WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - There are major developments in the investigation into how the contract was awarded for Wilmington’s VA Clinic. It’s a story we’ve been following for more than three years, since WECT found out the VA was paying almost $300,000 a month to rent the 80,000-square-foot facility at the Wilmington Airport.
After seeing our reports, detailing how the VA was paying more than twice the going rate for prime medical office space in Wilmington, and was locked into a 20-year, $69-million-dollar contract at this inflated rate, Congressman Walter Jones called for the investigation.
Two years later, the VA’s Inspector General has released its findings, saying that there was potential fraud in the way the VA awarded the contract. The Inspector also found that the VA overpaid by millions to lease the land underneath the clinic from the airport authority, based on the fair market value of the land at the time the deal was made.
The transaction for the building was separate. The VA's Office of Construction and Facilities Management claims they got 14 competing offers to build the Wilmington VA Clinic, but they were only able to produce two of those offers for investigators, despite federal requirements to keep all of the paperwork in question.
According to the report, the VA Inspector General’s Office requested copies of the bids 8 different times over the course of their investigation and never got them, which makes it impossible for them to determine if the VA chose the bid for the building that was in the taxpayers’ best interest.
The Inspector General’s report was released the same week Hurricane Florence made landfall, so we are just now having the opportunity to report on this, but we did ask the brand new secretary of the VA about this when he was in town Monday.
“We have 3 levels of investigative authority that move whenever we hear a lot of these things. One thing I will say is I am very proud of the movement VA has made, we’ve put a lot of the turmoil of the first half of this year behind us, I’ll take a look at this, but coming online just as a major storm hits, so I have not seen that," Secretary Robert Wilkie told WECT when asked about his Inspector General’s newly released findings.
Because of the red flags that potentially indicate fraudulent activity, the VA Inspector General has requested a criminal investigation into how the contracts for the Wilmington VA Clinic were awarded. As things continue to get back to normal after the storm, we hope to get more details for you.