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Ex-MTA Official Said to Be Under Investigation

Some interviewed by the agency say John Bollinger is suspected of giving contracts to an engineer who handed him consulting work.

October 17, 2002|Richard Marosi and Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writers

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority inspector general's office is investigating possible conflict-of-interest violations by a former high-ranking official who managed construction of the agency's headquarters, according to several people interviewed by investigators.

John Bollinger, former director of the Union Station Gateway project, left the agency in June, one month after investigators, acting on an inquiry by The Times, confiscated 34 boxes of records from his office.

Investigators suspect that Bollinger was awarding MTA contracts to an outside engineer, Hector Castillo, while he was receiving consulting work from companies or nonprofit organizations controlled by Castillo, the interview subjects said.

In May, Castillo was ordered out of an office he kept at the MTA and his work for the agency was discontinued, according to an internal memorandum.

MTA officials would not detail the circumstances of Bollinger's departure, and he was not available for comment. "It's a personnel matter," said the transit agency's top lawyer, Steve Carnevale.

Castillo also declined to comment, but in the past he has denied any wrongdoing.

Bollinger managed the construction of the 27-story headquarters, but his responsibilities had diminished since the building opened in 1995.

Based on the accounts of three people who have been interviewed by investigators, the probe appears to focus on Bollinger's relationship with Castillo, whose Los Angeles-based firm, H.C. & Associates, has done work for several area cities.

Bollinger first authorized Castillo's firm to do work for the MTA, the nation's second-largest transit agency, in 1998. Most of it involved record-keeping and administrative duties, including a contract to count the number of parking spaces at the Gateway center.

For the parking survey (there are 2,189 spaces), and other administrative tasks, Castillo charged $27,500. In all, through this year, Castillo's firm was paid at least $125,000.

During the time that Castillo had MTA contracts, Bollinger worked at three Castillo-controlled companies or organizations.

* Earlier this year, Bollinger worked for Castillo's company on a South Gate project to reorganize the city's public works department, city officials said.

* On Bollinger's 2002 Statement of Economic Interests, he reported receiving anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 in income from the Latino Engineers, Architects and Developers Society Inc., a nonprofit organization headed by Castillo.

* In 1999, Bollinger received $1,500 in consulting fees from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, another nonprofit organization once headed by Castillo, according to a check-register database from the organization.

Bollinger's relationship with Castillo came to light after several members of the Hispanic Professional Engineers group won a lawsuit to gain control of the organization from Castillo. As part of that suit, a court-appointed special master who reviewed the books concluded that Castillo had likely embezzled thousands of dollars and possibly given kickbacks to Bollinger.

In recent weeks, several members of the Latino engineers group have been interviewed by investigators seeking more information about Castillo's tenure as president and his relationship with Bollinger.

Michael Marquez, the current president, said authorities asked questions about a fund-raiser for the group that was sponsored by the MTA when Bollinger headed the Gateway project. "Apparently, the MTA had given SHIP some money, and now SHIP had given Bollinger some money for consulting," Marquez said. "They were saying that that was a conflict of interest."

The investigation started after The Times in May requested public records detailing the MTA contracts of H.C. & Associates. The agency's inspector general is an independent branch of the MTA charged with ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse. The inspector general does not comment on ongoing investigations.

Critics have said the Gateway center is symbolic of waste and the agency's poor spending priorities. The building, mocked as the "Taj Mahal" by some critics, is lined with granite and Italian marble, and has brass fountains and a lavish, palm-lined entrance.

Bollinger, whose annual salary was $86,000, managed the $300-million project for nearly a decade. With his management of the project winding down, Bollinger in recent months had been overseeing minor construction projects and supervising a close-out audit.

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