Arrests made in Boston’s Big Dig investigation

News Yahoo News, Associated Press May 05, 2006
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Six men whose company supplied most of the concrete in the Big Dig were arrested Thursday, May 4, on federal charges alleging they falsified records to hide the substandard quality of materials delivered for the $14.6 billion, delay- and leak-plagued downtown highway tunnel project, the Associated Press reported.

The six men, all current or former employees of Aggregate Industries, face a variety of charges including making false statements, mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government between 1996 and August 2005.

The indictment charges the men with recycling concrete that was too old or was already rejected by inspectors, and for double billing loads of concrete in some cases. The company was paid $105 million for 135,000 truckloads of concrete, and at least 5,000 of those truckloads did not meet specifications, according to the indictment.

The men were released on $100,000 unsecured bond each after making initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Lawyers for Aggregate Industries have defended the quality of its concrete and said it never delivered any that did not meet strength specifications called for in its state contract.

Stephen Delinsky, an attorney for defendant Gerard McNally, said prosecutors are looking to place blame for the troubled project.

"It's always easy to blame the lowest level, which is the concrete manufacturers," Delinsky said. "Each defendant believed that they acted in good faith. They believed at all times their conduct was legal and believed the concrete delivered to the Big Dig was appropriate."

The Big Dig, formally called the Central Artery and Third Harbor Tunnel project, buried I-93 in tunnels beneath downtown and connected the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan Airport with a third tunnel beneath Boston Harbor.

The project was plagued by long delays and cost overruns that ranged from $2.6 billion to $14.6 billion. Earlier this year, after more than a decade of traffic detours, the last major section of the project opened.

Attorney General Tom Reilly has said there's no evidence that the concrete is connected to hundreds of leaks which have sprung in Big Dig tunnels. He also has said there's no reason to believe the substandard concrete has affected the project's structural integrity because it was delivered at least six years ago.

But at the May 4 hearing, prosecutor Fred Wyshack indicated the quality of the materials used would have at least some effect on the project. "The taxpayers of this community and this country will be paying for years to come," he said.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said the concrete did not meet project standards, though it was not necessarily of poor quality. He said long-term maintenance problems are the most likely effect of using the substandard concrete, though he could not be specific.

According to the indictment, faulty concrete was poured into walls and roof slabs in the I-93 tunnel, parts of the I-90 tunnel and the sea walls of the Fort Point Channel, among other places.

In an August 2005 raid of company offices in Everett, Saugus and Peabody, state police said they found evidence the company had falsified paperwork given to inspectors to make it appear that old or rejected concrete had been freshly poured.

The allegations about the concrete's strength stemmed from a lawsuit filed in May 2005 in Suffolk Superior Court. Aggregate provided 60% of the concrete used to build the Big Dig.

Indicted were: former general manager Robert Prosperi; dispatch manager Marc Blais; dispatch manager John Farrar; quality control manager McNally; district operations manager Gregory Stevenson; and dispatch manager Keith Thomas.

Each is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud; conspiracy to make false statements in a federal highway project; conspiracy to defraud the government and mail fraud. They were ordered back to court for arraignment on May 11, the Associated Press reported.

Aggregate Industries said in a statement issued Thursday that it will cooperate with authorities.
"As a result of extensive testing by industry experts, Aggregate Industries is satisfied that all of the concrete it has supplied on the Big Dig and throughout the commonwealth is structurally sound," the statement said.

Stevenson and Farrar are no longer with the company, and Aggregate says it has suspended the other four.

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