Truck drivers who worked for Excavation Construction Inc. have been arrested and jailed because the company failed to pay overweight truck tickets, according to drivers who said they spent time in lock-up on warrants for uppaid tickets.
The FBI and a federal grand jury here have been probing the relationship between Excavation Construction and Superior Court Judge Robert H. Campbell, who repeatedly suspended or revoked fines for hundreds of overweight truck tickets in all alleged patern of favoritism for the firm.
The fines were imposed and lifted after the company went to court on the tickets. In some cases, however, the company would apparently allow thousands of dollars worth of fines to accumulate in the names of the men who drove the trucks before the tickets were dealt with in the courtroom.
When drivers were stopped by police for weight checks or traffic violations - even in their own cars, routine computer checks turned up warrants on outstanding tickets, according to drivers who said they were arrested for the company's corporate failure to pay the fines. Drivers then would spend up to a day in jail waiting for a bondsman to arrange their release, they said.
According to one driver, some employes of the firm who live in the District have found themselves unable to get automobile license tags at the end of the year because of tickets the company accumulated in their names.
"I had $1,600 worth of weight tickets against me," said Ernest Wellons, who said he was stopped earlier this year and spent a day in the city's central ceil block. Wellons, and other drivers, said they were paid by the company for the time they were incarcerated.
"It was all steel and very nasty," said Wellons of the ceil block where he spent a day. "There were roaches, and it was small and cramped up. I'm glad I didn't have to spend the night," he said.
Federal prosecutors have recently subpoenaed records of 150 tickets issued in the names of drivers believed to have been employed by the multimillion dollar construction firm, according to sources. Previously, law enforcement authorities have estimated that as many as 1,400 tickets - each carrying fines of $100 to $300 - may have been issued to Excavation Construction during an almost two year period under investigation.
Police department policy on overweight tickets has undergone shifts in past years, with the tickets originally being issued in the names of driver, then being issued in the name of corporations of a period, and now being issued in the names of individual drivers again according to a police traffic division official.
Thomas McKithan, an Excavation Construction driver who had $1,450 worth of overweight tickets pending against him at one point, said that he spent 4 1/2 hours in lock-up because of outstanding tickets. "It's not a great place to spend five minutes," he said. McKithan said he was stopped on his way to work "last year sometime." When he got out of jail, he reported to work and showed his ticket in order to be paid for the time, he said.
Another driver, James Robinson, said he was stopped by U.S. Park Police and arrested with $1,600 worth of tickets pending against him. Like anyone stopped with outstanding tickets pending, the drivers could be released immediately rather than spending time in lock-up if the tickets had been paid immediately. According to drivers, instead of the tickets being paid, bond was set and a hearing scheduled.
Thomas Abbenante, an attorney who now handles such cases for Excavation Construction Inc., said that since he took over this type of work for the company in February that only one driver has been locked up. In that case, the arrest was in error, he said.
"He was released that night because the tickets had been paid," said Abbenante. "One computer said they had been and one said they hadn't said Abbenante. "You know how D.C. government is."
Abbenante said that in some cases the company may have paid or been in the process of paying tickets but that the warrant machinery would not have caught up with that fact.
Abbenante is a former law clerk to Judge Campbell, but did not represent Excavation Construction before Judge Campbell or handle such cases in the period under investigation. Abbenante said that he and the judge agreed he would not appear before the judge for one year after they parted ways, he said.
The President of the Teamsters local that represents Excavation Construction's drivers said that the union had been unaware of drivers spending time in lock-up for the company's failure to pay tickets." It has not come to our attention. Whether it came to the attention of DeBrouse and those. I can't say," said Daniel George, president of the Drivers, Chauffeurs and Helpers Local Union 639.
DeBrouse is a former president of the local, ousted by a reform slate headed by George about a year ago, whose dealings with Excavation Construction are under investigation by a federal grand jury in Baltimore. That: investigation into labor racketeering has looked into allegations that officers of the construction firm traded favors with Teamsters officials in return for concessions from the union.