So here we were at a crossroads in the state of Indiana. I had just successfully detected, reported and busted a construction fronting scheme. Huber, Hunt & Nichols, the largest construction firm in the state, was now banned from state contracts for five years. The word to the White-owned construction community was that it was a new day unless we fought back.
Oh, how stubborn some can be in defending what is wrong, because their greed gets in the way of common sense. Thus, I had to begin a series on front-busting and exposure until the big companies finally relented and started contracting on a level playing field.
The Maintenance Hub for United Air Lines at the Indianapolis Airport was a $1 billion project and United was determined to build this structure Chicago-style (using fronts all the way and void of true Black contracting activity).
But we weren’t going to have it, and we put them on notice. When their first minority participation reports came out, I destroyed any doubt that it was fictitious. Steel supplier? I got confessions from the alleged Black business that it was a lie. Plumbing supplier? The following is the report I did on this situation:
“Fudge Report Number 3, The Misrepresentations at the UAL MOC II–Another example of the many misrepresentations of minority business participation at the United Airlines Project can be found in two bid packages entitled ‘Central Plant Plumbing’ and ‘Hangar 1 Plumbing.’”
“The bids were awarded to Frank E. Irish Inc. and the alleged Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) participant is Indianapolis Pipe & Valve.
The report shows Indianapolis Pipe & Valve selling product worth $258,222 and $599,117 for a total of $857,339. This amount is listed both as MBE [Minority Business Enterprise] participation as well as Indiana Business Enterprise Participation [IBE]. This claim is false!
“The fact is that the material is being purchased from Rovanco Corp. of Illinois. Attached are the final quote pages from Rovanco that list the exact dollar amounts as above. In essence, this is a pure transaction between a White-owned Illinois firm and Frank E. Irish Inc. There is no MBE or IBE participation.
“For the use of its name and, if needed, a creation of a paper trail Indianapolis Pipe & Valve would receive a 2 percent fee ($17,146.78). This company never provided a bid to Frank E. Irish Inc.
“The above scheme was easily detected by the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce (HMCC). All should be assured that there are many other examples that will be exposed.
“Being that United Air Lines nor any of its agents ever bothered to contact Indianapolis Pipe & Valve to monitor or even verify this large claim, it can be classified as either incompetent or duplicitous. The minority business community of Indiana is not amused.”
We became relentless in exposing the fraud, and White contractors were starting to get nervous about their names being out there. The only alternative they had was to do the right thing or stay out of the project. One the other hand, United Air Lines started to dig in and play a game of character assassination on me. They were so foolish! Here I was documenting everything and convincing the public that the fronting allegations were fact.
Eventually, United asked the HMCC for a proposal to monitor the minority participation and provide consulting. We sent a three-year proposal, which amounted to staffing and totaling an overall cost of close to $1 million. I sent it in. The next thing I knew was that the front page of the Indianapolis Star had a story, “United alleges Harry Alford tried to extort them for $1 million.” Nobody believed that, but I learned my lesson: don’t trust them!
UAL also told members of my organization that they had to resign from the HMCC or else they would not get any contracts. That was stupid! They weren’t going to get any contracts anyway unless the HMCC made UAL do it. Their loyalty remained intact as we built a citywide consensus.
Naptown was beginning to wake up.
It all came to a head, when principals of United Air Lines decided to tell a lie on state Rep. Bill Crawford. They claimed he tried to hit them up for money–like they did me. What a terrible mistake! Rep. Crawford was one of the most powerful figures in the state, and they proved to him that they were evil and dishonest. He joined forces with the HMCC. Victory was certain! United Air Lines had to “eat crow” in Indianapolis. Two hundred million dollars in contracts went to the local Black business community as a result of this fight.
Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce Inc. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.