VA Medical Center project stalled, workers say they weren’t paid

The future of a $12.5 million renovation project at the Dayton VA Medical Center is uncertain as the primary contractor is accused of not paying subcontractors, and a company construction manager faces possible prison time for bribing a federal official elsewhere in Ohio.

John Hurt, owner of The Aspire Group of Ohio, the project’s primary contractor, said he is in negotiations with the VA about the job’s status.

“I’d prefer not to comment on it until we’re finished (negotiating), which will probably be in the next few days,” he said.

In a statement, Dayton VAMC officials said they’re “disappointed” in the progress of $12.5 million in renovations that Aspire Group is overseeing. VA officials said the project is within budget and they “are working to resolve the issue to bring this project to completion.”

Bret Flinn, resident agent in charge for the Dayton office of the defense department’s Criminal Investigative Service, said he would review the circumstances surrounding the project, including a legal claim of unpaid bills.

The VA in July 2011 awarded The Aspire Group a $9.2 million contract to renovate Building 409, a 73,000 square-foot facility where patients receiving mental health treatment are housed. The VA at the same time awarded the company a contract of more than $3.2 million to renovate the nearby, then-vacant Building 410 to hold administrative offices.

VA spokeswoman Kim Frisco said, “(During the construction) we’ve taken other measures to assist veterans with their treatement and their housing needs.”

Aspire Group got the work through a federal program that reserves certain projects for firms owned by veterans with service-related disabilities. Aspire Group received $4.5 million in contracts for the VA in Cincinnati between September 2007 and May 2011.

Construction supplies and portable toilets were visible Friday outside Building 409, but there was no sign of workers. Veterans there said work stopped around Thanksgiving.

It’s not clear when construction will resume. At least two subcontractors on the project allege they have not been paid what they are owed.

In December, Cincinnati-based P-1 Contracting filed a lawsuit against Quandel, Aspire Group and its bonding agency for $374,000 plus interest. That’s what the company says it is owed after Quandel Construction Group, the major subcontractor on the project, hired it to perform demolition work in Building 409 in September 2011.

Mark Frey, owner of subcontractor Frey Electric, told the Dayton Daily News that The Aspire Group is months behind in paying his Cincinnati company more than $300,000 for work it has done. He said the unpaid bill is starting to threaten his business.

Bribery conviction

Meanwhile, Samuel Mays, a former Aspire Group part-owner whom the company lists on its website as construction manager, is awaiting sentencing after being convicted in September of bribing a federal official in Cincinnati in exchange for contracts, and for embezzling $125,000 from his former company’s retirement fund.

David Mersch, a former operations officer for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, testified during the trial that between 2005 and 2011 he accepted more than $175,000 in bribes — in cash and free home improvements — from Mays and another contractor.

That contractor, Paul McDonald of California, also testified after pleading guilty to bribery. He is awaiting sentencing.

Mays made the bribes while he was owner and president of Sigma Capital Inc., a Cincinnati-based company. Sigma received about $18.9 million in federal contracts between 2002 and 2008, including $14.9 million in Ohio, according to

Sigma Capital’s website says the company did work locally for Wright Patterson AFB, a VA clinic in Springfield and several federal projects in the Cincinnati area.

Mays is free on bond awaiting his sentencing on a date to be set by the court. Reached by the Daily News at his office at Aspire Group, Mays declined to comment, referring all questions to Hurt, the company president and owner.

Mays was previously part-owner of Aspire, according to Hurt. Hurt was government services director for Sigma Capital, according to the company’s website.

Hurt said Mays is currently “in sort of a transitions stage” with the company, and that his criminal conviction will have no impact on the VA project. Hurt said Mays is not directly in charge of the VA project.

“The VA project is with Aspire Group of Ohio, and it’s our responsibility to have proper management and resources to finish the job,” Hurt said.

Suit alleges Quandel in charge

P-1’s lawsuit says that even though Aspire was the prime contractor, “It appears Aspire subcontracted all or substantially all of the project to Quandel and that Quandel effectively views itself as the prime contractor.”

Quandel claims the project as its own on its company website, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says P-1 never received a written contract or a set construction schedule, but believed it had entered into an oral contract with Quandel and worked on the site for four months before walking away due to non-payment.

Dennis Phillips, chief operating officer for Quandel in Ohio, would not comment on the status of the VA contract.

“In regards to P-1, the contractor defaulted on the project and was eventually terminated on Feb. 13, 2012 due to lack of performance. Almost a year ago,” he said.

He said the asbestos abatement and construction work P-1 was supposed to perform has not been completed.

Phillips would not say what percentage of the work his company did, but confirmed that the $11.7 million claimed on Quandel’s website is their share of the total $12.5 million project.

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