INDIANAPOLIS-- The City of Indianapolis has suspended a security company from doing work for the city for six months, according to a letter obtained by WRTV Investigates.
The city found Protection Plus, an Indianapolis-based security firm, failed to disclose to the city that a 2022 federal investigation found Protection Plus violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The security company employs security guards and off-duty police officers at well-known agencies and businesses like Citizens Energy, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indiana Convention Center.
WRTV first raised questions about Protection Plus in August 2022 after the U.S. Department of Labor announced the company had to pay $440,000 in back wages, damages and penalties.
The federal government found Protection Plus did not pay overtime to some employees for hours over 40 in a workweek, and when they did pay overtime, the company failed to accurately compute it.
For the first time, Protection Plus’ leadership, Operations Director Billy Ingles and President Marie Stanley, sat down with WRTV Investigates to explain what happened and what the company is doing to make sure workers are accurately paid.
"We haven't cheated any of our employees,” said Bill Ingles, Operations Director at Protection Plus. “They're the most important thing to us."
Protection Plus provides part-time employment to more than 300 civilian security guards and police officers looking to make some extra money.
“This wasn’t an issue of fraud or anything,” said Ingles. “This was simply a miscalculation of an overtime rate.”
WRTV Investigates found Protection Plus also faced scrutiny from the federal government back in 2018.
In 2018, Protection Plus paid 158 workers $98,949 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to 158 employees.
They also paid $25,000 in civil money penalty in the 2018 case for the willful nature of their violations, according to the DOL.
“The company did not change their pay practices after our 2018 investigation and did not pay employees the wages they were due,” Wage and Hour District Director Patricia Lewis in Indianapolis explained in 2022. “Employers must understand these failures hurt workers and their families by denying them the wages they count on to meet their needs.”
WRTV: “How did this happen? Two federal investigations?”
Ingles: “This is the emotional part for us, because it's truly an honest mistake. The calculation of overtime. We didn’t fail to pay any of our employees overtime. This was simply a miscalculation of the overtime rate."
Ingles’ name is also listed in the 2022 federal investigation as a Protection Plus employee owed money.
He received $2,317 in back wages and damages, according to the company’s attorney.
“If I felt I was cheated in any way shape or form, I wouldn't be sitting with you for this interview today,” said Ingles.
WRTV: “What protocols do you have in place to make sure this doesn't happen again?”
Ingles: “We've streamlined our pay rates. Therefore, all of our employees now make the same rate regardless of what job or what location they're working at. It's just one base rate now."
WRTV: “Are you confident this won’t happen again?”
Marie Stanley: “Yes, 100 percent. This is very personal. We always strive to be one of the best companies we can be. We’re a woman owned company and we’re very proud of that. To have something like this, it’s been very hard. It was unintentional.”
WRTV: “Can you understand why it might be difficult for some not to trust your business?”
Stanley: “It’s just human nature, when people hear something negative, then yeah, they’re going to be concerned. Our hopes that since we have business so long and we are part of the community, we have proven we are a solid company.”
Protection Plus has provided traffic control and security for the City of Indianapolis and is now suspended from doing any work for the city.
WRTV: “Was this a big deal for the city to take this action?”
Ingles: “Of course, it is. We've had a relationship with the city since 1988. It’s hurtful to us. We are going to comply with whatever they think is appropriate. And that’s what we’ve done in the circumstances here is we’ve complied with the city and their determinations.”
WRTV: “Has everything been paid? Have all employees been made whole?”
Ingles: “We’ve been in full cooperation and compliance with everything. We’ve done what we can on our end to streamline it. We no longer offer different pay rates to our employees. We’ve made one baseline payrate for them so that eliminates the weighted average or the blending of overtime rates.”
But not everyone agrees Protection Plus is doing its best to pay workers.
WRTV Investigates met with a sworn police officer who has worked for Protection Plus.
The officer received a check for back wages after the 2022 federal investigation.
"Bad business catches up to you eventually,” said the worker. “It was great to get that money back that I know I was legally owed."
The worker WRTV spoke with did not want to be identified out of fear of retaliation. The officer doubted Protection Plus made an innocent mistake.
"I would consider it greed,” said the worker. “Simple as that."
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, a union that represents security officers in Indianapolis, has also raised concerns about Protection Plus.
"I think Indianapolis working families deserve better,” said Genie Kastrup, president of SEIU Local 1.
SEIU Local 1 does not represent Protection Plus. Protection Plus is not unionized.
"The workers should not have to worry, am i being paid correctly for my overtime? " asked Kastrup. “Clearly they've had questionable business practices. They've been found guilty not once but twice."
Some agencies have stopped using Protection Plus, including the Marion County Public Health Department, which started using in-house security after our story aired last summer.
“Since late 2022, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County has been in the process of bringing all security services in-house,” said Curt Brantingham, spokesperson for the health department. “We do not currently have any Protection Plus personnel providing security services.”
The City of Indianapolis’ six-month suspension of Protection Plus began on May 5 and ends on November 5, records show.
"We are calling on the city to make it more permanent,” said Kastrup.
SEIU Local 1 is pushing the Capital Improvement Board (CIB), which operates Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center, to stop using Protection Plus.
The CIB is partially funded by tax revenues including hotel/motel tax, food and beverage tax, and auto rental tax.
"Our ask to the board is to terminate the contract and hire a responsible contractor based on the fact that it is receiving public money,” said Kastrup.
WRTV Investigates reached out to the Capital Improvement Board, but the CIB declined our request for an on camera interview.
“We are reviewing PPI's performance under our existing agreement to ensure they are complying with its terms,” said Monica Braise, Public Information & Marketing Manager for the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, in an email to WRTV.
The City of Indianapolis also declined to provide someone for an on-camera interview regarding its suspension of Protection Plus.
A city spokesperson provided the following statement:
“The City-County has no direct or current contracts with Protection Plus, nor has any agency or department since December 2020. However, the vendor did provide traffic control services in January and February of 2023 through a purchase order in an amount less than $2,000. We are aware that some vendors with contracts with the City have subcontracted with Protection Plus. The City’s prohibition on directly contracting with Protection Plus will continue until November 5.”
WRTV Investigates also reached out to Citizens Energy regarding its contract with Protection Plus, which runs through the end of the year.
“Citizens continues to have a contract with Protection Plus for security services,” said Benjamin Easley, a spokesperson for Citizens Energy, in an email to WRTV. At this time, Citizens Energy Group plans to continue under its current arrangement with Protection Plus. Beginning next year, security services will be provided by the vendor that is selected in the coming Request For Proposal process.