Friday, February 24, 2012

Piedmont Triad International (KGSO) contract goes to company under investigation

A Burlington company facing a federal criminal investigation into its hiring practices has been awarded a $2.3 million contract to handle a project at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

Triangle Grading & Paving will clear about 60 acres at the airport to make room for a $20 million maintenance, repair and overhaul center for Honda Aircraft Co.

Jack Bailey, chief operations officer with Triangle, said Friday the company expects to complete the overall project by August.

It is the latest multimillion dollar contract in the Triad for the company.

It also is currently working on the Brushy Fork Greenway project in Winston-Salem, which will connect Winston Lake in the northeastern part of the city with the Salem Creek Greenway – and Salem Lake – in the eastern part of the city.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported Jan. 25 that Triangle was fined more than $400,000 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2011.

It also has racked up the largest ICE fine total in North Carolina going back to at least 2009, according to information the agency provided through a Freedom of Information Act request.

ICE has not explained the reasons for its fines, citing its criminal investigation.

Spokesman Vincent Picard said ICE fines could be for hiring illegal immigrants or helping illegal immigrants falsify documentation, as well as several other immigration-related violations.

Kevin Baker, PTI's director, said the Triangle bid was properly vetted by airport officials and was the lowest of 14 bidders.

"They have done work here before, and we had no reason to reject them," Baker said.

"We have specific requirements for contractors to work on our projects, including certified labor reports every month. We know who they have on the work site, and we will be watching."

Bailey said ICE has made its complaint, and Triangle has responded. "We're awaiting direction on if or when we go to court to fight this out," Bailey said.

Bailey said he thinks the Jan. 25 article "was blown way out of proportion."

"There have been no criminal charges filed," Bailey said. He said the ICE investigation may be centered "on some I-9s that weren't properly filled out." The I-9 form is used to verify employment eligibility.

Winston-Salem and N.C. Transportation Department officials said they didn't know about the company's immigration-related fine until contacted by the Journal, despite having numerous contracts with the company and the well-publicized deaths last year of two Latino men who worked for Triangle in Durham.

The N.C. Labor Department fined Triangle $16,000 after that incident, in which Luis Castaneda Gomez of Durham and Jesus Martinez Benitez of Clayton went inside an 11-foot-deep manhole, lost consciousness because of a lack of oxygen and suffocated.

Triangle is fighting that fine. The citations said Triangle didn't perform tests to make sure the men could enter the manhole safely, didn't have a supervisor on hand and didn't provide appropriate respiratory protection or rescue equipment.

Triangle has a long record of public-construction projects in North Carolina, at least partly because it frequently is a low bidder, government documents show. State law requires agencies to accept the lowest qualified bidder; the same rules apply to cities.

The state labor department has inspected Triangle sites 34 times since 1997 and cited the company 25 times, according to records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It has won 18 contracts from the N.C. Transportation Department since 2000. It will stay on the agency's list of qualified contractors despite the ICE fines, spokesman Steve Abbott said.

The DOT reviews its list of contractors each year, and "although safety records will be considered at that time, immigration fines would not be a factor," Abbott said.

The ICE fines might affect Triangle's relationship with Winston-Salem, which has hired the company seven times since July 2006 for projects worth a combined $8.9 million.

Greg Turner, an assistant city manager, said Friday the ICE fines cannot be used for removing the company from existing contracted jobs. However, if the city determines that the company is violating any laws, the city can terminate the contract, he said.

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