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Broward awards $228 million contract to company sued by county multiple times

The Broward County courthouse in Downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Broward County
The Broward County courthouse in Downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Broward County commissioners Tuesday gave an airport construction contract worth more than $200 million to a company that they have repeatedly sued over allegations that include fraud, violation of contracts and faulty construction. The firm has also previously sued the county, alleging breach of contract.

The agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting listed Tutor Perini Building Corporation as the single-bidder for the construction of airport terminal connectors with a price tag of $228,560,358. 

Commissioners passed it with no discussion. It was approved 7-0 with Commissioners Hazelle Rogers and Mark Bogen absent from the vote.

Tutor Perini did not not respond to phone messages left by WLRN. WLRN has reached out to all nine commissioners for comment.

Commissioner Steve Geller said he has been involved with settlement negotiations with the company and county attorneys.

"We are still in litigation … however they have not yet been resolved,” Geller said, pointing to one reason he voted yes. “If we had prevailed against them in court, I don’t know if we could have given them the award even though they were the only bidder.”

The other reasons for his 'yes' vote was timing and federal grant dollars.

Part of the $228 million — around $50 million — is coming from a federal grant, obtained by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Weston. The grant would have expired if the county had to start the bidding process over again, according to Geller.

“When somebody fights hard to get you money and you don’t use that money, it causes them to think twice before they go to bat for you again,” Geller said, adding that he had not spoken with Wasserman-Schultz about the contract vote.

The construction project includes building post-security walkways between terminals at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. It will allow passengers to move from terminal to terminal without being required to exit and re-enter Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.

“This project will … promote greater opportunity for airlines to operate in multiple terminals if desired,” according to county documents shared with commissioners.

The county’s purchasing division notified 11 potential companies of the project as part of the bidding process but got only one bid, according to county documents: Tutor Perini.

The purchasing division asked other companies why they declined to bid. Some told county officials they had insufficient time to prepare a bid and timing of the bid conflicting with other commitments.

READ MORE: Fort Lauderdale going after federal grants for tunnel under New River

According to a brief prepared by Senior Assistant County Attorney Alexander J. Williams, the county has five instances of litigation against Tutor Perini, including one for work done at the same airport.

On at least two occasions he noted that the allegations raised "significant concern," while in one lawsuit — resolved with a finding of no fault — the county accused the company of making "false, fraudulent and inflated claims."

But in many of the cases, Williams concluded that the findings do not show evidence of 'non-responsibility', meaning he believes Tutor Perini has the capability to fully perform the latest contract requirements.

In some cases, the construction firms sued the county.

'Faulty construction' at county courthouse

In one case filed last year, the county sued James A. Cummings Inc. for alleged faulty construction on the county courthouse that began in 2012. Tutor Perini “was intertwined with JAC on this project,” according to the county memo. The county discovered defective roof beams at the county courthouse constructed by the companies. The top floors of the courthouse were closed off temporarily in January of last year while the county inspected the beams.

The case is in early stages, but Tutor Perini did not disclose the litigation in forms required by the county.

“While we believe this litigation is material and should have been disclosed, the Vendor [Tutor Perini] may have not disclosed it because JAC (the party to the lawsuit) is a different entity than the Vendor (even though the Vendor was heavily involved in the project),” according to the Williams memo.

James A. Cummings Inc. has denied the county’s allegations. WLRN was unsuccessful in reaching them for further comment.

'Breach of contract' versus 'faulty workmanship'

In 2022, Tutor Perini sued the county for breaching a construction contract for expanding Terminal 4 of the airport.

Work on the original 2013 contract was delayed more than three years because of changed work orders from the county, according to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the county claims Tutor Perini's work on concrete paving referred to as “aprons” had "faulty workmanship" and refuses to pay them about $5 million despite completion.

The county also sued Tutor Perini Corporation for breach of contract regarding the construction. They have denied the county’s allegations.

“Claims relating to the lawsuit are going through the contractual Dispute Avoidance Panel process. Primarily due to the Venture and Tutor Perini Corporation’s denials of the County’s allegations and that the litigation is in the very early stages, we do not believe this case mandates a finding of non-responsibility,” Williams’ memo reads.

County sued over courthouse construction

James A. Cummings Inc. sued the county after the county would not allow construction to continue on the East Wing of the county courthouse, according to the lawsuit filed in 2019. The lawsuit was filed after two years of back and forth between the parties about the scope of work expected.

Tutor Perini was again “intertwined” with this project, according to Williams' memo.

“Contractor has also been severely and financially damaged by Broward County, including due to delays and impacts,” the lawsuit reads.

The county fought back against those claims.

“At most, they have alleged a series of disputes between them and the county arising from the performance of the contract,” a motion to dismiss from the county reads.

There has been no judicial finding of a breach by either party, according to a county memo, or a finding that JAC violated the False Claims Ordinance.

“Although the allegations in this case (and some preliminary case developments) raise a significant concern regarding the Vendor’s [Tutor Perini] responsibility, given JAC’s denial of the County’s allegations, the lack of a judgment or other final determination in the lawsuit, and the exigent circumstances associated with the Solicitation, we do not believe this case and failure to disclose this matter mandates a finding of non-responsibility at this time,” the county memo reads.

County seeks $47.9 million over alleged fraud

In 2017, the county sued Tutor Perini and James A. Cummings Inc. to recover $47.9 million after claiming the companies were committing fraud by giving false updates of a construction project at the county courthouse.

According to the lawsuit, the companies submitted two fraudulent change orders for more time and more money. The county claims they are owed $47,917,167 million for violation of false claim ordinance.

The companies have denied the allegations and the case has been tried, now the parties are awaiting a decision.

“Although the allegations in this case raise a significant concern regarding the Vendor’s responsibility, given the Tutor Perini Defendants’ denial of the County’s allegations, the lack of a judgment or other final determination in the lawsuit, and the exigent circumstances associated with the Solicitation, we do not believe this case mandates a finding of non-responsibility at this time,” the county’s memo reads.

Dispute over claims from airport project

The county sued Tutor Perini in 2016 for construction work at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

According to the lawsuit, Tutor Perini “knowingly presented false, fraudulent and inflated claims for labor, services and materials alleged to have been furnished.”

The case was resolved by the county, according to the county memo, and there was no finding of fault against the Tutor Perini.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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