Brothers Sam Saeid Afghani, 44, Agoura Hills, California, and Siamac A. Afghani, 38, Calabasas, as well as employee Renee Laws, 44, Encino, were to be arraigned earlier this week for their suspected roles in a fraud case at several government construction projects in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties totaling $1.7 million. The arraignment was carried over to Aug. 24, 2004; all three suspects were arrested July 7, 2004.
Sam Afghani is the owner of AFCO Construction, and both the owner and president/CEO of AFCO Builders Inc. Siamac Afghani is the secretary of AFCO Builders, and Renee Laws is an employee of AFCO Construction. The three were charged with multiple, felony counts of workers’ compensation insurance fraud and unemployment insurance fraud in addition to other labor code violations, including failure to pay overtime and submitting false payroll records.
All three suspects were booked at the Ventura County jail. Bail was set at $10,000 each. Each suspect faces a maximum penalty of five years in state prison. This case is being prosecuted by the Major Fraud Unit of the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
Although the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division (CDI) is the lead agency, this case was investigated by the Ventura County Underground Economy/Employer Fraud Task Force, which consists of the California Employment Development Department (EDD), the California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), the state Franchise Tax Board (FTB), the Contractors State License Board, and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
The loss to State Compensation Insurance Fund, Credit General Insurance Company, Connecticut Indemnity Company and Westport Insurance Corporation is more than $700,000. Taxes and penalties from EDD are more than $540,000, and, according to DLSE, back wages owed to employees are nearly $584,000.
The task force received information from the Carpenters/Contractors Cooperation Committee regarding several government construction projects in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties where AFCO Construction was doing work. A number of employees had alleged that AFCO Construction paid neither prevailing wages nor overtime, and paid some employees in cash. The employees also alleged that the company submitted false certified payroll records on those projects and false payroll information to its workers’ comp carriers.
Subsequent investigations at five public works projects in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties revealed that prevailing wages and overtime were indeed not paid and that some employees were in fact paid in cash.
Furthermore, some workers were required to work more than eight hours each day for $50 to $70 per day, and occasionally six days per work week with no overtime paid.
AFCO Construction reported different payroll amounts to FTB, EDD and its insurance carriers. AFCO Construction also underreported more than $4.1 million in wages from 1998 to 2002 to its insurance carriers.
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