Another City Construction Contracting Mystery
Last October, LL reported on a mystery in city contracting involving Keith Lomax, the owner of a construction company and one-time chauffeur to former Mayor Adrian Fenty. The mystery: what exactly did Lomax's company, RBK Construction, do to receive a $2.8 million drywall contract at Anacostia Senior High School in which it did not, in fact, do any drywall work? The contractor who did the actual work says he bid the contract with Forrester Construction, the Maryland-based general contractor. The contractor says his contract was accepted, but Forrester directed him to partner with RBK for reasons he says were not explained to him. Neither Forrester or Lomax offered an explanation to LL either.
The Department of General Services, which oversees public school construction, said that it requires subcontractors to perform at least 35 percent of a contract, and that it was "evident" RBK did not meet that standard on the Anacostia job. What the consequences are of RBK not meeting that standard have yet to be explained to LL, despite having questioned DGS Director Brian Hanlon several times.
New DGS records uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests raise similar questions about another partnership between Forrester and RBK on a relatively small public park construction project. Records show Forrester was selected as the general contractor to renovate 10th Street Park near the convention center, a project whose total cost was $2 million and was completed in 2011.
The records show Forrester hired RBK as a subcontractor to do "site construction" for $530,000. DGS counts this amount towards the 91 percent of construction work on the park it says were done by Certified Business Enterprises, as RBK is a registered CBE. Here's a shot of the records (you'll have to click to enlarge):
But certified payroll sheets for the job show that RBK used a subcontractor of its own, a non-CBE firm based in Upper Marlboro called Locust Lane Farms, to do the actual work. RBK's payroll sheets show that it employed no tradesmen or laborers of any kind on the project, while Locust Lane Farms employed several (only two were District residents). Locust Lane's owner did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Its website shows that the company has its own heavy construction equipment to do projects like the 10th Street Park. By constrast, RBK styles itself as a general contractor and operates out of row house off Minnesota Avenue where there's no room to store any construction equipment.
Forrester did not immediately respond to requests for comment. LL asked Hanlon for comment yesterday. Late this afternoon, Hanlon's spokesman, Darrell Pressley, says he's still trying to find out details about the subcontracts on the 10th Street Park project. Pressley did note that the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (which is part of DGS) inherited oversight this project, as well as the project's chose architect and general contractor, after the D.C. Council stripped control of park projects away from Omar Karim, another friend of Fenty's.
LL called Lomax today to ask what RBK did on the 10th Street park project. Lomax refused to answer and accused LL of unfairly picking on Lomax.
"Why do you keep harassing me?" Lomax asked LL, who hasn't called Lomax in six months. "You're a harrasser."
Lomax then directed LL to "call the attorney general, and they'll tell you that I've done nothing wrong." (LL has a request in the Office of the Attorney General to see if they know what Lomax is referring to.)
Lomax then abruptly told LL to "hold on."
After five minutes of waiting, Lomax said "hold on" again.
Another five minutes went by. When Lomax got back on the phone to say "hold on," LL asked what LL was holding on for. Lomax did not answer but told LL to "hold on" again.
Three minutes passed.
"Hello?" Lomax said.
"Yeah," LL responded.
LL waited a few more minutes before hanging up.
When LL called back several hours later, Lomax responded:
"Hey, hold on for a minute okay," before putting LL on hold, again. A minute later ... well, you get the idea by now.
For the record, it isn't just LL who has been poking around RBK's contracts. The city's auditor has reported that the city couldn't provide proper documentation to justify nearly $10 million in payments to RBK, and Robert Trout, an independent investigator commissioned by the D.C. Council, said a contract RBK won for playground in Chevy Chase "raises questions" about why more qualified bidders didn't win.
Photo by Alan Suderman