Gov't spending money on vacant building

May 12, 2010 9:38:11 AM PDT
'Atrocious.' That's the way one Houston congressman describes what 13 Undercover has uncovered this time. It's a tale of government waste being felt from Pasadena to the nation's capitol. Every day, we hear about how much debt our government has, so this investigation will make you want to scream, "Dude, I thought we were broke."

It's a moonlit night over Pasadena, but that's not what's lighting up this 26,000 square foot building on Watters Road Just about every single light in the place is on. There's even a floodlight, trained on a flagpole that has never flown a flag.

"It's a vacant building," Congressman Gene Green said. "It's been this way for years it seems now."

What a waste of energy. The light bill, the running water, the AC -- it's all part of the rent.

But no one would pay rent on a building they have never used, right? Well, maybe no one but the federal government.

"This is probably our worst experience in my years in Congress because we can't get a word back," Green said.

You ever feel like it's hard to get straight answers from your government? Well, you're not alone.

When we talked to Congressman Green, he hoped we weren't paying rent.

"We don't want that tax dollars or Social Security dollars be going to a building we're not using," he said.

Well, here's the bad news.

Federal taxpayers -- that's you -- have been paying rent on this vacant building since September of 2008; 19 months at $55,000 a month -- more than $1 million so far.

"We will take full responsibility for that," said JD Salinas, regional administrator of the General Services Administration said. "That's exactly what's happening."

"I can't imagine why they would start paying rent," Green said.

This is supposed to be the new Pasadena headquarters of Social Security. It's a project started in 2004. If you count it, that's six years ago.

"I'm reflecting my constituents' frustration who need to go to the Social Security office," Green said.

After 42 years of marriage, Lotus McGinty is here at Social Security to claim what's rightfully hers.

"I'm waiting in line to sign up for widow's benefits," McGinty said.

She's tried to go that brand new Social Security building on Watters Road.

"Yeah, I've been up there, but there's nobody up there," McGinty said.

So she waits in a line instead on Southmore, at a Social Security office that's clearly seen better days.

"It's overcrowded," Green said. "They have too many cases they have to work out of one office."

It's the largest Social Security office in the state. They wait outside in the heat, people standing with canes, the disabled in wheelchairs.

"It's outrageous," Green said.

Children, like Dominick, in a stroller wheeled by his grandparents.

"A lot of people have to wait," said Diana Padilla, a Social Security Office customer. "There's a lot of elderly sometimes so it's a shame 'cause it's a small place to sit."

And that brand new building lined with palm trees sits vacant, sucking your money down the drain.

"This is the kind of building that gives government a bad name," Dolcefino told Green.

"Oh, it's atrocious," Green responded.

It's the kind of story that makes you want to scream, "Hey dude, I thought we were broke!"

So what's the deal?

"Mr. Dolcefino, I told you I was not going to discuss this on an interview," Carotex Construction's Victor Blackmon told 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino.

This guy could explain why this building on Watters Road is unused. We tracked him down in the town of Franklin, Texas, a few hours northwest of Houston.

"Do you think taxpayers deserve an explanation?" Dolcefino asked him.

"Nice talking to you, sir. Have a good evening," is how Blackmon responded.

Guess it's a sore subject.

Back in that Social Security line, Lotus McGinny sums it up this way:

"I think it's messed up. I think there's something wrong with the government; they're not doing their job."

And why did this trail of waste in Pasadena, Texas lead us all the way to Jayhawk Country, deep in the heart of Kansas?

"Myself and everyone who hears this story can't believe any of it," said John Perry, an unpaid subcontractor.

On Tuesday, see if you can smell the rats. Watch Eyewitness News at 10pm.

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