Sunday, May 2, 2004

A D.C. Council member is criticizing the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority’s award of a multimillion-dollar lead pipe replacement contract to a company that faces sanctions from city government over a bribery scandal.

“It’s yet another bad management decision,” said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

WASA awarded a $6.3 million contract to C&F Construction Co., which is barred from doing business with the D.C. government because its owner, Florentino Gregorio, pleaded guilty in 2002 in a scheme to bribe city highway inspectors.

Mr. Fenty made his comments last week during a tour of the 500 block of Ingraham Street NW. More than a dozen residents showed him around the area, complaining that WASA’s lead-pipe replacement work three weeks earlier had cut off water pressure, turned out some streetlights and left piles of tar along sidewalks.

“Ever since they came here, we haven’t had water pressure and some of our water heaters leak,” said Audrey Marsh, 73. “I’m on fixed income. I can’t afford to pay for water I’m not using.”

WASA officials said they are working to fix the problems on Ingraham Street.

“We encountered some problems, one of which had to do with a deteriorating water main that had to be replaced,” said WASA spokesman Johnnie Hemphill. “I’ve been given reason to believe that we are aware of the concerns and that we are working to address the concerns.”

Mr. Hemphill said the problems along Ingraham Street should not be blamed on C&F Construction or on WASA.

“Clearly, if you’re doing work along a block and you find that the water main is a problem, that isn’t something that you can blame on a department or on a contractor or a project,” he said.

Mr. Fenty disagreed.

“It’s been terrible, and this is just one block,” he said. “I can’t imagine what the whole city is going to be like. I don’t know that WASA or this contractor has the ability to do this restoration.”

Earlier this year, a D.C. government panel banned C&F from competing for city contracts until August, citing Mr. Gregorio’s role in a scheme to overcharge the District for road-paving materials.

C&F officials told the panel that the company had changed its billing procedures, set up an anonymous hot line for employees to report problems and hired an independent accountant to monitor finances.

C&F Construction and two other area road construction companies were convicted in a federal probe of the city’s Department of Public Works during the mid- and late 1990s.

Mr. Gregorio pleaded guilty to supplementing a public salary, and C&F separately pleaded guilty to paying a bribe to a public official, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Nine D.C. highway inspectors and engineers were convicted and lost their jobs as a result of the federal investigation.

WASA is a public agency funded by ratepayers, so the city’s ban does not affect C&F’s ability to contract with WASA.

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