June 25, 2024

Travis Slaughter was threatened with incarceration for over a year unless he paid $2.2 million in penalties to the federal authorities. Then, his fortunes took a turn for the worse.

Just days prior to the construction contractor from Jacksonville’s scheduled court date last week, a grand jury indicted Slaughter and his brother, Tripp, on fresh fraud and tax charges. The new indictments carry potential prison sentences and an additional $3 million in debt even if the current fines are paid off.

The brothers, who were originally roofing contractors in partnership, have recently been accused of evading about $2.8 million in payroll taxes. They allegedly hired undocumented immigrants using a scheme similar to one that resulted in prison sentences for a father-son team of builders in January.

“[T]he defendants evaded making millions of dollars in additional payroll taxes to the IRS … [and] paid out millions of dollars less in premiums to workers’ compensation insurers,” the prosecutors charged.

According to the Feb. 22 indictment, the brothers’ cost-cutting efforts had dire consequences. These included “failure to offer sufficient workers’ compensation insurance coverage … and enabling the employment of workers who were not legally authorized to work in the United States.”

Travis Slaughter, 51, is faced with a more extensive list of charges — 18 in total as compared to his 48-year-old brother, Tripp. His charges include four counts of submitting false tax returns. However, both of them could potentially face years in prison for allegations of mail and wire fraud conspiracy, conspiring to defraud the government, and tax crimes.

This indictment comes amidst a prolonged legal battle Travis Slaughter has had with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency managed to obtain a court decision in 2020 to hold him in contempt over non-payment of $2.2 million in fines resulting from a series of inspections.

Construction workers scale a roof of a building under construction in the SilverLeaf development in St. Johns County in this 2020 photo.

A Jacksonville judge, whom the appeals court appointed to review the case, reported in 2021 that Slaughter “willfully and intentionally avoided compliance” with court directives to pay. He suggested the appellate judges approve sending him to jail to force him to deal with the civil case.

A hearing regarding the fines had been scheduled with U.S. District Senior Judge Harvey Schlesinger on Wednesday. However, it was just when the indictment was made public, and the criminal case was also assigned to Schlesinger.

The brothers turned themselves in for arraignment on Feb. 24, pleaded not guilty, and were released without needing to post bond. Their lawyers did not respond to requests for comments.

The indictment alleges that the brothers controlled three companies — Great White Construction, Florida Roofing Experts, and 5 Star Roofing Services. They apparently provided fraudulent data to the companies they contracted as “professional employer organizations,” or PEOs. The PEOs were responsible for managing withholding tax payments to the government as well as some premiums for workers’ comp insurance.

According to the indictment, only a portion of the roofer’s payroll was processed through PEOs, making the payroll appear legitimate. The rest of the payment was made in cash by crew leaders to avoid paying withholding tax.

“Many of these workers were foreign nationals living and working in the United States unlawfully,” the indictment stated.

Between 2017 and mid-2020, employees of these companies were paid $4.9 million through PEOs and an additional $18.5 million in cash, the indictment claims.

In addition to potential jail time for the brothers, federal prosecutors are seeking a $3 million forfeiture from them. They claim this amount to be the proceeds from the fraud conspiracy.

The “split payments” system between PEOs and crew leaders, as depicted in the indictment, is very similar to the one confessed to by two other local contractors, Raul Solis and Raul Solis-Martinez. They were guilty of conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and were sentenced to 33 months and 21 months imprisonment, respectively, in January.

Simultaneously, while the Slaughters’ case is being looked into, OSHA’s attempts to enforce its fines have also been halted. In light of the indictments and their potential impact on the debt recovery process, a U.S. Labor Department attorney’s request for more time led Schlesinger to postpone the hearing on Slaughter’s OSHA debt until May 3.