An April 18 editorial misidentified one of the federal entities involved in the "Operation Hotmix" investigation of the D.C. Department of Public Works. It is the U.S. Transportation Department, not the U.S. Treasury Department. (Published 4/22/03)
THE HEADLINE has nothing to do with the war in Iraq. The D.C. Department of Public Works, or more specifically, six department officials involved with the business of paving, resurfacing and upgrading city streets, have paved the way for U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar Kotelly to sentence them later this year for public corruption offenses. The officials, employed as inspectors and engineers, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes. But they are not alone, as the bribable can only become such through the presence of a briber. They are joined by five contractors who have pleaded guilty to extending the illegal cash payments that eventually commanded the attention of the FBI, the U.S. Treasury Department's inspector general and the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in an investigation known as "Operation Hotmix."
The scheme itself, which ranged over a three-year period, was a taxpayer rip-off. In essence, the contractors and Department of Public Works engineers and inspectors agreed to inflate the amount of asphalt used on D.C. street and road jobs financed under federal-aid contracts. Contractors would, for example, drive a loaded asphalt truck onto a scale to produce one asphalt ticket and then re-weigh the same truck two or more times to produce additional tickets for which no asphalt existed. The contractors would provide cash bribes to Department of Public Works officials who, in turn, agreed to accept the false asphalt tickets.
For its troubles -- and bribes -- the Fort Myer Construction Corp. of Virginia was required to pay a criminal fine of $300,000, a restitution payment of $300,000 to the Federal Highway Administration and, in a separate civil settlement, $300,000 in damages to the federal government for the company's role in the bribery scheme. Two other firms also pleaded guilty to payment of bribes to public officials and received sentences of probation. The greater damage, however, was done to the reputation of the District, where once again city employees have been found guilty of betraying the public trust.