Pennsylvania prosecutors on Thursday charged the president of an engineering and surveying services firm in an expanding investigation into allegedly corrupt contracting and billing practices within the state Transportation Department's southeastern district.
The charges against Christopher Czop, president of Czop Specter Inc. in Norristown, include corrupt organizations and seven other felony counts.
Czop is the 13th person charged by the attorney general's office since late July. Already, four other current or former Czop employees are facing charges, as are four current or former PennDOT employees in District 6, which covers Philadelphia and its four suburban counties.
Czop was arraigned Thursday in Montgomery County as part of what prosecutors say is a web of fraudulent contracting and billing schemes that have cost taxpayers millions. He was scheduled for a May 19 preliminary hearing.
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Czop's lawyer, Ethan O'Shea, said the accusations are false, misleading and based on innuendo and supposition.
"Mr. Czop has worked hard to build the engineering firm founded by his father based on quality and value for all of their clients, including PennDOT and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania," O'Shea said in a statement.
The grand jury's 15-page presentment said the panel heard evidence over the past 18 months of "widespread and massive theft, fraud, and corruption" within the district.
Prosecutors said Czop began making efforts in 2006 to influence a District 6 engineer in charge of maintenance. He allegedly hired a retired District 6 official to persuade the engineer to award contracts to Czop Specter. After that, Czop Specter won four separate contracts, including three to inspect surface work and one to inspect highway occupancy permit work in Philadelphia, prosecutors said.
He also allegedly helped the engineer write a newly consolidated contract in 2011 to inspect bridge cleaning work and, after winning it, ignored supervisors' complaints about subpar bridge cleaning work and overbilling by another contractor who was charged last year in the case. That contractor was close with the PennDOT engineer and had "protected status," prosecutors said.
In one case, a supervisor testified that Czop ordered billing approved for eight hours of daily work regardless of the actual time worked by cleaning crews, prosecutors said.
On a Delaware County surfacing inspection contract, prosecutors said, Czop hired three people as inspectors after being told to do so by District 6 supervisor. For highway occupancy permit inspections, he hired three friends or relatives of PennDOT officials as personal favors, even though at least one of them had no qualifications, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, a bridge cleaning inspector was hired by Czop because of his connections to a District 6 engineer, even though the man had no qualifications, prosecutors said.
Czop Specter was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on the contracts, prosecutors said.