Contractor pleads guilty to supplying defective parts for NC bridges
Posted April 16, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A highway contractor pleaded guilty Thursday in a scheme to supply defective components to bridges in North Carolina, authorities said.
Joel De La Torre, 33, of Chicago, pleaded guilty to federal charges of making false statements concerning highway projects and aggravated identity theft. He will be sentenced in July, when he faces up to seven years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Defects were found in October 2011 in elastomeric bridge bearings – slabs of rubber reinforced with multiple layers of steel and placed underneath bridges to absorb shock – that had been shipped to 25 highway projects throughout North Carolina and installed on 19 of them. The steel plates in 1,270 bearings were exposed, creating the potential for the material to corrode and weaken, authorities said.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation found that many of the bridge bearings had come from Delgado Elastomeric Bearings Corp., and the U.S. Department of Transportation determined that a teenager's name was forged on the North Carolina application to supply the bridge bearings to local contractors. The application listed the teen as Delgado's vice president, and his name also had been used on all certificates sent to North Carolina highway contractors certifying that the bearings met applicable state and federal regulations.
An inspection of Delgado's plant in Chicago found that it didn't have the required testing devices and machinery which would have revealed the defects in the bridge bearings, authorities said.
NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott said crews were able to repair the defective parts, and drivers were never at risk. Two of the bridges affected were on the toll road in Wake and Durham counties, and others included one on U.S. Highway 401 in Harnett County, one on Camden Road in the Fayetteville area and one on U.S. Highway 1 in southern Moore County, he said.