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Montana Man Charged With Concealing Improper Bolt Installation on a $21 million ARRA Idaho Bridge Project

On September 18, 2012, Kip Harris, former lead superintendent for Sletten Construction (Sletten), Granite Falls, Montana, was indicted in United States District Court, Boise, Idaho.  Mr. Harris, who resides in Boulder, Montana, was charged with making false statements regarding the quality of work Sletten performed on the U.S. 2 Dover Bridge project near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a $21.6 million project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  According to the Indictment, Harris directed laborers under his supervision to modify nonconforming anchor bolts so they would appear to the inspection team hired by Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) to conform to project plans, knowing that the anchor bolts did not conform to the contract specifications.

OIG began investigating this case upon receiving a referral from the ITD and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) alleging the fraud by Mr. Harris.  OIG was advised that Mr. Harris misrepresented the quality of workmanship regarding anchor bolt installation on bridge bearings.  In July 2010, Mr. Harris determined the anchor bolts were not installed in accordance with the contract specifications to achieve the designed tensile capacity. Harris then directed his employees to engage in a number of practices to misrepresent the quality of the anchor bolt installation, which included tack welding or epoxying an additional piece of bolt and/or nut onto an embedded, but short anchor bolt.  Mr. Harris did so to make the anchor bolts appear as though they were correctly installed and ensure they passed inspection.  ITD inspectors, did however, discover the deficiencies during a routine construction inspection of the new bridge's piers. Inspectors found approximately 100 of the improperly installed bolts.  FHWA and ITD had bridge experts evaluate the potential safety risks to the bridge the deficient anchor bolts posed.  Both agencies determined that the consequences of not discovering and repairing the non-confirming anchor bolts would have had a minimal impact on the structural integrity of the bridge. Sletten has since made repairs to the bridge to correct the deficiencies, which caused the project to be delayed for approximately one week.  Mr. Harris was suspended by the FHWA in October 2011, and Sletten terminated his employment with the company shortly thereafter.

OIG and the FBI are conducting the investigation, with assistance from the FHWA and ITD.

Note:  Indictments, informations, and criminal complaints are only accusations by the Government.  All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.