A co-owner of a Twin Cities electrical contracting company has been convicted of cheating nearly two dozen employees out of a total of $242,000 in wages by paying them far less than the law required for their work on a state highway project in the north metro and elsewhere.

Laura Plzak, 54, of Loretto, was convicted in Hennepin County District Court of 16 felony counts of theft by swindle.

County Attorney Mike Freeman praised the bench verdict issued by Judge Tamara Garcia, calling it “a good decision, based on the enormous amount of evidence gathered by the FBI and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.”

Freeman said Monday that Plzak was “driven by greed, pure and simple, and it was the hardworking electricians who suffered.”

According to the criminal complaint:

Honda Electric, which is based out of the home of Laura and Jeffrey Plzak, was the electrical subcontractor on a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project at Interstate 35W and Interstate 694 in the north metro. The legally mandated prevailing wage for electricians on that job was $58.50 an hour, but one of the workers told state investigators in late 2010 that he was paid $17 an hour.

The worker provided investigators with timesheets and pay stubs from some of the pay periods between Aug. 24, 2010, and Oct. 6, 2010. The stubs showed fewer hours worked than what he had reported on his timesheets.

In all, 22 employees were shortchanged $242,000 for their work from 2010 through 2012.

Garcia wrote in her verdict that Plzak submitted bids for government work promising to pay the higher prevailing wage “without any intention of fulfilling those promises.” Further, the judge continued, Plzak admitted falsifying government forms to make it appear that her workers were receiving the prevailing wage.

The work Honda Electric did, besides several road projects, included assignments at the Bois Forte Reservation in northern Minnesota, the University of Minnesota and the Three Rivers Park District.

The most serious counts against Plzak, who ran the company’s office, each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Jeffrey Plzak, who did electrical work in the field for his company, pleaded guilty last year to similar charges in U.S. District Court in connection with the scheme and is sentenced to 22 months in prison.

Plzak’s attorney, Mark Kelly, countered Tuesday afternoon that “greed was not the motive here.” Kelly added that the state initially brought charges against his client claiming the employees were victims of theft by swindle, but “court dismissed those charges, and the state changed its theory of the case to claim the state agencies and the general contractors were the victims.”

The attorney said that showed that by making a new claim of who was victimized, “the county attorney is conceding that no money was obtained by my client or her company as a result of her actions.”