Bethesda consultant made millions with Alaska firm

NOME: Trudy Sobocienski, former president of the Sitnasuak Native Corp., fired Bethesda consultant H. James Nunes in September 2009.
NOME: Trudy Sobocienski, former president of the Sitnasuak Native Corp., fired Bethesda consultant H. James Nunes in September 2009. (Nikki Kahn)
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By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Thursday, September 30, 2010

A rare window into the world of Alaska native contracting opened when new board members took over last year at the Sitnasuak Native Corp. and started looking at its contracting operations.

The review would focus 3,700 miles away on the nonnative consultant hired to guide a subsidiary of the Alaska firm to government business. Based out of his home in Bethesda, he had been paid $15 million by Sitnasuak over the previous three years.

The Sitnasuak story shows how a federal set-aside program intended to benefit native shareholders can also enrich nonnative executives, a Washington Post investigation found.

Sitnasuak, an Alaska native village corporation with offices above a gas station and convenience store in Nome, had struggled for years to remain afloat. But by last year it was booming like never before. That was largely as a result of the efforts of the Bethesda man, who combined business savvy with special privileges for Alaska native corporations to secure contracts to make military uniforms.

H. James Nunes, a 51-year-old consultant and entrepreneur, is the man who made the $15 million from Sitnasuak. He had worked for years in the telecom and high-tech industries before Sitnasuak hired his firm in 2002 as a sales representative and business consultant for its federal contracting subsidiary in Washington.

Since 2004, Nunes had helped manage the rapidly expanding subsidiary, SNC Telecommunications LLC. He was able to occupy a leadership post thanks to special exemptions from Congress - unlike other disadvantaged businesses doing work for the government, Alaska native corporations do not have to be run by Alaska natives.

"Congress allowed these companies to obtain government contracts worth $100 million, paid for with taxpayer money," said Jason C. Raofield, an attorney for Nunes. "They wanted good management. It makes sense. Congress isn't crazy."

Nunes declined requests for interviews. He provided a statement Tuesday.

"I am very proud of my role in helping to take SNC from the verge of bankruptcy to a very profitable operation with a strong balance sheet," he said.

The Post spoke with his attorneys - Raofield, David Greenspan and John W. Nields Jr. - along with a San Francisco-based media relations expert.

They all said Nunes acted appropriately and more than earned his compensation by producing millions in profits for Sitnasuak.

"During Jim's term as CEO, [SNC Telecommunications] went from a company unable to perform on its contracts and about to go into default to a successful and most well-regarded supplier of uniforms to America's growing military needs," Greenspan said. "The compensation for this remarkable turnaround was fair."


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