Witchita's Choice for Airport Work Has Troublesome Past

The firm that Wichita city staff has selected to manage the building of a new airport terminal is part of a network of companies involved in an ongoing federal and state corruption investigation at Los Angeles International Airport

"We presented the proposal as 'DMJM Aviation an AECOM company,' supported by the others and then worked out the roles and responsibilities," he said.

Retired Wichita airport director Bailis Bell said DMJM Aviation's access to the other divisions' expertise was included in their sales pitch to the city.

"That's part of their presentation," said Bell, who did not vote in the selection process but did sit in on the meetings.

Kolb and interim airport director Tom Nolan said city staff selected DMJM Aviation after hearing its presentation; having a consultant prepare an independent cost assessment for the services specified in the contract; and checking the company's references.

"When I say references, (it's) looking at their projects that they've done, people that they worked with, I mean, all of that to help us make a decision," Kolb said. "And, yeah, they are a good company to work with. I mean, they have done some successful projects."

DMJM Aviation has managed construction at some of the nation's biggest airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport; O'Hare International Airport; Phoenix/Sky Harbor International Airport; Denver International Airport; and Los Angeles International Airport.

In Los Angeles, prosecutors are investigating whether political contributions from AECOM and two of its DMJM companies influenced airport management to take work away from URS Corp. and award the contracts to them.

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records of the transactions from Los Angeles World Airports, the city's airport authority.

According to records obtained by The Eagle from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, DMJM+Harris, DMJM H&N and AECOM gave a combined $50,000, and its subcontractor HNTB gave $100,000, to LA United. These contributions came before the companies were awarded contracts for work at the Los Angeles airport.

LA United is a political group created by Mayor James Hahn to fight a 2002 ballot measure that would have split Los Angeles into two cities.

URS officials said airport officials requested that they donate, but they refused to do so.

DMJM Aviation is a major player in the Los Angeles airport project.

"DMJM Aviation/DMJM H&N are currently providing advanced planning for implementation (of) the largest master plan program in aviation history at LAX," the company Web site said.

The Los Angeles district attorney's office has transferred two lawyers to the U.S. attorney's office to work with federal prosecutors investigating the case, said Los Angeles district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

The controversy has already forced the resignation of the airport board president and is an issue in the upcoming Los Angeles mayoral race.

HNTB, a Kansas City-based architectural firm, is also heavily involved in the Wichita airport project.

The firm performed the feasibility study that outlined the need for a new air terminal and was selected in December to serve as the project architect.

HNTB spokesman Jeremy McNieve said the company was not part of any political contributions for any contract deal in Los Angeles.

"We were awarded work based on our qualifications and ability to get the job done," he said.

He said the company donated to LA United because it has substantial business interests there and splitting the city would have harmed the economy.

"We support policies (based on) the best economic interests of our company and our employees," he said.

Also in Los Angeles, DMJM is facing a scheduled June 21 federal trial on allegations that it misrepresented or hid key facts to get federal money to rebuild an abandoned apartment complex at California State University--Northridge according to court documents obtained by The Eagle.

A former Cal State engineer, A. Amir Ali, has alleged that DMJM filed false claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money to rebuild Cal State's University Tower Apartments after a January 1994 earthquake that caused massive damage throughout the Cal State campus.

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