Four years ago Friday, Superstorm Sandy walloped 33 New York City Housing Authority developments with massive flood damage.
Now, an army of out-of-town consultants is walloping taxpayers with massive travel and housing expense bills as they oversee a $3 billion repair program.
A Daily News review of billing records submitted by Louisiana-based CB&I Government Solutions shows that NYCHA has reimbursed 71 consultants for everything from $150 airport limo rides to hotel rooms when they weren’t working.
So far CB&I has billed more than $3.1 million for travel and expenses. More bills are expected as the project continues.
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NYCHA routinely reimbursed for Tyson Hackenberg for limo rides and stays at the historic Warwick Hotel in Midtown.
Records show that in just December these consultants sought reimbursement for:19 separate bills for airfare totaling $13,045. 49 nights of hotel stays for four employees flying back and forth for a cost of $17,048. $4,282 for taxis and limos and $402 worth of laundry. $39,782 listed simply as “other.”
Tyson Hackenberg, the $316-per-hour head consultant who’s overseeing the job, lives in Baton Rouge and repeatedly jets back and forth to New York.
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Records of his regular stays at the historic Warwick Hotel in Midtown list the guests as “Mr. & Mrs. Hackenberg,” indicating he sometimes brings along his wife.
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Hackenberg routinely billed for $150 limo rides to and from the airport in Louisiana, and other CB&I consultants paid Uber fares topping $100 for trips to and from Kennedy Airport, where rush hour taxi rides are capped at $57.30.
Perhaps most alarming, NYCHA regularly reimbursed consultants for hotel rooms when they were in New York but not actually working. NYCHA officials confirmed that the contract with CB&I allows this.
Several consultants also billed for parking their cars in Louisiana while they were away in New York. One put in for a $101 laundry bill; another, who lives outside Washington, D.C., bought a $117 monthly MetroCard.
Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), chairman of the Public Housing Committee, expressed outrage at what appears to be lax oversight of a crucial project.
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“I am alarmed by NYCHA’s apparent failure to supervise its own consultants,” he said. “As the chair of the Committee on Public Housing, I will be investigating the abuses in private consulting through a future oversight hearing.”
CB&I was hired in 2014 as a construction manager to oversee the initial phase of the $3 billion project to upgrade 33 NYCHA projects damaged by the October 2012 storm.
The developments were severely damaged by Sandy, with floodwaters destroying basement boilers and knocking out elevators, lights and heat for nearly a month.
In response to a Freedom of Information Law request made last summer for all of CB&I’s bills, NYCHA turned over only bills from December.
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That month, CB&I consultants ran up $106,526 in reimbursable expenses. At that rate, the project — set to run through late 2017 — will cost more than $1.2 million a year in travel, hotel and per diem meal costs alone.
Late Thursday, in response to questions from The News, NYCHA revealed the consultants had billed for $3.17 million from March 2014 through December. Officials said the travel peaked in late 2014 and early 2015 as NYCHA was working out funding with the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
At that time there were 29 consultants eligible for travel reimbursement. As of next month, there will be seven “on full-time travel,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Jean Weinberg.
“These staff are critical to the program because they have specialized disaster recovery experience,” she said, noting that last summer NYCHA began transferring staff “off travel” to reduce expenses.
She also said that NYCHA pays a hotel rate set by the federal government “regardless (of) if a spouse is in the room.”
NYCHA’s original 2014-2016 contract with CB&I was for $14.1 million but is now up to $34 million and has been extended through next year, records show.
Since the contract started, records indicate CB&I has brought in a total of 71 consultants to oversee work at projects like Smith Houses in Manhattan, Coney Island Houses in Brooklyn and Ocean Bay Houses in Queens.
Three of these consultants, including Hackenberg, are paid more than $300 an hour; 10 are paid more than $200 per hour. Some have raises built into their contracts, records show.
CB&I spokeswoman Gentry Brann declined to answer questions about the bills, saying only, “CB&I carefully audits all employee expenses on a regular basis, as does our customer, to ensure our customer is only paying for charges allowed under our contract. All charges referenced were agreed upon in advance and charged appropriately.”
Weinberg said, “Leveraging industry expertise is a flexible and effective way to manage the largest federally-funded capital program in NYCHA’s history. The authority is on target to save 25% of FEMA’s projected costs for project management, allowing us to direct more of our funding to actual construction.”
The project is funded by FEMA, which distributes the money to the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
The state, in turn, distributes the money as NYCHA submits requests for reimbursement. On Thursday, an agency spokeswoman, Kristin Devoe, said the state had “no record of this contract” and referred inquiries to NYCHA.
An insider involved in NYCHA’s Sandy project worried that no one was vetting the bills.
For instance, CB&I employee Mike Cooper, listed as “deputy program manager” on the project, makes $281 per hour and appears to have billed for hotel reimbursement on days he didn’t work.
Cooper billed for his stay at the Residence Inn near Columbus Circle in Midtown on Nov. 29, Dec. 13, 19 and 20, 2015, but did not bill for work on those days.
Bradley Bundy, listed as the “construction management oversight lead,” makes $221 per hour and appears to have billed for a room at the Residence Inn for Dec. 5, 6, 13, 19 and 20, 2015 — all days he didn’t bill for work.
CB&I refused to answer questions about what Cooper and Bundy were doing on those dates.
Bundy also billed for parking for his car in Coraopolis, Pa., when he was out of town. One bill for $108.57 covered 13 days.
On Thursday, NYCHA’s Weinberg said that starting in August, NYCHA stopped reimbursing for travel to and from airports, and going forward will stop paying for parking.
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