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Contractor Gets $20M for Bribe Reports

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

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A Louisiana jury has agreed with a former bridge contractor and awarded him $20 million after he said a state official tried to bribe him with cash and other gifts and then blacklisted him from other projects after he reported it.

Jeff Mercer, who operated as Jeff Mercer LLC while he was doing contract work, won two separate civil suits he filed against the state Department of Transportation, according to an article in The News Star. Mercer’s attorney, David Doughty, said the $20 million accounts for lost income Mercer would have received had he been able to work on the other projects.

“It’s been a long fight, we’ve been trying to get them in court for eight years,” Doughty told the daily paper on Friday (Dec. 4). “We finally got justice."

The court documents were not available for review on Monday (Dec. 7).

Alleged Bribery, Blacklisting

In the suits, Mercer said that Willis Jenkins, a DOTD inspector on a bridge project in Monroe, LA, told him he would need a bribe “If he wanted things to get better.

©iStock.com / Hirkophoto

A jury agreed with a former bridge contractor that a Louisiana state official asked for a bribe for favorable treatment, then blacklisted the contractor when he reported it.

“It’s going to take some green,” Jenkins reportedly told Mercer. According to the newspaper, Jenkins also said he would need Mercer to provide him with a generator as part of the bribe.

Jenkins reportedly admitted to making the comment, but said it was a joke. The DOTD never investigated, the newspaper reported.

“It was so bad, I think that’s what [the jury] reacted to,” in providing the award, Doughty told The News Star. “I think what this is all about is that people are tired of corruption and tired of reading of this type of thing, and I think the jury was sending a message: ‘Hey, We’re not going to tolerate this.’”

The suit was filed in 2007. Mercer said in his allegations that he reported the incident to DOTD engineer Marshall Hill, who removed Jenkins from the project. Reached Monday for comment, Doughty told PaintSquare News that Jenkins was not fired as a result of the allegations.

However, the newspaper reported, Hill allegedly told Mercer that “this is not the first time he heard about [Jenkins].”

At the time, the newspaper said, Mercer employed between 20 and 40 people on his contracting team. After he reported the incident, Mercer said DOTD made his job costly and difficult, the newspaper reported.

“Later on, all these other defendants, they jumped on me and refused to pay me for work that I had done, all kinds of other things,” Mercer said.

Alleged Retaliation

Doughty said the DOTD even attempted to retaliate for Mercer’s actions.

“As he went to other jobs, they continued to really punish him,” the attorney told the newspaper. “It culminated in them actually reporting him to the FBI on some false criminal charges that wound up being dropped, but they didn’t check with him or his prime contractor or anybody…

“Rather, they reported him to the FBI,” Doughty said.

In an interview with PaintSquare News, Doughty said that Mercer operated a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise because he suffers from epilepsy. One of his subcontractors was not a DBE firm and, according to Doughty, was paid out of DBE money because of a “clerical error.”

“He was crying out for help on these jobs, asking ‘who protects the DBE from the DOTD?’,” Doughty told the daily newspaper. “The people who are actually supposed to guard the DBE companies are within the DOTD itself. ... He didn’t get any help from them.”

Jury’s Decision

A 12-member jury in Louisiana’s 4th Judicial District Court—overseen by Judge Wilson Rambo—agreed that the DOTD owed Mercer money. His legal action claimed that he was owed for two projects in Monroe: $7,463 for the Louisville Avenue Bridge project and $50,567 for a project on Well Road.

©iStock.com / aerogondo

The jury awarded Jeff Mercer $20 million for unpaid wages and lost contracts as a result of his whistleblowing activity with the Louisiana Department of Transportation.

Five other projects make up nearly $9 million more that he is owed, The News Star said. Mercer said in his allegations that more than $10 million was not paid until 2011.

According to the newspaper, Mercer wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration Office of Civil Rights and alleged that the DOTD had taken fraudulent, wasteful and abusive actions; committed wire fraud; abused funds; lied to the FBI; colluded; committed bribery; and abused 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money.

In addition to Jenkins, the suit involved Michael Murphy, John Eason and Barry Lacy, who Doughty said were all involved in the alleged scandal.

Two separate suits also are ongoing in Baton Rouge for more than $10 million, Doughty said. However, he declined to comment on the specifics.

Doughty told PaintSquare News that he is unsure if the DODT will appeal, but that they have “a couple of months” to do so.

Meanwhile, Rodney Mallett, the Communications Director for the DODT, told PaintSquare News on Monday that the agency does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Department of Transportation (DOT); Ethics; Laws and litigation; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

Comment from John Fauth, (12/8/2015, 8:26 AM)

Let's see if I understand this correctly. The contractor is (rightfully) awarded damages in the amount of $ 20 million. To be paid by the DOTD with taxpayer funds, not paid by the individuals responsible for either the solicitation, the cover-up, or the false accusations. All of those individuals (apparently) continue to be employed by the DOTD despite having been involved in what could rightfully be termed a criminal conspiracy based upon the power vested in them as public employees. Is it any wonder why people distrust government and its agency proxies?


Comment from MC Skinitis, (12/8/2015, 8:39 AM)

To John Fauth... could not have said it better! Kudos!


Comment from Car F., (12/8/2015, 11:02 AM)

It is called vicarious responsibility, in other words, the organization, as a whole is responsible for the actions of those members of the organization. Vicarious responsibility extends to all walks of life and organizations, public and private.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (12/8/2015, 11:24 AM)

Hmmm....well, if there is enough evidence to get to court and an award but DOTD won't act, then perhaps some of the details need to be turned over to the respective professional licensing bodies. Conduct unbecoming / disreputable conduct is disciplinary grounds for most professional organizations. Hard to be a DOTD engineer, geologist or architect if you've lost your qualifications.


Comment from Gail Alario, (12/9/2015, 8:03 AM)

another government agency at its best! John Fauth was right on target!


Comment from Chuck Pease, (12/9/2015, 6:31 PM)

Another business as usual in the US of A.Great comment John F


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