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Broken Contract



Steven B. Godwin's business is hanging by a thread, his personal life a shambles and his daughter's college money spent in a desperate effort to rescue his livelihood. And he says it's all because of a disastrous business deal with the city.

Godwin, who claims close ties with Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's family, is the owner of a small, minority business, the once-successful East Coast Concrete and Contractors Group.

He says a deal with the city of Richmond turned sour after Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black delayed, and then denied, portions of payments that Godwin says he's due, amounting to more than $100,000.

"I'm wifeless, childless, homeless and broke," Godwin says, his neatly pressed black polo shirt fuzzy with a halo of cat hair after his weeks of sleeping on a charitable friend's basement couch. He produces an empty prescription bottle of Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug, saying that he can't afford the refill: "The doctor told me I could have a heart attack at any time."

Fumbling through his black leather briefcase, Godwin's shaking hands are evidence of a recent severe anxiety disorder. He produces a sheaf of disorganized paperwork -- signed contracts from the city, an order for additional work, another contract awarded by Richmond Department of Public Works even after his payment dispute began — as proof that the city has wronged him.

Godwin says his troubles began not long after signing a contract to do repairs to public alleyways washed out three years ago by Tropical Storm Gaston. The $72,000 contract, signed in November, was to repair potholes and erosion on the city's North Side and was to have expired after 30 days.

"But the project manager liked what I was doing and told me to keep going," Godwin says. In December, Godwin signed a change-order contract with Robert Spain Jr., the city's project manager, for an additional $156,000 of work, more than tripling the original contract cost to $228,000.

By February, Godwin had wrapped up work, he says, to the praise of Spain and a public works inspector. Godwin billed the city for the job.

Three months later, he's still trying to get his money, having been caught up in an internal investigation at City Hall that may involve allegations of illegal kickbacks.

Meanwhile, the city's nonpayment has left a massive hole in his bank account, Godwin says, forcing him to find creative ways to leverage himself to allow his company to retain a recently signed Virginia Department of Transportation contract.

At a meeting in May, Godwin says Black told him: "I will get you your money expeditiously." Soon after, he received a check for $75,000, slightly more than the initial contract — but omitting nearly all of the more than $100,000 to pay for additional work he did as part of the change order.

"I've leveraged everything," Godwin says. He calls Black a "monster" whose actions are affecting innocents. "I've spent my daughter's college tuition money," Godwin says. "I haven't told her yet."

Things aren't always what they appear, according to city officials. They say Godwin is omitting the other half of the story.

"There's a lot more to it, that's all I will say," says City Auditor Umesh Dalal, who says his two-month review of Godwin's interaction with the city began at the request of a concerned Black.

Linwood Norman, Wilder's spokesman, confirmed that irregularities in Godwin's contract prompted Black to ask Dalal to investigate. He would only add: "With the matter under investigation, we really can't comment any further as this can be a circumstance of legal consequence."

Dalal calls the documentation that Godwin supplied to Style "incomplete."

Among the documents missing, Dalal says, is a cancellation of the first change order, and a second change order that provided for only another $18,000 in additional work.

That first change order, signed by project manager Spain, was improper, Dalal says, and served as the initial focus of the investigation.

"Mr. Spain's signature does not count for anything," Dalal says. "He has no contracting authority on behalf of the city."

Dalal would not say whether Spain or the project inspector is among those being investigated.

According to city officials, Dalal's review of the Godwin project includes whether Godwin's company or his subcontractors completed all of the work they claimed they did, and if so, whether they short-sheeted the city by not using the prescribed amount of gravel necessary to properly repair the alleys.

Dalal confirms that his investigation is considering "how much work was done, how much is owed, how much was paid, and whether there was wrongdoing."

Godwin says Black's office informed him Aug. 3 that the results of Dalal's investigation were being forwarded to Richmond's commonwealth's attorney for possible prosecution.

But Godwin says none of this should affect him. Even if Spain were not authorized to sign the work order, the contractor says he had no way of knowing that.

"I did the work — they should still have to pay me," he says, expressing frustration with Dalal's lengthy investigation — and specifically with four separate interviews to which he's submitted himself in the auditor's office.

In the first three interviews, Godwin says, Dalal or his subordinates asked repeatedly whether he had provided a kickback to city officials involved in providing the change order. "They kept asking me if I'd given them 10 percent as a kickback," Godwin says. "I said, 'What are you talking about?'"

But Dalal, who taped all of his interviews with Godwin, says his investigation never delved into such specifics related to any alleged kickback scheme.

"That's very interesting, because I never asked that question," Dalal says. "This is all brand-new information for me — that [portion of the] conversation never took place."

Norman says Spain remains in the city directory, listed as an employee of the city's Department of Public Works.

That's more than can be said for Godwin, who insists that until Friday, he didn't even know he was being investigated. He says he's since retained an attorney.

"I didn't do anything wrong. If I had asked for this money, it would have been a big problem. But they came to me," Goodwin says. "What else are they going to do to me?" S

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