- A Vermont contractor has agreed to pay $637,500 to settle accusations that it defectively built four bridges about a decade ago, the Department of Justice said in a release on Nov. 29.
- According to the release, employees of J.A. McDonald (JAM) intentionally cut or burned sections of steel that make up part of the bridge supports, and then took steps to conceal these damages from the state transportation agency, which ordered the projects.
- As a result, federal and state authorities allege that the state transportation agency VTrans unwittingly paid JAM for deficient bridgework and subsequently presented false claims to the Federal Highway Administration to be reimbursed for the federal share of the sum it paid JAM.
Federal authorities say VTrans hired Lyndon Center-based JAM between 2008 and 2010 to do federally funded work on two bridges in Bennington and two bridges in Guilford, both in southern Vermont. JAM was paid $29 million for the jobs. Authorities began investigating the incident after a whistleblower complaint in 2018, according to VTDigger.
According to the U.S. Attorney General's office, "JAM employees materially altered certain components of the bridges at issue by cutting or burning multiple sections of reinforcing steel out of the reinforced-concrete substructures that support the bridges, and that JAM employees took affirmative steps to conceal such material alterations from the Vermont Agency of Transportation."
VTrans found that all four bridges were safe and structurally sound to use, but their lifespans will be shortened by 20 to 25 years, according to VTDigger.
In addition to paying the settlement, JAM agreed to adopt an ethics and compliance code and a quality assurance program and to train all employees on them. It also agreed to appoint a corporate compliance officer and retain an independent monitor to conduct on-site and unannounced inspections on all federally funded contracts for three years.
"This settlement agreement concludes over two years of work recognizing that there [should] be full accountability for the work performed on behalf of taxpayers," said Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn in the release.
However, this is not the first time the contractor has gotten in hot water for allegedly ignoring safety on a bridge project and trying to cover it up. In 2017, JAM agreed to pay $270,000 to settle claims that it charged VTrans for deficient work on a two-span bridge in Bristol, Vermont, for which the agency in turn charged the federal government for reimbursement.
According to the 2017 U.S. Attorney General's office release, "JAM employees intentionally altered critical bridge components such that the bridge no longer conformed to specified safety standards" and then "took affirmative steps to conceal such alterations." JAM replaced the allegedly deficient bridge components and fired two employees who allegedly directed the scheme, per the release.
Under the terms of both the 2017 and 2021 settlements, JAM is not admitting liability for the bridgework, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. As of publication time, JAM did not return a request for comment about the cases.
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