A former quality-control manager responsible for monitoring the testing of concrete for a rail transit project in suburban Washington, D.C., has admitted in federal court that he falsified test results for concrete panels used on the Metrorail Silver Line extension.

Andrew Nolan, 28, who worked for subcontractor Universal Concrete from January 2014 to June 2016, said in court on Aug. 3 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., that he falsified test results for air content in concrete panels on the project, the Dept. of Justice says.

Panels were consistently below 4% air content, which was outside of contract specifications, according to court documents. Nolan recorded results that were within acceptable range, whether or not those results were accurate.

He also instructed subordinate employees to falsify air content results. Universal Concrete produced 1,569 architectural concrete panels installed at five stations on the $2.7-billion second phase of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project in northern Virginia.

Nolan pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces a maximum of five years in prison when sentenced on Nov. 9. Nolan is also required to pay restitution of $700,567 to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the project's owner.

The plea resulted from an investigation and subsequent lawsuit brought on Jul 9 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office under the federal False Claims Act and the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.

Whistleblower lawsuit

In 2016, former Universal Concrete Product employee Nathan Davidheiser filed a whistle-blower lawsuit that was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington Field Office and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.

Davidheiser worked under Nolan at Universal Concrete and was instructed by Nolan to falsify test results, according to court documents. Davidheiser produced evidence, including text messages and emails, showing that Nolan told Davidheiser to “change the data,” because the client, Capital Rail Constructors, would reject “any testing data out of specs.”

Capital Rail Constructors, a joint venture of Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South, holds the the design-build contract for the project.

The contract requirement for air content was between 4.5% and 7%. Davidheiser provided copies of test results showing air content as low as 2.9%.

Under the plea deal, Nolan agreed to cooperate with state and federal authorities in their ongoing investigation of the concrete panel scheme.

In his plea agreement, Nolan stated that when he began working at Universal Concrete in 2014 as a technician, he was instructed by his then-QC manager “to record air content results within the acceptable air content range whether or not such results were actually accurate.” Davidheiser’s initial lawsuit also claimed that other managers were aware that test results were falsified.

Other concrete concerns

The air entrainment issue in some panels is one of multiple concerns about the panels produced by Universal Concrete. In April 2017, more than six months after the plant had cast a total of 578 panels, Capital Rail Constructors inspectors were alerted by data anomalies indicating that water content was reading too low in the aggregate. That led to the addition of too much water in the final mix.

Additionally, engineers with the airports authority discovered rebar placement on some panels was too close to the surface.

Capital Rail Constructors (CRC) committed earlier this year to applying a silane coating with corrosion inhibitor to all of the installed panels to help mitigate potential future issues.

CRC also set aside funds to pay for the coating to be reapplied every 10 years of the panels’ 100-year life expectancy.

Keith Couch, project director for CRC, said in an emailed statement that the joint venture "remains focused on its highest priority—delivering a high-quality project that will serve the public for decades."

The airports authority and Universal Concrete did not respond as of Aug. 7  to ENR's request for comments.