CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - FOX19 has uncovered documents confirming a federal investigation into how T&T Enterprises, a trucking company based in West Chester, was able to land lucrative contracts to haul mail and equipment for the U.S. Postal Service.
A whistleblower "alleged that (T&T) has been fraudulently obtaining" the contracts "with the help of a Postal contracting employee," according to a U.S. Dept. of Labor investigator's report obtained by FOX19.
Former T&T drivers tell us that T&T hired the postal employee's two daughters to work at the company's West Chester headquarters doing office work.
And they say it was that postal contracting employee who helped owner Eric Trautman, Sr., obtain contracts in the beginning, though she no longer works for the Postal Service.
The federal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Postal Service's Office of Inspector General. Agents don't want to talk about the investigation, though, one said when reached by FOX19.
The Labor Dept. documents also reveal that T&T's owner has been under investigation multiple times by the department's Wage and Hour Division. He's been found to have violated rules governing prevailing wages and benefits for his drivers.
In an investigation that wrapped-up in December, Trautman was ordered to pay some of his drivers $30,000. However, that is only 0.2% of the $14 million T&T made off of its Postal Service contracts in Fiscal Year 2011.
For the first time, one of the whistleblowers in this case is coming forward and speaking out exclusively to FOX19 News.
Bryan Falkner was a driver at T&T from July 1999 until May 2010.
"It was a good job," he told us at a park near his home in Hamilton. "Real good job. Just got lied to a lot," he chuckled.
These days, Falkner uses a machine to help him breathe due to a potentially fatal lung disease, called pulmonary hypertension, that he does not believe is related to his work as a truck driver.
When he looks back on his days at T&T, there's a complicated mixture of affection for Trautman, the owner who hired him and would loan him money when he needed it. But there's also anger over the belief he and other drivers were taken advantage of. Falkner says they were not given what the U.S. Postal Service contracts said they were entitled to.
"After the first year you're eligible for two weeks paid vacation," Falkner said. "I was getting one week for the first five years. (Trautman) told me I couldn't have two weeks until after my fifth year anniversary. Well, I got proof otherwise. He ended-up paying me for weeks that I didn't get paid for."
Falkner says he was tipped-off about what he should've been getting by drivers working for other Postal Service contractors.
The Dept. of Labor documents show T&T drivers still being shorted vacation time even after Falkner brought the issue to Trautman's attention. So Trautman has to pay more than $2,000 to six employees.
Even more troubling is what the investigator discovered would happen when the Postal Service gave the drivers forms because of weather or traffic delays – time the drivers deserve to be paid for.
"Employees claimed that whenever they gave these forms to the employer, the employer just threw them away, and Mr. Trautman verbally confirmed that he does not pay for that time," the Labor Dept. investigator wrote.
Most drivers didn't keep a copy of the forms. So the investigator was only able to get Trautman to pay $173 to one employee.
Coming up with paperwork to prove a case like this is a common problem for workers and the attorneys who fight for them.
"Now, when you get paid you're going to get a pay stub and that sort of thing," said George Reul, Jr., an attorney at Freking & Betz in Cincinnati who specializes in representing workers in these types of cases. "But, you know, to the extent that an employee doesn't have access to records, just keep a notebook or journal. Write down the times that you're working."
But he says never take documents from your employer that don't belong to you. That could get you in legal trouble.
He says it may be all right to make a copy. But you should first seek advice from an attorney.
By now, Bryan Falkner's relationship with T&T is over. His route got shut down. He says he was offered another in Detroit but didn't want to make the move. He also believes with his seniority he deserved a local route but that it wasn't offered because Trautman suspected he was a whistleblower.
He recently got an $800 check following the Labor Department's investigation.
After eleven years at the company, we asked if he thinks the Postal Service should be using T&T's services.
"No, I don't think they should," he said. "But who am I, you know? Just another number."
If you believe your employer is breaking state or federal laws, attorney George Reul says there are laws in place to protect you as a whistleblower. In addition to the information he gives in the extended interview clip that we've posted along with this story, he says you may contact the Cincinnati Bar Association's lawyer referral service by clicking here.