Concrete supplier indicted in Boston 'Big Dig' scandal

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Boston's Central Artery and Third Harbor Tunnel Project (CA/T), unofficially known as the Big Dig, plagued by cost overruns and reports of shoddy workmanship, has been hit with yet another scandal as six employees of its primary concrete supplier have been indicted for falsifying records regarding allegedly inferior concrete supplied to the massive highway construction project.

Federal prosecutors alleged in a 135 count indictment that of the 135,000 truckloads of concrete, a "web" of falsified documents were used to cover up a conspiracy where at least 5,000 truckloads — 1.2 percent of the concrete used — did not meet specifications. The company, Aggregate Industries NE Inc. was paid US$105 million for the concrete.

Aggregate said in a statement Thursday that it would 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.

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said "We have no evidence whatsoever that the structural integrity and safety of the tunnel has been compromised."

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in a prepared statement, "No one in Massachusetts should be surprised to learn that a project so badly mismanaged, over budget, and grossly delayed is now also facing allegations of criminal misbehavior." Romney and Lt. Governor Kerry Healey have also announced that they have decided to return campaign contributions from workers of Aggregate Industries.

Indicted were: former general manager Robert Prosperi, 63, of Lynnfield, Massachusetts; Marc Blais, 36, of Lynn, Massachusetts, a dispatch manager; John Farrar, 42, of Canterbury, Connecticut, a dispatch manager; Gerard McNally, 53, of Rockland, Massachusetts, a quality control manager; Gregory Stevenson, 53, of Furlong, Pennsylvania, district operations manager; and Keith Thomas, 50, of Billerica, Massachusetts, a dispatch manager. Stevenson and Farrar are no longer with the company. Aggregate says it has suspended the others.

According to the indictments,

  • the six Aggregate employees recycled concrete that had been rejected because it had not been used within 90 minutes of being mixed
  • in some cases double-billing for the loads
  • the workers gave falsified documentation to project inspectors to show the concrete was fresh
  • the faulty concrete was used in walls and roof slabs in the Interstate 93 tunnel, parts of the Interstate 90 tunnel and the sea walls of the Fort Point Channel, among other places.

At the arrest hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshack said, "The taxpayers of this community and this country will be paying for years to come."

Lawyers for the employees say the men believed their conduct was legal, that the concrete supplied by Aggregate Industries met all the strength requirements of the project, and that Big Dig managers sometimes waived the 90-minute rule when trucks of concrete were lined up to meet heavy demand. Stephen Delinsky, an attorney for one of the defendants, said they delivered quality concrete, but prosecutors probing the troubled project are looking to place blame. "It's always easy to blame the lowest level, which is the concrete manufacturers. 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."

A spokesman for project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff declined comment.

On August 11, 2005, it was announced that the Massachusetts State Police searched Aggregate's offices in June and found evidence of faked records that hid the poor quality of concrete delivered for highway project. On March 19, 2006, the International Herald Tribune reported that Massachusetts "Attorney General Tom Reilly plans to sue Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and other companies if the two sides do not reach an agreement over 200 complaints of poor work in the construction of a highway system under the center of Boston, the Boston Globe reported Saturday. Reilly was said to be seeking $67 million from Bechtel and $41 million from other companies."

The purpose of the project was to remove the more than 50-year-old aboveground Interstate 93 freeway running through downtown Boston by burying it, and connecting the Massachusetts Turnpike with Logan Airport by running a third tunnel below Boston Harbor. The project was completed this year after serious delays and cost overruns reached US$14.6 billion, a more than 500% increase over the original estimate of US$2.6 billion. More than ten years of detours to traffic ended when the last major section opened in January.

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