Lawsuit Reveals New Allegations Against PG&E Contractor Accused of Fraud

In this Dec. 16, 2019, file photo, is a man walking past a Pacific Gas and Electric sign on a PG&E building in San Francisco.

In this Dec. 16, 2019, file photo, is a man walking past a Pacific Gas and Electric sign on a PG&E building in San Francisco. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Former Pacific Gas and Electric employees are accused of taking bribes to funnel business to a waste-hauling company.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric accused two of its former employees of accepting bribes to funnel business to a waste-hauling company after the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history.

One supervisor for PG&E allegedly had his driveway paved on the power company’s dime. A subordinate is accused of having received a bribe in an unorthodox property transfer of a multimillion-dollar house in a wealthy suburb of San Francisco.

A new court filing by PG&E alleges that in exchange for these kickbacks, the employees provided lucrative clean-up jobs to Hayward-based Bay Area Concrete Recycling.

The allegations track closely with the results of an investigation last year by ProPublica and the Bay City News Foundation, which found that PG&E had overlooked numerous warning signs when it hired Bay Area Concrete. The company is owned and managed by the husband-wife team Yadwinder “Kevin” Singh and Preet Johal, according to local and state documents. The firm was tied to illegal dumping on federally protected wetlands and had engaged in a long conflict with regulators in the city of Hayward, where Bay Area Concrete operates a dump. Later, the news agencies revealed a suspicious real estate transaction that connected Singh and one of the PG&E employees. Singh did not respond to requests for comment.

PG&E’s filing is in response to a breach of contract lawsuit filed against the utility in October by Bay Area Concrete. Dawn Sweatt, an attorney for Bay Area Concrete, said her clients “vehemently deny” the allegations by PG&E. “The allegations are patently false and not supported by the evidence,” she said. “The litigation process will make this clear in time.”

The accused PG&E employees, Ronald Huggins Jr. and Ryan Kooistra, did not respond to requests for comment. Huggins retired, and Kooistra sold his home and moved out of state after being confronted by PG&E investigators, the counterclaim by PG&E said.

In a statement, PG&E spokesperson James Noonan called the alleged actions of Bay Area Concrete “completely unacceptable.”

“We will pursue every available action to remedy the situation and do right by those that we have the privilege to serve,” Noonan said. “As we have stated previously, PG&E will continue to hold ourselves and those that do work on our behalf to the highest ethical standards.”

The new court filings show that PG&E had a longer business relationship with Bay Area Concrete than previously known. PG&E first started disposing of waste in the company’s Hayward yard in 2016, and the business expanded to include the cleanup of PG&E yards throughout Northern California.

That business grew substantially in November 2018, when a PG&E transmission line sparked a wildfire in Butte County that destroyed more than 18,000 structures and killed 85 people. PG&E hired Bay Area Concrete to dispose of waste from hydrovac trucks — special vacuum trucks that use pressurized water for precise excavation. Bay Area Concrete opened a dump in Paradise to take the waste from the cleanup.

In its suit, Bay Area Concrete alleged that it had saved PG&E millions of dollars by doing disposal work in Paradise more cheaply than a competitor. Bay Area Concrete also said that it continued to work for PG&E as other companies fled when the utility declared bankruptcy in January 2019. At the time, PG&E owed Bay Area Concrete nearly $4 million, according to bankruptcy filings. Bay Area Concrete stuck around and opened a new dump on PG&E property in Petaluma. According to the disposal company, it racked up $14 million in unpaid invoices. Bay Area Concrete has said that PG&E’s accusations of fraud are false and the bankrupt utility was just trying to get out of paying its bills.

PG&E’s counterclaim, filed earlier this month, names Bay Area Concrete, both former PG&E employees, Singh, Johal, several of their other companies and Bay Area Concrete CEO Kevin Olivero as defendants.

PG&E alleges that Kooistra and Huggins steered PG&E contracts to Bay Area Concrete and other companies controlled by Singh and Johal. As a result, the value of Bay Area Concrete’s contracts with PG&E increased “exponentially” over a period of four years, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, competing companies lost work with PG&E.

PG&E did not say how much the utility believes it was overcharged by Bay Area Concrete as it continues to investigate. Public records show that the company’s income increased substantially, from $16.5 million to $43.5 million, after receiving a contract to dispose of waste in connection with the Paradise fire.

Here’s how the scheme worked, according to PG&E’s allegations in court filings. Bay Area Concrete overcharged for travel time while hauling and billed PG&E for work that was never done or was unnecessary. The complaint alleges that Huggins and Kooistra approved the overbilled work in exchange for kickbacks. The pair were careful to keep Bay Area Concrete’s purchase orders low enough that Huggins would not have to seek approval from his supervisors.

To pay the bribes, Singh used a series of real estate transactions involving a 5,600-square-foot home in Saratoga to transfer money to Kooistra, PG&E alleges. The Bay City News Foundation and ProPublica first reported the exchange, which one expert described as possible money laundering.

PG&E’s court filing alleges that Regal Rose LLC, a shell company established by Singh, was also in possession of a property in Arizona when it was transferred to Kooistra.

Another shell company, CCI Management, was owned by Kooistra and acted as a subcontractor for Bay Area Concrete in Paradise. According to PG&E’s complaint, CCI did hauling work for Bay Area Concrete, which would submit invoices directly to PG&E. PG&E paid CCI $150,000 over five weeks without knowing that the company was owned by Kooistra, a violation of PG&E employment and supplier policies. PG&E alleges that Huggins was aware of Kooista’s actions and did not disclose them.

In late 2019, PG&E learned of the alleged fraud and launched an investigation. Kooistra was interviewed in January 2020 by PG&E investigators, who confronted him with evidence of his interest in companies connected to Bay Area Concrete. According to the countercomplaint, Kooistra denied any wrongdoing or having an interest in the companies, despite the interest being disclosed in public records. PG&E asked Kooistra to turn over his company-issued phone, which he did, but he refused to provide his passcode so investigators could access text messages and other data. Two days later, Kooistra quit his job, according to the complaint. He sold his home in Rocklin and moved to Arizona.

PG&E alleges that Huggins approved false invoices and concealed fraudulent charges throughout PG&E’s contract with Bay Area Concrete. In exchange, the lawsuit alleges, a company linked to Johal and Singh repaved Huggins’ driveway while they were supposed to be working on a PG&E job. When confronted by PG&E investigators, Huggins told the investigators he had paid the $16,750 bill in cash, which he happened to have on hand in his house. Four days later, he retired.

In February 2020, PG&E canceled Bay Area Concrete’s contracts and publicly announced its belief that the waste company had committed fraud.

Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey said last year that PG&E alerted his office to the allegations against Bay Area Concrete. Ramsey said in an email that he received no further information from PG&E but had determined that his office did not have jurisdiction in the case.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
A large urban park creates a "connected" visitor experience with SMART.NODEs™
Sydney NSW, Australia
Community feedback increases 13x in Lancaster, PA with both offline and online engagement methods
Lancaster, PA, USA
Firefighters Use a Thermal Imaging Camera to Make a Lifesaving Grab
Palm Bay, FL, USA

NEXT STORY: 'I Need to Find Water, and I Need to Find it Now': A Local Official Takes Disaster Relief Into Her Own Hands

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.