Loose Lips

Paver Power

Early in former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s tenure as mayor, two of his top aides met with representatives of a construction company that had donated and raised funds for Fenty’s campaign.

The company was Peake Construction, and its owner, Nathan Peake, wasn’t happy.

“We’re supposed to get a piece of the fucking pie, no matter what,” said Peake, according to an under-oath statement given by Fenty’s former deputy chief of staff, Neil Richardson.

Whether that outburst had its desired effect isn’t clear. Richardson, who would leave city government on very bad terms with Fenty, recalled that Fenty didn’t like Peake, rolling his eyes when Peake’s name was mentioned.

Peake and his partner Parney Jenkins, the former head of the District Department of Transportation’s road construction division, did get a piece of the construction pie when their company teamed up as a certified disadvantaged business partner with the District’s biggest road construction company, Fort Myer Construction. A nearly 40-year-old company that last fiscal year was paid $78.8 million by the District, Fort Myer has quietly become a major player in D.C.’s construction business and has an influence in local politics to match.

There was only one problem with the partnership between Fort Myer and Peake Construction, according to a DDOT official who went out to monitor Peake’s work on Foxhall Road NW in 2007: They weren’t doing the work. Instead, Peake Construction had subcontracted its work out to another firm, which used its own workers and equipment for the project.

The DDOT official and an inhouse DDOT attorney recommended suspending future contract awards to Fort Myer until they cleared things up with Peake, a recommendation that wasn’t followed, according to two internal DDOT documents. Fort Myer told DDOT it was unaware of Peake’s arrangement, but the DDOT official would later say under oath in a deposition that “it was hard for me to believe that the prime contractor didn’t know what was going on in a project site.”

DDOT’s problems with Fort Myer and Peake Construction are at the heart of a wrongful termination case that’s been winding its way through federal court for the last three years. Former DDOT Chief of Staff Stephen Amos says he was fired after telling the Office of Inspector General that Fort Myer was allegedly “knowingly and fraudulently” using Peake as a “shell company” to qualify for federally funded road contracts. The District says Amos, who now works and lives in California, was fired for a variety of unflattering reasons that have nothing to do with his alleged whistleblower actions.

Chris Kerns, Fort Myer’s attorney and spokesman, declined to discuss the merits of Amos’ case publicly, except to say that Fort Myer relied on the District’s certification that Peake was a valid minority-owned firm before deciding to partner with the company. It’s not clear if Peake still operates (it was sued by a condo association in 2010 for allegedly installing leaky flower beds and never responded to the lawsuit), and its phone number has been disconnected.

This isn’t the first time Fort Myer has been part of a controversy in the District. The company has rebounded remarkably well from a very embarrassing blow a few years ago. That’s probably due to Fort Myer being well-run, but if LL were the cynical sort, he might wonder if that quick recovery had more to do with Fort Myer’s political connections.

The construction behemoth currently has between 700 and 1,000 employees. It has contracts with the District, Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government. It owns the only two asphalt plants in town. And in the last four years, the District has paid Fort Myer $275 million.

Paver Power

Flash back to 2003, when news reports say the company was on the verge of going out of business. That same year, Fort Myer officials signed a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and paid $900,000 in fines after it admitted that some of its employees had bribed District employees and overbillled the city during a three-year span in the ’90s. The city’s procurement boss decided to block Fort Myer from receiving any city contracts for three years, but the punishment was ultimately lessened to about a year after Fort Myer successfully lobbied the D.C. Council to step in and undercut the procurement official’s power to punish companies, according to news reports.

Fort Myer officials, who said the punishment was too harsh because it had fired the employees responsible and taken steps to prevent further misdeeds, paid lobbyist Kerry Pearson $230,000 as part of their efforts, Office of Campaign Finance records show. “Close doesn’t even begin to describe the nature and extent of” the relationship between the council and Fort Myer, the Washington Post editorial board opined.

Indeed, the company’s top officials have been consistent and generous donors to the city’s politicians. Fort Myer, along with the families of president Jose Rodrigues and executive vice president Lewis Shrensky, has donated nearly $150,000 to political campaigns, PACs and constituent service funds in the last decade. A Post analysis in 1998 showed that Rodrigues and Shrensky were among the biggest financial backers of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ losing mayoral bid, bundling together a combined $17,000.

Kerns declined to comment on Fort Myer’s and its officials’ political donations or larger role in District politics. But LL ought to point out that it would be odd for such a recipient of large city contracts not to open its wallet when politicians come calling.

Evans, who notes he raised $1 million for that mayor’s race, says the extent of his relationship with Fort Myer is limited to the occasional phone call from Rodrigues when “he feels like the city isn’t paying him in an appropriate fashion.” Evans says he puts Rodrigues in touch with someone at the Chief Financial Officer’s office, “and that’s the last I’ll hear of it.”

Court records, though, contain allegations that the company’s influence often goes deeper than a phone call to the Wilson Building. In written testimony under oath for the Amos case, Richardson said that during a meeting between Fort Myer officials and Fenty, the company’s representatives were “upset or concerned about getting their fair share of the city’s contracts.” Richardson says Fenty dispatched him to “attempt to resolve Fort Myer’s issues” and follow up with the firm later.

The company’s outsized imprint in District work has sometimes made DDOT officials leery and competitors upset. Former City Administrator Dan Tangherlini once allegedly said in a meeting that when he ran DDOT, one of his goals was to find a sliver of the District some other company could pave, according to a former Wilson Building staffer. And one construction company, Cheeks of North America, recently sued Fort Myer alleging the company was part of a vast bid-rigging scheme involving a complicit District government. A federal judge mocked the lawsuit and tossed it before it went anywhere. But the fact that Capitol Paving, another major road construction company in the District, is owned by Rodrigues’ brother, Francisco Neto, and Anchor Construction, also in the road construction business, is owned by Rodrigues’ ex-son-in-law, is great fodder for the conspiracy types. The District has paid those two companies $110 million in the last four years, records from the CFO show.

Those conspiracy types may have more to munch on when Amos’s trial begins this November. Amos suggests in court filings that several higher ups in the Fenty administration were part of a conspiracy to shield Fort Myer from scrutiny. LL hasn’t seen any proof of that, but at the very least the case could help give a clearer picture of the links between power, politics and paving in this town.

Photos by Darrow Montgomery

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6951.

  • Honest Abe

    Somehow this sounds like the same scheme that Sinclair Skinner, Omar Karim and others concocted in order to obtain contracts. Create a company, receive contracts (probably no bid) in an unfair manner, outsource the work and mark up the invoices by 50-60% and get paid for doing nothing. I guess it's the american way and I know for a fact that this type of activity has been going on for a long time. They will all reap what they sew.

  • Reader

    Goddamn homophones.

  • Samantha

    Fenty-Tangerlini- Evans ARE CROOKS ! Grand JUry Time !!!!

  • One that cares

    Man,I went to school at Howard with Parney Jenkins. He was a great guy back then and worked with him at District Engineering Services (my first job out of College) but that was over 25 years ago. Hopefully, he hasn't gone to the dark side and is caught up in this mess.

  • DCGOVCORRUPTION

    Parney Jenkins was fired by the District government for being involved in a bribery scheme, during the time that Dan T. headed the DDOT. This is no surprise about Parney Jenkins not performing the work. He is known in the DC contracting circle as a scam contractor.

  • Really?

    Co-sign Honest Abe!

  • noodlez

    DAMN SEWERMAN AFTER THAT 1ST GAME AND THE LET DOWN THAT THEM COWGIRLS DISPLAYED I WOULD THINK THAT YOU WOULD COME OUT FIRING WITH SOME DIRT ON BOWSER SO YOU CAN ACQUIRE MORE CUPCAKES FOR YOUR BEAN. BUT THIS HERE????

    I REALLY APPRECIATE A LL STORY HERE LATELY THAT DOESN’T INCLUDE NAMES IN BOLD OF GRAY, BROWN (ALL OF THEM), THOMAS, BARRY, ALEXANDER. . . YOU GET MY DRIFT. WHAT I DIDNT SEE COMING IS YOU ADVISING THE GENERAL PUBLIC AND LL MAINSTAYS ABOUT SOME WRONGFUL TERMINATION LAWSUIT OF A FORMER DC GOVT STAFFER OF THE WORST MAYOR W.D.C. EVER HAD.

    WTF! DUDE AS MUCH AS I HATE TO ADMIT IT YOU ARE PUTTING ME IN THE ‘FENTY IS NO LONGER MAYOR’ Drez AND Truth Hurts CAMP WITH THIS PIECE.

    THIS STORY REMINDS ME OF A DINNER PARTY WHERE THE MISSES FOLLOWS THE INSTRUCTION’S OF THE MENUS VERBATIM. COOKS HER FUCKING HEART OUT AND LAYS DOWN A DECENT SPREAD THAT HER HOMEMAKER MOMMA WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD OF. ONE PROBLEM! THE MEAL TASTES LIKE SHIT WITH NO FLAVOR! NOW WE ARE BUSY MAKING SMALL TALK AROUND THE TABLE INSTEAD OF EATING WHAT WE ARE SERVED. WE OPTING FOR MORE BROWN AND SERVE ROLLS AND ALCOHOL TO WASH AWAY THE NASTY FLAVOR.

    SEWERMAN I APPRECIATE THE EFFORT. NAME DROPPING EVANS, PUTTING FORT MYER ON BLAST AND TURNING THE LIGHT ON THE SEEDED UNDERBELLY OF LOCAL POLITICS. YOU COOKED A DECENT MEAL BUT WHERE IS THE FLAVOR? IF THOSE TWO COMPANIES THAT GOT $13.5 MIL A YEAR AND COMPLETED WORK THAT THEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DO AND EVERYTHING WAS ABOVE BOARD AND THEY WAS SOMEWHAT CONNECTED REALLY DOESNT MATTER TO ME. HOWEVER WHEN YOU GIVE AWAY MILLIONS TO SOME JOKERS THAT DOESN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SHOW FOR IT EXCEPT SOME PERSONAL GAINS THEN I HAVE A PROBLEM.

    SO THE JERRY JONESES LOST AND WE GOT THIS. SO IF THEY SOMEHOW GET PAST SAN FRAN THIS SUNDAY CAN WE GET A STORY ON GAYTANIA, WELLS, EVANS AND ONLY THEIR NAMES ENBOLDENED?

    SLIM WE ARE STARVING FOR SOME GOOD FOOD!!!

  • One That cares

    Damn Parney!!!! What happened to you, Bro'? Don't you know that the LOVE OF MONEY is the ROOT to ALL KINDS of EVIL! You had great potential man. You blew it. Now take your place with the HLTs of the world. Damned shame!

  • tony

    I hate to rain on the parade but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Where are all the wonderful commenters who are so concern with good government? Where are their comments demanding for tough investigations and grand jury inquiries? Where are their calls to send these people to the slammer? No, what this article suggest is that the "pay to play" scheme is as much a part of the political system than voting. It's how the systems work whether the participants are white or black. And, some people have the nerve to make a fuss over the few dollars that some blacks receive from the D.C. Government.You gotta be kidding me.

  • City Dude

    This is such a factually correct story and I am amazed it finally came to light thru insiders...I hope FBI investigates and prosecutes them..But they are not the only ones! There are few big and small ones that do it regularly through DRES..DCOPEFM..Fire Department and so on and so on....

  • Truth

    The truth of the matter is, Fort Meyer is the official "unofficial" single source earthwork company in the District, protected by DC's mafia like LSDBE rules.

    I had always suspected that them receiving nearly 100% of the cities work was council collaboration, now we know it.

    None of you know me, I don't work for any earthwork company or for the city but I hire and manage heavy highway / civil infrastructure contracts as part of my job and I can say with outright authority that Fort Meyers prices are consistantly 20-30% higher than any one of a half a dozen equal or larger companies in NOVA or Southern MD. It doesn't matter if you are pricing earthwork removal, yards of concrete/asphalt or hourly rates on backhoes etc, its all 20-30% higher.

    We as District taxpayers are getting fleeced, and its Council supported, legally enforced fleecing that is costing us ~15-20 million a year more than it should.

    I hope someone on the Council reads this and cares enough because not competitivly bidding out this work is costing the District taxpayers dearly. Oh, and of the ~1000 employees, less than a third are actually District residents (the vast majroity are "Ward 9" residents from PG County) so this BS about paying more to preserve District jobs isn't even true.

  • City Dude

    Truth..If Fort Myers looses a contract it immidiately protests and Fort Myers sues DC almost regularly and gets its extra change orders paid!! DOES can give you the info on all his employees from ward 9 and if he ever has/had a 1000 employees!!

  • sinclair skinner

    clark and turner should be investigated next. unless going after the contracts that small cbe's get is more important than the money that these large companies that employ mostly folks from maryland, west virginia and virginia. i wonder if the resumes of these business owners will be scrutinized I wonder if any of them even have engineering degrees. i guess they are too big to fail and too big to call what they do robbing dc taxpayers. #hypocrites

  • W

    If I'm not mistaken, the DBE designation Ft. Meyer's has is due to the proprietor's Portuguese background. Since when have Europeans been a disadvantaged class in the District? On every job site I've been on, all the managers are speaking Portuguese to one another, and I would imagine they use fluency in the language as a de-facto screen to keep any non-family/friends from even applying for the top jobs at the company. The fact that the only three companies that bid on paving in the District are owned by people related to one another is deeply troubling.

    The US Attorney needs to look into this, clearly our own watchdogs are deeply compromised.

  • Everyone Knows It’s True

    Truth is that Ft Meyer and Capital paving are one and the same. There is a defacto monopoly, there is o competitive bidding, and taxpayers are screwed by massive overpricing whether the job gets done well (nowadays) or not (bad old days).

  • Everyone Knows It’s True

    "Truth" is right.

  • DCDem

    Steve Amos, wow, that is a name I haven't heard in a while. I understand he won his suit against the District. Folks say he was RUTHLESS at DDOT and was put there to clean house.

  • Truth Hurts

    Where are one city and irv on this?

    Comforting to learn that "Fenty didn't like Peake, rolling his eyes when Peake's name was mentioned."

    Maybe Vince will hire him.

  • NE John

    you mutha fukers! I am coming aftah ya! Stealin' mah tax dollahs ain't right, middleman!

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    missing a boldfaced name in this story - anita bonds also works for fort myer and has a lot of connections going back to the barry days.

  • http://na chicken-chaser

    Truth and Everyone Knows It's True,

    I'm looking into the monopoly/collusion question. Please contact me with your views.

    Raindog4@verizon.net

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