Whistleblower: Marlins Stadium contractors cut corners

7:26 AM, Dec 14, 2011   |    comments
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MIAMI (CBS4) - Roy Fastabend has been a welder for 35 years and a certified inspector for the last fifteen. It was his job to make sure the columns and beams connected to the retractable roof at the Marlins Stadium were constructed and welded correctly.

But what Fastabend said he found shocked him.

Engineering specifications ignored. Contractors cutting corners to save time and money. He even caught a fellow inspector falsifying records and signing off on welds he never examined.

"If people knew what was going on there or how they did things, I mean, I won't go to that stadium, I won't take my kids to that place," Fastabend told CBS4's Jim DeFede in an exclusive interview. "Sadly, it looks beautiful but there are questions."

He's not the only one with questions. Last month, the Inspector General sent a letter to the Marlins citing concerns with the welding procedure used on the retractable roof.

"Some issues have recently arisen that need to be resolved," Inspector General Chris Mazzella wrote on November 2, 2011.

Mazzella specifically cited problems surrounding the weld inspections conducted by Mike Garcia on the project. "It has been determined that Mr. Garcia falsified some welding inspection documents and expense reports resulting in Mr. Garcia's termination," Mazzella noted.

The Marlins now admit Garcia was fired back in September 2010 for falsifying inspection reports. But even though the Marlins knew more than a year ago that Garcia wasn't properly inspecting roof welds, they only recently agreed to go back and re-test all of the welds he supposedly examined.

Fastabend's work on the project began in May 2010 when he was dispatched to Arkansas to oversee construction of the 52,000 pound wishbone columns that are key supports for the retractable roof. He stayed on site every day while that first batch was completed.

"You have to be there, to be present, to make sure that they have the right welds on the inside," he explained.

But after he returned home, he learned inspectors were no longer going to be sent to Arkansas to oversee daily construction of the remaining columns. He said he was told it was to save money.

"They had bid this contract very low, the budget was very low," he said.

In June and July 2010, Fastabend next assignment was inspecting the welds on the massive columns that would be used to support the east canopy of the stadium. The columns were being built at George's Welding in Medley. The specifications called for a specific type of weld that would sear the columns deep into the plates. But the process was difficult and time consuming.

Fastabend claims the owner of George's Welding, Jorge Amador, ordered his welders to use a different method - one that would be easier but considerably weaker.

"That's a big no-no," Fastabend said.

Fastabend said he questioned the owner about the changes and told him he couldn't just alter the specifications.

"He was very mad at me, Jorge, the owner, he yelled at me, screamed at me and told me he wasn't going to change that because he was the owner and I could call the police if I wanted but he wasn't going to change anything," he said.

 

Fastabend, however, continued to press the issue, writing reports and emails to senior executives within the stadium project. A stress test on the welds was ordered. The welds cracked and failed. George's welding was ordered to go back to the pre-approved procedures.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Jorge Amador, Jr., said he recalled a disagreement over how the welds on the column were supposed to be done. He said it was possible his father, the owner of the firm, and Fastabend did get into an argument, but he doesn't recall anything specific since he was out of the shop often on other projects.

Amador said he was questioned several months ago by the Inspector General's Office regarding the welds and he said he assured them that all of the welds were ultimately done properly.

At the same time the debate at George's Welding was taking place, Fastabend also began complaining about his fellow inspector, Mike Garcia.

"He didn't want to inspect," Fastabend said, adding Garcia would show up briefly for work and then leave early.

Fastabend said he tried to document everything Garcia did wrong. When Garcia learned about it, the two men got into a heated argument. The next morning, July 23, 2010, Fastabend wrote his boss an email.

"So I sent it on Friday morning about 7 o'clock and by 4 o'clock I was terminated," Fastabend said.

Fastabend told CBS4 News believes he was fired because he was holding contractors accountable and because he was always questioning the way things were being done. He said he believed it was important to follow the plans as the engineers wrote them.

Tuesday morning, Marlins President David Samson led reporters on a tour of the stadium, touting how it was 91 percent complete.

"We're going to open this stadium on time and on budget," Samson bragged.

But as the rest of the tour went on, CBS4 News asked Samson about Mike Garcia, the inspector who was caught falsifying records. It appears only samples of his welds were re-inspected after he was caught.

CBS4 investigator Jim DeFede asked Samson why the team only recently, after the Inspector General began asking questions, agreed to have all of Garcia's welds re-inspected.

Samson bristled at the question and said, "Yeah, that's not actually accurate.  I don't know who your sources are."

The source of the information was the Miami Marlins. In a letter dated November 29, 2011, from John Lloyd, the Marlin's developer representative for the construction project, to the Inspector General, Lloyd provided numerous reports explaining how only a portion of Garcia's welds were re-inspected in 2010.

He then wrote, the team had now decided to go back and re-inspect the remaining welds. "In an abundance of caution, however, we have decided to re-inspect those welds originally inspected by Mr. Garcia," Lloyd wrote.

Samson says he has no doubts the stadium is safe.

"The life of our fans and my life is more important than opening on time," he said. "We would never endanger anybody - my kids, myself, our players, fans. We would never."

The Inspector General will likely produce their own lengthy report on the stadium early next year. In the meantime, one possibility the Inspector General has raised, is that the Marlins may need to go back to the City of Miami to have their stadium plans re-approved to accommodate the weaker welds they are now finding but can no longer repair.

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