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Former North Carolina Lawmaker’s Son Submits Highest Bid, Gets Prison Contract

Last year, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation began examining the award of a prison pest control contract to the son of the state’s former House Speaker. The contract raised questions because the winning bid was roughly three times higher than the lowest bidder for the same job.

The contract was to provide pest control services at two new prisons that were being built, and the investigation focused on Black Pest Control, a Charlotte company owned by Jon Black, whose father is former House Speaker Jim Black. Black’s company won the contract to provide pest control for prison construction projects in Bertie and Greene counties.

Black’s bid for those 2003 projects was $124,000. His company received the job despite another firm bidding $42,000 for the same work. In 2005, Black Pest Control won the bid for another prison project in Columbus. It obtained that contract for $73,600 even though another company had bid $20,600, but later withdrew from the job.

Prior to winning the contracts, Black Pest Control had no experience in its 65-year history of working on prison projects. Then again, it never before had such a profitable reason for doing so, apparently.

The general contractor over the no-bid, $245 million prison building projects, Centex Construction, said it wanted to use Jon Black’s company despite the lower bids because his firm had done good work on other jobs for Centex. However, D.H. Griffin Concrete Services, a subcontractor, claimed that Centex forced them to hire Black’s pest control company.

D.H. Griffin project manager George Zaborowski said two Centex officials demanded to use Black’s firm to satisfy a state lawmaker whose vote was crucial to Centex having obtained the prison construction projects. “It was part of the deal,” Zaborowski said. “For Centex to get the prison contracts, this had to happen.”Typically, contractors must submit the lowest bid to receive the state’s business on major construction projects. To make it possible for Black Pest Control to obtain the contracts despite having submitted higher bids, Centex relied on an exemption in North Carolina’s 2003 budget. That exemption allowed Centex to avoid public bidding requirements and hire subcontractors regardless of bid price. It was unclear how the exemption language was added to the budget legislation.

What is clear is that when the legislation was being considered and voted upon, Jim Black was House Speaker; he had been a ten-term lawmaker and House Speaker for a record-setting eight years. The past tense is applied to Jim Black’s legislative career because it ended when he was sent to federal prison.

Jim Black pled guilty to public corruption charges and received a five-year sentence in February 2007. His conviction was related to his acceptance of $29,000 from chiropractors in exchange for pushing legislation favorable to their profession. He was also fined $1 million for bribing another lawmaker to vote in the 2003 speaker’s race.

In April 2008, the Wake County District Attorney’s office stated it would not pursue charges related to Black Pest Control’s contract bids, citing insufficient evidence following interviews conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation. The allegation that Centex had pressured subcontractors to use Black’s company could not be corroborated, and investigators were unable to link the legislative exemption for the prison contracting process to a specific lawmaker.

In other words, it’s business as usual when highest-bid prison contracts go to the son of a former state legislator who’s now serving time on corruption charges.

Source: The News and Observer

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