Local News

Company Investigated by WRAL to Pay Over $1 Million for Fraud

Posted November 7, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— A construction company building new barracks at Fort Bragg has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle fraud charges. Friday's announcement comes almost two years after a WRAL investigation of shoddy work on the $54 million project.

WRAL Investigative ReporterStuart Watsonfirst broke the story after talking to two whistleblowers who were frustrated that the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn't listen to their complaints.

They worked for Pizzagalli Construction, but the contractor fired them after they complained of shoddy work. Now, the U.S. Attorney has settled a civil suit and the contractor has agreed to pay the pair hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Originally, taxpayers paid for the new barracks at Fort Bragg. The whistleblowers decided taxpayers were not getting their money's worth. They said steel bars designed to hold concrete block in place were frequently missing.

Quality Control Inspector Brenda Strayer told the Army Corps of Engineers, which was supervising the project, then told WRAL. After Watson raised questions, the Corps punched holes in the block to check for the bars. Often, there were none.

Foreman Wayne Field summed up his reaction in one word -- amazement.

Pizzagalli Construction has not admitted it did anything wrong, but the U.S. Attorney's office contends in a news release that "Pizzagalli failed to report substantial construction defects, and in some cases engaged in a cover-up to hide the problems..." from the Corps.

Pizzagalli fired Strayer. She spent the holiday season two years ago jobless. Now she and Fields are eligible for as much as a quarter of the $1 million settlement.

Troops are scheduled to move in to the new barracks later this month. The U.S. Attorney's office says Pizzagalli fixed the defects and is expected to absorb the cost of those repairs. Pizzagalli claims it only settled this case to clear the way in order to pursue almost $21 million more from the government. The company says faulty plans, changes and delays costitmoney.

The Army Corps of Engineers threatened to bar Pizzagalli from future government work, but a Corps spokesman says that hasn't happened. This year an Engineering trade magazineENGhonored Strayer as one of its heroes.

Photographer:Richard Adkins