NY Construction Firm Issued Fraud Safety Cards

MONDAY, MARCH 4, 2024


A recent investigation found that a New York construction safety firm provided fraudulent safety certificates and cards to about 20,000 students.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr., New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber and New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Jimmy Oddo announced the New York State Supreme Court indictment of Valor Security and Investigations, including six of its executives and employees, for operating a sham safety training school at the end of last month.

In addition to the indictment, the company and four individuals are also charged with reckless endangerment after one man who supposedly received training from Valor fell to his death.

Investigation Findings

According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, Valor purported to have trained approximately 20,000 students between December 2019 and April 2023, making it the third-largest producer of safety certifications in the city during that time period.

Valor also reportedly claimed to provide “safety training, safety inspections, safety plans and security services” to “assure our clients remain in full compliance with all regulatory agencies.”

However, based on the investigation, Valor, its executives and its employees engaged in a three-and-a-half-year scheme to issue thousands of safety certificates and cards without actually providing any training.

Valor, its President Alexander Shaporov, Training Director Richard Marini, Instructor Eliot Sosinov, General Manager Nigina Zokirova, Compliance Director Marina Balzer and Director Of Business Development Rimma Chakhalyan have been charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Enterprise Corruption, including 261 pattern acts related to their yearslong scheme.

They are also charged with multiple counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree.

The Manhattan Attorney General’s offices says that Valor employees had longstanding payment arrangements with brokers to obtain 40-hour safety cards, supervisor cards and specialized training cards within days, overnight, or even within the same day, but then were often backdated.

Valor reportedly charged anywhere from $300 to $600 per filing for a basic safety training card, usually in cash. Emails and text messages also allegedly showed the communications between brokers and Valor employees furthering the alleged fraud.

For example, on Jan. 28, 2021, Shaporov—also an employee of the New York State Office of Medicaid Inspector General at the time—emailed his staff dozens of photographs and identification cards of “trainees” with the subject line: “40 SST and whoever doesn’t have OSHA MAKE ONE UP.”

On April 17, 2023, one of the charged brokers, NYCHA employee Colm McGread, 35, texted Marini to ask “[h]ow fast” he could obtain a “40hr” safety training certificate. Marini reportedly replied: “Tomorrow after 5pm.”

Valor also reportedly filed fraudulent documents with the DOB and Occupational Safety and Health Administration claiming that its trainers had taught safety classes in Brooklyn when the purported trainers were in Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Staten Island.

In some instances, the company claimed its trainers conducted trainings in three different states—New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—or five different sites on the same day.

Additionally, Valor filed documents with the DOB claiming to have given safety training to hundreds of students despite video surveillance showing empty classrooms. The defendants even filed safety certificates for students with “LNU,” an abbreviation for last name unknown, the investigation found.

As part of the investigation, undercover workers purchased 40-hour safety certificates without taking any training classes and received the requested certificates within an hour. Valor then allegedly submitted a scantron to the DOB for a completed safety test on behalf of an undercover investigator, which the investigator had never seen or completed.

In addition to providing OSHA and SST cards, Valor reportedly conducted more specialized training such as “Site Safety Manager,” “Master Rigger,” “Hoisting Machine Operator,” “Master Climber,” and “Limited gas work” courses.

At least four VALOR employees—including Zokirova, Balzer, Chakhalyan and Shaporov—purportedly submitted fraudulent resumes to OSHA to obtain their teaching credentials to be able to teach and issue safety certificates. Two of these trainers claimed that they gained some of the required high-rise inspection construction experience when they were only 16- and 17-years-old.

Financial records show nearly $1 million in Zelle payments deposited into Shaporov’s personal account, mostly in small amounts consistent with the cost of the safety courses, which enabled him to purchase multiple homes, luxury cars, jewelry, a yacht and more, the investigation found.

In November 2022, a 36-year-old construction worker died when he fell from the 15th floor of a construction site. While Valor had filed paperwork certifying that the worker, Ivan A. Frias, had completed 10 hours of safety training, including eight hours of fall protection, the company never provided any training to Frias.

Consequently, Shaporov, Marini, Zokirova and Valor have been charged with one count of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree for their role in his death. Additionally, Luz Barbra, the broker who allegedly provided the fake training certificate for Frias, is charged with Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree.

“In the construction industry, fraud can mean life or death—not only for the individuals working on the site, but for the general public that moves around them every single day. We allege that Valor Security & Investigations ran a fraudulent safety training school, falsely claiming that construction workers received the necessary training required to work on construction sites,” said District Attorney Bragg.

“We also allege that the death of one recipient, Ivan Frias, may have been prevented if not for the defendants’ reckless failure to train him. With our partners at DOI and DOB, we are determined to root out fraud, especially when it puts New Yorkers at risk. We will not let harm come to workers because companies want to turn a quick profit.”

The Manhattan Attorney General’s Office says that the investigation was conducted jointly with the DOI, with assistance from the DOB and OSHA.

   

Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Construction; Ethics; Fall protection; Fatalities; Fraud; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Labor; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Program/Project Management; Safety; Violations; Worker training; Workers

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