Foreigners owners of gov't building?

May 13, 2010 10:05:40 AM PDT
Is it the start of an American backlash? Should U.S. government offices be housed in buildings owned by foreign companies? It's the latest question in a 13 Undercover investigation that exposed nearly a million dollars paid on a vacant building in Pasadena.

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

We met Lotus McGinney in the line outside Social Security on Southmore Street.

It's so crowded people with canes and in wheelchairs have to wait out in the heat.

"This is the closest for us, and we come from across the channel," Social Security user Diana Padilla said.

The new Social Security building was supposed to open in the spring of 2008.

It hasn't. It sits vacant.

"I think that's a shame, very much so," Padilla said.

And you've been paying rent for 19 months -- more than a million dollars so far -- some of it, the nation's retirement funds.

"I think it's messed up," McGinney said.

Alleged shoddy construction, we've told you, is blamed for part of it, so we demanded answers from Uncle Sam.

"We are the stewards of taxpayers' money," said JD Salinas, the new regional director of the General Services Administration. "We want to make sure that we get that money back and soon."

We've been documenting the General Services Administration's building track record for the last two nights.

"This is outrageous government bureaucracy at its worst," Congressman Ted Poe said.

And it's not just the two-year delay in opening the Pasadena Social Security building.

There were roof leaks and mold in other federal offices. Leaky roofs were discovered in 2006.

Yet in 2008, the General Service Administration accepted the Pasadena building and its roof. Days before Hurricane Ike exposed the roof leaked badly.

"We're telling you right now that we will try to make sure that we will be more vigilant about what we do," Salinas said.

"We don't matter to them. We do not matter to Washington -- bottom line," said John Perry, an unpaid subcontractor.

And what about the trail of contractors who did work on these buildings leased with your tax money and were never paid?

"It destroyed me -- yeah, emotionally, physically, financially," Perry said.

John Perry's company was stiffed for nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

"As a taxpaying citizen, I think I am owed more than, 'Go away Mr. Perry; you're not our problem,'" Perry said.

Congressman Ted Poe agrees.

"Somebody ought to say, 'Hey, we're not going to pay you any more money because you are not even paying your subs,'" Poe said.

All these buildings were built by the very same Texas contractor who built government buildings all across the country.

"Do you think taxpayers deserve an explanation?" 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino asked Victor Blackmon, owner of Carotex Construction, as he drove away.

The next time you're in Kemmerer, Wyoming, you might see this never finished building. It was supposed to be a Bureau of Land Management office, but contractors walked off the job because they weren't being paid.

Guess who was in charge of building it? Victor Blackmon.

"What's the deal?" Dolcefino asked Blackmon.

"Mr. Dolcefino, I told you that I was not going to discuss this on an interview," Blackmon responded.

Blackmon's company, Carotex Construction, filed for bankruptcy two years ago, citing debts of $51 million.

Blackmon now blames the government and subcontractors like John Perry for all his problems.

"He should be disbarred from any federal work," Perry said. "He should not have the opportunity to be involved in federal work -- bottom line."

But there's a list of banned contractors, and Victor Blackmon still isn't on it, despite his trail of trouble.

"In 2007, we did recommended -- our office in Fort Worth -- recommended to the inspector general that we add him to the disbarment list," Salinas said.

That was three years ago.

And in 2008 Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts wrote this letter decrying "unprofessional and possibly illegal practices," questioning government "safeguards" on these building projects.

"The only thing this guy should be making is license plates for the federal government," Poe said.

"Maybe I'll get their their attention when we start complaining on the floor of the House," Congressman Gene Green said.

Blackmon is now out of the Pasadena building.

A company called Gen Net is now part owner. On their website, we learned they were a Costa Rican company.

So what's happened to all that buy American stuff?

"I'm not sure who owns them and what they do," Salinas said, "and we can't control where their money goes, unfortunately."

"Whoever is making the money off the deal ought to be Americans," Poe said. "It shouldn't be some foreign corporation."

Of course, the folks waiting in the heat on Southmore just want to know how long they'll have to line up outside a small, overcrowded Social Security office.

"We're hoping, Wayne, that by end of summer we're going to open this building," Salinas told Dolcefino.

Some congressmen are now questioning this whole federal building program.

Take that Social Security building on Watters Street -- valued at about $2.5 million -- the rent, including utilities, will cost taxpayers about $11 million before it's all over.

And at the end, we won't own the building.

Make sense to you? Hey dude, I thought we were broke.


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