- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

A road-paving company’s conspiracy to bribe D.C. engineers and inspectors struck “at the heart of the integrity” of efforts to improve roadways in the District, according to the city’s top transportation official.

D.C. Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini made the comments in a letter, which was obtained by The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Tangherlini cautioned D.C. Council member Harold Brazil in the July 23 letter, six weeks before the latter introduced a measure to allow the city to do business again with the D.C.-based Fort Myer Construction Corp.

One of the metropolitan area’s largest street-construction firms, Fort Myer pleaded guilty in federal court in March to conspiring to bribe nine D.C. public works engineers and inspectors in 1997 and 1998 in exchange for overstating the amount of asphalt being delivered to the city.

Mr. Tangherlini said in the letter that his department takes no position on whether Fort Myer should be allowed to bid for D.C. road-paving projects. But he also issued words of caution.

“We believe that the actions for which former [public works] staff and the Fort Myer Corporation have been prosecuted strike at the heart of the integrity of our program and have had long term ill effects on our reputation,” Mr. Tangherlini wrote.

Mr. Brazil, at-large Democrat, sponsored legislation on Sept. 16 that seeks to overturn a three-year suspension against Fort Myer. The suspension prevents the company from competing for city contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars.

Under the Debarment Procedures Temporary Amendment Act of 2000, a panel of D.C. government executives would reconsider suspensions and debarments against several contractors, including “a business division whose predominant work is the production and placement of street asphalt.”

Officials say Fort Myer won’t be awarded any new city contracts until the panel rules on the company’s eligibility.

Tony Bullock, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said his boss had no comment on the effort to restore Fort Myer’s eligibility. “We’ll reserve our judgment until we have a chance to review the final action by council,” Mr. Bullock said yesterday. The council is expected to vote on the legislation on second reading today.

The D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement banned Fort Myer in April from doing business with the District after the company’s guilty plea. The company also remains suspended from doing business with the federal government until December next year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Mr. Brazil said he sponsored the legislation because the District’s suspension against Fort Myer was “overly harsh” and transportation and public works officials never got a chance to discuss the action.

Mr. Brazil, who accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from the company in May, said politics had played no part in his decision to sponsor the bill. He said Fort Myer is a good employer and that officials who were implicated in the scandal no longer work there.

Council members Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, opposed the measure.

Fort Myer holds more than $60 million in ongoing road construction contracts with the District, according to the Office of Contracting and Procurement. Mr. Brazil said he feared that the loss of those government contracts would put the District at a disadvantage, with fewer companies bidding on projects, and that the company would then fire many of its workers who live in the District.

However, in his July 23 memo to Mr. Brazil, Mr. Tangherlini said Fort Myer’s suspension could increase the number of contractors bidding for D.C. road construction projects.

“An offsetting effect could be the expansion of the contractor base willing to compete for District work,” Mr. Tangherlini wrote, “as the District is viewed less as a market dominated by one strong player.”

The letter was in response to questions from Mr. Brazil about whether transportation officials were consulted before Fort Myer’s suspension was imposed.

Mr. Tangherlini, who could not be reached yesterday afternoon, said in the memo that the Department of Transportation has no position on whether Fort Myer should be suspended.

He said the cost of road projects could increase with Fort Myer’s suspension because public works crews would take longer to get to asphalt plants located outside the District. The city also relies heavily on the company for snow removal, Mr. Tangherlini noted.

He, however, added that the Fort Myer scandal has affected public perception by hurting “our ability to perform infrastructure improvement work in the eyes of our customers and stakeholders.”

Federal prosecutors said Fort Myer bought a company, District Paving, in 1995 and hired its managers and employees to oversee the firm’s asphalt division, which was responsible for ensuring that the correct amounts of asphalt were delivered to city job sites.

From July 1997 to January 1998, prosecutors say, Fort Myer employees drove trucks loaded with asphalt onto scales twice or thrice to make it appear as if the company was using different trucks.

Fort Myer employees also would bribe D.C. Department of Public Works engineers and inspectors with cash for falsifying reports.

Fort Myer officials said two “rogue employees” were responsible for the bribery and that the company’s management undertook a series of reforms when it learned of the scheme.


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