Caltrans Awards $267 Million Highway Project to Contractor with Lengthy Criminal Past
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
Caltrans has awarded a $267 Million contract to Fisher Sand and Gravel; a company with a sordid past that goes back almost two decades. The revelation sparked numerous questions from the community as to how and why the project involving the stretch of 10 freeway between Desert Center and Blythe California could have been awarded to a contractor with a history of tax fraud, workplace discrimination, and even a child pornography conviction for one of Fisher Sand and Gravel's former owners.
"Did Caltrans not do any research on the LOWEST bidder for this $267 million project on the 10?...Long long list of violations from this group at Fisher," remarks a commenter on the Caltrans official Facebook page.
Documented history of criminality and other law-breaking
Fischer Sand and Gravel has had multiple violations since 2009. According to violation tracker, these offenses include $1.16 million in tax violations, over $740,000 in environmental violations, $150,000 in workplace discrimination violations, and almost $50,000 in OSHA violations.
These fines are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the company's and/or its owners' scrapes with the law. In 2009, then owner Michael Fischer was sentenced to 3 years in prison for tax fraud and in 2005, the previous owner of the company, Michael' s brother David, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for child pornography. The proof: two video clips and 23 files were seized from his computer including images of a ten year old girl that he had "hired" for office chores. "Everything that's here, you know it's true, I don't have any excuses. I don't have any rational reasons why I did what I did." said David Fisher during his hearing.
The company is now run by Tommy Fisher, the third son of founder Gene Fisher. Since Tommy Fisher took over in 2009, the company has stacked the aforementioned tax, environmental, discrimination, and OSHA violations.
Even with this track record, Fisher and its subsidiaries have consistently scored State and Federally funded jobs. One marquee job that Fisher Sand and Gravel managed to snag prior to the Caltrans job was a $400 million section of President Trump's border wall in 2019, even after having their design rejected by the Army Corp. of Engineers.
The company was heavily championed for the job by Trump friend, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Previously, in what has the appearance of a quid pro quo, Tommy Fisher and his wife each gave the maximum amount allowed to Senator Cramer's 2018 campaign fund. Ultimately, amidst a FSG Fox News media blitz aimed at further getting the attention of Trump, the president ended up personally pushing for Fisher Sand and Gravel to be awarded the federal contract. This was also after the contractor became mixed up with Steve Bannon's privately funded "We Build the Wall" group (ultimately, Bannon and partner Brian Kolfage would be indicted on federal fraud charges for bilking their investors) which may have served as a further stepping stone for FSG to win the bigger contract.
The Legality of Trump showing favoritism versus what should have been a competitive bidding process raised many red flags at the time. Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post wrote of the situation, "They [FSG] also show how a private company can appeal to the president using well-placed publicity and personal connections to his allies... Trump’s personal intervention risks the perception of improper influence on decades-old procurement rules that require government agencies to seek competitive bids, free of political interference."
Why Fisher Sand and Gravel?
With the checkered history behind Fisher Sand and Gravel, Caltrans still chose the out-of-state contractor for the $267 million project. It hasn't mattered which of the Fisher brothers served as figurehead for the company, the contractor has consistently found itself mired in controversy and/or corrupt dealings. Despite a questionable past, FSG was able to influence its way into the now-defunct border wall deal. And once again, the company has scored a major contract with a government entity.
At time of writing, Caltrans has not responded to requests for comment.