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Entries in Contractors (3)

Wednesday
Oct242012

Sen. McCaskill Calls for Probe of 'Drunk' Contractors in Cellphone Video

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Responding to an ABC News report that featured cellphone video showing U.S. defense contractors in Afghanistan getting drunk and using drugs, Sen. Claire McCaskill has called for an Army investigation into the alleged abuses and how they went undetected by military officials.

In a letter sent to Army Secretary John McHugh on Tuesday, McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, wrote that it is "imperative" that action be taken "to ensure that these allegations are fully investigated and the contractor and U.S. personnel involved are held accountable."

"In light of the seriousness of these allegations," wrote McCaskill, "and the potential for harm to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, I urge you to conduct a thorough review of the performance, management, and oversight of this contract and all other Army contracts for police training in Afghanistan."

McCaskill said in a separate statement Tuesday that "the shocking abuses by government contractors described in these complaints are outrageous and something that should offend every taxpayer."

As detailed on Nightline, the video, provided to ABC News by two former employees, appears to show key personnel from Virginia-based Jorge Scientific staggeringly drunk or high on narcotics at an operations center in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Jorge Scientific has won almost $1 billion in government contracts.

[ WATCH THE ORIGINAL NIGHTLINE REPORT ]

Questions posed by ABC News to the Pentagon have now sparked a criminal investigation by the U.S. Army, an Army spokesman said.  And the company has said it has taken "decisive action to correct the unacceptable behavior of a limited number of employees" and that several of them seen on the video are no longer employed by Jorge Scientific.

The two whistleblowers, John Melson and Kenny Smith, worked as armed security officers for three and five months, respectively, in Kabul as part of a $47 million contract Jorge Scientific had under the U.S. Legacy Program to train the Afghan National Police in counter-insurgency efforts.

The video they provided to ABC News shows the security manager for the company staggering about the operations center late one evening after taking large gulps of vodka and then engaging another employee in a half-naked wrestling match.

Another portion of the video shows the company's medical officer with glassy eyes and unable to respond to a request for help after shooting up with a prescription anesthetic, Ketamine.  The medical officer, Kevin Carlson, has since admitted to ABC News that he frequently injected himself with narcotics.

The two former employees said that the drunken and stoned security personnel would often throw live ammunition rounds and fire extinguishers into the flames and watch as they exploded, often sounding like a real bomb explosion.

"It was like a frat house for adults," said Melson.  "Some of them to the point where they were passing out, there's firearms laying around, some of them still carrying the firearms on them."

Both men, who have filed a lawsuit against Jorge Scientific, say they quit the company in disgust and out of concern that their own safety was being compromised by the behavior they describe, which they said was a regular occurrence.

"It wasn't every night," Smith said.  "It was every other night."

The company's operations manual describes a policy of "zero-tolerance for alcohol and drug use" and says all personnel must be on alert 24/7 for a possible terror attack.

Yet when asked if a response to an attack by terrorists would have been possible during the events seen on the video, Smith told ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, "No, sir."

The two men say they saw no evidence of oversight of the company by American military officials and that at least one U.S. Army major, a female, was a regular visitor to drunken parties at the facility, often using a room for sexual encounters.

"If true, these allegations raise serious questions relating to the Army's management and oversight of contracts in Afghanistan," McCaskill wrote in her letter to McHugh.

In a statement to ABC News, Col. Tom Collins, a U.S. Army spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said, "Clearly, behavior such as that described by ABC News is not indicative of the outstanding work that thousands of contractors and service members perform every day in Afghanistan."

But in Tuesday's letter to the Army, McCaskill, who has pushed for reforms to the government contracting process, wrote that she was "particularly concerned because of the legacy of mismanagement of police training contracts."

Earlier this year, McCaskill introduced a Senate bill, the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act of 2012, which would increase government oversight over contractors and heighten contractor accountability.

In her statement Tuesday, McCaskill said that "the only silver lining" in the allegations against Jorge Scientific "is that I believe this alleged misconduct will add fuel to my fight to crack down on the dangerous failures in the effort to train the Afghan police force."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar032011

Few Remedies for Contractors Injured In Oil Refinery Accidents  

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- February 22, 2008, began like any other day for José Herrera. A seasoned contract pipe fitter in his late 40s, Herrera had labored in Texas refineries for two decades. The work was hard and sporadic, but on a good week, including overtime, an experienced hand like Herrera might earn $3,500, enough to provide a good life for his wife, Hortencia, and son and frequent fishing companion, José.

By late morning, Herrera and a co-worker, Aaron Salinas, had scaled a scaffold at the CITGO East refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, and were busy preparing the Crude Unit for a procedure known as a chemical wash. At 10:35 a.m., a "nipple" -- a metal piece measuring only three-quarters of an inch by 17 inches -- extending from a heat exchanger broke loose, showering the two men with 550-degree oil, a lawsuit filed by Herrera and Salinas claims.

Salinas clambered down from the scaffold, escaping with burns on his back, neck and head. Herrera wasn't as lucky. Unable to free himself from his safety harness for several minutes, he was seared badly by the oil. Someone finally cut him down, and he was airlifted to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where, for a time, doctors thought he might die. Third-degree burns covered his head, hands, and arms.

Since that day three years ago, Herrera, 50, has undergone 11 operations. Doctors rebuilt his chin, transferring layers of skin from his chest and his thighs. Scar tissue prevents him from being able to close his right eye. His body temperature is constantly out of whack. "I've been in hell," he said during a recent interview in Houston, near his home in Baytown, Texas. "I'm in pain every minute."

Adding to his woes, Herrera has fallen into a gap in the protections afforded many workers injured on the job. After racking up an estimated $200,000 in medical costs and with no income other than a modest workers' compensation check, Herrera says his money is running out. He can only fantasize about holding a job and resuming the activities he used to relish -- martial arts, dancing, fishing with his son, now 13. A photograph shows José and Hortencia at a dance, in better days. "He's not the husband I had before," she said.

Some refinery workers are killed on the spot and duly memorialized, their survivors compensated financially for expenses, and for pain and suffering. Others, like Herrera, are maimed -- their prospects dashed, their lives forever altered -- and largely forgotten. Even when authorities find fault with refineries and the contractors that keep them running, workers like Herrera can have few means of redress for their injuries.

Following the hot oil mishap in 2008, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Herrera's former employer, Corpus Christi-based Repcon Inc., for two serious violations. Repcon paid a $2,000 fine for failing to alert its employees to fire and explosion hazards; OSHA dropped the other violation, which alleged that Repcon failed to provide personal protective equipment.

OSHA also found fault with CITGO, citing it for four serious violations. The company paid a $10,000 fine for three of the violations, including failure to inspect and test the nipple on the heat exchanger to ensure its mechanical integrity prior to the accident. OSHA dropped the fourth violation, which claimed that CITGO failed to inform contract workers of fire and explosion hazards.

Under Texas law, Herrera can't sue Repcon, his employer at the time of the accident, because the company provided workers' compensation coverage. Such is the case in most states. Because of a court decision, however, a property owner in Texas is considered its own "general contractor," and also is shielded from lawsuits if it provides workers' comp to its "subcontractors." CITGO did.

The 2007 Texas Supreme Court decision shielding "premises owners" from liability was unanimous. During their careers on the court, the nine justices involved in the ruling collectively have received nearly $1.2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The industry is a major economic engine in Texas; nearly one-fifth of all U.S. refineries are located there. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov102010

NYC Nabs Unlicensed Contractors in Undercover Sting Operation

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The city of New York announced Wednesday the results of an undercover sting operation that targeted illegal contractors.

The majority of states require home improvement contractors to be properly licensed, but there are still plenty of rogue companies operating.

Repairing or remodeling your home is one of the most expensive projects you'll ever undertake, and when things go wrong it can be not just a money issue but a safety issue.  That's why authorities in New York and elsewhere are getting tough with illegal, unlicensed contractors.

Authorities in New York used an ordinary house that appeared to be in need of repairs to perform a sting.  The homeowners who invited contractors to the house were actually inspectors with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

As soon as someone offers to perform contracting work, they have him.

"What is it you do?" an inspector asks a contractor.

"Everything," the contractor replies.

"I need brickpointing," the inspector said.

"I start with the foundation. I'm the contractor," the contractor said.

But actually, he's not.  In New York and at least 41 states, to be a contractor, you must be licensed or registered.

New York's sting netted a dozen companies and $65,000 in fines.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio