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Army Engineer: New Beaumont hospital construction ‘deficient,’ covered up

The Army engineer who said the Army is to blame for the on-the-job death of a construction worker said he also witnessed hundreds of construction deficiencies that went unchecked for months.

“The hospital is deficient. It’s defective. It’s not built right. There’s deficient work that’s been covered up,” said Andrew Wilkerson, a structural engineer employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who oversaw the erection of steel at the new William Beaumont Army Medical Center in East El Paso from April to November of last year.

ABC-7 uncovered whistleblower complaints Wilkerson made last fall regarding alleged safety violations at the construction site and located the engineer who agreed to an interview.

Through a government source, ABC-7 obtained a log of hundreds of construction deficiency allegations at the project. Many of them are documented as corrected. Wilkerson said when he was removed from the project in November, there were about 400 construction deficiencies and only about a third had been corrected.

“Stuff doesn’t get done. There are deficiencies that stay on there for months – 270 days outstanding,” said Wilkerson who also claimed the Contractor would constantly disagree with deficiencies identified by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In a statement emailed to ABC-7, Rhonda K. Paige, the Chief of Public Affairs for the Army Corps of Engineers Fort Worth Division, wrote: “The emails and other information provided to the media may also be a part of the investigation, and thus we cannot respond directly to the allegations raised in those materials at this time. We will look to the results of the completed investigations to see if there are things that we need to do differently or improve upon to ensure such a loss does not happen again. What we can say is that the Army Corps of Engineers is committed to the safety of ALL workers on the site, and that includes contractors working on projects we manage. All of our projects are constructed under detailed and thorough safety plans, and undergo a rigorous safety review.”

According to Wilkerson, the deficiencies ranged from improper bolting, seen in pictures obtained and reviewed by ABC-7, to building out of sequence which Wilkerson said could lead to structural instability.

Corps of Engineers officials said they could not specifically comment on the ongoing investigation but in a statement wrote “no allegations of instability of the hospital structure made by a structural engineer and that the hospital building is structurally safe. The alleged safety deficiencies were in reference to the erection of the structural steel and not to the type of work being performed by the worker who suffered the fatal fall.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of construction worker Jesus Moreno at the site last week.

Wilkerson said the deficiencies he and his team would document started being deleted from the system of the Army Corps of Engineers. “I think the Corps of Engineers was deleting the deficiencies in order to keep the work going on. If you paint a picture with 500 deficiencies, it looks really bad. It raises questions. People start looking.”

His concerns grew when Wilkerson became suspicious the contractor was over billing the government, he said. “I reviewed the structural steel pay-outs and it would list specific percentages of work complete. They (the contractor) would say it was 50% complete and we would go out and verify if it was 50% complete. No it’s 25% complete. It’s illegal to over bill the government.”

Concerned, Wilkerson said he called the FBI to report his suspicions and said he met with federal investigators in late September. An FBI Spokesman said the agency forwarded the information to the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) who confirmed they are investigating, but would not elaborate on the scope of their investigation.

The contractor did not return ABC-7’s phone calls seeking comment.

Wilkerson was removed from the Beaumont site in November for “insubordination,” a move he believes was retaliation for whistleblowing. He said his superiors said they prohibited him from going to the upper decks of the construction site, even though it was part of his duties.

Congressman Beto O’Rourke confirmed his office is investigating Wilkerson’s concerns.

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