Feds join whistleblower lawsuit over bad Silver Line concrete

McLEAN, Va. (AP) -- The Justice Department and the Virginia attorney general's office are jumping in to a whistleblower's lawsuit alleging a subcontractor deliberately used bad concrete on a $2.6 billion project to extend the D.C. region's Metrorail system to Dulles International Airport.

The whistleblower, Nathan Davidheiser, is a former lab technician at Universal Concrete Products Corp. in Stowe, Pennsylvania. He filed his lawsuit in 2016 and says the company had him falsify records when testing showed the concrete failed quality tests. Specifically, the concrete's air content was too low, making it more likely to crack, according to the suit.

The lawsuit includes copies of text messages ordering him to falsify test data on the concrete's air content.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it was joining the lawsuit, along with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. The decision to join the lawsuit indicates authorities believe the whistleblower's allegations are credible.

The subcontractor did not return a call and email seeking comment Wednesday. The company's website indicates it has been involved on several high-profile projects, including construction of two Major League Baseball parks, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Nationals Park in Washington.

The lawsuit makes no mention of problems on other projects. In an email attached to the lawsuit, though, Davidheiser writes that the problems he found on the Metrorail project "seem to be the norm in the QC (quality control) department for years."

Last month Metro officials said problems with the concrete will force them to periodically coat the panels with a substance every 10 years to enhance their durability. Charles Stark, director of Metrorail's project to extend its Silver Line to Dulles, said the additional costs will be borne by the contractor and will not delay the extension's anticipated 2020 opening.

While the lawsuit was filed back in 2016, it remained under seal until Wednesday. Federal law requires whistleblower lawsuits to remain secret while the government evaluates whether to join the suit. If the lawsuit is ultimately successful, the whistleblower is entitled to a share of the money the government recoups from the contractor.

While the project to extend Metro's Silver Line to Dulles is a $2.6 billion deal, the lawsuit estimates that the value of Universal Concrete's contract to provide the concrete panels for station walls was worth about $4 million.

Davidheiser's lawyer, David Scher, said he welcomes the government's decision to intervene in the case.

While the Justice Department and the attorney general elected to join the lawsuit against the Pennsylvania-based subcontractor, they elected not to join the suit against the prime contractor, Capital Rail Constructors.