Suits Charge Quake Fraud by University


A former architect at Cal State Northridge has alleged in two lawsuits that the university defrauded the Federal Emergency Management Agency out of millions of dollars billed for earthquake repairs.

A. Amir Ali, who was fired after seven months on the job and now works for FEMA, said in a federal lawsuit unsealed this week that the university billed the government for construction jobs that were not earthquake-related, including a $1-million-plus project to add sprinkler systems to 10 buildings.

In addition, Ali alleged, the university ignored his warnings that contractors were inflating their bids. He said one major contractor refused to accept competitive bids from subcontractors for expensive flooring work for 15 buildings and instead gave the work to a friend.

Cal State Northridge President Blenda Wilson is out of the country and was unavailable for comment. But earthquake damage consultant Charles Thiel, who chairs the Seismic Safety Board for the California State University system and was in charge of enforcing state building codes at the school during earthquake recovery, disputed many of Ali's claims.

For example, he said, FEMA knew all along that the 10 buildings did not have sprinkler systems before the quake. State law, he said, required them to be rebuilt to current specifications.

Ali's assertions, Thiel said, "are all wrong."

FEMA declined to comment about specific allegations, citing a policy of not speaking about pending litigation or investigations. Spokesman John Treanor confirmed that Ali now is a contract employee of the agency, but did not say what his job is.

Ali also has a pending wrongful-termination suit against the university. In court papers, he says he was fired in September 1994 for complaining about irregularities.

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