Tuesday, April 8, 2008


by Bruce Pierce, PLS

One typical day you are at your office doing what you do best, and things seem to be going good. Your staff is working hard and the work is piling up around you faster than you can get it done. This is a scenario that we as professionals in the surveying/civil engineering business pray for and even thrive on. The phone rings and you pick it up anticipating that whoever is on the other end is sending more work your way, but then the whole mood changes instantly when you here a voice familiar to you say the worst case scenario. “I have done something bad and I am in trouble. I have turned in a map with your name and seal on it to the City of Walnut Creek”. A million questions go through my mind instantly trying desperately to make sense out of what I had just heard. I grab my pencil and noted the time and started writing down the facts as they were conveyed to me. The person on the other end of this conversation was William Randolph III, a person that I had met May 31, 2000. This is how my day ended on April 19, 2004 and the beginning of the worst case scenario.
In May 2000 the company I worked for (The Keith Companies) had a contract with N.I.M.A. (National Imagery and Mapping Agency) to do “Safety and Navigation Surveys” for two military air force bases in the state of Washington. The first was McCord Air Force Base in Tacoma, and the second was Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. One of the requirements of the contract was to hire a minority owned business to take part in the work. The Keith Companies choose Geotopo out of Oakland; CA. Mr. Randolph, an unlicensed chainman, was put on a plane to meet us at the Seattle airport. The team met on May 31, 2000 and work began.
We had two weeks to complete the assignment for both air bases, so the work assignments were given out amongst the team and we set out to do our tasks early the next morning. Mr. Randolph’s assignment was to help place very large aerial targets for a 12000’ altitude flight around the cities for the aerial mapping portion of the deliverables. The targets were to be set and later have static gps sessions run on the entire target network. William took on his task with enthusiasm and confidence. He worked some long hours in the following weeks to help us meet our target deadline. The project in all accounts went very well with only a few surprises. At the end of two weeks we said our good byes, pleased with what we had accomplished. However, little did I know what was working in the mind of someone I thought was another new found friend.
Sometime after William Randolph returned home he returned to his job in Oakland doing surveying and mapping for Wiley Pierce, the owner of Geotopo. William had decided to take on some side work to supplement his income. William had confronted his boss to inform him of his intentions. Wiley instructed him that was not a wise decision since he was not a licensed land surveyor and doing so would put him in a very risky position. William chose not to take the warning seriously and started to do whatever work he solicited under the business name of R.A.M. Engineering.
From June 2000 to April 2004 William was performing surveys full time under his new founded company. He had quit his employment with Geotopo and was engaged in what he thought was the mother lode of surveying. Times were good and the work was coming to him. He was selling himself as a surveyor at whatever the market would bear for his services.
The way that he stayed under the radar was that he was using my name, Bruce A. Pierce; PLS. on his surveys without my knowledge. William had figured that since he had worked for Wiley Pierce, my name, being the same spelling, would slide right through the system since the Pierce name is all around the Oakland and Bay area. However, William made one big mistake that later became the key to his undoing. He had transposed the number on my license to be 5760 rather than 7560. He had also misrepresented the correct expiration date. Although this is all public information, William did not do thorough research before he ventured out to make his fortune.
William was doing survey work all over the central California area, across county lines and different towns and cities. He was willing to go where ever there was a buck to be made. After all it wasn’t his name on the maps he was doing. What did he have to lose?
One day just prior to April 19, 2004, the exact date is unsure, William was doing a Tentative Parcel Map in the City of Walnut Creek. He had finished the survey and prepared the map. The City of Walnut Creek like many cities require a signature of a licensed land surveyor or registered civil engineer licensed prior to June 1982. William boldly put the required Surveyor’s Statement on the map with my name and seal attached. He forged the signature and prepared the map for submittal to the City of Walnut Creek.
A few days latter the Tentative Parcel Map was checked by the city officials. During the checking process, as part of the Cities regular check the name of the surveyor of record was checked and found that the license number and name did not match the States database for licensed land surveyors. The City official immediately notified the Board of Registration of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. He had also sent a FAX of the signature in question to the Board. By the act of doing his job thoroughly the City official started in motion the process that would eventually be William Randolph’s undoing and the end of R.A.M. Engineering. The last thing that the City was required to do was to notify the engineering firm that submitted the map and the developer of the project to alert them of their findings. This act by the City caused William to contact me prior to the City making contact with me.
On April 19, 2004 I received that dreadful call from William. He had committed an unpardonable sin that would haunt him for a very long time. Immediately the anger and frustration in me began to come to the surface. After William had told the unbelievable facts he awaited my response. After a moment of silence, I had to ask him “why would you do this to someone? His response was cold and unfeeling as they come. “To make more money”, he said. At that moment I knew I was dealing with a cold calculating criminal that I had seriously underestimated. My response was that “the only thing keeping me from seriously hurting you is the distance between us”. There was one statement that William had made that seemed to burn in my memory. He said that he had made an AutoCad drawing of my seal along with some others so he could use them as needed. This did not set well with me. The question that was never answered in my mind was, are there other surveyors out there that have had the same sick crime committed against them without their knowledge? The conversation after that was short. He said that he wanted to call me first before the City of Walnut Creek contacted me. He had the guts, gall, fortitude, whatever you want to label it to ask me how “we” were going to fix this. My response and last words to him was “I am going to report you to the Board of Registration and file a case to take you down”.
The very next morning I made a call to the Board of Registration to start in motion what I thought would be a very straight forward and simple case. I wanted to make sure that I did what was needed to insure a quick and complete submittal. The person on the phone gave me precise instructions that I followed exactly and made my submission.
The next six days were filled with phone calls to all the people that needed to be contacted by me or calls to me from the City of Walnut Creek. I made a phone log of the time and date of every conversation, and any pertinent information. By doing this simple act later became a key in my defense case and the very core of disputing any erroneous facts that came up in the investigation. Williams’s client even called me to discuss the ramifications of this very serious situation. He had to go through the motions in his mind to find out how he was going to solve the problem of William stealing several thousands of dollars and putting him at an extreme risk. After all the calls and emotions were settled the only thing left to do was wait for the Board of Registration to do their job and prosecute the accused.
At this point I had no way of knowing how many maps William had filed or what type of maps he had done. Were any of them recorded? Were there other land surveyors involved in this sick act of fraud? All these questions came to the surface and no way to find the answers. The only hope was possibly to contact the CLSA (California Land Surveyor’s Association) board and ask for their help. It so happened that the CLSA board was going to have a regular scheduled meeting in the City of Ontario, CA. the very next week. I was asked by the acting President of the State CLSA to attend the meeting and present this case before the attending members that represent the entire State of California. As the story unfolded before them I saw the shock and disbelief in their faces. At the end of my presentation there were a few questions asked and representatives of the Bay Area stepped up to volunteer to look for maps that had been filed with my name on them and pull them from the system as invalid. My hopes were high that something would show up that would give me a hope of stopping this criminal from doing any future damage to my reputation. At this point William was still out there working and doing whatever he desired till someone stopped him. So it was imperative that I get as many maps out of the system as possible and hope that the Board of Registration would launch an investigation and arrest William.
Time marched on without any notification from the Board of Registration as to the progress of the case. I made a few follow up calls to inquire as to the status. I had to leave messages without any return. I made follow up calls to the representative of the Bay Area CLSA to inquire about the map status. Again I had to leave messages without any return. This was beginning to look hopeless and a complete waste of time. I was starting to think that this system that was put in place to protect the public was doing nothing to protect me. Two years went by before I was contacted by the Department of Investigation. The investigator took my statement and compared the information with what I had submitted to the Board of Registration. They asked me to supply my signature and seal as it would appear on any official map, plat or legal description. However this call was encouraging it was just one step in a long line of things to investigate. The sad thing was that this case sat idle for two years before it was picked up. It was like pouring salt into an open wound. I had to remember and relive the whole process all over again because of the long delay.
In March 2007 I received a letter from the Contra Costa County Probation Department stating that they were currently investigating the crime of Grand Theft/Forgery against William Randolph. They asked me to fill out a form and provide them with information of any financial loss and the emotional impact due to the incident. This seems like a simple statement but really has many twists to it. William’s act of fraud has placed me along with my family in the center of an emotional rollercoaster. It was not that this was a one time action of poor judgment, but a long term repeated offence of which I am only one of the victims. I have lived with the constant uncertainty of how many maps bear my name, for which I am liable. While I may be able to defend myself as a victim of fraud, I can never undo the damage to my name and integrity that William Randolph has caused.
Finally in September I received a subpoena for a court appearance in Lawrence, California. The investigation had finally been completed and turned over to the District Attorney of Contra Costa County. The DA made contact with me to make arrangements for my travel to beautiful downtown Lawrence. The reason for the court appearance was only because William refused to plea guilty of a felony crime. The DA had no choice but to call me in.
I was flown to Oakland Airport and back to Ontario Airport in one day. The court hearing was fast and furious. After my testimony and all the others were said and done it came down to the jury to decide William’s fate. On September 24, 2007 the jury came forth with guilty of forgery a felony conviction.
Sentencing was set for October 23, 2007. The following is the list of the conditions of William’s sentence:
3 years probation
120 days of consecutive jail time
Subject to 24 hour search and seizure
Restitution to me for my financial losses
Restitution to all his clients he had taken money from
Can never own or possess a firearm
The last one has me curious, but it does not matter. The good thing is that the court system finally prevailed and got the job done even at a snails pace. It took 3 ½ years to complete this rollercoaster ride. I guess the important thing to remember is that this can happen to any professional at any time. One can never be too careful with what we say and who we meet.