Loose Lips

Who Do You Know?

We all know Keith Lomax can drive.

When former Mayor Adrian Fenty was in office, Lomax used to chauffeur Hizzoner around in a District-owned vehicle. Then the media made a fuss, and Fenty apologized for letting his friend and former substitute teacher drive him around in violation of city laws.

What’s less clear is what Lomax does when it comes to city construction contracts these days. His firm, RBK Construction, a former landscaping company, blossomed into a construction company with a steady stream of District contracts under Fenty, and it continues to land city work now. It got a $3.4 million subcontract at Anacostia Senior High School during Fenty’s last year in office and has been paid more than $2.2 million as a subcontractor on three other school construction jobs in recent years. It’s also part of the management team for the $100 million renovation of Cardozo High School.

But no one—not Lomax, not the general contractors who have hired RBK, not the city officials who oversee school construction spending—is willing and/or able to say with any level of detail what RBK Construction has done for all that money. It’s an uneasy silence that raises uncomfortable questions about whether city officials who oversee school construction are oblivious to potential problems involving a contractor who once had very powerful ties, or are just looking the other way.

Consider RBK’s contract at Anacostia. A drywall contractor says he submitted a bid to Forrester Construction, the general contractor on the project, which was accepted. But there was a catch, says the contractor (who asked not to be named because he feared losing future city business). Forrester asked the drywall contractor to provide bonding on the job, which is like insurance, for both his company and RBK Construction. RBK would be the official subcontractor and the drywall contractor would, in turn, have a subcontract with RBK.

The contractor says he’s done dozens of city construction jobs and never been asked to be part of such a setup. But his bonding company said it was okay, and the amount he bid for the project stayed the same, so he agreed.

“Basically nothing changed from both parties, just different names,” the contractor says of the contract he submitted to Forrester versus the one he signed with RBK.

Forrester’s own records, which LL obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show RBK has been paid $2.85 million through August of this year, with $2.43 million being paid to one single subcontractor: the drywall contractor. Which means RBK may have kept about $420,000.

So what did the company do for the money? The drywall contractor says he hasn’t a clue. He says RBK had an employee who was at the Anacostia job site on a regular basis, but didn’t do any drywall work—neither labor nor managing labor.

“Our crew is capable of doing it on our own,” says the contractor.

Representatives from Forrester didn’t return a call seeking comment. The company has come under fire from city officials on a separate matter—for running what one councilmember called a “sham” joint venture with another company—on the Anacostia job.

Lomax hung up on LL twice and kicked LL out of RBK’s office in Ward 8 when LL tried to ask him about the arrangement.

“There’s a billion dollars going around D.C., and you’re worried about one company,” says Lomax.

City records show the drywall contractor has direct contracts with general contractors on other school projects, without a middleman like RBK. In fact, the drywaller says that after the Anacostia project was underway, he signed a direct contract with Forrester on the same Anacostia job for $22,000, in addition to the work with RBK. Forrester’s records show that the second contract grew to more than $745,000 through change orders, a 3,386 percent increase.

Forrester’s records also signal that RBK was the only firm with an arrangement like this. All other subcontractors on the job did at least 60 percent of the work on their contract themselves, the records show.

Meanwhile, LL’s FOIA request for RBK’s certified payroll sheets on $5 million worth of school construction subcontracts, including the work at Anacostia, produced exactly one document. It showed that RBK hired eight “common laborers” at $15 an hour in August to work at the Anacostia job. Total wages paid: less than $6,000.

When LL first received the records and began asking questions, a spokesman for the Department of General Services said there was nothing amiss. There were no certified payroll sheets for RBK because the company had contracted the majority of its work to other subcontractors “pursuant to its contract,” said DGS spokesman Darrell Pressley.

But after a few more rounds of questioning, DGS said that after reviewing RBK’s records, it was “evident” that RBK did not do 35 percent of its own work itself, which Pressley says was DGS’s “standard” for “trade subcontractors.” (DGS did respond to follow up questions about whether its “standards” are codified into law, regulations, or just some kind of common practice.)

It’s unclear why the city would have approved plans to include RBK as a “trade subcontractor” on school projects. Courtland Cox, a private contractor who helps DGS manage school construction projects, says Lomax “tries to think of himself as a general contractor,” not as someone who specializes in a particular trade.

It’s also unclear what the city is going to do about RBK not meeting DGS’ “standards,” as DGS Director Brian Hanlon did not respond to requests for comment. (Those questions were asked before Hurricane Sandy closed D.C. government for two days this week.)

This isn’t the first time RBK’s involvement in city contracts has raised red flags. Last year the city auditor noted the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, formerly headed by now-City Administrator Allen Lew, didn’t have records to support six purchase orders to RBK for nearly $10 million.

Also last year, an independent investigator commissioned by the council noted RBK’s success in winning park construction contracts a few years ago. When the city farmed out the selection process to a firm owned by Omar Karim, a fraternity brother of Fenty’s, RBK landed two city contracts. One was a $10 million renovation at Barry Farms it was to share with Forrester; the other was a $1.8 million contract for a park construction job in Chevy Chase it was to manage on its own. Attorney Robert Trout said RBK’s selection for the $1.8 million project “raises questions,” because another firm had a higher overall score after their bids were evaluated. (It’s not clear if RBK ever did any work on those projects, as the council cancelled Karim’s oversight of the parks projects once lawmakers discovered Fenty’s administration wasn’t submitting them for council approval.)

Former D.C. Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown announced in 2009 that he was going to launch an investigation into whether RBK deserved to be given special preference when bidding on city projects as a resident-owned business. Brown’s announcement came after Lomax’s habit of driving Fenty around was made public and a handful of media reports raised questions about whether Lomax lived in D.C. or Prince George’s County.

Lomax currently rents an office on Minnesota Avenue SE in Ward 8. When Lomax renewed RBK’s local business certification in 2011, he listed the office space as his home address. (When LL was briefly allowed inside, he saw offices on the first floor and in the basement, but wasn’t given the full tour.)

Lomax also owns a home in Fort Washington, Md., which is often listed as his home address in court filings. When he registered a $76,000 BMW convertible in Maryland in 2009, he listed the Fort Washington address as his home address. RBK is also certified as a minority-owned business with the Maryland Department of Transportation, which lists Lomax’s Fort Washington home as the company’s address.

RBK has also had financial trouble of late. Last year, both Lomax and RBK were sued by a PNC bank in D.C. Superior Court for not paying back a $300,000 loan. He didn’t show up to court to fight the lawsuit and was ordered to pay $336,593.97, court records show. In Maryland last year, he was sued for breach of contract and ordered to pay more than $137,000 by a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge.

None of these flags, nor the departure of Fenty, seem to have dimmed RBK’s viability within the close-knit world of public school construction. DGS’s Pressley says the agency is taking a look at “some of its opportunities—particularly in Parks and Recreation—that will allow firms like RBK and others to increase their business capacity and grow their companies.”

RBK’s share of the Cardozo High School contract is worth $351,000. The contract, with Sigal Construction, was awarded by the Gray administration last year.

Sigal’s owner, Gerry Sigal, did not respond to a request for comment, leaving it unclear why a well-established general contractor would need RBK’s help managing a project similar to several others Sigal has managed on its own.

Left completely unexplained, regardless, is this: How does a company carrying such baggage, whose biggest political patron was voted out of office two years ago, continue to win these types of contracts? Maybe RBK is just that good at whatever it is they do. Or maybe once a connected contractor makes its way to the buffet known as D.C. public school spending, that company is there for good. In other words, when it comes to D.C. government business, it’s not just who you know, it’s also who you knew.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Drez

    Ultimately unsatisfying, but interesting.

  • nowaitadaminit

    C'mon Drez: Is That All You Got?????

  • ToTheContrary

    Once connected always connected in District construction business.

  • Italian Pizza

    Keith Lomax is a thief with the criminal mind of a child and Adrian Fenty is a modern day Fegin.

  • RealDC

    Damn, now thats good investigative reporting. We deserve some answers. Lew? DGS?

    Where are the Fenty backers? Oh yeah, they are getting Bowser ready for a run at the mayor's office?? DC, dont be fooled!

  • Drez

    What else is there to say? The story raises more questions than it answers. Chief among them, is 1) is Lomax inc. doing substantive work and 2) if not why hasGray (ahem, not Fenty) been paying Lomax inc for the past 2 years?

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  • ToTheContrary

    Adrian who?

  • JGK

    Adrian Fenty is Vince Gray. Vince Gray is Adrian Fenty.
    And so the wide world keeps on turning and here in DC nothing ever changes.

  • cutthecrap

    @JGK...damn, you stole my line. Get the hell out of my head. LOL D.C. residents, don't be fooled in the next mayoral election.

  • nowaitadaminit

    @Drez: Don't know JACK about contract letting; don't want to either. I do know however, that this Lomax sh** started wit yo boy and from the way it sounds, yo boy is in some more deep doo-doo. Much deeper than anything you might want to put on the Gray campaign and it's f*** ups.

    Open your eyes, Slim. They're all culpable and involved one way or another. I don't give a hot kitty who gets charged by the feds and who doesn't. I just want the city to get back on track so a really good man from the looks of things (Yes, I mean Mayor Gray), can go about the business of the city. If he is guilty of something, then lets get it on in Court. If not, let the man the f*** alone.

    Any way you look at it that slime ball Fenty is a crook all the way from taking that old man's money to embellish his digs to the Parks & Rec scams that lined the pockets of his do-nothing friends of whom Lomax is but one. His less than brilliant baby mama who couldn't pass the GED exam but was making $110k, his very challenged dawg SiSk, his problems with his long suffering wife, ad infinitum.......

    Papa Nickels is just a culpable. He crossed the t's and dotted the i's to make all of it happen. And you can bet your bottom dollar he didn't do it just to make yo boy happy.

  • LuvDC4Life

    Everyone should stop taking shots at DC. The same kind of stuff goes on in most major cities. If you don't like DC move to MD, VA or better yet IOWA.

  • cutthecrap

    Now wait a damn minute...you're just as f-up as Drez. Your're giving Gray a pass when he is still giving Lomax business??? Leave that crack alone brother.

  • nowaitadaminit

    cutthecrap from your lil dirty crack and take a good long soak in some soapy hot water. You don't know me and you don't know squat about how Lomax got that business.

    Nobody in this house is giving ANYBODY a pass. Read my comment again, Slim. What I will not give a pass to is people with no life who get vicarious thrills from others' travails, trials, and tribulations. Come correct or stay at home. These discussions are the start of some real dialogue. Not some stupid street talking jive ass you know whats. If you want to look at the negative sides of everything keep it to yourself. Enlightened people want DC to work and to work RIGHT NOW.

  • cutthecrap

    Sounds like I struck a nerve...wait a damn minute, I struck two nerves. Did I get little personal on the crack comment? You're a little touchy; seem like you need hit. LOL while I'm taking a long soak.

  • nowaitadaminit

    I have no idea what street thuggery crack talk is all about. You, sir, on the other hand, seem to be quite knowledgeable.

    The only nerve you strike with me is the one that makes me wonder why I engage in such trite interaction with the likes of challenged nimcompoops like you. Maybe I just like to wallow in the mud every now and then. Abd that's probably because the opposition is not intellectually up to par.

  • nowaitadaminit

    Hey #14: Now didn't that long hot bath make you feel better with no itching and no more crap to cut?

  • cutthecrap

    you still a crack hoe

  • nowaitadaminit

    @#17: A little confused!! Is that the thing that farmer's use to cut through the earth?

  • Anonymous, Too

    OMG! Sewerman! Twice in one month. I'm swooning. Are you becoming a crack investigative journalist right before my eyes? Dorothy Brizill won't believe it but should be grateful.

    From DCWatch's 5-18-11 issue of The Mail:
    "Second, when Dorothy asked about the scathing, damning DC Auditor's report on Allen Lew's management of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, Gray and Lew tried to dismiss the questions. Lew scorned the report, implying that the auditor had been unable to find the supporting documents because she had been incompetent, and Gray implied that the audit was unimportant because Lew got the job done, and people liked the renovated schools."

    Here's a bonus hint for you: Lomax was already doing a booming business with the City during the Williams administration before he hooked up to the Fenty gravy train and hauled in the big payoffs.

  • http://www.oprah.com Oprah

    It's important to ask these questions. Be ready when the universe answers them.

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