Recent reports of a 6-month-old federal criminal investigation into the $2.5 million failed Syn-crete highway project caught the maker of the road resurfacing product by surprise.
"Since we haven't been questioned we are really in the dark," said Owen Hogle, vice president of Hodson Chemical Construction Co. in North Salt Lake.After hearing a recent television news report that state and federal authorities were investigating possible misrepresentations and fraud involving Syn-crete, Hogle called the offices of the Utah Department of Transportation and attorney general to find out more.
"From what I've seen, this has been kept a secret. But we would rather have it out in the open because we have nothing to hide," Hogle said.
Hogle shouldn't feel too bad, however, about being left out of the investigation. Based on assessments of those who have been interviewed, anyone who had anything to do with Syn-crete and UDOT using the stuff on I-15 will get a chance to be interrogated by investigators.
"They want to know if any misrepresentations were made concerning the product," said Bud Scruggs, administrative assistant to Gov. Norm Bangerter.
Scruggs was interviewed in November. He said he told investigators about a 10-minute meeting he had with Hodson representatives and then calling UDOT to make sure Hodson got a fair hearing along with other vendors. "I told them (Hodson) that this is not the place to make a case for their product."
UDOT elected to use Hodson's Syn-crete to resurface a four-mile stretch of I-15 in Salt Lake County. Within days the Syn-crete started to crack and crumble, eventually costing the state more than $2.5 million to apply it, remove it and also pay claims for broken windshields.
An examination of the fiasco by the legislative auditor general's office found UDOT bypassed its normal intermediate stage of testing, jumping from small tests to the large-scale resurfacing project without adequate engineering justification.
The state settled with Hodson Chemical last April, withholding $100,000 of the $900,000 that UDOT owed the company for approximately 36,000 gallons of Syn-crete.
That settlement is another reason Hogle was shocked to learn of an ongoing investigation.
But in this most recent probe, federal and state authorities are looking for criminal wrongdoing. An estimated $20,000-$25,000 in federal money was spent in evaluating Syncrete, said UDOT spokesman Kim Morris.
Neither the state attorney general nor the inspector general's office for the U.S. Department of Transportation would comment on the investigation or when it would be completed.
According to a report carried by the Associated Press, UDOT director Gene Findlay said he has had "two or three conversations" with federal agent John Deans and investigator Jenny Glover with the Utah attorney general's office.
"What I've heard is that they are investigating misrepresentation of the product," Findlay said. "I really couldn't say if they were implying (misrepresentation) by Hodson , the consultants who were working with Hodson or our department."