A Maryland quality-control director has admitted falsely certifying that precast concrete made by his company for highway and bridge projects met government standards.
Santos Eliazar Rivas, 32, of Hagerstown, MD, pleaded guilty Monday (Sept. 19) in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to three counts of making false statements. He faces up to 15 years in prison and $750,000 in fines at his sentencing Dec. 19, said U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein.
Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project
|Officials said the structural integrity of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was not compromised by the sub-standard concrete.|
Rivas was quality control director for Frederick Precast Concrete, of Greencastle, PA, when the company supplied precast structures for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement in the Washington DC area and an Interstate 70 interchange project in Frederick County, MD.
Rebar, Testing Cited
Prosecutors said the structures were weaker than they should have been, because corners were cut during manufacturing.
The problem came to light in 2007, when a worker noticed that a structure from Frederick Precast had cracked open at the I-70 job site.
Inspection revealed that the material contained two layers of steel rebar rather than the three layers specified, and that the steel was of a weaker gauge than required.
That led to an investigation “that exposed a pattern of misrepresentations,” including several instances of the wrong number or gauge of steel rebar being used, Rosenstein said.
“Santos Eliazar Rivas falsely certified that his company was delivering the precast concrete the government was paying for, and the government relied on that certification,” Rosenstein said.
On numerous occasions, Rivas signed off on precast structures whose concrete mix either had not been tested or had failed testing to meet specifications, he said.
Structural Integrity Defended
Transportation officials insisted that the structural integrity of the projects was never compromised.
“This particular concrete had no bearing whatsoever on the structural integrity of the Wilson Bridge or I-70,” Valerie Burnette-Edgar, director of MSHA, told the Washington Post. “Everything they supplied was inspected and either replaced or deemed safe.”
“We replaced six drainage structures and 40 manhole covers on I-70,” Burnette-Edgar told the newspaper. “We replaced six structures at the Wilson Bridge, and we went back three years on all projects to inspect for anything used elsewhere.”
The Maryland State Highway Administration paid $131,410 for the defective materials used in the federally funded projects, prosecutors said. Burnette-Edgar said the contractors who had purchased from Frederick Precast paid for the replacements.
Frederick Precast Concrete Inc. was established in Maryland but moved to Pennsylvania in 2002. The company designs and produces box culverts, riser structures and precast drop manholes for storm drain and sanitary sewer lines, plus precast endwalls.
In January 2011, Frederick Precast was acquired by Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS) Inc., of Hillard, OH, although Frederick still maintains a web site under its own name and still lists Eliazar Rivas as QC/QA director.
ADS is the world’s largest producer of corrugated HDPE pipe. Founded in 1966, ADS serves the storm and wastewater industry through a global network of 51 manufacturing plants. A woman who answered the phone Thursday (Sept. 22) at ADS headquarters declined to comment on the concrete case.
The Maryland state highway agency suspended Frederick Precast for 60 days in 1998 and for one year in 1999, the Washington Post reported, quoting federal documents. “State officials were not immediately sure of the reasons for the suspensions,” the newspaper said this week.
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway portion of I-95 over the Potomac River, is the only federally owned bridge in the interstate highway system, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
The bridge was carrying more than 200,000 vehicles a day—nearly three times its designed capacity—when it was replaced in the mid-2000s, doubling the number of lanes to 12 from six.
The $2.4 billion project also improved approaches and interchanges in Maryland and Virginia.