Portion of border wall in San Diego sector. Photo by Ken Stone

A company building the San Diego sector border wall illegally used armed Mexican nationals to provide site security, according to a former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy working for a subcontractor, said a stunning New York Times report Monday.

Thanks to documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, the Times learned that two whistleblowers identified illegal operations by contractors for the government.

The pair were contracted to provide security at the sites, said the Times, and accused the company, Sullivan Land Services Co., and a subcontractor of hiring workers not vetted by the U.S. government, overcharging for construction costs and making false statements about those actions.

Document describing use of Mexican nationals as border wall site security. (PDF)

The subcontractor — Ultimate Concrete of El Paso — built a dirt road that would allow access from the Mexican side of the border into the United States, the report said. The road helped the armed Mexican workers cross to their U.S. work site.

“Everybody can allege whatever they want to, and that does not make it correct or make it the truth,” Jesse Guzman, president of Ultimate Concrete, told the Times, alleging that it was two security officers who were angry that “something didn’t go their way.”

Attorneys in Los Angeles and New York represent the whistleblowers, including a former FBI agent, who sued the companies in early February to collect treble damages and civil penalties allowed them for reporting violations of the False Claims Act.

In their confidential legal filing, the whistleblowers are referred to as Relators 1 and 2.

“As required by the FCA, … the Relators have provided, and / or will provide, to the Attorney General of the United States and to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, simultaneous with or prior to the filing of this complaint, written disclosure of substantially all material evidence and information possessed by and / or known to the Relators at the time of this filing.”

Relator 1, who had been a deputy sheriff for a decade, was the onsite security manager from May 2019 through December 2019 for two of the California-based Border Wall Project sites, said the lawsuit.

Relator 2 had worked with the FBI for nearly 13 years, including with the public corruption team in Washington, D.C., and served in other roles domestically and overseas relating to national security, said the suit.

Relator 2 was overall security manager for the Border Wall Projects, starting in January 2019 and continuing until he was terminated “evidently, … in relation to his refusal to permit the activities set forth herein approximately November 2019.”

In late July 2019, Relator 2 first contacted the FBI to report his employer’s involvement in the apparently unlawful activity, the suit said.

“Thereafter, beginning on or about August 5, 2019, Relator 2 had multiple discussions with multiple FBI supervisory special agents and at least three special agents about the same, and provided numerous documents and other communications to the agents regarding the same.”

Sullivan had received five contracts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for border wall work, potentially valued at $1.47 billion or more.

The security firm, which eventually lost the work, concerned the installation and repair of fencing in the vicinity of San Diego, the suit said.

When Relator 2 complained about the armed Mexican nationals on site, a Sullivan project manager allegedly “reacted angrily to [the] statement, and yelled: ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

After filing a report, Relator 2 was told by another employee of the Security Firm that an Army Corps of Engineers worker had “stated that this incident was closed and should not be further
discussed.”

On July 23, 2019, Relator 2 received a report regarding the exchange of gunfire on the U.S. side of the border, evidently between the armed Mexican security guards working for Ultimate Concrete and Mexican nationals who apparently crossed the border to steal property, the suit said.

About nine hours later, Relator 1 interviewed a witness who had spoken with one of the armed Mexican national security guards. The UC employee witness said the exchange of gunfire occurred on the U.S. side of the border and apparently involved the Mexican security guards.

The Times said said False Claims Act suit was filed in San Diego, “allowing the federal government to investigate the allegations while they remained sealed and to decide whether to pursue the case.”

But the Justice Department notified the court last week that it would not intervene in the case, the Times said, prompting a judge to unseal the allegations.

“Federal law allows the whistleblowers to continue to pursue the case ‘in the name of the United States’ or, with the permission of the federal government, to seek a settlement or dismissal of the case,” the Times said.

The 29-mile project specified fence construction at Bunker Hill east through Goat Canyon, “Smugglers Gulch west to the Ridge” and an area immediately east of the San Ysidro land port of entry, said an exhibit with the lawsuit.

The Times added: “Between October 2019 and March 2020, the concrete bollards of the wall were breached more than 320 times in San Diego; Tucson; El Centro, Calif.; and Yuma, Ariz., according to the documents.”

“While Mr. Trump has constructed new segments in each of those areas, it is unclear whether all the breaches affected new portions of his wall or dilapidated barriers installed by previous administrations.”

Updated at 8:38 p.m. Dec. 7, 2020

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