unemployment contributions on time, to help build the $6.3 million law enforcement project.
Jacobs said Local 1 will continue bannering at the new police headquarters building Dec. 2, when a billboard is going up on Highway 40 leading into downtown conveying the same message about Ruzicka’s work on the police headquarters project.
Jacobs said the St. Louis Police are supporting Local 1 and its actions.
“We feel the taxpayers and donors to the St. Louis Police Foundation, which is contributing $3 million to the new police headquarters, deserve to know how their money is being spent,” Jacobs said.
CRIMINAL IN POLICE HQ
Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said it was concerning to have someone with a criminal background doing work on the City’s police headquarters.
“It’s not good for the folks who are working in that building to have to work in a building where it’s not built with union craftsmanship, and it’s particularly distributing to think of folks with a questionable background being behind closed doors doing work on a building of that nature,” Roorda said.
“This isn’t a social experiment. If we want to rehabilitate criminals we should do it elsewhere, not in a police building.”