District accuses companies of fraud

By Edgar Lopez

Two major construction firms working for the Los Angeles Community College District are being investigated on accusations of submitting and approving fraudulent paperwork.

In an effort to clean up fraudulent spending, the LACCD has been considering firing three building contractors, which supervised the building projects in the nine community colleges the district serves. The two construction firms in question of fraud are Gateway Science and Engineering from Pasadena and FTR International from Irvine.

Art Gastelum is the president and chief executive officer of Gateway and Nizar Katbi is the president of FTR. The District said that Gateway approved an invoice by FTR International for work it had not performed. Katbi was unavailable to comment.

Gastelum, who was the Associated Student Union president of East Los Angeles College twice, once in ’71 and also in ’72, denied the accusations. He said that Gateway did approve the invoice but only after they checked the work. He added that the district is basing the report on the findings of inspector general Christene E. Marez, who is unqualified to do the audit, as she has had no previous experience in that field. Gastelum said that if you present the work to people in the construction business, they would find no problems with it.

“We are committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to protect the taxpayers of Los Angeles and will work cooperatively with the District Attorney to investigate any wrong doings,” said Board of Trustees President Miguel Santiago. Last October, the District wrote a press release stating that they sent letters to both companies concerning the potential ability of terminating the contracts.

To schedule a hearing for the case to ban FTR from bidding on future projects for up to five years, the district listed the fraudulent paperwork as one of the reasons. The press release also said that FTR did substandard work at the Allied Health and Science Building  at Valley College and gave a misrepresented report to the Division of the State Architect, which provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools and community colleges in California.

For Gateway, the district listed the reasons to terminate their contract with Mission College for its approval of the invoice by FTR. Another reason was the “poor judgment in connection with the moving of a water line at Mission College” as well as a mismanagement of grading. “That’s totally wrong. The report is biased. They’re wrong and we’ll be able to prove it,” said Gastelum.

With this issue in mind, a report by the District listed methods that would help improve their building program. The majority revolve around hiring processes and reviewing work done, such as conflict of interest screen checks, requiring sign-in sheets for scoring sessions and having college representatives evaluate buildings. “We will aggressively move to hold contractors accountable, no matter what the consequences,” said LACCD Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista.




[Editor’s note:  Art Gastelum was said to be president of Gateway Science and Engineering. He is only the CEO. Also, in the second paragraph, it said the three construction companies were building contractors. Gateway is not a contractor, but a construction project management firm. A payment application that was mislabeled and processed was confused for an invoice. Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 – 10:33 a.m. ]

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