A Vermont construction contractor has agreed to pay $637,500 to settle federal False Claims Act charges regarding its work on bridge construction projects in that state, the U.S. Dept. of Justice says.

Under the settlement, which DOJ announced on Nov. 29, J.A. McDonald Inc., based in Lyndon Center, Vt., also agreed to several corporate actions, including establishing an ethics code and bringing on board an independent monitor of its federal-aid highway work.

DOJ alleged that between 2008 and 2010, J.A. McDonald (JAM) cut or burned multiple sections of reinforcing steel out of the reinforced-concrete substructures for several bridges.

The department also alleged that workers for the contractor “took affirmative steps” to conceal the changes from the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

DOJ said the state of Vermont claimed that as a result, the state transportation agency “unwittingly paid JAM for deficient bridge work,” and JAM made false claims to the Federal Highway Administration, for which the state agency was to be reimbursed as part of the federal share of payments to JAM.

The projects were bridges on Route 279 in Bennington and on Interstate-91 in Guilford, according to DOJ.

DOJ noted that the claims are only allegations and that there has been no court determination of liability.

In the settlement, besides the payments to the federal government and Vermont, JAM also agreed to adopt an ethics code and train all of its employees on that code.

The contractor also entered an administrative settlement and compliance agreement with FHWA, under which the company, among other things, will institute a quality assurance/quality control program, name a corporate compliance officer to make sure that JAM carries out the ethics code and program, and bring on an independent monitor to inspect JAM’s work on all federally funded contracts. That monitor also is to report on the inspections to FHWA for three years.

The department said the settlement also states that the document is not an admission of guilt by JAM nor a concession by the federal government and state of Vermont that their claims “are not well founded.”

An attorney for J.A. McDonald did not return an ENR phone call seeking comment about the settlement.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont told ENR that the settlement agreement was not available.

On Oct. 3, 2019, the Federal Highway Administration had suspended JAM and its president, Eric Boyden, from bidding on federal-aid contracts.

But that status recently changed. An FHWA spokesperson told ENR via email that with the new monitoring agreement on Nov. 26, the agency ended the suspensions "contingent on monitoring to occur for three years."

The spokesperson added, "At this time, JAM is no longer suspended, and so can bid on, and be awarded, federally funded contracts."

Story updated with information received from FHWA on 12/17/2021 about the ending of the suspension for JAM and its president. Story also now clarifies that compliance agreement was with FHWA.