Local 2 Investigates: Contractors claim government wasted money on project

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

TORNILLO, Texas - Contractors building a $133 million U.S./Mexico border crossing bridge are speaking out to Local 2 Investigates, saying the project is wasting taxpayer money.

The U.S. has built most of its half of the project. Until recently Mexico had not built any of the bridge on its side of the border. Currently there is a multi-lane bridge that rises up to the border and stops where Mexico begins.

The project is two years behind schedule. The bridge is now expected to open to traffic sometime this summer.

One of the project's subcontractors claims the government and the general contractor, Turner Construction, spent more money than needed on the project and then stopped paying workers.

Jim Bartley's company, DA Midsouth of Houston, won a contract to provide security cameras.

"We quoted a completely integrated secure network system with state-of-the-art technology," Bartley told Local 2 investigative reporter Jace Larson. "The government did not want any integration. They wanted technology that was from 1992."

Bartley said the older technology actually cost more than the newer IP camera system because older, analog systems require more wiring. The government's older system cost taxpayers an extra $300,000, Bartley said. He had to get a change order for the increased costs because the bid the government originally accepted was for different technology.

Bartley said at first the government didn't want to pay for the additional cost.

"They wanted us to do it for free," he said.

When it came to poles to mount the camera, Bartley said he never said he would provide the poles.

"We are a low voltage electric company. We don't build poles," Bartley said. "Our proposal did not say we would build poles."

Bartley said when the government paid him for the job, it deducted $60,000 from his check. That's the amount the government had to pay another company for the poles.

"This could put us out of business. We already laid one guy off out there," he said.

Other Issues

Castillo Prestress, of Belen, New Mexico, which is about 30 miles from Albuquerque, laid off seven people after the owner says he had problems with the project's organizers.

Rich Castillo said after the government asked him to manufacture concrete trench boxes more quickly than they would usually do, the government then couldn't accept delivery of the concrete structures.

"For four months, they took up space in my shop. We couldn't do other work," Castillo told Local 2 Investigates.

Without work for his employees, Castillo had to let them go, he said. He also said the government owes him more than $100,000 for work he performed.

Washington Listening

The subcontractors' concerns have caught the ear of U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble.

"We do know the person who does the work, he's not getting paid," Poe said. "It's not clear who is responsible."

Poe said subcontractors have a right to be frustrated and is pledging to help.

"We're going to find out the answer. We'll keep pushing this issue until we get an answer. The correct answer," Poe said. "As soon as this came to my attention, we started working on trying to find out the facts."

Poe said he will be contacting GSA and Turner Construction.

The government's General Services Administration declined to answer questions from Local 2. So did representatives from Turner construction.

GSA sent a statement saying, "GSA is aware of discussions between Turner Construction Company and some of the subcontractors."

Turner construction sent a statement which says, "Through the end of February, the project team had completed 92 percent of the project's original scope and the contractors have been paid in full for this work."

Bartley and Castillo dispute this claim.

"We've put in our pay applications for December, January and for February and we've not been paid for those," Bartley said. He decided in March, if he's not getting paid, he couldn't afford to continue on the job. He chose to walk away from the project before completing all of his work.

Full Statements

Read the full statements given to Local 2 by GSA and Turner Construction by clicking here.

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