The times were tense as my office of Minority Business Development for the state of Indiana proceeded to weed out the corruption and deceit in the contracting arenas. The worst sector was construction and I knew the office needed more muscle and expertise to recognize the fraud as it occurred. I proposed a new position: Construction Specialist. This person would have an expertise in the intricacies of construction management, engineering and general/sub contracting.
Almost immediately after the budget office approved the addition, Gary Gibson, a family friend, came to visit me. He informed me that he was moving back to Indianapolis from Detroit after he lost his wife to sickle cell anemia. He was seeking tips for employment. I looked at his resume and shouted, “You have a construction management degree from Notre Dame and experience with a major construction firm?” God is indeed great! Gary started working for me within a few weeks.
Within his first week on the job he detected something fishy. The plum job in the city was the massive new state office building. The construction management firm was Huber, Hunt and Nichols, the largest such firm in the state with offices throughout the nation. There was a company listed on the Minority Business Report by the name of Thomas Construction and they reportedly had contracts totaling more than $2 million. Gary stated that, according to his research, the firm didn’t have that kind of capability. He drove by the listed address of the firm and saw nothing that would cast doubt on his conclusion.
To do more than $100,000 in work for the state of Indiana one must first pre-qualify by demonstrating capacity. Gary and I strolled over to the Department of Public Works to look at the file on Thomas Construction. We pulled it out and found that it was empty. We suspected fraud. My problem was how to I prove it.
I told Gary to let me think on a plan of action. About two nights later I saw an IRS ad on TV. It asked potential whistle blowers to dial a particular 800 telephone number and report tax cheats. God is indeed great! I called the IRS and reported Thomas Construction as doing $2 million in construction and not reporting it. About 10 days later, an agent from the IRS visited my office. The sister said, “I visited Mr. Thomas and he confessed to a paper sham. He is waiting for you to visit him so he can inform you of the mess. I guess my badge and pistol on my hip intimidated him. He told it all.”
Our visit to Thomas was indeed revealing. He explained how Huber, Hunt and Nichols recruited him. He thought he was going to make a lot of money but pretty soon they had him doing a lot of stupid things. The key evidence was that Huber, Hunt and Nichols actually put the scheme down on paper. They had a written blueprint for fronting on the project and Thomas turned a copy of it over to us.
The written agreement had things like “For assignment of material purchase orders to you, HH&N will reimburse Thomas Construction Company a fee of 3 percent over and above the total cost of the purchase order. Joint checks will be issued to Thomas Construction Company in the name of Thomas and the named recipient of the purchase order.” Wow! They actually set up a special bank account where they would jointly go to the bank and make the deposits, but only HH&N had signing authority on the account. In total, it was a nine-point agreement full of sinister schemes.
I reported our findings to the state Department of Administration. The general counsel asked us, “Where are you guys going with this?” I responded, “To hell and back if that is what it takes.” I was about to leave my position to start a local Black Chamber of Commerce so I had no fear. At an event for the Indiana Black Expo, I stood on a stage with Rev. Jesse Jackson and took the microphone. I shouted, “Huber, Hunt and No Negroes has been busted for fronting on the State Office Building and the state must punish them!” The newspapers, television stations and radio channels blew it up.
Huber, Hunt and Nichols was banned from state projects for five years. They eventually changed their name to Hunt Construction. The U.S. Attorney wanted to go after 72-year-old Thomas, but we persuaded them to leave him alone. They wouldn’t pursue HH&N. (To be continued next week.) — (NNPA)