Fiasco

 

(page 4 of 5)

This information made its way up the chain of command to Brian Castler at ConnDOT. Prior to becoming bureau chief of administration and finance in 2003, Castler had been the agency's manager of construction operations. He later refused the Transportation Committee's invitation to testify.

"I was not really involved with the I-84 project other than general oversight, and that was only for a short time at the beginning," he claimed in a short phone interview conducted for this story. But according to the New Haven Register, Castler orchestrated a number of critical decisions, including an award of $463,000 in bonus payments to DeFelice. The newspaper also cited sources familiar with DeFelice saying that two of Castler's children held jobs with the company.

In early spring 2006, transportation officials became suspicious that the drainage problems went beyond the lone sinkhole and hired yet another consultant, STV Inc., a national firm with a Stratford office, to investigate further. While STV would not release its findings, the company reportedly heavily implicates Maguire for a failure to make proper inspections.

It's worth noting that of the many factors surrounding the I-84 meltdown, none was more critical than the weekly evaluations Maguire was required to submit on the status of the construction. Connecticut Magazine obtained copies of these evaluations from ConnDOT through a Freedom of Information request. They were routinely signed off on by ConnDOT's Riutto and Maguire's Pardee. At no point do these reports hint at the enormity of the failures taking place.

Maguire does not concede responsibility. "There's no evidence that Maguire committed any fraud or in any way altered records," says company attorney Richard Brown, of Hartford. "But we look forward to resolving this with the state of Connecticut and once again having a positive relationship."

With investigators moving in, and after having received $56 million for the still incomplete project, DeFelice declared insolvency in May 2006. In addition to I-84, the company walked away from two other key state projects, one on I-95 in New Haven and the other on Route 7 in New Milford. But DeFelice did not disappear entirely. 

DeFelice President Stephen Hallberg quickly reorganized the family-owned business under a new name, Hallberg Construction. Within days, DeFelice/Hallberg was back on the job at both I-95 and Route 7 with a new contract worth $20 million covering both projects.

How did the company manage this? When firms working for the state default on a job, their bonding companies take over to get the work done and pay the bills. On the I-95 and Route 7 projects, the bonding company, XL Specialty of Stamford, had complete discretion in choosing whom to hire to take DeFelice's place. It chose Hallberg Construction. "It was an economic decision," explains XL's public relations director, Christine Weirsky. "Hallberg's equipment was already on-site and the workers experienced with the job."

However, Hallberg didn't get the nod on I-84. In fact, the bonding company there, United States Fidelity & Guaranty (USF&G), a division of Travelers Insurance, is suing. Among its contentions, USF&G alleges that on the verge of declaring insolvency, Hallberg transferred money to other family-controlled interests and engaged in a number of transactions to benefit principals of DeFelice Inc. Among them: purchase of a Mercedes Benz E320 for Kathleen Hallberg, a BMW 745LI for William McGee, a Mercedes Benz S500 for Victor Hallberg.

The job of fixing the mess left behind on I-84 eventually went to the North Haven firm of Empire Paving. Its scheduled completion date is late November, but it may be complete by the time you read this. Based on estimates from the Office of Policy and Management, the total spent at that point on the 3.4-mile section of road will be nearing $100 million. But the costs may not end there. Assuming flaws in the drainage system are corrected, the state will probably face higher future maintenance costs. Experts say ripping up and repaving a finished roadbed leaves a scar of seams and patches that can accelerate deterioration.

In spite of all this, not everyone sees the I-84 episode as a major problem.

Fiasco

Reader Comments

comments powered by Disqus
 
ADVERTISEMENT