APNewsBreak: No prosecution in over-budget veterans hospital
DENVER (AP) — The Justice Department has declined to prosecute two Veterans Affairs Department executives after lawmakers accused them of misleading Congress about massive cost overruns at a Denver-area VA hospital.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee asked for a perjury investigation last fall, claiming the executives repeatedly gave false testimony that masked serious problems with the hospital construction project.
The Justice Department told lawmakers in a May 19 letter that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado released the letter to The Associated Press on Thursday.
The decision means no one has yet been fired or charged since the cost of the hospital ballooned to nearly $1.7 billion, almost triple earlier estimates.
The VA has said everyone involved in the problems has retired or was transferred or demoted.
The hospital is still under construction in the Denver suburb of Aurora and is expected to be finished next year.
The VA executives targeted by lawmakers were Glenn Haggstrom, then the top official in charge of construction projects, and Stella Fiotes, director of the VA’s Office of Construction and Facilities Management.
Neither returned phone messages seeking comment Thursday. VA spokesman Paul Sherbo said the agency had no comment.
Multiple investigations concluded that the VA bungled the project, providing insufficient oversight, approving lavish design elements, failing to get the designers and builders to agree, and trying to use a complicated form of construction contract that agency executives didn’t fully understand.
The VA’s inspector general, an internal watchdog, said last year that Haggstrom knew the project was veering toward huge cost overruns but didn’t tell lawmakers when he testified before Congress in 2013 and 2014. That prompted lawmakers to call for the perjury investigation of Haggstrom and Fiotes.
Coffman said he was disappointed in the Justice Department’s decision.
“I think that there is clear evidence that they intentionally misled Congress,” he said.
Committee chairman Phil Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, also expressed disappointment.
“It cannot be disputed that VA’s handling of this construction project was thoroughly mismanaged, and VA officials at the time decided not to provide Congress with an accurate picture of their failures,” he said.
Haggstrom retired from the VA in 2015, one day after he was interviewed under oath by VA officials about the problems. Fiotes is still at the department.
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