$1.5M fine levied against ex-Peoria Heights construction firm chief

The former head of a Peoria-area construction firm, which 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 to fraud in connection with the deals, The Associated Press has learned.

Thomas J. Williams entered his guilty plea to two counts of mail fraud late Wednesday afternoon in Sangamon County Circuit Court in a case that had been sealed up to that point, according to Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which shared details of the case with the AP in advance of general release early Thursday.  

Williams, 81, of Peoria Heights, also was sentenced to 2½ 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 in renovating historic Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 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 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 Wednesday night. Messages left for his attorney, Michael Monaco of Chicago, were not immediately returned.  

Williams resigned as president of the company in February in a decision unrelated to the plea deal, Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said.  

The Capital Development Board referred the matter to Madigan’s office in June 2011, Bauer said. She did not immediately know what raised the agency’s suspicions. 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.  

Williams Brothers won a $38 million contract as part of the three-year, $64 million renovation of Lincoln Hall at the U of I, 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 of that contract be paid to a minority-owned subcontractor.  

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 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 Wednesday night 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.