Thursday, May 4, 2006

Concrete Fraud

The "Big Dig" in Boston made the city's already hellish traffic even worse, and the size of the project made it a target for a variety of different fraudulent schemes.  An indictment of six defendants announced today in the District of Massachusetts presents a bit scarier scenario because the alleged fraud involved the quality of the concrete used in the project that was supplied by Aggregate industries Inc., New England's largest concrete company.  According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office (here):

They are charged with highway project fraud and related offenses for their participation in a scheme to provide concrete to Big Dig projects that did not meet contract specifications, and to conceal the true nature of the concrete through false documentation. The Indictment alleges that between 1996 and 2005 the defendants delivered at least 5,000 truckloads of non-specification concrete to the Big Dig. Each truckload comprised approximately ten yards of concrete. This concrete included recycled concrete that was over ninety-minutes old, concrete that had been adulterated with the addition of excess water, and concrete that was not batched pursuant to Big Dig project specifications.

The Indictment alleges that the defendants recycled “leftover concrete,” i.e. concrete that had not been used by other customers, mixed the leftover concrete with Big Dig project concrete, and delivered this adulterated concrete to the Project. The leftover loads of mixed concrete were dubbed “10-9 loads" by the defendants, and did not meet Big Dig project specifications. The defendants concealed this fraud by falsifying concrete batch slips delivered to Big Dig inspectors and/or representatives of the general contractors at the various construction sites. These false batch reports were relied upon by the Government to determine the quality and amount of concrete placed by the general contractors on the project.

Big Dig project specifications required that concrete must be placed or poured within ninety minutes of batching. In most instances involving these “10-9 loads,” the concrete had exceeded the ninety minute time limit. In order to conceal the true age of the concrete, the defendants directed truck drivers and other Aggregate employees to add water, as well as other ingredients, to the “10-9 loads” to make those loads appear to be freshly batched. Big Dig project specifications also prohibited the addition of water to concrete after the concrete had been batched except under tightly controlled circumstances.

In addition to knowing much more about concrete specs than you ever really wanted to learn, the next time you drive through the Big Dig tunnel, recall the allegations of this case while you look at the drops of water on those walls and say to yourself, "I sure hope that concrete is strong enough."  (ph)

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