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Contractor fined in bribery scheme

Fort Myer Construction faces loss of government road projects as penalty

(Published April 21, 2003)

Staff Writer

City officials are considering whether to temporarily bar District-based Fort Myer Construction Corp. from receiving new government contracts after the company pleaded guilty to bribing D.C. workers who then inflated the cost of several road construction projects.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen K. Kotelly ordered the company on April 8 to pay nearly $1 million in criminal and civil fines, plus restitution to the Federal Highway Administration, for its part in the conspiracy that involved nine D.C. Department of Public Works employees from 1995 through March 1998. All nine DPW workers pleaded guilty and were dismissed from their jobs; six are awaiting sentencing later this year.

Fort Myer, headquartered near Fort Lincoln in Northeast Washington, currently serves as prime contractor on 24 D.C. road projects, valued at about $113 million. About 40 percent of the federal funds currently committed to D.C. road contracts are slated to flow to Fort Myer.

One Fort Myer employee, asphalt superintendent Antonio C. Bras, was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this year on 15 felony counts for his alleged role in the conspiracy. A company spokesman said Bras is no longer employed by Fort Myer, although the company’s Web site still listed "Tony Bras" as a superintendent on April 20.

Janice Bolt, a spokesman for the D.C. government’s Office of Contracting and Procurement, said officials are "preparing paper on the Fort Myer case" but declined to discuss the anticipated actions against the company.

Under D.C. law, Fort Myer could be suspended from doing business with the government for up to one year or barred from further contracting with the government for up to three years. Any such action could be appealed by the company to the city’s Contract Appeals Board. Bolt said the city does not consider contract bids from companies that have been suspended or debarred, even if the contracts would be executed after the penalty period ends.

Christopher M. Kerns, vice president and general counsel for Fort Myer, said the guilty plea that he signed March 10 on the company’s behalf and the resultant fine will "absolutely not" affect his company’s ability to complete its existing contracts with the D.C. government. Among the company’s current projects are the reconstruction of upper 16th Street NW, rehabilitation of the Anacostia Freeway, local street upgrades in Wards 2 and 6, and rehabilitation of three bridges over Oxon Run in Ward 8.

Bolt said she, too, anticipates that "contracts currently in process will continue until completion."

Kerns sought to minimize the impact of his company’s guilty plea during a telephone interview with The Common Denominator on April 19. He said he hopes any "debarment proceedings will take into account the relatively minor nature of what has happened," with $300,000 in asphalt overbillings representing less than 1 percent of the company’s total revenue during the period involved in the conspiracy.

Fort Myer entered the asphalt business in July 1995 when it purchased a company called District Paving and hired its management and employees and a minority owner of District Paving to serve as vice president of Fort Myer’s newly created asphalt division, according to documents in the federal court case.

A "statement of the offense" signed by Kerns as part of the company’s guilty plea names Tony Bras as the "agent and employee" of Fort Myer who paid $100 or $200 in cash bribes to various city engineers and inspectors to accept false asphalt tickets "while knowing full well that [Fort Myer] did not deliver or otherwise use any of the asphalt set forth in these tickets which related to federal-aid contracts."

Kerns told The Common Denominator that Fort Myer "acquired an organization that, unfortunately, had some bad apples."

"We think we’ve done the responsible thing," he said. "We just want to move forward."

In addition to the 24 D.C. road contracts on which Fort Myer is the prime contractor, Kerns said his company also serves as an asphalt supplier and subcontractor to many other companies that have road contracts with the D.C. government.

"We have two asphalt plants and 13 asphalt crews," Kerns said. "Take us out of the market and this city is gulping hard and our 600 employees are gulping hard."

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator