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Ex Tyco worker bemused at CEO's fall

Laid-off employees of White City company struggled as Kozlowski skimmed coffers

Tom Lavis' job for the past 15 months has been finding employment.

One of nearly 400 workers Tyco International Ltd. laid off in February and May of 2001, Lavis has perused help-wanted ads, message boards and agency listings ' all to no avail.

He's used up 50 of his 52 weeks of unemployment and his options remain on the thin side.

I've gotten lots of interviews, but there are so many people out there that are unemployed that you're just one of 250 to 300, Lavis says. They pick the person that's better fit for the job.

The 50-year-old is taking keen interest in the revelations of his former company's ex-chief executive officer L. Dennis Kozlowski. The 55-year-old Kozlowski resigned on June 2, the day before a Manhattan district attorney charged him with evading more than &

36;1 million in New York state sales taxes on the purchase of art.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported for a period of at least five years Kozlowski routinely raided Tyco coffers to support an extravagant lifestyle. It appears more than &

36;135 million in Tyco funds went to benefit Kozlowski, largely in forgiven loans and company payments for real estate, charitable donations and personal expenses. Additional charges may be filed both in New York and New Hampshire.

All of this, of course, bemuses Lavis, who earned about &

36;19,000 a year, assembling, repairing and cleaning circuit boards.

Actually, I've been keeping on top of this whole enchilada, says Lavis. Watching this and the Martha Stewart thing going down has put a smile on my face.

Jack Brockbank hasn't kept such close tabs on the demise of the former Tyco boss as some of his former co-workers. But he's not surprised by what has come to light.

The people at the top managed to make themselves rich and put a bunch of people out of work, says Brockbank, a former maintenance man. All of those people had to disperse throughout the valley, and we're not a big job market.

Many of the White City plant's employees had gone to work straight out of high school, and some had been there more than a dozen years.

There's no way to match the pay you'd get with 13 years' seniority working at a 7-11, Brockbank says. Once you learn to make boards, what else are you qualified for? I think the plant could've been saved instead of closing the doors, counting profits and running ' which is pretty much what happened.

Kozlowski's apparent desires far exceeded what the White City plant would've afforded.

Kozlowski, for example, used a &

36;19 million loan to finance and construct a Boca Raton, Fla., &

36;13.5 million estate between 1997 and 2001. The loan was later forgiven by Tyco. Tyco paid for a separate home in 1997, while the estate was being built. In New York, a corporate apartment bought in 2000 cost &

36;18 million and was furnished using more than &

36;11 million in Tyco funds.

When this Tyco thing popped up, I thought it was kind of interesting, Lavis says. I wondered how much it had to do with the closing of the White City plant and if the whole thing had snowballed.

Lavis moved to the Rogue Valley from Santa Cruz, Calif., nearly 30 years ago, and earned his living at places such as Burrill Lumber Co., Medite and Boise Cascade before taking a job with Praegitzer Industries in White City in 1999 a few months before Tyco acquired the company.

When Tyco bought (Praegitzer) out, I thought it was an up-straight, hard-charging company that was in good shape. Obviously, that's not the way it was.

Soon after Tyco bought Praegitzer, the Securities and Exchange Commission began delving into the Bermuda-based conglomerate. But it wasn't until last year that rapidly expanding Tyco began to unravel.

Since January of this year, Tyco has lost more than 75 percent of its value, selling for &

36;12.10 per share at the close of trading Thursday.

I know people who bought stock and people who were in the 401(k) plan, Lavis says. I was never into that, I wasn't there long enough and couldn't afford to cough up the money.

Brockbank, 41, grew up in Southern Oregon, left and returned. He went to work for Tyco in 2000 and remained on the job two months after most of the employees were laid off. He went through a Job Corps retraining program and now lays tile.

When I first went to work there, it was considered a long-term thing, Brockbank says. I was told I could probably work here the rest of my life if I wanted to. A year later, it was a severance package and then hit the road.

It was common knowledge they did all their banking off-shore. Stuff like that makes you think 'Hey what's really going on?'

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail