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More woes for PBS&J as it probes possible corrupt payments to foreign officials

By Dan Christensen, browardbulldog.orgpbsjLogo

PBS&J, the giant Florida-based government contractor already rocked by a pay to play scandal that led to guilty pleas by two of its former chairmen, has informed the Justice Department and federal securities regulators that it is investigating other possible crimes involving its overseas construction projects.

“The purpose of the internal investigation is to determine whether any laws have been violated, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [FCPA], in connection with certain projects undertaken by PBS&J International Inc., one of the company’s subsidiaries, in certain foreign countries,” chief financial officer Donald J. Vrana wrote in Dec. 30 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C.

The FCPA prohibits corrupt payments to foreign officials for the purpose of obtaining or keeping business.

PBS&J spokeswoman Kathe Riley Jackson declined to discuss the inquiry or identify the countries. “Due to the internal investigation we can’t say anymore at this time,” she said.

The company’s website says its “global pursuits” have centered on prominent projects in the Middle East, North Africa, the Caribbean and South America, Europe and Australia.” Two of the biggest are the so-called “Dubai Smile” – a spectacular inverted steel arch bridge astride Dubai Creek in the United Arab Emirates – and an 11-mile light rail transit project in Lusail, Qatar.

PBS&J is an employee-owned engineering, planning and construction firm with 3,900 employees in 80 offices nationwide. It has annual 2008 revenues of $468.2 million, and in 2006 switched its longtime South Florida headquarters to Tampa.

In Broward, PBS&J continues to do business with various governments as it has for decades. Its highest profile job today is as co-leader of the design engineering team for the county’s $810 million runway expansion at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

PBS&J contributes heavily to the campaigns of federal, state and local politicians to get favorable consideration for such lucrative jobs. But two years ago, two immediate past PBS&J chairmen pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami to running an illegal campaign contribution scheme that went on for decades, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and involved officers at all levels of the company.

The scheme was discovered in the wake of a $36 million embezzlement of company funds that sent Vrana’s predecessor and two other ex-employees to federal prison.

Prosecutors referred PBS&J to the Federal Election Commission for civil action. But in a case of political gridlock, the agency recently chose not to enforce the law against PBS&J. [See Broward Bulldog, Dec. 18]

The new investigation into possible corruption involving company officials in foreign countries does not appear to be related to the campaign contribution scandal.

PBS&J disclosed its internal investigation in filings that explain why it did not file its required annual 10-K financial report for 2009. The company’s fiscal year ended Sept. 30, and the report was due at the end of December.

PBS&J said its inquiry has yet to reveal whether the company’s “internal controls over financial reporting” were compromised, or to determine whether the company’s financial statements will be impacted by what happened.

Nevertheless, PBS&J told the SEC that when it does file its annual report it expects to report a 53 percent hike in annual net income from $15.5 million in 2008 to $23.6 million in 2009.

PBS&J said it informed federal authorities about the “circumstances” of its investigation.

“Should the SEC or DOJ decide to conduct its own investigation, the company will cooperate fully,” says the filing. “The company cannot predict with certainty at this time the final outcome of [its] investigation or any investigation that the SEC or DOJ may conduct, including any fines or penalties that may be imposed.”

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  • tenacious reporting regarding one of south florida’s finest corporate citizens

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