FORT STEWART, GA (WSAV) – A multi-million dollar confession of guilt by a military housing contractor accused of fraud, endangering the health of soldiers and their families.
One of the bases included in the criminal case, Fort Stewart.
Balfour Beatty Communities LLC pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay $ 33.6 million in criminal fines and nearly $ 32 million in restitution.
The company will also be on probation for three years, during which time it will be closely monitored to ensure compliance.
The Southern District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice said Balfour Beatty had embarked on a program to modify maintenance records, so it appeared the company was meeting the targets required for its financial incentive bonuses from its properties on 55 different Army, Navy and Air Force Bases around the United States.
“Instead of quickly fixing US military housing, the BBC lied about the repairs to pocket millions of dollars in performance bonuses,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement. “This pervasive fraud was a consequence of the BBC’s shattered corporate culture, which valued profit over military well-being.
“They were encouraged to manipulate these parameters,” said Sarah Lynne Kline, vice president in charge of environmental risks for housing advocates in the armed forces.
The company would get a bonus if it quickly fixed issues with military homes and quickly processed work orders.
But court documents show the company had no plans to fix anything. Ignore any work order, or worse.
“Either they tore them up or they put them on a list that wasn’t in the Yardi system (which documented all work orders and repairs),” Kline said. “Or they changed the dates. and times. We have in fact, our organization discovered work order hours that were in fact before the call was on time.
“It (the orders) went from the former COO of Balfour Beatty to a senior executive vice president, to the people who placed the work orders for the facilities. “
Kline visited many bases where accommodation was managed by Balfour Beatty, including Fort Stewart.
She says that after the 2019 Congressional hearings on the issue and a Reuters series on the issues, many companies dealing with military housing took the issue to heart and worked to resolve it, but Beatty did not.
“What I saw when I got to Fort Stewart in November 2019 was a lot of painting,” Kline explained. “They had done some work on the exteriors. You could literally drive through the neighborhood and see mold growing in the houses. And I have actively seen them paint on this mold.
And Kline says the other bases were even worse.
“We’re talking about squirrels in the walls, raccoons on rooftops and in attics, cockroaches crawling on babies.”
She used words like asbestos and radon, mold and lead paint. All of this could cause both short term and long term health problems.
“I know families who live in Balfour Beatty homes, and whose babies have become completely ill, have had to leave their homes. they lost all their household goods. and now they’ve got a fine that’s going to end up going to the US Treasury. “
Some military families are suing the company for damages. But Kline estimates that there are only about 15. Far fewer than the number of people actually affected.
“People were afraid of retaliation and retaliation,” Kline said. “And they didn’t want to say anything, but put their work orders in and hope everything goes well.” Then these work orders were deleted from the system.
Kline believes lawyers are also reluctant to take on these cases and fight big corporations with big legal teams, with military families paying fees without a lot of money that would depend on winning the case.
While the surveillance is a step in the right direction, Kline says the settlement does nothing for those families who need a safe and healthy place to live.
“They’re put on probation and they’ve got a monitor attached and they’re supposed to meet with that monitor and have these meetings every four to six months. It doesn’t necessarily change anything.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Kline continued. “These are two years of benefits for the Balfour Beatty communities. It’s a complete slap on the wrist. No one is facing jail. all of those criminal charges are completely gone. “
The question is, what should military families do now if they live on a base and continue to see and solve problems?
“The first step is actually to contact the housing company. Make sure your work order is in place, make sure you have proof that the work order is in place. Go to the Garrison Housing Office, DPW Housing Office, and make sure there is a worker following your case as well.
Kline says if you’re still having issues you can contact Armed Forces Housing Advocates for help. https://www.afhousingadvocates.org
Or contact your Congress representative to try to make changes.
The decision is called a “comprehensive resolution” of the Justice Department’s criminal and civil investigations into the company.
“The global resolution sends a clear message to businesses that if they do not maintain adequate compliance programs, voluntarily disclose wrongdoing and fully cooperate with the government, they will pay a higher price than the profits they have already reaped,” Monaco said.
While Balfour Beatty is “on probation,” they are still under a 50-year contract with the government to continue overseeing military housing. Some families wonder why this contract was not withdrawn.
Kline says there are 13 other private housing companies used on military bases. While not a criminal like Balfour Beatty, her agency “saw no good behavior from any of them.”
In a statement, Balfour Beatty wrote:
Balfour Beatty is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct. The wrongdoing that has taken place is totally contrary to the way the Company expects its employees to behave. The Company apologizes for the actions of the Communities to all its stakeholders. It has been made clear to all employees that violations of policies, procedures or laws will not be tolerated. Communities welcome the appointment of the Independent Compliance Monitor and look forward to constructive engagement.
In 2019, the Company undertook an in-depth review of operations at Communities and as a result, a series of changes were made to prevent this type of misconduct from reoccurring in the future. These involved the restructuring of the Communities management team, including the additional appointment of several key executives and a compliance director for the United States. system, underpinned by improved controls and protocols that aim to prevent abuse and strengthen oversight.
Communities is committed to providing a consistently high level of service to the military residents it serves and will continue to work closely and constructively with its military partners to achieve this.