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Questions linger about firm that received border wall contract

CBS News logo CBS News 9/25/2020 CBSNews
a large body of water: 60borderwallpreview-10.jpg © Credit: CBSNews 60borderwallpreview-10.jpg

Three former administration sources say President Trump wanted government officials to give border wall contracts to a company with a checkered past, the same firm that recently built a private wall on the Rio Grande that some engineers say is likely to fail. The North Dakota company, Fisher Sand and Gravel, was partially funded by the pro-Trump "We Build the Wall" campaign whose executives are now charged with fraud and money laundering. They have pleaded not guilty. Sharyn Alfonsi investigates company CEO Tommy Fisher and his campaign to win over the Trump Administration on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, September 27 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

 

Fisher had the president's attention after multiple appearances on Fox News touting a better, cheaper way to build the border wall. Former Department of Homeland Security officials said there were concerns about an initial wall prototype Fisher Sand and Gravel put up in San Diego. But he did get funding to build two private walls from "We Build the Wall," the crowdsourcing group chaired by former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon. Fisher reportedly used $20 to $30 million of his company's money to complete one of them. 60 Minutes wanted to ask Fisher why he would put up so much of his own investment but the contractor did not respond to interview requests. 

 

Bannon, Brian Kolfage, the entity's founder, and two others connected to "We Build the Wall" were charged with defrauding donors; federal prosecutors say they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the money they raised for personal items. Fisher denies he had any role in the alleged scheme and has not been charged. He parted ways with the group, he told the Washington Post. 

 

Alfonsi saw one of the walls Fisher Sand and Gravel built on the banks of the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas. A local attorney, Javier Pena, who has filed a lawsuit for a neighboring land owner, says mounds of dirt were recently used to hide problems caused by summer rains. "Massive erosion…The foundation is crumbling…There are these trenches all along the wall, the sand just washing away," Pena says. Pena tells Alfonsi engineering experts he hired who have viewed the site concur. "It's not a question of whether it's going to fail, it's when it's going to fail and it already started to fail." In a leaked memo about the private walls Fisher Sand and Gravel constructed, Customs officials alleged Fisher "inflated" claims about the quality and speed of his work "due to lack of experience." 

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Three former Trump Administration sources say that President Trump pressured government officials to direct wall contracts to Fisher Sand and Gravel, which had promised to build walls faster and cheaper than others. Over the last nine months, Fisher Sand and Gravel has been awarded almost $2 billion in federal border wall contracts. 

 

Fisher Sand and Gravel has a troubled environmental and safety record, racking up violations in six states from 2000 to just this past June and paying almost two million in fines. The company also admitted responsibility for tax fraud in 2009. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has called for an investigation into the awarding of the contracts to Fisher. "Fisher could potentially have been debarred from bidding on any federal contracts. But they weren't," Thompson says. "The president made no bones about his support for Fisher. And-- guess what? Fisher got the contract. It speaks for itself." An investigation into Fisher Sand and Gravel by the Department of Defense Inspector General is ongoing. 

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