A Colorado-based company vying for a lucrative contract to oversee Miami-Dade County's multi-billion dollar sewer system renovation projects admitted it defrauded the federal government earlier this year. Back in March CH2M Hill and one its subsidiaries agreed to pay $18.5 million in civil fines and restitution because the firms had engaged in a criminal time card fraud scheme, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Yet the scandal hasn't stopped Miami-Dade officials from allowing CH2M Hill to vie for county contracts.
Today at 2 p.m., CH2M Hill is one of two finalists making presentations at the Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Department's headquarters in Coral Gables before an evaluation committee that will select a firm to provide construction management services for several sewage system renovation projects. Whoever they pick would still need to get approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission.
In May, commissioners signed off on a plan to spend $1.6 billion over the next 15 years to fix the county's decrepit water and sewer pipes and treatment plants around Miami-Dade. The county was forced to adopt the plan after the state and federal environmental protection agencies sued Miami-Dade in Miami federal court, alleging county officials violated the federal Clean Water Act because they never fixed or replaced the old system in more than 50 years. A federal judge has to sign off on the plan, known as a consent decree.
The county is now seeking a construction management firm to oversee the projects. Enter CH2M Hill, a firm that specializes in building water and sewer systems and plants. Between 1999 and 2008, CH2M Hill had a Department of Energy contract to manage and clean 177 large underground storage tanks containing mixed radioactive and hazardous waste at a shuttered nuclear bomb testing site in Hanford, Washington. The facility was used to test weapons of mass destruction during World War II and the Cold War.
According to the statement of facts agreed to by the Justice Department and CH2M Hill, hourly employees involved in the cleanup routinely overstated the number of hours they worked. Managers of subsidiary CH2MHill Hanford Group condoned the practice and submitted inflated claims to the Department of Energy that included the fraudulently claimed hours, the U.S. Justice Department alleged.
CH2M Hill entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Washington's Eastern District U.S. Attorney's Office in exchange for paying $16.5 million civil fine, refunding $1.95 million in wrongfully obtained profits, and other corrective measures. Eight former employees pleaded guilty in the scam, including the whistleblower Carl Schroeder.
According to a Miami-Dade online vendor database, CH2M Hill has collected $5.1 million in taxpayer cash since the firm began doing business with the county in 2008. Recently, a county commission committee gave Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whose political action committee received $13,500 from the Colorado firm between 2011 and 2012, the green light to move forward with extending a separate consulting agreement CH2M Hill has with the water and sewer department by two years. That deal is for $8.8 million over six years.
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment about CH2M Hill. Banana Republican left a phone message and sent an email to a CH2M Hill spokesman in Englewood, Colorado. If he responds, we will update this post.