Contractor questioned over role in courthouse square project

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By Kenny Colston

A contractor for the Courthouse Square Boulevard project has come under more scrutiny for its relationship with Earl Walker, a businessman in a legal dispute with the city of La Grange over the city’s business license fees.


During a hearing on whether Walker violated stop work and restraining orders from Circuit Court Judge Karen Conrad as a result of not paying the licensing fees to the city since 2012, Walker’s role with L and E Construction, one of several contractors on the Courthouse Square project, was called into question.

The project has been delayed several months by weather and by Walker’s issues with the city of La Grange, Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele said at a recent meeting of the county Fiscal Court.

But he said the project would likely still be finished in December, although that was before Walker’s latest court appearance, which Voegele observed.

The basis of the violation of the stop work order was multiple sightings of Walker, as well as trucks with the name of his company, Earl Walker Concrete Construction, on site at the courthouse project, La Grange City Attorney Steve Emery said. After the violation, Emery sought and was granted the restraining order in November, which Emery said Walker violated again when he was spotted on the construction site on Nov. 24.

Chris Stewart, an attorney for Walker, alleges his client is an employee of L and E, not a contractor or subcontractor on the project, and thereby his participation in the project isn’t in violation of the stop work order issued in 2012.

“Mr. Walker has not been working in his individual or corporate capacity in the project out here,” Stewart said at a hearing Monday. “That means he’s an employee and Mr. Walker maintains he’s only an employee.”

To prove that point, Stewart offered Juan Luis Tapia, the owner of L and E Construction according to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website, as a witness to Walker’s status with the company.

After some basic questions from Stewart about whether he owned the company and was the boss, which Tapia initially confirmed, those statements became unraveled upon questioning by Emery.

Tapia, who said he spoke very little English, told Emery he “did not know” who formed L and E Construction and who submitted the bid to do concrete work on the Courthouse Square project.

“Yeah I think so,” Tapia initially said when asked if he submitted the paperwork for L and E with the state secretary of state’s office. “But I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Upon further questioning by Emery, Tapia admitted he had known Walker for “16-17 years” as an employee of Walker’s. Tapia said he had only formed L and E Construction a couple of months ago just before the project was put up for a bid.

And after multiple questions, Tapia seemed to confirm Walker had asked him to form L and E Construction as its owner and to bid on the project.

“I don’t know who bid on it,” Tapia said repeatedly.

After the confusing and conflicting answers, Conrad told Tapia he must answer truthfully, both in English and Spanish. And at that point, Tapia confirmed he did not know who filed the business paperwork or who bid on the project.

But he maintained that on the project, he was the boss and Walker was only there “to help,” and that no money had been given to Walker for the project.

“We’ve not been paid yet,” Tapia said. “When I get paid I will pay him.”

But a review of the county’s claims list shows L and E Construction had submitted an invoice of $2,140 on Nov. 30, which was approved for payment at the Fiscal Court’s Dec. 2 meeting.

After Tapia’s testimony, Walker himself took the stand as a witness, maintaining his role only as an employee on the project.

But he also admitted he had seen “blueprints” of the project nearly two years ago, as a contractor on another county project in Buckner.

Walker maintained his company has been inactive since 2010 and he was only working on the courthouse project “as a favor to Juan.”

“I don’t know who did it,” Walker said of the formation of L and E Construction and its bid on the project. “I don’t have anything to do with L and E or Juan.”

But Emery said it was unlikely Walker was just an employee of a man he had been the boss of for almost 20 years.

“What we have here is two men trying to convince this court that a man that speaks almost no English started a business and put in a bid for $70,000 when he says he doesn’t know much about the business,” Emery said. “This is just egregious.”

Walker also maintained he did not violate the restraining order preventing him from working on the project.

“I have not been on that work site since I was told not to be on that work site,” Walker said.

But Mary Ann Smith, a receptionist for the city, was presented as a witness to dispute that claim by Emery.

Smith said she saw Walker at the fence line of the project on the morning of Nov. 24, placing his hands on the fence and seemingly conversing with workers on the site for “45 minutes.”

Smith said she didn’t get close enough to Walker to hear what he was saying or to know for certain that he was instructing any workers, but maintained she stood across Main Street for nearly an hour watching Walker “on the site.”

But Stewart maintained Walker was outside the fence line, therefore not on the job site, and that Smith couldn’t prove he was actually working on the site.

“How do you know if he was actually working?” Stewart asked.

After more than an hour of testimony, most of which was watched by County Judge-Executive David Voegele, Conrad did not give an instant ruling on whether Walker violated the restraining order.

But she made her thoughts clear based on the testimony she heard.

“If he’s an employee is not the issue here,” Conrad said. “It’s was this done in a way to allow Walker Construction to get a job up here in the city (in violation of the stop work order).”

Conrad said she wasn’t likely to set aside a previous motion for damages and a default judgment, because the city was “entitled to a stop work order” based on Walker not paying the business license fee.

She added Tapia’s testimony was “strange for a guy who owns a business.”

“He did not know who put in a bid and yet he owns the company?” Conrad said. “This testimony today is such, it just sounds like Mr. Walker was able to get his good friend Juan the bid.”

Conrad said she would try to get a ruling on the violation of the restraining order within a few days, but encouraged Emery and Stewart to come to a resolution before then.

Emery said he was at the mercy of Mayor Bill Lammlein on how much the city was willing to accept as a settlement, but said the previous offer was around $2,600, not including his most recent attorney fees.

Conrad said the two sides needed to find some resolution, because as long as Walker was unable to work on the courthouse project, it would be unlikely he could pay what he owed the city.

“I think it’s clear Mr. Walker has to do the work,” she said. “L and E can’t do the work without him.”

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