Court rules in Cooper's favor in environmental bid rigging case
Release date: 7/30/2007
Final two defendants ordered to pay $350,000 for plotting to inflate bids for clean-up contracts
Raleigh: Consultants charged with conspiring to rig bids and overcharge taxpayers for environmental clean-up work have been ordered to pay $350,000 to the state bringing to $1 million the total amount recovered in the case, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.
“Getting together to fix prices cheated taxpayers and left less money for cleaning our land and water,” Cooper said. “This ends a case we’ve pursued for more than four years to protect the taxpayers’ money and our environment.”
Under an order issued by Judge Ben F. Tennille of the North Carolina Business Court, CBM Environmental Services of Fort Mill, SC and its chief executive officer Catherine Ross Bateman formerly of Charlotte and now of Jacksonville Beach, Florida must pay the state $350,434 for conspiring to rig bids on state contracts. This brings to more than $1 million the total amount won by Cooper in the case. Other defendants have already paid $735,000 to settle allegations that they plotted to fix prices and lie on bids to clean land around leaky underground storage tanks.
In a suit brought in April 2003, Cooper and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources alleged that eight firms and their employees illegally conspired to rig bids for a state contract in an effort to increase fees that the state pays to clean sites contaminated by leaking petroleum tanks. The complaint also alleged that the firms formed a trade association to direct either a boycott of specific state project bids or a submission of inflated rates, and that firms that bid lied by swearing that they had not colluded with other firms to peg prices.
Approximately 10,000 sites across North Carolina have suffered environmental damage from petroleum tanks. In June of 1988, the General Assembly created a trust fund with a portion of gasoline and kerosene taxes and tank fees to pay clean-up costs. When tank owners disappear or fail to clean up, DENR requests proposals from environmental consultants and the trust fund covers the cost. Using the fund, which takes in $27 million annually, the state also reimburses private landowners who clean land around leaky tanks.
At the time of the original complaint, six firms and six individual employees agreed to change their practices, cooperate in the state’s investigation, undergo ethics training and pay $480,000 to settle charges that they colluded to fix prices and lie on bids. In December 2004, one additional firm and three individuals signed agreements and paid the state a total of $255,000.